Is Steve Jobs a Role Model for Librarians?
I'm hijacking the title of an editorial in the latest issue of Journal of Academic Librarianship because I believe it illustrates a problem rather than a solution to our approach as librarians to technology.
In the piece, the author describes two approaches to meeting user needs:
...[To] wait for someone to tell you what they want (which assumes they know their needs and the solution possibilities clearly) or to know your customer and the solution possibilities well enough to provide a useful solution that would likely never have occurred to them.
So which, according to the author, should we pick? Why the latter, of course, which the author calls "opportunity-driven" and characteristic of Steve Jobs:
As trained information specialists who are also dealing daily, upfront and personal, with the changing information environment, I believe we are particularly well positioned to develop the insights and perspectives that allow us to see opportunities and possibilities that are not as clear or as obvious to our patrons.
The obvious, almost classic problem with this approach is that it moves the focus from our users to ourselves and while that might make for applause lines at library confabs where we're basically talking to ourselves, it risks ending up with solutions more suited (surprise, surprise) to our own needs rather than to those of our poor 'benighted' users.
The fact is, the library doesn't exist in a vacuum. Sure, we're in the information business but so are a lot of others. When our users come to us, they don't want a "19th-century library" as the author jokes. They want everything online and easy to find -- just like they've come to expect on every other site that seeks to attract their business.
To do this, we don't have to reinvent the experience. We don't need Steve Jobs even if we could afford him. All we need is to do our homework, to keep the focus always on our users, seeing what they prefer and how they prefer to work, melding our own wares to their requirements. Our users have already told us what they want. It's in the usage statistics of the most popular websites. Now all we need are librarians smart enough and sharp enough to listen to what they're saying.