What Does This Mean to Me, Laura?

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What Does This Mean to Me, Laura?

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You are not a patron. So act like it.

27th May 2021

The false-consensus effect refers to people’s tendency to assume that others share their beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context. Only people who are very different from them would make different choices.  You Are Not the User: The False-Consensus Effect


Do you know who probably spends the most time on your library’s website?

You do. The library’s staff.

I don’t simply mean that the staff might be gazing at it all day long while they are on their work computers.  Even if that were true (of course it isn’t), library patrons still wouldn’t likely be the primary viewers. Why? I would say it’s because patrons are not engaging in any of the following activities:

  • Creating content for the library’s website
  • Editing the library’s website
  • Having meetings about the library’s website

You get the general idea.  Outside users aren’t responsible for any of it. They’re purely content consumers. Visitors don’t have an emotional investment in the site like a library’s staff might. They’re not looking at the site with an eye towards improvement or engagement. They’re simply there to find some piece of information or accomplish a specific thing. In other words, they’re task-driven. They’ve arrived at the library’s site to do something, not evaluate something.

All of this probably seems self-evident. Except that it often isn’t, especially to those planning for a library’s website. The viewpoint of library staff makes for a very different mental model. You may inherently get the architecture and the nuances of the decisions that went into a given hierarchy. You natively understand any library jargon used. You know the difference between the website and the online catalog. Now, consider the casual visitor who knows none of this and simply wants to know what time the library opens tomorrow or wants to access an audiobook.

A famous saying in user experience testing is “You are not your user.” As a staff person, your view (mental model) of the library’s website is incredibly different from that of a patron. It’s so very different, that you can’t even pretend to be a patron user.

It’s vital that this is acknowledged. How?

Never claim that you somehow know how patrons will behave on your library’s website, unless you can back it up with metrics or testing. There’s no other way to know for sure and, even then, results can often only be generalized.

You are an apple and your patron is an orange.






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