People Interact

Blog about people-centered design by Lisa Chow and Sandra Sajonas.

User Experience: The Reference Interaction

All sorts of interactions take place in the library. The most well-known is probably the one that takes place at a reference desk (or via virtual reference, individual research consultations, or roving reference).

Based on this year’s Reference Renaissance conference, LJ provides four different perspectives on the user experience of reference services. From “Fish Market 101” to “Why I Don’t Use Libraries for Reference Anymore”, here are a few points, tidbits, and thoughts:

  • “Taking a holistic view, the library UX extends to every touch point we create where the community member connects with our human or material resources, physically or virtually.” Whenever the topics of usability and user experience come up in conversation, technology always seem to follow and I find myself saying “It’s more than that.” As a library, it’s great if you have a user-friendly site, but don’t forget about your physical presence as well and the interactions that take place. Think ecosystem.
  • “This profession is all about connection.” Yes! It’s all about connecting. Librarians/library staff/libraries connect people with information, resources, services, other people, etc. Keep in mind that the connecting happens everywhere – reference, outreach, instruction, etc. One time after work, on the way to the subway, a colleague and I got stopped by a parent and kid with a question about where they can get a certain pet animal.
  • I can almost feel the author’s frustration when reading “Why I Don’t Use Libraries for Reference Anymore” because unfortunately, I have seen and experienced this. I find myself telling this one story over and over again. For a library school assignment, I had to ask a question at a library and evaluate the overall reference interview and experience. I walked up to the reference desk where the librarian seem to be extremely focused on the computer. Feeling like I was interrupting, I asked “Why are there three library systems in New York City?” and the response was “Because New York City is very big”. I then found myself asking follow-up questions and variations of the same question like “Is there a reason why it was decided that there would be three library systems?” and “Are there any resources that I can look at?” The response: “Go to the 020’s, the section for library science.” Feeling dismissed, I just left the library. 

Do you have any stories to share? Have you seen or experienced any memorable (good or bad) reference interactions?


4 responses to “User Experience: The Reference Interaction

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday! « People Interact

  2. Gloria W December 7, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    The site is great, very interesting. I truly think librarians need to be prepared and be indispensable when people come to us for information. The reference questions you posed to that unsuspecting librarian and her response was an example of horrible customer service. That could have been a moment of discovery of knowledge for her too, being that she worked in one of these 3 library institutions. Personally, I care where I work and would love to know more about the place I work in. There’s gotta be more passion in our life’s work. How do we expect the patrons to respect us, if we cannot show the value of our profession and respect our own selves? The librarian at that desk must also be reminded she is representing an institution much bigger than her. Simply following through on a patron’s information request will not only satisfy the patron but also serve as a fulfilling experience for her.

    • Gloria W December 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      You didnt say gender of librarian, but interestingly I remember a similar incidence with a female librarian, so in your scenario I assumed it was a female librarian.

      • peopleinteract December 7, 2010 at 6:17 pm

        Gloria, it was a male librarian actually, but regardless, I had a bad experience. It’s a story that I find myself sharing with friends. Definitely not the kind of story that libraries want people telling. Would like to hear more about your incidence.

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