You’re standing in front of the photocopier. Everyone else seems to know what they are doing. You’ve pressed the flashing button and swiped your card, but the document isn’t printing. A line of antsy students is forming behind you. Beads of sweat start to appear on your forehead. “Man, I feel dumb. I must be doing something wrong. It can’t be this hard.”
Inspired by Open Shelf’s recent interview with Brian Herzog, we decided to give Work Like A Patron (WLAP) Day a try at our library. On March 2nd, all Brock Library staff were invited to participate. The following week some of us gathered to share our experiences, including the one described above.
Here’s what we found:
Everything takes longer than you think.
Logging into our computers seems to take forever. First, finding somewhere to sit, then settling in with your winter coat, bag, laptop and coffee takes ages! Never mind waiting in line for the elevator. It’s not that our services are slow or under-par, it’s just that we library staff don’t typically see the big picture.
Once you factor in all the steps it takes to go from entering the library to working productively, you quickly realize that the library isn’t always as convenient as we like to think it is. It also explains why students sometimes leave their belongings while they use the washroom or grab a drink. If they didn’t, they’d have to start all over again!
Limited space means limited privacy.
It’s easy to take for granted the luxury of having our private, dedicated workspaces. Meeting the high demand for workstations by increasing the number of desktops also means that in some areas, things get pretty cozy. If you don’t mind close quarters or having your neighbour periodically peek at your screen activity, then no worries, the more the merrier! But for students looking for a little more elbow room and privacy, they may be out of luck, especially during peak hours of the day. It was a good reminder how exposed you can feel working in a public space.
Without a doubt, encountering technical problems is a commonplace occurrence these days. With the myriad of online environments and hardware that the library supports, there will always be moments when we experience glitches, malfunctions, or the ever-infuriating 404 error. Ensuring that we meet basic expectations (e.g. reliable Wi-Fi) and provide clear instructions for some of the less intuitive equipment (eg. the photocopier) means we can help reduce stress on our patrons. WLAP Day helped us identify a few areas for improvement, such as colour printing challenges, broken links here and there, and even issues around connecting from off-campus.
The importance of reporting errors.
What might seem like an insignificant issue at the time, can be the breaking point for a stressed-out student. WLAP Day exposed quick fixes that otherwise may have gone unnoticed for some time. Several staff participants noted that they submitted a Systems Ticket after their experience. In our WLAP day de-brief, we agreed that the event was a good way to ‘catch’ these errors, and we discussed how we might repeat the exercise throughout the year. We agreed that it is critical we report the errors that we encounter in our daily routines, not just on WLAP days. In doing so, we can offer the best service possible throughout the year.
It’s not all bad.
The diversity of spaces and unique location on campus is a real selling feature of our library. Each combination of spaces and services creates a different atmosphere that appeals to different patrons at different times. Whether it’s the morning wake-up call you get from a coffee in the commons cafe, feeling responsible and downright studious while working among other students in the group study areas, or taking a breather on the 10th floor while watching the sun set across the escarpment. WLAP Day was a great way to see, experience, and reflect on some of the things we do really well, and how we might make them even better.
Want to try this in your library?
There’s no need to set aside a whole day, and that doesn’t work for most staff members anyway. Just come up with a few common tasks, such as “add money to your print account” or “request an article via interlibrary loan.” Or list areas in the library to work on a laptop for a while, such as silent study or the learning commons (Check out our list if you want more ideas.) Try it on your own, or see if library administration is interested in embracing the concept as an all-staff initiative.
For our part, we consider the event a success: we took time to see things from our patrons’ side of the desk, and we are resolved to do it more often.
Colleen MacKinnon is a liaison librarian and co-leads the Library UX Team at Brock University. Monica Rettig is a liaison/ e-learning librarian and is the other co-lead of the Library UX Team at Brock University.
On the Verge is a column edited by Amanda Etches, Associate Chief Librarian at the University of Guelph Library.