In their book, Innovation, Carlson and Wilmot remind us “customers aren’t virtual.” They remind us of the importance of watching customers use a product, rather than just asking them about them.
As they point out, “The sooner you get out and interact with customers, the better. They will give you critical information about the marketplace and customer needs.” (p.120)
I’m frustrated with the way our databases work, and with selecting choices that students will really use. So, for one, I need to listen to our customers (students and staff) about which ones are useful to them.
And as a customer, I need to do a better job letting vendors know when I have issues with how their products work. So in the interest of communicating with vendors, I’m opening a dialogue here.
No matter how useful some of our databases are, I still find most of the interfaces a tremendous obstacle for students. For one thing, it’s too cumbersome a process in most of them for students to click through the beginning screens to get to the search mode. Why can’t databases create widgets like Google’s search box that can sit on the front page of your website?
Why do they sort the information into so many lists of choices? That’s fine to do for the advanced screens, but why can’t the front page of most databases have a clearer, simpler design for students? They just want to do a search and their first efforts are fairly straightforward and simple, and there’s no need for so many choices and bells and whistles. Why can’t they look for those as they need them?
Why can’t library catalogs work more like Amazon, for example? Why can’t students review books they like or rate them at least? The interfaces are starting to improve, but are students being asked their opinions and needs?
But the larger question is, are database companies out there observing students using these tools? Do they ask libraries with heavy use of databases about how they work often enough? Are they following the tenets that Carlson and Wilmot recommend and observing end users enough?
I want to offer our students these resources, but they should be much easier to use. This has long been a problem, but pre-Google, we could still encourage students to use databases for the best results. But many times, even as a librarian, it takes me a great deal of time in a database to find what I need. And I’m an experienced searcher. Google and other search sites have made it so easy to find information, that no wonder students are reluctant to use databases, even if the information they contain is unique, important, and factual.
Based on Carlson and Wilmot’s suggestions, I plan to spend more time simply observing students using these tools, so that I can make some very specific recommendations to vendors about their products.
So, if you were going to improve databases or catalogs, what suggestions would you have for their designers?