The post itself is worth a read (although I'll summarise it here, too) but it's the comments that are really, um, enlightening. So go and read them. It'll give much-needed context to what follows here.
Firstly, the post. Greyson went to the library to get a book previously found on the catalogue. The visit was unsuccessful. Put very simply, a book marked as available on the catalogue couldn't be found in the library, and after using the 'report a problem' button on the record Greyson was told that that sort of problem had to be reported in person at the circulation desk of the library in question.
As horror stories go, it's not a classic. But it does reveal at least a couple of problems in the library system: no easy catalogue access in the book stacks, and unclear reporting mechanisms. If 'report a problem' means 'only report certain kinds of problem' then it ought to say so, and it ought to say what to do for the others.
But the details in this case really aren't the point here. Greyson points out that a wasted half-hour like this is precisely what will make academics advocate less forcefully or frequently for the library:
"I want my faculty colleagues to be advocates for our university library. So I do what I can to give them warm fuzzies about it, pointing out new acquisitions in their areas, noting that online access to the Journal of Important Stuff is brought to their desktop by the library, etc. But some days the library doesn’t make this easy for me. Some days I’m afraid to tell them too much about the library, in case they actually try to use it and have an experience like the one above.
I absolutely know there are budget constraints, time constraints, people-power constraints and bureaucratic time-suck constraints on academic libraries. I can explain why any given problem with the library systems might exist. But I can’t make archaic systems less frustrating and more worthwhile for people who have the option to avoid contact with the library most of the time. And those are the same people I really want out there speaking for the importance of the library. What a conundrum."In short: we're alienating the very people who could help us the most. Ouch.
This is a hard message, and an important one to hear, understand, and act on. But what do some of the comments say? They say "Greyson, you're doing it wrong".
Example 1: "I kept waiting for the line where you went to the staff and asked for help locating the book instead of schlepping back to your office."
Example 2: "Don’t blame the library! We are here to help. Any faculty member that has contacted me directly gets my priority response, as nurturing that rapport with them is at the top of my list, since it “trickles down” to students too and helps them in the long run as well."
Example 3: "I think you should have asked the reference librarian before leaving the library. Computers are excellent starting points for information seeking, but nothing can replace good old fashioned face to face contact. Others have mentioned the following as well: just because it’s not on the reshelving cart or lying on study table doesn’t mean it’s not in the library. As a cataloger, when adding a book to the collection, the book is typically in the OPAC for about a day and a half before it actually physically becomes part of the collection. Why? Simple. After tagging the book in OCLC, and entering the holdings information for Voyager, I still have to take each book and write the call number on the inside cover, print the spine label, cut the spine label, apply the spine label, apply the protective sticker, and use a boning tool to make sure all those stickers stay stuck. Thus, new acquisitions are on the cart in my office for a day or two after they begin to show up in the OPAC, depending on how many books I have to process."(To be fair, many of the comments are fair, balanced and constructive.)
"You're doing it wrong". Is that the best we can come up with? I was really surprised and disappointed to see such a hostile and unhelpful reaction to a post written with the explicit attention of drawing to librarians' attention a perceived problem.
If the reasonable reader (which I would say, in this instance, Greyson is) finds something difficult, then maybe the problem is with the system and not the reader. And it's our job to find the ways in which it's broken and to fix it. That's not always easy: it's hard, once you're inside a system, to view it as an outsider does, and to see what's illogical and what could be improved. And even if you can see problems, it's hard if you're at a junior level to instigate change. That's why it's great if and when readers point out what's not working for them. (I would, of course, advise Greyson to send a link to the post to a librarian at the library in question - they ought to want to know about reader experiences.)
Yes, sure, it'd be nice if people always asked us when they're stuck, and told us when things don't work right, but people on the whole don't like doing that. Honestly now, how many times in Sainsbury's do you actually ask where they've moved the mustard to, and how many times do you just wander about cursing under your breath hoping it will leap off the shelf into your basket?
Back to libraries... Not only were people annoyed that someone who did something in an unexpected way dared to complain, a few of the commenters seemed personally offended at an apparent attack on their work. This misses the point. There's no point trying to defend a broken system by pointing out how hard you and/or your colleagues are working, or how much you yearn to help people with their queries. (Indeed, maybe if the system worked better you'd feel less like everyday at work is an uphill struggle.) The broken system isn't (necessarily) reflecting badly on your work ethic, but it is still broken.
Frankly, I think we need to get a grip and stop blaming the readers. Whether it's broken because it's more-or-less the same system you've had for the last 30 years, or because it's something new that just isn't working, or whatever, if you find yourself saying to readers, "that's not how we do it" or, "oh no, blah doesn't mean blah it actually means thingummy" or, "you have to go and tell so-and-so that" then really, who's doing it wrong?
|lolcat added to try and lighten the mood.|