Making librarianship work for you.

Sometimes I’m not sure what’s better: library blogs, or library blog comments. While musing over Lee Leblanc’s TTW guest post about the nature of librarianship these days, I found Librarian Idol. The post to which I’ve linked takes Lee’s thoughts and runs with them on a parallel track, and if you’ve got a moment this weekend, Andrew’s thoughts are well worth a look.

The only thing I can really add to the goodness of this particular discourse is my somewhat heretical opinion that the question “Where’s the bathroom?” is neither stupid nor pointless. If you’ve ever been in a strange place with dire need for the facilities, you know. Like any other question that comes to the desk, this one deserves our care and respect. The fact that we might have heard it 20 times in a day means very little to the individual with kidney distress.

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  1. Lee LeBlanc said,

    January 16, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I completely agree! About the comments and your take on them.

    In my design, the EAD, public access internet terminals, public phones, a charging station for all kinds of electronic devices, and restrooms are at the entrance of a building. Not to mention clear wayfinding systems.

    My larger point is: it’s not a question we should be answering because the design of the building should alleviate the distress of its users as much as possible. Where it cannot, we come in ease the strain on the kidneys :)

    I’ve seen many ingenious building designs. My favorite was a restaurant that allowed one a bit of respite coming into the building, clearly leading into the restrooms and a lounge area where then you transitioned into the main dining room.

    Just walking into this place was a seamless user experience. They exposed the gaps that would have caused a disjointed experience (I have got to go! Where are the restrooms!?!) and made it seamless.

    So, you’re right, here was a place that so completely understood one of the needs of its user population— going to the restrooms — and mediated that need.

    Think about what they did too in easing social awkwardness. You nearly almost always have to walk through a restaurant ( or other building ) to get to the restroom.

    Now, that’s not kind to the user let alone their kidneys.

    Great comment and thanks for pointing that out -great blog name too!

    TTW Contributor.

  2. January 19, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Hello Lee, and thanks for stopping by! I was out of the office for a few days, and I try hard not to do “library stuff” on my days off – but that’s another post for another day. ;)

    You’ve made a lot of valid points about good signage and information architecture, and for the most part, I’m right there with you. Our users’ experience should be as seamless as possible, and we should constantly strive to improve design and signage to make that happen as often as possible. Paying attention to the bigger picture is vital.

    I guess where I was coming from, though (and I usually am) is the philosophical perspective of what constitutes an “important” question. “WTB?” is only the most obvious example of a question that raises hackles because it’s frequently the test case in the argument over what a librarian’s job should be. And while everyone’s mileage may vary, I tend to lean toward the notion that a librarian’s job is to provide whatever piece of information is asked for in the moment and not worry too much about what kind of question it is.

    To be fair, I’m a little biased – my first library job was at a help desk where WTB was the most frequently asked question – so, I guess I have a little residual fondness for the question that reminds me where I came from, and paid my bills for a while. ;)

    Glad you like alchemy – it seems to be the only metaphor that describes the process of trying to blend everything we have to worry about into a workable whole.

  3. Don said,

    January 20, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Would a customer ask a question if they thought it was invalid?

    Are we answering questions or engaging human beings?

    This is one area practicality puts the rubber to the road of philosophy. There are no stupid questions.


  4. January 21, 2009 at 8:46 am

    As usual, Don, you nailed it in a few words. I’m pretty sure nobody would ever imply or argue for this, but I just don’t want to live in a world where all human interactions can be replaced with signage.

    Also, “WTB?” is often an entry point for other questions. If people know they can ask us that, they might also feel comfortable enough to ask us other things. Many of my conversations go that route, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had that experience…

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