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Departmental Self-Interest

Brian Mathews offers this at Designing Better Libraries:

There has been a lot of talk about libraries becoming more “user” centered, even back in 2000 I recall seeing user-centered or user-focused in several job postings. With the emergence of all the Web 2.0 magic, this term has become even more prominent.

But are libraries really any different? Can patrons detect a difference? I think that those of us working in libraries have seen a change, but what about our users? Has any of our rhetoric translated into a noticeable change? Do they perceive us as being user-centered, or is it just us who perceive ourselves as being more user-centric?

Taking it a step further, can we ever break the boundaries of departmental self-interest? The Reference department has one perspective, while Circulation has another; Systems/IT has their agenda, while Cataloging has another—and so on. I’ve worked in several large academic libraries and this territorial thinking seems to be universal. If each department perceives the “user experience” differently than how can we ever truly be user-centered? That’s one of the challenges I face now since I am essentially floating without a department… but perhaps that is a good thing? I’m trying to take a more holistic approach.

Good questions to ask. I think many library folk face these challenges. Sometimes it seems them running screaming away, other times they overcome the silo-mentality and find ways to work together. Is this another vote to disband the "departmentalized" nature of many organizational structures?

Comments

I think the comment I hear the most is the fear that we will get rid of all of our books. As I add computers and increase access in other ways, that question comes up time and time again.

The interesting thing is that those of us in small libraries -- like one to 5 people -- get this. It's all tied together and that we all serve the public. So what happens when you get mores people? Well for one many of them never have contact with the public and only see it from their own silo -- what they want, is easiest for them etc. How do we break them out and get them to see people using what they create -- usability studies don't really do it, since it's a controlled environment.

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