My latest column is up at LJ’s site. It is called Learn by Asking and here’s a snip from it.
Empathy and preferences
As I discussed in the January 2010 LJ (p. 28), if we want to make deep connections with our communities, we must figure out how people feel. I don’t mean in the narrow sense of sending out a survey. Surveys can be useful for getting a sense of people’s stated preferences (often different from their actual preferences) but rarely go deeper. In fact, relying on surveys and market research techniques alone can actually be harmful, setting up a consumer/producer dynamic that doesn’t let us recognize our patrons as individuals.
Let’s say that half of your library’s renewals are made by telephone. If you know this, you’ve deduced a preference. But what can you really do with this information? There are a number of reasons people might show this preference: they could lack computer access; the online renewal process might not be obvious; or they could enjoy interacting with librarians. What’s more, the response is likely to vary depending on the motivation.
How can we recognize patrons as people and learn about their motivations? As in any good relationship, we can listen to them.
By the way, LJ has created a feed for the series. I’ll likely keep linking from here too.