Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is the Catalog just too hard to use?

Wired posted this article last year, about what Millennials want from their technology.
Dude, where's my Internet?


I came across it when somebody shared a few articles complaining that the current generation are poorly educated and lazy. Debate that at your leisure, that's not what I'm talking about.

Millennials, Wired says, want technology, especially interactive technology
"to provide the most usable, self-guided, hiccup-free, efficient user experiences in history."
What does this mean for libraries?
"Millennials prefer to be in the driver’s seat, and will generally not seek assistance over live chat, email, or phone to get answers to their questions. They need self-service solutions; if they can’t quickly resolve their own problems, they will give up and go elsewhere, knowing that many alternatives are just a Google search away."
What this may mean is that when library web sites aren't as slick or self-service as they expect such services to be, they will decide not to use it. Their preference for the Now, the immediate, will trump the need for more thorough, more scholarly resources. The "everything is available online" meme will live on.


I have no problem using our library's catalog to find books, e-books, DVDs etc. But then, I've been professionally employed doing this for over a decade. How well does our library catalog compare to finding a book at Amazon.com, I wonder? Probably not so well. I can use either, and do, regularly, but I'm by practice more tolerant of having to 'work' a system to get what I want from it.

How well do library web sites translate to the small screen of mobile devices?  Millennials prefer the mobile interface, although many still use laptop/desktops. I think it is unlikely that libraries will be able to devote as many resources to web site presentation as an online retailer can, but surely work can be done to maintain or improve accessibility from mobile devices. Our systems librarian tells me that our catalog does not work well at all with smartphone-sized screens. A user will have to scroll side-to-side as well as up-and-down to see a record. The library's web site is optimized for small screens, but a big problem is that we link out to a lot of third-party sites.

A frustrating part of this for libraries is that we have no control and possibly no input into how library vendors construct or arrange their content platforms. A user may find our website mobile-friendly, but what will they find when they link out to Factiva or Lexis-Nexis? Again, my systems colleague tells me that many vendors do not have mobile-friendly designs on their sites.

Maybe we librarians could position ourselves as the help desk for wonky vendor platforms.

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