Last week I attended the BID-Kongress in Leipzig, which in UK terms is roughly a German equivalent of Umbrella in that it is THE essential conference to go to in the library world. All the professional organisations have their AGMs there, and there are three and a half days of workshops and presentations.
This year, the main focus of the conference was information literacy. So I attended one panel on teaching information literacy in the digital age and one that more specifically dealt with information literacy tutorials vs. Database/OPAC restructuring. Another topic that I personally found very interesting was gauging user expectations and needs in libraries – not only for academic libraries! I also went to two panels on Open Access/Electronic Publishing.
And let’s not forget about the brilliant New Professionals Forum and our very own inofficial tweet-up!
Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging specific talks that I found striking. I will link you to the presentation or script if it’s available at the conference server.
Probably my favourite talk of the whole conference was Kerstin Schoof’s presentation of her MA dissertation project „Walking in the customers’ moccassins“. In short, she used ethnographic methodology to gauge users’ needs and to improve library services. The two methods she used were both beautiful in their simplicity and highly effective.
First, she did what she calls a „library design workshop“: students were given blueprints of the library building and asked to draw in what their ideal library would look like. Apparently, there were some recurrent themes, so the researcher could be sure she was actually onto something.
The second method she employed was that of „photo interviews“. The students were given a list of ten prompts for photos, such as „my favourite place to work in the library“, „favourite group work place“, „something that bugs me in/about the library“, „my workplace at home“, etc. and encouraged to take a photo for each prompt. These were then brought back to the researcher and discussed. Again, this is a beautiful method for making users’ needs visible on a really plastic level.
As a result of these interviews, the library staff now know exactly what needs doing, and the library is acting, or has in some cases already acted, on the suggestions made by users.
I think the lesson to be learned is that user input is invaluable. Architects, librarians, and library builders may be doing the best they can, but the people who actually use the building are in most cases the real experts, and we shouldn’t be afraid of handing over a certain degree of control to them. In this case, it benefits both sides: users can not only make their voices heard, but then actually see the library acting on their suggestions. In turn, the library brings itself so much closer to its customers by actively engaging with them, and this in turn benefits the image of the library in the larger population.