Help Me To Help You

Psychic Spell Breaker
Image by Metrix X via Flickr

Folks seem to have a lot of faith in the IT department. Not only can we fix anything we can do but we do so because we are psychic. Just takes a laying on of hands or a mere mention “it doesn’t work” and we know everything required to solve your issue. There have been numerous jokes, YouTube videos and the like making fun of the “stupid” other person (be it an employee or customer). I don’t like to poke fun at other people’s expense but there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. Let me shed some light on things from the other side. You want help –

You want help – so help me to help you.

Bad example:

Dear IT,

I can’t access _____.

This is the equivalent of saying “I can’t see the blue sky.” There could be many reasons why you can’t see the blue sky. Are your eyes closed? Are you looking up? Is it day time? Is it cloudy? Is something blocking your view?

Good Example:

Dear IT,

I can’t access _____. I tried to do this and then this and when I finally did this I wasn’t able to access ____.

Using the same analogy again. This lets IT know that your eyes are open, you are looking up, it is daytime but alas you are still unable to see the blue sky. This gives us a starting point, a reference. It let’s us know what you did up to the point where you had a problem.

I don’t expect everyone to understand every piece of technology that crosses their path. But I do expect people to tell me more than it just isn’t working. Try helping someone without knowing what they did or where they started. Not every person starts from the same point (e.g. I might type in a URL, someone else might have it already bookmarked and a third might do a Google search to find the URL).

I know folks get frustrated, I do too with technology sometimes (but that is usually due to my expectations – expectations just set you up for disappointment). I want things to work properly as well. But often I’ve found that user error (too fast clicking, not waiting for something to load, using the wrong software to do the job, etc.) gets in the way.

So just breathe, try again and when you still can’t get what you want – document all the steps you took up until the problem occurred. It will help me to help you and hopefully get you back on the road to what you were doing – sooner!

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Many have speculated that the rise of superbook stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders heralded the end of the library.  So far that hasn’t happened.  Both have managed to survive and in some cases even foster a partnership or symbiotic relationship.  Then Google and the Internet in general was surely going to bring down the grand ol’ library of yesteryear.  Made a dent but has it totally demolished libraries, I’d say no.

But what if people found what they were searching for – would they still use your library’s web site?  catalog?  come into the building?  ask the staff?  During a meeting today that was discussing usability, I commented that I really want to know what the remote user is doing on our web site or catalog.  Because we don’t hear from them.  Someone else piped up and said “we only hear from them [meaning the customer] when they can’t find something”.

The main goal for me in usability is to find what isn’t working, what isn’t intuitive, what isn’t user friendly and then fix it.  So if we that, made everything easy to find, would we only see our customers for their reserves (barring going the way of Netflix and mailing everything) or our programs/classes/events?  Sure our die-hard fans would still come in.  But if the goal is to make everything easier to find (discovery and delivery again) would we see an increase of web usage but a decrease in door counts?

I’m not suggesting that we make our web sites or catalogs harder to use to keep customers calling in or asking at the information desks.  I’m just pondering the day when we can actually give the customer everything he is searching for (assuming he is coming in via the web) without having to step foot into a physical building.  I don’t see it as a demise of libraries but just another chapter (pardon the pun) that will require library staff to rethink what it means to not only be a librarian but a library.