First, two disclaimers:
- I have a red swingline stapler. My friend and I found them buried in our office supply closet a few years ago. They were commemorative “Office Space” staplers and they are truly red. I truly love it.
- “Office Space” is probably my “Mrs. Robinson”. It came out after I started graduate school (the first time) and completely reaffirmed the soul sucking “career opportunities” available in the late 90s. And so, I went into academia. Sometimes I wonder about that choice, but I haven’t seen an equivalent film on the university…yet. (Ignorance is bliss).
With that out of the way, what is librarianship’s red swingline? What is our totem that we cling to without reason? What would inspire us to burn down buildings? (Watch the movie). Lately I’ve been thinking that our red swingline is our tendency to become obsessed with familiar interfaces.
I have two examples.
Example 1: LexisNexis had a product called Congressional for, you guessed it, Congressional research. It had a good solid interface (for the most part) that hadn’t changed in a while. Last year ProQuest bought Congressional and merged its content into the PQ interface. There are some quirks and bugs as always, but overall it isn’t hellish. It just takes some finessing.
The other day I was deleting old listserv messages and discovered a string decrying the new interface and begging for PQ to bring back the old. Never mind that 1) ProQuest can’t go back to the LexisNexis interface and 2) the old interface wasn’t really that great. But the hostility in a couple of the messages was striking.
Example 2: Our library’s catalog is a legacy product with a name I don’t remember (and don’t care to). Whatever it is called, it is as antiquated as my Palm Zire. Over this next year we are switching to OCLC’s WMS and WorldCat Local. There have been some glitches and we have requested some changes, but (it seems that) OCLC is responsive and willing to listen. However, it matters not a bit if I hate WMS because we must have a new catalog. In addition, the students (those who didn’t care one way or the other about the old one) LOVE IT. As much as we may cringe when it doesn’t do this or that, the users I’ve seen seem to find it easy to use. Not perfect, granted, and not as razor precise as a librarian, but it works for them.
So my point. Librarians sometimes seem to get SO attached to the old way of searching or using an interface that we can bring ourselves to the edge of sanity wishing it could be like it was. I too was miffed that I had to learn a new Congressional interface two weeks into the fall semester (ProQuest fail), but it wasn’t the end of the world.
Now I’m NOT arguing that the vendors get it right. ProQuest’s interface has needed improvements. We must hold vendors accountable and let them know how our users think and do research. But we also need to remember that our users don’t think and do research like librarians. We need to isolate our tendency to cling to the familiar and remember that the old ways may not have been intuitive to all. How do we do that? We do it by both adapting our approaches and working to improve the products. We do it by listening to the users. Not speaking for them.
But in the end sending angry emails demanding an old interface back or complaining to our patrons about the good old days aren’t ways to solve anything. It just makes us sound like Milton saying “I believe you have my stapler” over and over again.