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Next Tuesday (13 March) sees the Speak up for Libraries lobby in London. If you can go and join in, I’d urge you to do so – this is a chance for library supporters to make a big impression! If (like me) you can’t go, you can still show your support by signing up to support the issue, and writing to your MP to ask them to support the Speak up for Libraries early day motion.
I’ve written to my MP to ask for his support:
Dear Tony Lloyd,
I am writing to ask you to sign Early Day motion 2817, Speak Up For Libraries.
Free public libraries which are open to all are a vital part of the country’s community structure, and deliver huge benefits for education, life-long learning, digital literacy, and community engagement.
They are one of the few free, non-threatening spaces left. You don’t have to subscribe to a particular belief or belong to a particular sector of society to be allowed to use a library.
They’re places where you can go and know you’ll be welcomed, whoever you are, and whatever your reason for being there.
And there are many reasons to go to your public library! As well as large selections of fiction, public libraries provide access to educational material. People can go to their public library to learn how to use a computer, to learn to knit or grow their own veg, to learn another language, or find out more about a disease facing them or a loved one.
Libraries also offer computer access – increasingly vital for accessing goods and services, including local and national government services. Millions of people in the UK don’t have a computer, and couldn’t afford to buy and maintain one. Without computer access at their local library they will end up even more distanced from society.
Libraries and librarians also offer activities and ways to engage with the community. Services for children (such as Rhymetime) are hugely popular, and often over subscribed. Educationalists agree about the importance of engaging children with books and learning at an early age.
Many libraries also offer access to health information, which users may be unable or disinclined to seek elsewhere. Librarians will not judge or gossip. Part of being a professional librarian is adherence to a strict code of ethics*, with the needs of the user and society always at its heart, and they are a trusted profession. Replacing professional or trained library staff with volunteers may erode that trust, and lead to people not getting access to the information they need.
For that is what public libraries are about: connecting people with the information they need. UNESCO define the public library as:
‘the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups’
And access to information is often regarded as a basic human right. Libraries provide non-judgemental, unbiased, democratic access to that information, and librarians will help people find and evaluate the information they really need.
Disinformation, lies, private agendas, and prejudice have no place in the library. Allowing private groups (such as religious or political groups) to run public libraries opens the door to bias in information provision.
We’re asking the government not to allow councils to make hasty and short-sighted decisions about the future of libraries. Free and open-to-all public libraries are vital for an educated, engaged, and healthy populace. Please don’t let them vanish.
For more information on this issue, including stories from many members of the public about what a difference libraries have made to their lives, see independent campaign group Voices for the Library http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/, Speak up for Libraries http://www.speakupforlibraries.org/, and information on the value of libraries from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/advocacy/pages/overviewofadvocacy.aspx.
Thank you for taking the time to read this email, and please do sign early day motion 2817.
*I should clarify: only members of professional organisations (such as CILIP or ARA) are actually subject to their association’s code of ethics. That doesn’t mean that non-members aren’t ethical! But they’re not committed to following a certain code in the same way.
While chatting to the team who have been redesigning the Copac website and UI (coming soon!), I came across Krug’s theory of the Reservoir of Goodwill. This is the idea that each person comes to the website with a certain amount of ‘goodwill’ (or patience) towards your website. Finding the information they need, easily, will fill up that reservoir. Not finding it, or encountering barriers to use, will deplete the reservoir. When it’s empty, they leave – no matter whether they’ve done what they came for or not. And that reservoir can be emptied surprisingly quickly! A single bad design or interaction element can ensure that.
This popped into mind when I encountered the following message while trying to buy bootlaces:
‘Invoice Address – Please do not enter your address as all lower case letters.’
I’m sorry, you think you’re worth capitals to me? You’re not. Lost sale.
And I’m sure they thought it to be a perfectly reasonable request. I can imagine the meeting going something like this:
Person 1: ‘Our invoicing system needs addresses to be correctly capitalised to work! What can we do?’
Person 2: ‘Maybe we could add a script in to toggle case where there’s lower-case at the start of a word?’
Person 3: ‘That sounds like far too much time and effort! Just tell the user not to enter their details all in lower-case. That’s not good grammar, anyway’.
I’m guessing that it’s some kind of system requirement, btw. There’s no indication of whether this is the case, or if the site’s just run by someone who has a moral objection to seeing addresses in lower case. There’s also no any indication of what will happen if I do enter my address in lower case. Will my order get cancelled? Will the poor postman run round in circles trying to find ‘manchester’? Or will the person at the other end just get a bit narky, cos now they have to tidy up my data? What’s the acceptable alternative? Does it have to be Sentence Case? WILL ALL CAPS DO?
I’m pretty sure that at no point did they consider that this requirement would lose them sales. But it emptied my reservoir of goodwill in one big floosh.
This got me wondering what invisible barriers we put in the way of our users – things that to us might seem, if not reasonable and logical, at least justifiable. But to users they might be that one last thing that drains away their last few drops of goodwill – and they might never come back.
One sprang to mind immediately. My mum recently admitted, in a resigned and weary tone, that she now knows her library card number off by heart, through having to enter it every time she downloads a library ebook to her phone. Her 14-digit library card number, that is. 14 digits! Now, it’s been quite some time since Maths A level, and statistics were never my strong point, but I believe 14 digits allows for 10^14 combinations. That’s 289,254,654,976 possible library card numbers. I know we say to be optimistic about usage, but really!
I wondered if this was a fluke, so I ran a very quick and dirty poll on twitter (which I’ve just discovered doesn’t have a results page I can share with you), so here’s a nice screenshot:
Now, I know this isn’t very scientific, but it gives a quick snapshot. 91% of respondents have to enter their library card number to use at least some online services. For 90% of them, that’s 8 digits or more. For 50%, it’s 11 digits or more. That’s as long or longer as a mobile phone number. And remember – even the fact of having to authenticate can be a barrier to entry.
Now, I admit that this might not be the domain of the library itself. Authentication to use resources is something we usually don’t have any control over, and the method of authentication might not be under the library’s control either. But educational institutions have made good progress with single sign-on and federated access – isn’t it time we were asking our councils to do the same? I know I have 3 different logins that I have to use in various sections of the council website: for library services; for council tax; and for gym bookings. I’d love a single sign-on to access all of these.
But even if we know it’s not the fault of the library, the user doesn’t. To them it’s just another barrier, another number to remember. And while some won’t mind entering it, and some will mind entering it but will do it anyway, others might be turned away. Their reservoir of goodwill might be empty. They might have just lost their library card, and can’t remember the number. Either way, that’s a disappointed user, and one less notch on your monthly stats.
This is where user testing is so important. We can’t possible ever identify all of the barriers that someone might find to use of our sites and resources. It might be that they’re things that sound ridiculous to you (‘Objecting to entering their address in sentence case? Is this person a lunatic?!?’), but the site isn’t for you. It’s for your users.
So, over to you. What invisible barriers have you encountered? What ones might we be putting in people’s way? And what can we do to remove them?
In a development that has surprised me greatly, I’ve recently started including a decent amount of exercise in my weekly schedule. I’m enjoying it much more then I expected to (it seems I have a weakness for group dance!), and find myself actually looking forward to my gym trips.
But there’s only so much time in the week, and there are plenty of other things I want to do with that time. And those things aren’t ‘watch bad daytime tv’, ‘listen to dance music’ or ‘compile a mental list of different types of effort-grunt’. I want to read! And you know what? I can, and do!
Most of the machines at the gym have a handy little ledge on the control panel, conveniently situated at eye level, and just the right size to rest a kindle on. This is where the kindle is really coming into its own. I don’t have to worry about trying to prop the pages open, or hold a paper book with sweaty hands. I can read the kindle without holding it, alter the text size so I can find the right balance of ‘readable from a distance’ and ‘don’t have to turn the page too often’. If my current read isn’t very gym-friendly, I can switch to something else (I find light reads work best). And it means that I’m virtuously doing exercise, while making sure I don’t lose out on too much precious reading time!
I’ve not seen anyone else at the gym with a kindle, but people do take magazines, and once I saw a girl with a paperback, so I’m obviously not alone in combining reading and running (well, more accurately walking/shuffling/panting/collapsing in heap).
So, in honour of World Book Day – where’s the strangest place you read? The oddest thing you multitask it with?