Library Terms that Users Understand

It’s been a while since I’ve written about web design, but this came across my radar screen this morning and I found it to be very bookmark-worthy:

We tend to forget that terms like “catalog” or “database” can be confusing to users. John Kupersmith’s site is a much needed reminder that we have to think like a patron and limit the use of library terminology.

Reworking the User Experience at the Genius Bar

I went to the Apple store a few days ago and was blown away by the user experience. The staff is knowledgeable and approachable, and once they’ve thoroughly answered your questions and you’re ready to make a purchase, they simply pull out their handheld device, scan the products, scan your card, and send you happily on your way. No need to stand in long pre-Christmas lines. This is cool for two reasons: it makes the buyer’s life easier, but it also clinches the sale immediately. Standing in a long line gives the buyer the opportunity to second guess whether or not they really want to drop a couple hundred dollars. Immediate purchase ensures the credit card is scanned while the buyer is still in the warm glow of an enthusiastic, helpful salesperson.

But they’re not salespeople. They’re Geniuses. They work at a Genius Bar, not a customer service desk. A genius inspires confidence in a way that a salesperson cannot. And a “bar” suggests an openness that a “desk” does not. Putting those two words together was a brilliant idea. “Yes, we’re geniuses. But we’re not intimidating. C’mon over to the bar and let’s chat.” It gives a sense of getting a useful explanation of a complicated subject, while chatting with a friend over a latte. A little bit of genius rubs off and you walk away feeling good about technology that you previously didn’t understand.

Oh, and if you happen to be paying by check or cash and have to stand in line, they have a way cool way to pass the time. The screens (which are extremely readable) behind the Genius Bar give you changing information to read while you wait. A glossary defines terms (bandwidth came up while I was there), there are quick how-to snippets for your Apple products, and random interesting facts.

In the Christmas Eve hecticity of mall shopping, I found this to be a soothing little oasis.

It also led me to wonder about the “Reference Desk” moniker. Can’t that be renamed to reflect it’s purpose as THE place to go for information provided by friendly, approachable, knowledgeable people?

The Library of the Future

Take a look at this video:

It’s a fascinating look at “user as co-creator” of future library space. While I’m fairly certain that my public library will not resemble this anytime soon, I’m sure there is a lot here that is worth discussing and incorporating into the way we do business. I’d love some feedback on this.

Also, here’s a link to the report, in English:

And here’s one in which children aged 6-14 created models, pictures and stories with new ideas and visions for libraries of the future:

Technology is changing the way we interact with information. If libraries are going to continue to be vital resources, the way we provide information and allow our users to interact with it will have to grow to include some of the ideas presented here.


I’ve been looking at the structure of my library site a lot lately, feeling that it’s just not right. We have the usual categories: teens, kids, adults. We have a link to the catalog and a link to patron information, and our calendar and newsletter. We’ve put our services into labeled boxes. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but the boxes we’ve used feel wrong.

I’m not sure why we have a category called “adults.” Perhaps at an early meeting we discussed the way librarians are put into categories: adult services, teen services, children’s services, and divided our website accordingly. While this may be a good way to distribute job duties, it doesn’t work well for a website. It makes sense to break out separate sections for kids and teens, but labeling a section for adults sounds almost like we have an R-rated section.

I still chuckle every time I hear a co-worker tell a patron, “The kids videos are over there on the right, and the adult videos are on the left.” Adult videos? Do they realize how that sounds? Apparently not. : ) 

Rather than putting all of our users into one category, “adults” (leaving out the kids and teens for now), perhaps we’d be more helpful if we think about who these adults are and how they might be using the website.

It seems to me that there is a useful correlation between what a person will use the website for and their level of internet experience. Someone new to the internet may come a library’s website just to see if we have a book. A more experienced person will look around the site for information on programs or book recommendations. And those who live and work on the web will want to interact with the site, rather than passively obtaining information.

We need to accomodate all of these users if we want to have a successful website. We need to make it easy and intuitive for a newbie, without “dumbing it down” and driving away patrons who are looking for something more. Because the library may be one of the first sites a newbie visits (After all, people look to the library understand and learn new things. That’s our business.) we need to make that first experience a positive one. And we need to provide an engaging environment that will keep people coming back for more than the catalog.

Once we start thinking in terms of real user categories, the services required by these users begins to become clear.