New York City’s libraries are open an average of 43 hours a week, about the same as a decade ago and down from a high of 47 hours. “Even the Detroit public library system stays open longer;” the report noted. Columbus’s libraries are open an average of 72 hours a week. Despite the relatively short hours, the study found, New York City’s libraries “have experienced a 40 percent spike in the number of people attending programs and a 59 percent increase in circulation over the past decade.” San Francisco’s government contributed $101 per capita to the city’s libraries, the highest of any city in the study, while New York’s library systems all received between $30 and $40 per capita, below Seattle, Boston, Detroit and others.
Unfortunately, this focus is distracting us from the realization that we don’t need to treat access to commercial content as our primary mission. Yes, we’ve put a lot of effort into it in the past, and we’ve done it well. But it’s time to take a step back. Previously, we had the force of law on our side; now, though, the problem of access to digital content is being solved without us. More important, our insistence on competing with (or even just complementing) Amazon and Apple—not to mention all of the free content available online—is an insistence that we define ourselves by something we are not good at anymore.
Does this mean it’s time to shut our doors and go home? No way. Here’s where user experience (UX) comes into play. Remember, UX is concerned with designing products and services that are easy to use, desirable to use, and genuinely useful.
UX design can help us optimize the services currently in our libraries, but we can do even more. We can use it to design completely new services and innovate. I’m not talking about a shallow buzzword sort of innovation as when a library employs the technology or social media flavor of the month. What I’m talking about is a systematic approach to learning about our communities so that we can find other ways to offer essential support.
Critics at Large: Far More Than Shushing and Checking Out Books: For the Love of Librarians and Public Libraries →
To put this plainly, librarians are surgeons with the Internet. They are specially trained to know how to find anything you need in cyberspace, how to locate the best answer and get it fast. They’re ready and waiting. They are the emergency-response personnel to all your information needs. Your public librarian is a wizard. Ask them anything – seriously, I dare you – they will find it. Following a strict code of ethics and confidentiality, we also promise not to tell all our friends (or our cats) what you asked either. On top of that, a librarian is also an educator. They are willing to share their powers and will also show you how to find almost anything on your own. Imagine.