"There are no facts inside the building"
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“There are no facts inside the building.”

Open door with view of cloudsThis is one of the rare occasions where I would like to simply take all of the text from someone else’s blog post and simply plunk it here.  Since I can’t really do that, I do want to share a relevant portion…in a bit.

Gerry McGovern is an author and website consultant.  His focus is on rethinking on how people actually use websites, and helping organizations to get the most out of their online existence.  In this particular post, he’s talking about how web designers need to develop a deep sense of empathy in order to be effective.  However, as I was reading, I realized that this applies to much more than just people who design websites.  Anyone who designs or develops anything for someone else needs this skill.   In libraries, almost everything we do is done for the benefit of someone else.  And, oftentimes, librarians are found using assumptions and anecdotes, rather than data, to make design decisions.

Think about how this practice impacts our patrons. It’s based on the assumption that our patrons are, in essence, us.  Yet, we know this isn’t true.  How many times have we all complained about how OPACs, online tools and websites are designed for librarians (and even WE have problems using many of them?).  Even the ways books in our libraries are arranged (e.g., Dewey, LC) are not particularly patron-friendly.  Believe me, if those methods organized items effectively for the layperson, Barnes & Noble would have stolen them long ago.  Anyways, I digress, somewhat.

Here’s the relevant bit from McGovern’s post:

“Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley and a Stanford university professor, says there are no facts inside the building,” Tomer says. “Development teams cannot make decisions without developing customers first. Not products, not technologies: Customers. He coined the mantra, “Get Out of the Building”. What he means by that is that developers of products should get up from their comfortable chairs and proactively seek opportunities to learn from their customers about their needs to be able to understand what the company’s business model should be.”

Tomer cites “intuition” as one of the primary reasons people don’t get out of the building. In a modern, complex, constantly changing world, intuition is a dangerous thing. Intuition is essentially learned behavior patterns. It speaks to the past. If the same basic event keeps recurring then intuition is great. But if the world is changing rapidly, intuition can be disastrous.

“Some people are just scared of what they’ll hear,” Tomer states. “They are afraid of failing and of invalidating their assumptions. Actually, they don’t consider their assumptions as such. They think they are facts. It is our jobs (UX [user experience] practitioners) to help people recognize their assumptions.”

Are there members of your library’s staff, making assumptions but calling them facts?  Does your library make a concentrated effort to “get out of the building?”  Post your stories to the comments!