I was interested to see another blog post on the subject of ‘the user is not broken’ that picked up on librarians tendancies to try to fix the user. This one by Jenica Rogers on her Attempting Elegence blog includes the great comment:
“The user is not broken in that our job is to fulfill the user’s needs, and the user’s needs are, while not always well-defined, possible to meet, or understood by either side, valid — so accusing the user of Doing It Wrong is counterproductive to our goals and needs, and should be avoided. “
It’s something that came out clearly in our usability testing for our new library website and I blogged about it back in October here, talking about the history of that particular meme, so it’s interesting to see it come up again in connection with the search features on the Barnes and Noble website.
I do find it intriguing that it’s not an uncommon reaction among librarians to these sort of examples of user behaviour. It seems to range from a comment along the lines of ‘well, they aren’t searching ‘properly’ to ‘well, if I could just have 30 minutes with them I could show them how to get much better search results’.
In part I think it comes from wanting to help people have a better search experience, a user training aspect, which is a role that librarians have developed. So there’s a willingness to provide training to users which tends to translate into thinking that problems can be solved by training, guidance and support. Rather than by focusing on getting the search experience right so users don’t need training.
But I wonder also whether there’s an aspect that librarians are so used to dealing with poor user interfaces in the typical search systems that they’ve had to master over the years. So they are more ‘tolerant’ of poor search systems and expect to come up with effective search strategies. So they forget that most users just want to search in a simple way, and really want a search that is just good enough. They don’t necessarily want to construct the perfect search strategy. Users have learnt that on search engines you can usually get some relevant results and expect other systems to be the same.