The user is not broken. It pisses some librarians off when I say that, but it’s true, as I intend it. The user is not broken in that our job is to fulfill the user’s needs, and the user’s needs are, while not always well-defined, possible to meet, or understood by either side, valid — so accusing the user of Doing It Wrong is counterproductive to our goals and needs, and should be avoided. This applies to space usage, reference inquiries, customer service, and use of our online tools.
Which is why I chuckled sadly when I encountered this blog post, which visually illustrates how the search algorithm running Barnes and Noble’s site differs from Amazon’s. The tweet that directed me to the post said that library catalogs suffer the same challenges as B&N’s engine. I agree.
Then I read the comments on the post. (I have very nearly sworn off reading any comment posted on the internet anywhere ever… and this just adds fuel to that fire). It only took five comments before someone blamed the user, asserting that the user must have searched for Author instead of Subject. The inference is that the tools are fine, the user is just broken.
*taps mic, clears throat* THE USER IS NOT BROKEN.
All screenshot evidence aside (there is no “search by author” option visible in the interface!), given that Amazon (and Google) have set the precedents for much of our users’ expectations, why on earth would someone assert that a less-successful search in the B&N database, when performed to user expectation, is The User Doing It Wrong? It makes me sad. It’s frustrating. And it’s counterproductive. We can sit back, all of us, in libraries and outside of them, and with smug self-satisfaction explain why our tools, websites, spaces, and services are just brilliantly perfect… or we can thoughtfully observe our environment, acknowledge that the user has needs and is showing us what they are, and adapt.
Evolution has a theory about which paradigm thrives. I’d rather thrive.