At the heart of Kathy Sierra’s entertaining and enlightening talk was the question “How do we help our users really kick ass?” Her focus, on web and software development, doesn’t directly apply to libraries, but the question resonated with me, and probably all the other librarians in the room. As individuals, especially in face to face interactions, I think librarians do a great job helping our users kick ass. But the tools we offer them – the terrible catalogs, the obscure controlled vocabulary, the clunky metasearches – are not helping our users kick ass. More often, the tools are kicking the asses of our users. I know a lot of work is going into improving those tools, at Michigan and elsewhere, and there are already signs of progress, but as we move forward it couldn’t hurt to keep not just navigability and accessibility in mind, but also good old-fashioned ass-kicking.
The follow-up question, “What do we help our users kick ass at?” was challenging for me, because my copyright specialist job involves a lot of different things, and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do them all. Do I help my users kick ass at negotiating with publishers? Maybe, but it’s not what I focus on. Do I help them kick ass at understanding copyright? Maybe, but “understanding” is not a particularly active or ass-kicking verb. Do I help them kick ass at advocating for their rights, as creators and as users? I hope so. Enough blogobrainstorming, back to wooing users. More on this in the future.
A lot of the material in the talk was stuff that Sierra has covered before, but most of it was new to me. She spent some time discussing stress, and how we should help our users manage stress and do our very best not to create more of it. One way to do that is to give people patterns and shortcuts that will help them do things faster. “Best practices” are not motivating; shortcuts are.
She also brought Gary Vaynerchuk up on stage, as an exemplar of someone who does all 20 user-wooing things. He seemed very charismatic, and his advice to novice wine drinkers sounded good to me: 1) Try different stuff (“Stop drinking Yellow Tail people!”), and 2) Respect your own palate.