I gave this short presentation at Paul Sutherland and Elizabeth Whyte's "What Would You Do? Doing More with Less" unconference-style session at LIANZA Conference 2009 on the 13th October 2009. The slides are below, along with the accompanying text and links to some of the ideas that inspired them; and you can also read my blog post summarising the full un-session.
Most libraries have a suggestion box or webform where people who are really annoyed about something can complain and get an answer from a librarian. People who are only a little bit annoyed don't waste time filling out forms or surveys to tell us about it - they go to Facebook and tell the whole world.
So how do we find out what people think about us? We can jazz things up a bit: National Library made it easy by asking a single question; and at Engineering Library we blatantly ripped off their idea, with mixed results. Each year for International Students Week, the University of Canterbury Library asks students to show us where they come from on a map. Or sticky notes! These are from an Open Day at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. Everyone loves stickies. I never fill out comment forms, but at the Matariki celebrations at Nga Hau e Wha marae I answered their questions because I got to write on stickies.
Or we can go more freeform. At Engineering Library, we put a spare whiteboard out for the students to use "for study or fun". Mostly they used it for fun. And yes, sometimes they drew detailed and unnecessarily phallic images. But that's why we invented whiteboard erasers. And this spring, when we started preparing for a merger with Physical Sciences Library by moving every single book in the library (sometimes two or three times) we noticed this question. So we answered it. And then we noticed a complaint, and we answered that too.
But users are asking questions outside our libraries too. This is from the State University of New York, and the Director of Libraries there, Jenica Rogers, said, "Hey, you want to talk to me in chalk, I'll respond in chalk." Though her poster in the library that Tuesday did suggest that smoke signals and semaphore wouldn't work so well.
And users are asking questions online too. A lot of questions. I left out the ones that named specific libraries. Except for this one, because if users are asking questions on Twitter, then why not answer them on Twitter? And if users are asking questions in the student magazine, then why not answer them there?
In fact people are never going to stop coming up with new and exciting places to talk about us, so why should we stop coming up with new and exciting places to talk to them?