Red Tape = Patron Kryptonite
I'm usually a silver lining kind of person, but I'm having a rare day of disgust. I've been thinking a bit about user-centered library experiences, and how the policies and guidelines libraries have in place do (or, sadly, don't -- at least not most of the time) make coming to the library easy and satisfying for our patrons. People, things are not looking good.
We make them jump through so many hoops just to access information about items they might want to check out (nevermind the items themselves) that it's a wonder people even come to public libraries anymore. Some disheartening examples:
I was helping a patron learn to use the OPAC yesterday and I had to apologize for being a little bit rusty with it, because I don't use that interface at all, ever. I use the employee interface, which is faster, cleaner, easier to use, and provides more information. This makes me a more effective (i.e. better, from the patron's standpoint) librarian when I'm looking up items for patrons, but also sloppy, stubmling (i.e. worse) librarian when I'm offering patron training. It also says some negative things about the OPAC we're using -- when an intelligent, web-literate person receives a result list from a keyword or author search and can't figure out how to proceed to access the information s/he wants, that's our failure to provide good service.
We make people provide multiple forms of ID and proof of residence before we'll give them a library card. Why do we do that? A library card isn't like a credit card -- you can't run up thousands of dollars of debt by irresponsibly using a library card. Okay, we might lose some materials, but most library users aren't going to check out stuff and then cut out on us. Couldn't we ask for just one form of ID, issue a temporary card, and then fully authorize the card after, say, successfully sending out a hold notice? There has to be a way to make the process easier on the user without sacrificing the collection.
My library put up little table tents asking people not to use their cellphones in public places here in the library. I'm all for doing what we can to stanch the hemorrhaging of social niceties, but I don't think banning cellphones in libraries is going to get it done. Saying a blanket "no" to cellphones is saying no to the way people (especially young people) communicate now. There's at least one other blogger thinking about cellphones in the library: behold, I Shush, by Woody Evans (most relevant posts are here and here. Jenny Levine writes about this issue pretty regularly. See here and here. There's plenty more if you just search her archives, too.
Worst of all, some libraries don't permit non-residents or non-cardholders to attend library programs. Paul Miller elaborates on his recent experience. Mind you, this anecdote applies to a library in England, but I've seen it in American libraries, too. If we are aiming to dissuade non-library users from ever becoming active library users, I cannot think of a single more effective off-putting tactic than this one.
So here's my question: what are libraries out there doing to cut through the red tape? What policies have you abolished? Where are you meeting your patrons halfway? Or more than halfway? We're interested in interviewing you for the blog, so please either post a comment below, or write to us!