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We fake it for a very simple reason. We don’t really care about people. If we cared about them, we wouldn’t offer them preconceived ideas. We wouldn’t treat them like abstract users. And if we cared about people, we wouldn’t fake anything. So yes, you do actually have to care for the people who use the stuff you make. Really, you should choose to love them.

Dean Schuster

That quote sums up much of our society. I am glad Shuster admits he hates using the label “user” and acknowledges we are talking about human beings after all.  No matter what career or subject you are talking about, what business you run or whatever, there is always the tendency to treat people as inanimate objects and subjects to study. In my religious career it was “adherents” and we were always talking about Barna research and Pew Institute studies. In education we use buzzwords and recycle old concepts with a new shiny book for $75. And now that I work in libraries it is scratching off numbers of reference questions every time someone asks where the bathroom is. I know the business world sees us all as trends and they pump their advertising dollars into what they know we watch, eat, buy, and go to on vacation.

Schuster says we have to un-learn what we have already learned. We think we’re so smart because we can code, cite Dewey numbers, or how to save to a USB. Our patrons often know less than we do and we seem to enjoy that. But, as with previous discussions in this class, we are becoming more transparent so that everyone can see how little we know…but maybe they’ll see how much we care.

The beginner has endless possibilities, while the expert, one or two, he says. The more locked in stone we become, the fewer good we are to society. Instead of the big picture of discovering what our patrons need, we focus on what gimmick will bring them in the door. So gimmicks drive the programs instead of finding out what patrons would want. And the gimmicks don’t work so we have to go to conferences with speakers who come up with radical ideas like “people talk on telephones. Your library should have a telephone. They use computers, we should have some.” But it doesn’t take a genius to get into the minds of library patrons. They are like us. If there’s a long line at the gas pump, unless we are desperate we drive off looking for something more convenient. If a store has no parking, how long do we drive around looking? How many times will we go to a restaurant with lousy service? How often do we use a website which is not responding or we can’t find an easy way to navigate?

We can’t empathize with users, but we can with people. And we know what people expect from us. They aren’t statistics, users, trends, or opinions, but real people with real needs who seek out the community the library provides.

We should see them at least as almost human.

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