Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Empowering or empowered?

"If the likes of Google (through search and other online analytics) and Apple (through portable devices) taught us anything in 2005 it is that empowering consumers is very good business."

This quote is from an interesting article, "New media to take full control in 2006" published in yesterday's The Empowering consumers, empowering, there's an idea.

We have here in my corner of the Kilgour building at OCLC, a small collection of promotional stuff libraries do: newspaper ads and mailed material, mostly. And one mailer card Cathy De Rosa and I were looking at recently was created to encourage people to renew their library cards. In person. As the only option. Not even by Pony Express.

Isn't this just a tad nineteenth century? Well, perhaps, but maybe this library system is waiting for a better way to empower their users.

Ok, how about renewing books? The mailer card says one of the benefits from renewing library cards is being able to renew books by phone. As the only option. Now, I happen to know that it is possible--and has been for some time--to renew material on the web site of this library. So, why the heck wouldn't this promotional piece of paper say so??! Was there an assumption that most people receiving the mailer wouldn't have a clue what the web was? Who knows? But all in all, the mailer was not a testament to an institution serious about empowering users.

"Empowering users..." It's a quaint phrase anyway. Our users hardly need to be empowered by us. They come that way, empowered by technologies outside of our domain, and empowered by all the various motives that drive people to do things for themselves, rather than seeking out "the experts." What we need to do is empower our systems and services so that they are attractive to users of all kinds. Wait! How about before we do all that empowering we all have a big think about what those services and systems should be and who they're designed for?

Here's the library services and systems Private Citizen Alane uses:
- Circulation to check out, holds and renew (my preference is to do this without humans)
- Look stuff up (a pain always because of either way too many steps or because of the indexing)

That's it.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Like you, Alane, I tend to borrow known items (sometimes using anything but the OPAC to figure out what I want to check out and then interacting with the OPAC just to reserve the item for pickup) and infrequently use other services. I really like self-checkout, and I always renew via the web. I do query the reference staff for help now again and will use the reference collection infrequently. If I could convince George to go in and sit down first, I'd be up for attending story time ;) Maybe if I tell him the nice lady will lead us in song...