Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Think of the user.....

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....

1 comment:

  1. I’m going to go off tangent with you on this one as well. As long as corporations are willing to consider short-term gains worthy, at any cost, regardless of the expense it does long-term to their community (including their shareholders), as long as we can break down the entire American political process to the Republicans did this and the Democrats want that, then the only social justice we create is from ourselves on smaller scales. It can build to bigger things.
    There’s a TV show on right now where a special group travels to a school, and basically brings everybody together: the bullies and the bullied, the sports players and the jazz band, and so forth. But there’s always going to be a kid whose dad and mom beat him and he sees violence as a way of life, and there’s always going to be a sensitive kid who annoys another child just be his being. And at some point, one learns that he or she can hurt another person and gain some tangible thing, and not pay a punishment for the action. But we can turn it around.
    In the end, it is as simple as consider the user. There will always be opportunity for growth (“I had no idea that a black person would consider it insensitive or racist for me to say,” or “But my church always taught me that”). But where does it start? Personal awareness?
    My career change will have to consider the above questions. And I’m glad you’re always asking, too.