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The User Is Not Broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto

Launched after a discussion with a passionate young librarian who cares. Please challenge, change, add to, subtract from, edit, tussle with, and share these thoughts.

——————

All technologies evolve and die. Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.

You fear loss of control, but that has already happened. Ride the wave.

You are not a format. You are a service.

The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system.

The user is the sun.

The user is the magic element that transforms librarianship from a gatekeeping trade to a services profession.

The user is not broken.

Your system is broken until proven otherwise.

That vendor who just sold you the million-dollar system because “librarians need to help people” doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, and his system is broken, too.

Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face.

Most of your most alienated users will never meet you face to face.

The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens; defend their right to read; and then get out of the way.

Your website is your ambassador to tomorrow’s taxpayers. They will meet the website long before they see your building, your physical resources, or your people.

It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to find a library website that is usable and friendly and provides services rather than talking about them in weird library jargon.

Information flows down the path of least resistance. If you block a tool the users want, users will go elsewhere to find it.

You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user.

Meet people where they are–not where you want them to be.

The user is not “remote.” You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.

The average library decision about implementing new technologies takes longer than the average life cycle for new technologies.

If you are reading about it in Time and Newsweek and your library isn’t adapted for it or offering it, you’re behind.

Stop moaning about the good old days. The card catalog sucked, and you thought so at the time, too.

If we continue fetishizing the format and ignoring the user, we will be tomorrow’s cobblers.

We have wonderful third spaces that offer our users a place where they can think and dream and experience information. Is your library a place where people can dream?

Your ignorance will not protect you.

Posted on this day, other years:

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95 Comments

  1. dmw wrote:

    Can I get a hell, yes! here? I’m a recent graduate who has been wading into the entire Library 2.0/Web 2.0 dialogue and I have to say that this post encompasses a lot of what I’ve been mulling over and feeling lately. You’d think a lot of it would be common sense but it really does help to lay it out in black and white. I think it keeps the whole experience in perspective and makes what can often seem like a very overwhelming journey much more understandable and manageable. Kudos!

    Saturday, June 3, 2006 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Loved it: portuguese translation at http://bib20.janjos.com/2006/06/a_biblioblogosfera_est_ao_rubr.php

    Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  3. kgs wrote:

    Thank you/Obrigada!

    Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  4. Yes, yes, yes!

    Can this please be printed and distributed to every librarian and every library school? Please?

    Thank you for a wonderful post!

    Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 2:58 pm | Permalink
  5. “Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.” And it doesn’t take long. I remember how totally up-to-date Parker Posey sounded in Party Girl, explaining how to do internet searches with Gopher and FTP. Way back in 1995. Every librarian has seen that film, right?

    Sunday, June 4, 2006 at 9:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Thomas wrote:

    I just love this. Translated to norwegian on Blogg og bibliotek (Blog and library): http://bloggbib.net/?p=75

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 12:06 am | Permalink
  7. Edwin wrote:

    Hello,

    I liked it very much and translated it in Dutch. Without dictionaries though, so it might be a bit clumsy. Thxs for the post!

    http://zbdigitaal.blogspot.com/2006/06/bibliotheek-20-24-stellingen-om-bij_05.html

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 4:25 am | Permalink
  8. Darren wrote:

    The library as a flux, a transformative experience–more verb than noun.

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 6:29 am | Permalink
  9. Karen, can you explain more about the following points: “You are not a format, you are a service” and “If we continue fetishizing the format…” I want to make sure I understand what “format” means to you in those contexts. Thanks.

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 7:02 am | Permalink
  10. JC Bell wrote:

    So much truth here!

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 7:34 am | Permalink
  11. kgs wrote:

    Luke, I’m thinking about our traditional relationship with books. As a reader and writer, I’m a book lover. As a librarian, I need to be careful that my relationship with that object does not overwhelm or displace my relationship with the user I am serving.

    Walt, I’ve always wanted to do a short film lit class for librarians, with Party Girl, Desk Set, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

    Oh, and Takk and Danki for the translations!

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  12. Greg Facincani wrote:

    Amen.

    We need this in a poster form so we can go tack it onto the door of the church.

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 10:53 am | Permalink
  13. K Boyett wrote:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you

    I’ve printed this out in BIG letters and have it tacked to the wall of my office for all to see as they enter.

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  14. Jackie wrote:

    Karen-
    This is one of the best library statements I have ever read. I’ve sent it to everyone I know including my board.

    Jackie

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  15. Jami Haskell wrote:

    This is great. As a current MLS candidate and someone who is new to the profession, these are exactly the kinds of thoughts that pass through my mind every day. Thank you for gathering this together in one place. I will be adding to it and spreading the word among my peers…Thanks!!

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  16. Phyllis wrote:

    RE: “I’ve always wanted to do a short film lit class for librarians, with Party Girl, Desk Set, and It’s a Wonderful Life.”

    Don’t miss Ann Seidl at ALA with
    “Hollywood Librarian.”

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
  17. fred hanson wrote:

    Amen!
    Wonderfully said!
    Thank you.

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  18. kgs wrote:

    Phyllis, I just read about the showing at ALA early this afternoon! Color me psyched to the max!

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  19. Brian wrote:

    You are in the business of providing convenience.

    (Not sure I get the OPAC/planet analogy. Now, if you had said that the OPAC is a black hole …)

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  20. tack it onto the door of the church” … wasn’t the Reformation the first revolution started by a blog post?

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  21. kgs wrote:

    Yes, and I’m not taken in by bull, either! ;-)

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  22. Thanks, Karen! Your words are inspirational and I predict that this meme will become a classic!

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 5:21 pm | Permalink
  23. Laura wrote:

    The revolution will be blogged. And tagged, while we’re at it. And discoverable via search engines. It will have permalinks. And comments? Definitely allowed–nay, encouraged. Thanks.

    Monday, June 5, 2006 at 9:30 pm | Permalink
  24. Clotilde wrote:

    and the french translation is here: http://klog.hautetfort.com/archive/2006/06/06/l-usager-n-est-pas-obsolete.html

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 6:16 am | Permalink
  25. Cary Daniel wrote:

    The card catalog s*******? The only thing lacking with the card catalog (as is the case today) is sound instruction on how to use it and its many facets. Which is more desirable, browsing the stacks hoping beyond hope that something valuable will fall off the stacks and fill your need, or throwing a keyword into a browser and hoping beyond hope that you will find something valuable which satisfies your need, or going about your bibliograhic inquiry in a structured fashion?

    Let’s all jump on the trendy bandwagon and give the users what they want…only tomorrow to be met with something else they want, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ….

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  26. Sarah wrote:

    Added to the bulletin board in the breakroom. As another “passionate young librarian”, this has managed to encapsulate a lot of the things I’ve been trying to say in a very clumsy manner myself. Kudos.

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  27. Justin wrote:

    A possible addition: Librarians are their own worst enemy. We will become obselete if we continue to make ourselves irrelevant.

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 7:43 am | Permalink
  28. kgs wrote:

    Merci, Clotilde! Justin, very Pogo of you–how I agree. Laura, did you know I had a Techsource post about the NCSU implementation of Endeca (about how the OPAC was made much more useful with a search engine layered on top) called The Revolution will be Folksonomied?

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  29. Margaret Law wrote:

    I have forwarded this to my marketing class at the University of Alberta Library school and put it on the agenda for tomorrow’s discussion. We have been talking about how to change the library instead of changing the user, and this will notch the conversation up a level, thanks.

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  30. kgs wrote:

    Thanks, Margaret; I’d love to hear what students would add/change about this list (and I bet many others would as well). If they blog or write somewhere online about it, drop a comment here pointing FRL toward it!

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 9:30 am | Permalink
  31. Giving users what they want is trendy? Great! Libraries should be trendy! I mean, why wouldn’t they be? Why wouldn’t they change with the times? And if libraries aren’t giving users what they want…what the heck are the giving anyone?

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 10:58 am | Permalink
  32. Carrie K wrote:

    Not a librarian, just a reader (who voted yes on Prop 81 this morning, btw) but I loved the card catalog! I’m in the Contra Costa library district and it is awesome, particularly the intra-library book availability, but I miss the card catalog. If I don’t spell an author’s name exactly right it won’t pop up in the web site search. The card catalog was more forgiving and much easier to find books in the same category.

    OTOH, I didn’t have to file the new cards into it. I believe I thought they were put there by elves.

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  33. sylvie wrote:

    “Let’s all jump on the trendy bandwagon and give the users what they want…only tomorrow to be met with something else they want, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ….” :)

    YES! That would be the point EXACTLY. (except it’s not realy a trend, it’s a good business plan!)
    Give them what they want and watch them come back, again and again.

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  34. kgs wrote:

    “OTOH, I didn’t have to file the new cards into it. I believe I thought they were put there by elves.” Ah, you have found us out :-)

    You raise an interesting point about the card catalog having higher error tolerance in some respects. I agree with you that our online catalogs should not be SO DOGGONE HARD TO USE and so completely unforgiving. I am the sort of library user who will look for “Brunch at Tiffany’s” or misspell ‘Capote’. There’s no reason for an online catalog not to help the user with that kind of problem. That’s part of what I’m getting at when I write about the system being broken until proven otherwise, and the user not being broken. Your expectations are perfectly reasonable and a fairly low bar for current technologies. If cars were that hard to drive we’d all still be on horses!

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  35. dave wrote:

    “Let’s all jump on the trendy bandwagon and give the users what they want…only tomorrow to be met with something else they want, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ….”

    on sarcasm: Yes! Forget those pesky user with their pesky inconsistent needs. My library is stocked only with what I want in the format I want it in. And the users had sure as hell better like it!: off sarcasm

    And there’s absolutely no reason why an OPAC can’t be as forgiving of misspellings as Amazon or Google. Or for blog comments to not let me put on sarcasm/ off sarcasm in HTML! :)

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  36. Martyn wrote:

    This is an inspiring statement – although I would add one other sentence:
    “If you chuck it out it isn’t there when the next reader wants it.”

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  37. Laura wrote:

    Now that you mention it, yes, I do remember “The Revolution Will Be Folksonomied.” Good stuff. If only I could get the folksonomy of my brain to wire together a little more tightly at times. . . .

    Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 9:41 pm | Permalink
  38. michelle f wrote:

    I enjoyed the post and have been encouraging a similar persepective (when possible!!) for years. It is astounding that the suggested spellings offered by Google and others is not a feature in our online catalogues and you’re absolutely right that it takes almost longer than the life of a new technology for libraries to adopt them. Ah, well, despite these difficulties, change does come. Still, it has always made me wonder why most library environments would rather spend an eon discussing an idea–particularly the possible difficulties which might arise if the idea becomes reality–rather than just giving things a go. I wonder if it’s endemic in the personalities that tend towards the profession? Not sure. And, having said this, there ARE many exceptional libraries and librarians out there who dive in and work for the user. The trick might be getting them altogether in one place…he he.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  39. All technologies evolve and die. Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.
    I spent several classes learning to use command based systems in library school. The year I graduated, almost every single one of them introduced a web based interface.

    If we continue fetishizing the format and ignoring the user, we will be tomorrow’s cobblers.
    Does anyone have a good, friendly, non-jargony sounding word for a generic library item that doesn’t imply format? Something to avoid the laundry list of things you can search for in an OPAC, for instance. (“Search for books, videos, audio tapes and disks, kits, government documents, ebooks, websites, etc.”)
    Part of the problem is language.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  40. Cindiann wrote:

    A major problem with ILSs is that their primary customers are librarians. If ILS development was driven by users who took their business and money elsewhere, the average ILS would look like Googlezon. :)

    “The average library decision about implementing new technologies takes longer than the average life cycle for new technologies.” Hear, hear!! Organizations are so very slow to move. Users and their needs are zipping past us.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  41. Elena wrote:

    Overall, some solid, strong points to consider.

    Two small critiques…

    I wish you’d written this with we statements instead of you. As is, the use of you sets my teeth on edge a bit.

    Also, I understand your point on this, but the phrasing of it bothered me: You are not a format. You are a service.
    I’d much prefer We are not format providers. We are service providers. Even sticking with you, I’d prefer You are not a format provider. You are a service provider. Not as catchy, to be sure, but more humanizing.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  42. Adam Rosenkranz wrote:

    “You fear loss of control, but that has already happened. Ride the wave.”

    She is right-on target about a lot of things, too glib and simplistic about others. The above quote sounds “real zen,” but supports the main problem of our society: the technological imperative to change as a mode of totalitarianism. Three things to think about, the third in the form of a quote:

    -There may be people at top controlling that wave. They may be manipulating the appearance of certain waves through filters. The wave – or meme, to use an all too convenient euphemism – may be a media simulation or distortion. The people at the top, who may be controlling the waves, may have less than pure motives.

    -That the book is a also a technology that may die is not necessarily a good thing. Not all new technologies replacing the old have been good for our mental and physical health — nor good for the mental health of our societies and the physical health of our planet.

    -“A dead thing can go with the stream; only a living thing can go against it.”

    – GK CHESTERSON

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  43. kgs wrote:

    Elena, your point about POV is interesting. I chewed over that and even asked myself that question. If I had to repitch this meme I might do it like that. “You” is a challenging point of view to write from.

    I also tussled (very briefly–I wrote this in 45 minutes or less, not really sure) with “you are not a format.” I don’t think “You are not a format provider” is quite there–I’m not quite willing to relinquish prose to accuracy–but recasting that line might help.

    Adam, it’s kind of interesting to read about myself in the third person on this blog (she said to herself, sipping ginger ale…). I’m not sure books are dying, at least not in my generation. I do wish the typical monstrously ineffective OPAC–introduced as state of the art technology for many librarians–would die, die, die, sooner than later, too–and it is our job to help its death along.

    Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  44. nzlemming wrote:

    Karen, I liked this. There’s a whole buncha t-shirts in there just waiting to be cafe-pressed ;-) I am not a librarian (although, as an IS manager I once had responsibility for a library) but my wife is and I read this out loud to her, but had to wait for her gales of recognition laughter to subside so that I could finish it.

    To Adam: a book is not made of paper. Books will not die, but their format is changing. And GKC was not God, he only thought he was. While a live thing can struggle against the current, it will only do so to get somewhere the world has already been – the smart thing is to go with the flow toward the future and make sure you’re able to handle whatever may bob to the surface.

    Cheers
    mark

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 5:34 am | Permalink
  45. Steve Sowards wrote:

    Without disagreeing when it comes to service issues, let’s be sure our exuberance about trendy user-centered ideas doesn’t lead us to forget what libraries do (and that other info sources don’t do).
    The posted comments are almost exclusively about two elements in the equation: the user(s) and the service (and library staff who provide service). What is not prominent here is the collection, which is why the service exists, to serve the user.
    There were libraries before librarians: our profession came into being to connect users with collections more effectively. There is plenty of information out there that is very user-centric in the sense that it’s “all about” easy delivery (but often not about content): TV was the pinnacle of that world for a while, and not it’s the internet, which is increasingly being commercialized to resemble a bigger better TV wasteland.
    Expenses for services compete with expenses for content. Sometimes you can’t have it all. Which is worse: good delivery, inferior content; or inferior delivery, good content? Arguable: but the latter is a library, and the former is not. So choose wisely.
    The collection also imposes its demands, not just the users. When our collections were paper, those demands meant “come to the library building.” Today, the demands imposed by collections are about copyright holder rights, licensing issues, authorization of users, oligopolies among publishers, and high costs. If librarians ruled the world, these would fade away, but we don’t: we are constrained to deliver what is on the market. The design of our Web sites, the rules that annoy our users, and the difference between a collection vs the Web are among the results.

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 5:58 am | Permalink
  46. Cary Daniel wrote:

    “Let’s all jump on the trendy bandwagon and give the users what they want…only tomorrow to be met with something else they want, and tomorrow, and tomorrow ….”

    on sarcasm: Yes! Forget those pesky user with their pesky inconsistent needs.

    WANTS and NEEDS are two different things! Think about it! A student has to write an English essay on assisted suicide. She comes to the desk and says, “I want the chemical formula for cyanide”. You, with all your education about what would better serve the patron, are going to hand her the chemical formula for cyanide? You have met her “want”. She goes away happy. You are trendy, so you are happy. But, have you met her “need”?

    Why did we spend so much time getting our education, just to give current students short shrift in their quests? Educate them! Teach them how to formulate a logical question about what they NEED, before they start casting their nets, by throwing keywords all over the place. Then TEACH them how to search the BEST way (as your education and experience has taught you). Then teach them how to evaluate their hits. It’s far easier to evaluate 10 hits as the result of a carefully considered and well constructed search, than it is to wade through the millions of hits as the result of indiscriminate keyword searching. They don’t have the time or patience for that. Why not teach them to spend 5 minutes on the front end defining what they NEED, rather than 60 trying to sort through to locate something they WANT? Be trendy if you want. But are you really furthering education and scholarship?

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 6:58 am | Permalink
  47. J A Stewart wrote:

    A professional colleague and good friend of mine referred to this meme in a speech yesterday. I wonder if “Service trumps format” sums up the line people are discussing?? (Not in the “donald” sense, but in the card-playing sense.)

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  48. Karen, I mostly agree with what you’ve said. The one section I take exception to is the one about tomorrow’s taxpayers meeting the web site before they meet building, resources or people. I work for a library council, not in an building, but I have two young children and live in an urban (majority low-income) district. The “future taxpayers” here use the public library heavily before they can even type on a keyboard. Older kids use it as a safe haven after school where they can study, socialize and have encouraging adult contact. Most, I would guess, have never visited the library’s web site. (no computers at home, one in a classroom, too few in the library). Yes, the systems need to work, but sometimes I think we librarians often lose sight of the importance of place and an inviting staff. A warm place that welcomes users of all sorts can overcome the obstacles of clumsy tools and systems. This is especially true for the younger set, no matter how much we hear they are enamored with technology. In practice, they mostly want a place where they are treated as important citizens in the community. And, if we have the will, we can change the way we treat patrons a lot more quickly and cheaply than we can change systems!

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  49. Cary, you’re starting with some iffy assumptions:

    1) The user may know what s/he wants, but not what s/he needs. What the user wants and what the user needs are almost certainly two different things.

    2) We librarians know more than users do in general.

    3) We librarians specifically know more about what users need than the user him/herself does.

    Why would you assume this? Why not instead assume (and maybe this should be added to the meme list) that a user knows best about what s/he needs, until proven otherwise?

    Take your example: the student has to write an essay on assisted suicide and only asks the librarian for the chemical formula for cyanide. The only reason this is an example of what the student wants but not what the student needs is because you’ve decided that for the sake of your example it’s true. In real life, the chemical formula for cyanide might very well be all that the student needs–the student has the rest of the essay well in hand and only needs this one bit of info. Also, in real life, the student may need more information and not realize it initially. But let’s assume that the user does, in fact, know better than we do what s/he both wants and needs.

    Because we’re starting with the assumption that the user is not broken. You’re starting with the assumption that the user is, indeed, broken, and its our job to fix the user.

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  50. dave free wrote:

    I really don’t think the point of 2.0 or whatnot is that it’s trendy to do “retail reference”. The point is to make sure know your community and provide the services,access and, yes, collections (be they electronic, paper, stone tablets) that are going to best serve them.

    And I don’t necessarily think wants and needs are opposed in this case. My users in an academic library both want and need information to be successful (get a good grade)on whatever project they’re working on at the time. A big part of that is doing a good reference interview and providing education on the best way to do research, as Cary describes. And we’re never going to train every user to ask for exactly what they want/need up front. BUT that doesn’t mean that our technologies and systems have to be as cumbersome and non-user friendly as they are.

    If our systems worked better, it would be *easier* to teach the information literacy (or whatever you wanna call it) skills. Less time could be spent on complicated “click here, now click here, now dance a jig” steps and creating search strings that resemble a calculus equation and more on evaluating the information you actually find to understand the whos/whys/hows/whats and make sure it fits the want/need of what you’re working on. There’s no reason for the “quest” to be so difficult.

    But sometimes the user really does just want/ need the formula for cyanide. :)

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  51. Great stuff – I;ve already incorporated into a presentation I did today. It was recieved with lots of nods of thought provoking approval.

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  52. I’ve been a librarian for 25 years and have seen a lot of change, but not seeing many users face to face has been true all of those years. Before library web sites, the catalogue was the library’s face to users who for whatever reason did not want to ask a librarian. Now, the library’s face is still the catalogue plus it’s web pages. I wonder why then fewer and fewer resources are going into making the catalogue something that users will WANT to use?

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  53. jenn wrote:

    Give the “users” what they want, and then show them something they didn’t know they wanted. That’s our magic, yes? Does Google do that? That takes humans. jenn

    Thursday, June 8, 2006 at 7:53 pm | Permalink
  54. kgs wrote:

    Jenn, I think you’ve hit on our role: enhancing the information experience. We can add a lot of value to information services.

    Susan D., I agree that many public library users find the library in ways other that through the website. But I’ll insist that increasingly, the library website is the welcome mat for future taxpayers. They may still want to come in to the library–if it’s a well-marketed welcoming third space, an alternative to the soul-deadening malls that substitute for the town pump of yore–but they aren’t going to look up the library in a phone book, and they’re going to want services that travel beyond the building. Look at OCLC’s terrific Perceptions reports.

    Cary, I salute your willingness to present your ideas on this blog. You’ve provided a provocative angle. Your idea that we can and should reach every user is a good one. We’re just disagreeing on the means. The old model where we believed we could physically reach and teach our users was really well-intended, but it doesn’t scale or fit our society. But you and I agree on far more than may be evident.

    Friday, June 9, 2006 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  55. kgs wrote:

    Gracias, Alvaro! J.A., that’s another way to view this: almost a rock-paper-scissors concept.

    Friday, June 9, 2006 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  56. For films about librarians, don’t forget the career information gem, The Librarian (1947). It even includes the classic looking-for-a-book line, “I know it’s blue and tells all about television.”

    Friday, June 9, 2006 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  57. George Rickerson wrote:

    To deploy a federated search engine in your library is to tell the information seekers in your library a lie, because it is not doing what they think it is doing, and it cannot do what they want it to do. There is nothing you can do about either problem. Lying to information seekers is the worst sin in librarianship.

    Friday, June 9, 2006 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  58. Rachel wrote:

    This is great stuff. I would add:
    If training is needed in order to make the best use of the OPAC, digital library, or website, then it is broken, or If you made it, and it has to be explained in order to be used, you haven’t done your job.

    Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 9:11 am | Permalink
  59. kgs wrote:

    I saw a sign yesterday for a library offering classes in how to use the catalog, and had exactly the same reaction, Rachel.

    Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 9:35 am | Permalink
  60. Lazygal wrote:

    I’m not sure I agree with this last. Sometimes even the simplest things need “training”. Yes, most things should be intuitive, but being all things to everyone? Won’t happen. There will always be people who “don’t get it”, who confuse author with title, or don’t understand that BIO is short for biography. How dumbed down do we need to be?

    Let’s not forget: coffee cups now come with a “Caution: hot product inside” warning.

    Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  61. kgs wrote:

    Lazygal, should a library catalog be so hard to use that it requires training? If so, why isn’t that true for Amazon?

    Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  62. Lazygal wrote:

    Karen, I’ll bet just as many people need help with Amazon’s advanced search as they do with the library’s advanced search. It took me quite a while to figure out how to edit my Amazon Wish List. Pity no one’s doing a study comparing Amazon (or Powells or B&N) to an OPAC and training on both. The results may be surprising.

    Monday, June 12, 2006 at 5:16 am | Permalink
  63. Lynne Collins wrote:

    Lovely. However, the user is Often broken and it is the compassionate librarian who helps the user become whole again by guiding them to information they most desperately need. Be that information a book on Shelties because their beloved Sheltie has just died, or the book “Babies with Down Syndrome” because their first grandchild has Downs, a librarian often mends cracks.
    Also, re “Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face”: we may not meet face to face, but if we pass each other in another environment (a grocery store, a street fair, …), we recognise each other and speak volumes via a brief nod. And at some point, that nod may lead to a “face to face.”

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 12:30 am | Permalink
  64. George Rickerson wrote:

    I was invited to expand on my earlier comment concerning federated search products. I said “To deploy a federated search engine in your library is to tell the information seekers in your library a lie, because it is not doing what they think it is doing …”

    By which I mean, I believe information seekers using a federated search product assume that all targets are being searched in the same way, thoroughly, more or less in the same manner that the Google search engine searches its database. Because of differences in indexing practices among various data providers, this of course cannot occur; in some cases one or more targets may return no or limited results even though they contain information relevant to the information seeker’s need.

    I went on to say “…and it cannot do what they want it to do.” When I use a federated search product, I want it to return all relevant hits from every target; in fact anything less than this means using the federated search product is a waste of my time. As discussed above, no federated search product can meet this requirement, even though the marketing of these products implies otherwise, i.e., federated search marketers habitually use the terms Amazon and Google in the descriptions of their products even though federated search engines have nothing in common with these tools.

    I stated, “There is nothing you can do about either problem.” This is simply a fact. The problems discussed above are the inevitable consequences of the facts that indexing practices vary among data providers – in fact this is a key to how they distinguish themselves from each other – and federated search engines, being ignorant of these variances, can never perform like Google. Moreover, it is practically impossible to explain this state of affairs to an information seeker, even if one has the opportunity, which one doesn’t in most cases.

    I opined, “Lying to information seekers is the worst sin in librarianship.” Just my opinion, but, given the librarian’s reason for being, it is hard for me to imagine what sin would be worse.

    Happily, there is a solution that everyone knows about and can implement, although few do, because it is difficult and expensive, and data providers would prefer we avoid this solution. Libraries (or, even better, groups of libraries working together) can license the raw data from data providers, load this data onto their own servers, and create their own indices on the basis of principles they decide upon that are consistent for all of the data sources; in fact they can create a union index of all of the data, which is, of course, what Google does. If a library cannot adopt this solution, it should resist the peer pressure to deploy the federated search product and do its best to help its users navigate the various native search interfaces for its various information products, because lying to users is simply wrong.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  65. Tanuki wrote:

    “… should a library catalog be so hard to use that it requires training? If so, why isn’t that true for Amazon?”

    [Et al.]

    Apples and oranges, folks. How many people truly use Amazon other than to find a specific book, and then be led to others by its wicked “If you liked A, you’ll like B” AI? Besides, an Amazon search on “Mobie Dik” doesn’t generate a “Did you mean –?” (Although it might had it been an Amazon.nl.) It’s just as unforgiving as the OPAC.

    Easy to use doesn’t mean useful. The OPAC needs to be geared to tracking down the books one needs for research, just as much as (I’d say more than) it needs to be able to fetch forth the shelf locations of the latest best sellers. It needs a more sophisticated approach by the OPAC — but also by the patron.

    N.B.: I’m all for better OPACs — ideally an amalgam of Google, FRBR, and LCSH: fuzzy spelling resolution, recognition of both folksonomic and field-specific search terms, and a more manifestation-oriented approach, all built around a solid, authority controlled core. Powerful, useful, flexible, enabling.

    That said, I must disagree with the title of this blog entry — the user is broken. Just as broken as the OPAC.

    I don’t know about you all, but when I was in third grade our class was taught about the card catalogue and how to find and use subject headings. In junior high, the school librarian showed us how to consult the Red Books. (Well, I remember them as red; possibly the Dewey equivalent, though. Been a while.)

    Library instruction is obviously no longer the norm.

    Result: the broken products of an inadequate educational system can’t use the OPACs properly. Thus, obviously, the librarians and their OPACs are at fault …

    Huh? Come again?

    Yet, to judge by this blog entry and the responses to it, looks like a lot of librarians are buying into this idea.

    Pfui, say I.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  66. Steve Lawson wrote:

    George Rickerson says “When I use a federated search product, I want it to return all relevant hits from every target.”

    I don’t that is what most people want from a federated search. The students I work with would be happy with X number of relevant hits, where X is the number of citations they are required to have in their paper. I expect that advanced researchers would understand (or would need to me made to understand) that they’d still need to wade into the target databases.

    I agree with many of your points, but I think that it is possible to say that a federated search tool can still be useful despite its drawbacks.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  67. George Rickerson wrote:

    Steve Lawson’s comment that users are very often satisfied with X number of relevant hits (as opposed to ALL relevant hits) is quite true, and the fact that a federated search might meet this standard does mitigate somewhat the inherent flaws in the federated search paradigm. I’m sure many librarians do understand these flaws and believe the tool nevertheless offers benefits to users. For some reason – perhaps a reaction to the way federated search product marketers represent their wares – I have trouble adopting this practical perspective. Moreover, I wish I could believe our profession is prominent in some effort to develop real and effective advances in information search and retrieval, but I can’t.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006 at 5:57 am | Permalink
  68. LH wrote:

    Netbib is a weblog written by some german librarians. We also love your text, so we did a german translation here:
    http://wiki.netbib.de/coma/SchneiderManifest

    Saturday, June 17, 2006 at 1:43 am | Permalink
  69. kgs wrote:

    “Der Benutzer ist nicht kaputt.” — Danke schon!

    Saturday, June 17, 2006 at 2:48 am | Permalink
  70. Hi Karen,
    Wouldn’t it be great to have this read out loud at some conference or in the bedrooms of the conference hotel’s as a kind of brainwash?
    Has there already beenh recorded a audio version?
    Maybe you could do one with Springdoo?
    I have created a Second Life Medical Library Trading Card with some line of this manifesto! Have a look.
    http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=171194999&size=o

    and made a small post on my blog:

    http://digicmb.blogspot.com/2006/06/user-is-not-broken-get-new-mindset.html

    Friday, June 23, 2006 at 4:58 am | Permalink
  71. Ann Holman wrote:

    Weird Library Jargon:

    Is that like: “add value and meaning to the information experience”?

    Friday, June 23, 2006 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  72. kgs wrote:

    Is that a phrase you find problematic, Ann? I am thinking more along the lines of jibberish such as “bibliographic instruction,” “reference,” and “online database.” But if that phrase is unclear, I can certainly recast it. I was striving for something that expressed the breadth of information without empty terms such as “resource.”

    I’ve decided I like the second person voice in this, by the way. It is confrontational, which is the effect I’m striving for.

    Re podcasting, I tend to be hesitant about my voice, but I could record this. Great idea, actually.

    Friday, June 23, 2006 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  73. Tory Trotta wrote:

    These are important comments to make. I think many of us, regardess of age or time in the profession know that the user is the ‘sun’ and that we need to go to where the user is in order to serve her. Let’s move on to solutions. What are library schools doing to promote different solutions to the MARC record/OPAC user inadequacies ? How can we make it happen?

    Monday, June 26, 2006 at 2:31 pm | Permalink
  74. Sue Sherif wrote:

    Much as I like Karen’s zesty tone and always thought-provoking viewpoints, I think that it the whole memeis addressed to a subset of librarians and information specialists who have managed to detach themselves from (or never were connected to) library users.
    I myself see librarians, trained and untrained, trying to embrace every format under the sun in order to meet their users needs and wants, who will pick up a telephone (pick your format for it) or get on their email and call or write all over creation trying to weave a web from a questioner to the actual human who can answer a question or provide just the right information. I see them providing programs for young people and adults that celebrate all forms of human expression, books, computer games, musical concerts, dance performances, poetry readings, hairstyles, or otherwise.

    I, like Susan, am skeptical that huge numbers of people meet the library for the first time via the web. (After all if you don’t know about libraries or have no expectations for them, do you seek them out online?) I’d say it’s those thousands of preschool story times (vastly superior to most bookstore offerings–if only the parking were better?!?!?) and daycare visits that lock in future taxpayers if not the good ol’, bad ol’ summer reading program, and those real undersung heroines, the school librarians (where they still exist) that give young people any expectations about libraries are or can be. For children and teens, it is often that “safe haven” idea that makes the library a temporal place, not an electronic presence.

    If it were our OPACS that were the draw, many of us wouldn’t even count ourselves as library lovers or supporters. I see a lot of working librarians doing their best in spite of the limitations of their OPACS, daily muttering under their breaths “What in the world was the remote cataloger/the vendor thinking when they devised this?” while trying to work all the OPACs quirks into a reasonable response to a library user’s request.

    I think many librarians would shout a hearty hoorah when the next or improved or alternate technology replaces the dinosaurs-when-they-were-born OPAC, but I don’t think it’s necessary to accuse all who work in the field with an unnatural attachment to the OPAC. If it were the OPAC that attracted people to libraries or our services, we would have been defunct BEFORE the web reached most of us.

    Friday, July 7, 2006 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  75. Kate wrote:

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I’d be interested to see what people think about ease of use vs. power. I think sometimes there is criticism of library catalogs that does not take into account that sometimes powerful searching *can’t* be “easy” (another reason why you need a human, a librarian, to help out–and why user education, for those who are interested in learning more themselves, is not always inappropriate). I agree that OPACs should be MUCH more user-friendly and include spellcheck, better navigation, etc., but I think it’s a little glib to view speed and ease of use as always superior.

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  76. kgs wrote:

    That’s the kind of argument that has allowed us to put our attention elsewhere while catalogs remain cumbersome and difficult to use. Oh, sure, add spell-check, but OPACs are difficult for a reason, etc.

    When I maintained airplanes, it was not considered a good thing when pilots (smart, visually quick people) had trouble mastering a control. It was the system that was broken, not the human trying to use it. These were very complex systems, but the goal was to make them easy to use, so that more functionality was available to the user (the pilot) without compromising safety.

    Sure, offer user instruction. Sure, offer advanced capabilities. But don’t kid yourself that these are good substitutes for implementing usability in the first place. The first hurdle to information discovery shouldn’t be the catalog interface. You might think that’s glib; I just think it’s key to our survival.

    A really daring experiment would be for a library to

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  77. Karen,

    I think the problem with the pilot analogy, of course, is that most of us are quite happy (well, not that happy), sitting in our seat on the way to grandma’s comfortable with the fact that the pilot has to take years and years of training to do his/her job right. If flying a plane was *really* user-friendly (as in you have a flight interface that let’s you enter “Cleveland” and there you are), we would have little use for pilots.

    Librarians, out of a combination of self-sacrifice and emerging alternatives to traditional service, have higher expectations for our users. We are not happy until we are obsolete. I think this is because we would much rather be doing puppet shows. (This is JOKE! A joke!)

    Frankly, I think the rise of social software and better searching would put information searching support back where it belongs: in communities of practise. Sure the librarian knows how to use ProQuest, but she/he probably doesn’t know who are the corner-stone authors in the field of Organizational Justice. For that question, I would still rather just ask my prof, who would be more than willing to tell me, and all the better if he listed this information in his course blog so I could go back to it for later reference. And would I search a link farm on a librarian’s site to find the blog? No way! Not when I can just Google my prof’s name. Then bookmark it. On an RSS feed/live bookmark. Alongside all my other profs blogs/sites.

    I wonder if OPACs are tailored to librarian needs only to protect our professional status and wages? If so, I think we ought to be careful that we are building huge mansions on a sand foundation. Wouldn’t it be much better for everyone (users, librarians, taxpayers and everything else) if we just built a slightly smaller mansion and put it on a rock (ie. a strong, user-friendly OPAC)?

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  78. Karen,

    I think the problem with the pilot analogy, of course, is that most of us are quite happy (well, not that happy), sitting in our seat on the way to grandma’s comfortable with the fact that the pilot has to take years and years of training to do his/her job right. If flying a plane was *really* user-friendly (as in you have a flight interface that let’s you enter “Cleveland” and there you are), we would have little use for pilots.

    Librarians, out of a combination of self-sacrifice and emerging alternatives to traditional service, have higher expectations for our users. We are not happy until we are obsolete. I think this is because we would much rather be doing puppet shows. (This is JOKE! A joke!)

    Frankly, I think the rise of social software and better searching would put information searching support back where it belongs: in communities of practise. Sure the librarian knows how to use ProQuest, but she/he probably doesn’t know who are the corner-stone authors in the field of Organizational Justice. For that question, I would still rather just ask my prof, who would be more than willing to tell me, and all the better if he listed this information in his course blog so I could go back to it for later reference. And would I search a link farm on a librarian’s site to find the blog? No way! Not when I can just Google my prof’s name. Then bookmark it. On an RSS feed/live bookmark. Alongside all my other profs blogs/sites.

    I wonder if OPACs are tailored to librarian needs only to protect our professional status and wages? If so, I think we ought to be careful that we are building huge mansions on a sand foundation. Wouldn’t it be much better for everyone (users, librarians, taxpayers and everything else) if we just built a slightly smaller mansion and put it on a rock (ie. a strong, user-friendly OPAC)?

    Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  79. Michele wrote:

    I agree with being taken aback by the haughty tone “you” creates. I don’t need to hang this on my wall. I live it. Here’s a new one: If you need to be instructed on being service minded at all costs to make your users as successful as possible, you’re a sad sack that doesn’t need a meme, you need a new career. (sarcasm off)

    _If you are reading about it in Time and Newsweek and your library isn’t adapted for it or offering it, you’re behind._ What a dis. Some of us are serving thousands of people (that’s right- to a ratio of ONE librarian) and keep up as best we can. Technology is always evolving and so you are always behind. I’d change this statement to something like- “You are responsible for adapting your library to evolving technology constantly.” I loved the last ignorance does not mean you’re safe quote. I’m learning about these new ideas in the summer, and furling them, and developing staff workshops on them… because of an article i read in Time (and SLJ)! My students watch storynory, my faculty know about blogs like mediashift & mycrimespace… To provide every service of Information Power would require wonder woman and all we can do is try (to keep up). Mainstream media is a perfectly valid information source- it’s just not enough to read about it, we have to discover it.

    Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 7:40 am | Permalink
  80. kgs wrote:

    That’s the beauty of the second person: it’s uncomfortable.

    I don’t see it as a “dis” to point out what it means to be behind. In fact, that statement was paraphrased from an aphorism I first heard at a PLA conference in 1998. I certainly appreciate how hard it is to run a library with no funding. I ran a small rural library in the late 1990s. We did our best, and we did some remarkable things, but we were behind. How could we not be? We barely had enough money to keep the doors open and buy a few books. It didn’t make us bad or stupid. It just was.

    Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  81. phred wrote:

    I’m not sure I can relate – half sounds more like b**ching about adapting to reality by complaining about those who are held fast by past reality.

    Is this spin on the “…revolution will not be televised…”

    Friday, July 21, 2006 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  82. kgs wrote:

    It’s probably a spin on a lot of things, phred. Does this really sound like complaining about adaptation?

    Friday, July 21, 2006 at 3:09 pm | Permalink
  83. I do not know very much about Library policies or procedures,but I can provide you with some actual experiences that I have run into.
    I happen to write my memoir titled “I Wouldn’t Die” a memoir by Franco Antonetti.
    I wrote it as a very good friend of mine who happens to be an author nearly forced me to do it, as he felt that my life experiences were so unusual and interesting enough that many would be interested in reading about it.At first I thought it was a lot of nonsense, but I figured that if nothing else, it would be a nice gift to leave the family and future family members.
    I worked very hard on it and by luck or whatever, it turned out that reviews were very positive.Reviews came from the LA Times,and many others.My point is that I was invited to attend as the key speaker an event for The Italian Cultural society of washington DC.
    The event was great and the people just loved to listen to what they referred as a “Remarkable uplifting story that needed to be read by many”
    An older lady who worked for a large Library suggested that I contact Librarians as they would love to know about this memoir.I decided that since I was retired that I should attempt to do that, and since I spent most of my life in sales, rejection if it did come would not bother me.
    My amazement is that you get responses from Librarians that range from”Thank you for bringing this to our attention,”,to “You must follow these procedures and forms” to”You are not allowed to contact us ,and please do not email here again”.
    I was invited and attended 21 Library Events all over the North East and it was amazing to me to learn that the polite Librarians had the nicest Libraries and a number of Libraries that were very rude had little to encourage readers to enter.
    Anyway my experience may not fit in with your interesting site, but hopefully you may get something out of it.
    Thank you for allowing me to post.
    Ciao’
    Franco

    Sunday, August 13, 2006 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  84. Judy Franz wrote:

    For a new student “older” student just beginning a degree in Library Science, the article and the discussion are very enlighening. I am grateful to have this mentality from the beginning and do all I can with the patience of Job in letting the Users direct my course of action.
    Thanks, Judy

    Monday, September 4, 2006 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  85. Norma Leistiko wrote:

    I am definitely the oldest living student studying for my MLS and hope other “older” students just beginning a MLS degree will contact me; I would like to blog with you or something like that. I just learned what a blog was couple of weeks ago. The statements and comments are enlightening (note the word enlightening, tells you my age); I am impressed with the many different approaches, comments, insights to what I think of as the future of libraries. We are living the future right now. I am grateful to be conscious and experiencing it! Because of my ancientness I do have perspective about changes in the communities in which I have lived and worked. Although not in the library business, I have always worked, been in touch with the world through work, have a huge desire to make it all work better, don’t always know what to do, delighted with those who do, delighted with those who don’t but who comment on it. The library scene is a huge big stage, a political forum, a poetic place to read the newspaper and get in out of the cold and jeering city streets, not silent but restful, full of people of different stripes, zebras and tigers and giraffs, lady bugs, sow beetles, plant like creating this huge mass of moving ecoculture shifting through the books, the feeling of knowledge, sometimes hopeful, sometimes mute and dumb, and all ages allowed in and out the doors and all stripes and patterns, both introverts and thinking mixing sensing judging perceiving or wordless systems identifying us as somewhere on the planet earth. Thanks every single person for all your words and spaces between them.
    Norma Leistiko
    Read A Book This Week
    normaleistiko@mac.com

    Visit my web page:
    http://web.mac.com/normaleistiko/iWeb

    Visit my blog – a work in progress
    http://ngc6992-leistiko.blogpsot.com

    Saturday, September 23, 2006 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  86. Andrea wrote:

    Karen, just read this for the first time after following your FRL link. I love it and plan to post it where I’ll see it often.

    I hope you decide not to change from 2nd person. I think “you” makes the manifesto more challenging/in-your-face, which is how manifestoes (manifestae?) should be. “We” would make it more comfortable… And manifestoes should not make us feel comfortable.

    I’d love it if you could find a way to add the fact that today’s young people are tomorrow’s taxpayers (and voters), and should therefore be cherished, listened to, and never made to feel unwelcome.

    Thanks for the call to arms!

    Monday, November 6, 2006 at 8:52 pm | Permalink
  87. William wrote:

    I am a bit surprised (but only a bit) at all of the fawning responses that follow down the screen for this person’s blog post, with a few exceptions that are folks that do take a more critical look. Like so many lists of cute or humorous lists that have traveled the Internet for a decade, this one cloys by its very nature as a list. There is a measure of validity to a lot of Schneider’s short prodding gesticulations—-no doubt it’s a successful format for the blogosphere where attention spans are short—-but in the end this is mostly a self-congratulating sort of rant that doesn’t clarify things. The truth is that so many of those short remarks are so short and cute that they are as much wrong as right.

    How about the first one? “All technologies and die. Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.” No, in fact most technologies evolve but very few of them die. The telephone, a comparatively unevolved technology of recent time, is still better for some kinds of communication than e-mail or IM/chat. It is falteringly evolving via VOIP; it certainly is not dead since I was in library school. Nor are such technologies as radio, the book, the bicycle that I often ride to work, a typing keyboard, indexing systems, and on and on.

    And in fact it is that “on and on” part that is the point here. Short, sharp statements don’t tell much of the story, but Schneider is more interested in complaining than in explaining.

    One of the respondents to Schneider, another blogger with the handle of “panlibus” said, “The post takes the form of a list of statements, the vast majority of which it must surely be almost impossible to disagree with.
    So what do we do about it?”

    Well, in fact I can both agree and disagree with nearly every one of the statements, and I believe that critical thinkers should be able to find the important disagreements there too. “The system is broken.” Well yes, in some ways it is; but no, it (the library, the OPAC, the librarian) definitely is not broken with the implication being that we should just walk away from it and quit using it all right now. We, thousands of people collaborating in the profession, have been aware of, for example, the varied inadequacies of the OPAC and the Integrated Library System for some years and are trying to find ways of fixing it.

    The user? There is no one lump that can be called the user. Involved librarians, who did in fact learn about the complexity of users in library school, really do find ways of responding to “the user”. The user can be a sophisticated faculty person or seasoned public library patron both of whom still learn new approaches from us; the user may be coming to advanced academic work for the first time, or may be advancing from step to step in the ways of academic work and information use; the user may be an inveterate reader or a reluctant reader; the user can be generalized sometimes as a whole community; the user knows what he or she wants and does not know what he or she wants, knows what he or she needs and very often does not. To say otherwise is to be dismissive of the rich history of reference work, of cataloging, and of community dialog.

    To chide us, the profession, with little scraps of rhetoric is, as I said, mostly a rant that is self-congratulatory and asks others to join in being self-congratulatory. There is nothing new in these remarks. Other critics have already presented these challenges and done it better. There are some pseudo poeticisms here (the OPAC as “distant planet”; “the user is the magic element”; the tired biblical tag: “easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle”…) But then, oh, get this: “The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens; defend their right to read; and then get out of the way.”

    What is the message here? How do you add value and meaning to the information experience (which in fact so many of us do when we teach students and public patrons, when we do reference work, when we think through the selection decisions, when we come up with some subject headings for a complex book, when we do try to see what Google and Amazon and Starbucks are up to) and at the same time “get out of the way”? What a silly piece of rhetoric.

    Do we need some self-satisfied oracle giving out a list of retreads of other people’s thinking and then telling us: “Your ignorance will not protect you.”? Do the responders to this list think that our profession is peopled by a bunch of frauds, prigs, and idiots? Does it take a simple-minded list of contradictions to make people want to think and speak up?

    Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  88. kgs wrote:

    Self-satisfied oracle? Silly? Self-congratulatory? Simple-minded? Dude, I’m tripping over sibilants!

    Friday, January 5, 2007 at 8:11 pm | Permalink
  89. Gary Thomson wrote:

    Karen,

    I believe I have solved the bibliographic koans with which you have presented us and provide the following tongue-in-cheek answers below:

    “All technologies evolve and die. Every technology you learned about in library school will be dead someday.”

    …as will we all, but rock and roll is here to stay!

    *****
    “You fear loss of control, but that has already happened. Ride the wave.”

    Insert “Hawaii-Five-O” music here and try to giggle like the goofball at the beginning of the song, “Wipeout”.

    *****
    “You are not a format. You are a service.”

    Your are not a format but you are expected to be a doormat.

    *****
    “The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system.”

    That’s just great…hardware maintenance will take forever now!

    *****
    “The user is the sun.”

    The user is the sun…but “We are the world”.

    *****
    “The user is the magic element that transforms librarianship from a gatekeeping trade to a services profession.”

    Curse my LIS advisor for telling me it was pixie dust and unicorns!!

    *****
    “The user is not broken.”

    …but soon will be if you tell them that your OPAC is really a distant planet and they’re the magic element that can transform you.

    *****
    “Your system is broken until proven otherwise.”

    First, prove it’s broken; otherwise it works just fine.

    *****
    “That vendor who just sold you the million-dollar system because “librarians need to help people” doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about, and his system is broken, too.”

    If his system was broken to begin with, why purchase it in the first place?…..because libraries are always trying to “ride the wave”. Maybe one day, they’ll realize that a popsicle stick is not a surfboard!

    *****
    “Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face.”

    …that’s because they’re out trying to satiate their passions.

    *****
    “Most of your most alienated users will never meet you face to face.”

    …that’s because we scared them off when we said they were a magical transforming element.

    *****
    “The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens; defend their right to read; and then get out of the way.”

    …or simply write their term papers for them…that’s what they really want!

    *****
    “Your website is your ambassador to tomorrow’s taxpayers. They will meet the website long before they see your building, your physical resources, or your people.”

    Your website is kind of like an online dating service…make sure you include pictures.

    *****
    “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to find a library website that is usable and friendly and provides services rather than talking about them in weird library jargon.”

    Once the camel realizes that the needle is an illusion his cosmic awareness will expand until camel, needle and universe become merely fading reflections on a falling raindrop.

    *****
    “Information flows down the path of least resistance. If you block a tool the users want, users will go elsewhere to find it.”

    Once, I tried to mail my letters and buy groceries at the bank but they didn’t offer that service so I went to the post office and supermarket instead.

    *****
    “You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user.”

    I thought the user was supposed to be the magical element that would transform librarianship.

    *****
    “Meet people where they are–not where you want them to be.”

    Meet me halfway and we’ll go from there.

    *****
    “The user is not “remote.” You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.”

    If librarians are remote then we are subsequently controlled remotely and yet; loss of control has already happened, so Dear User, Miss Manners says to “Ride the wave!”

    *****
    “The average library decision about implementing new technologies takes longer than the average life cycle for new technologies.”

    That’s OK because “all technologies eventually evolve and die” and the system is already broken. The next technobauble whirlygig is just around the corner. A good surfer knows how to wait for the killer wave.

    *****
    “If you are reading about it in Time and Newsweek and your library isn’t adapted for it or offering it, you’re behind.”

    So the question must be posed, do back issues of “Time” make a librarian’s “behind” look too big?

    *****
    “Stop moaning about the good old days. The card catalog sucked, and you thought so at the time, too.”

    But they were made of burnished oak for crying out loud…..who wouldn’t want that compared to injection molded plastic computer casing!!

    *****
    “If we continue fetishizing the format and ignoring the user, we will be tomorrow’s cobblers.”

    Can I be peach cobbler?

    *****
    “We have wonderful third spaces that offer our users a place where they can think and dream and experience information. Is your library a place where people can dream?”

    It will be as soon as we install the sensory deprivation chambers.

    *****
    “Your ignorance will not protect you.”

    That’s what rabid attack poodles with laser cannons mounted on their foreheads are for.

    Monday, January 8, 2007 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  90. Don wrote:

    Libraries need to find alternate ways to get books in front of people or the books will just sit on the shelves. The system is broken, but users can manager if they are led in the right direction. We need technology to remove obstacles and create a clear path to the value a library has to offer. Otherwise, people will just come for the free videos.

    Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 12:15 am | Permalink
  91. Jim Rible wrote:

    When I was about 18 years old and thinking about being a librarian I had an older librarian explain the service process to me. “First,” he said, the customer is always right.” “Second,” he said, the customer is always wrong.” He used some more words to explain it, but after learning some other zen koans this is what I distilled his comments into over the last 30 years. I think you should trust your user, but you should also trust yourself.

    Monday, March 19, 2007 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  92. Martin wrote:

    Could I use some of your quotes from this post for a presentation on the future of reference services in libraries?

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 1:02 am | Permalink
  93. Martin, absolutely!

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  94. Mingus Casey wrote:

    Awesome manifesto, brilliant and truthful

    Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
  95. Graeme wrote:

    These comments are timeless. As relevant today in 2011 as when posted in 2006!

    Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. netbib weblog on Tuesday, June 6, 2006 at 5:15 am

    Weblog-Surftipp des Tages: Free Range Librarian

    Nachdem letzte Woche auf Karen G. Schneiders Artikelserie ber OPACs bei ALA TechSource hingewiesen worden war, ist heute eine pauschale Empfehlung hres persnlichen Weblogs sehr passend. In dessen aktuellem Beitrag The User Is Not Broken: A meme masq…

  2. panlibus on Wednesday, June 7, 2006 at 2:57 am

    The User is not broken

    You better believe it. These and other wise words in an interesting post from Karen Schneider over the weekend. The post takes the form of a list of statements, the vast majority of which it must surely be almost…

  3. Wanderings... on Friday, June 9, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    Honoring Thinking AND Reading

     
    Don’t miss this blog post The User Is Not Broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto
    I will…

  4. Wanderings... on Saturday, June 10, 2006 at 6:06 am

    Honoring Reading AND Thinking

     
    Don’t miss this blog post The User Is Not Broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto
    I will…

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