A few weeks into my second semester as a library student, I've been noticing a common phrase all of my instructors have been using.
"Think of the user."
When organizing information, we need to think of who wants to access it and what is the easiest way for them to find it. When manning the reference desk, we need to ascertain what the user is looking for and how are they are going to use it. Not to pass judgment, but to focus our search of the information to materials that will be most useful.
Not only does the expression come up in lectures and discussions, but also in assignments. We're developing a reference collection and we need to consider who is going to use it. What are their needs? What is their previous experience with similar material? Will this collection be useful?
We are developing annotated bibliographies on various subjects pertaining to the organization of information, and we need to think of who our audience is and what are the most pertinent resources we can highlight.
A successful and efficient library will always place its patron's needs at the center of its efforts.
In thinking about the importance of focusing on the user, I try and take the concept out of the realm of librarian. What if everyone, in any profession, constantly reminded themselves to "consider the user?"
What if the heads of big bankers asked themselves if high-risk loans where going to fully benefit their customers? Or if paying out huge bonuses to it's upper management would help out those whose housing were being foreclosed? Or politicians, when engaged in health-care reform debates, truly had their constituents at heart, rather than just promoting the advancement of their political party?
Consider this specific example:Just today, the Lancet reported that it was removing one of the most controversial studies it has published in recent years: the study that linked vaccinations to autism. Their reasoning? It turns out that the author was receiving large sums of money from a lawyer who was going after companies that produced the vaccinations.
While this certainly won't remove the controversy surrounding childhood vaccinations (I personally studied Thimerosal a little too much in college to fully take one side of the debate or the other), it certainly calls into question the intent of the author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Was he considering the user? Was he thinking about the outcome of this study and the affect it could have on the health of millions and millions of children. It certainly doesn't seem like he was.
After mulling over these thoughts, I'm going to try and make a personal pledge. As I go through my daily life, not only as a future librarian but as an active member of society, I'm going to try and always think about how my actions and interaction are going to affect others. I'm going to try and remember to ask myself, am I being helpful? Granted, I'll probably never be publishing major international scientific reports or run a bank, but even a little bit of helpfulness can go a long way....