ACRL’s First Fish Toss

March 16, 2009

ACRL's fish-toss winner One fun panel presentation ("If Fish Markets Can Do It So Can We") involved the first competitive fish toss in ACRL history. Unlike the huge salmon and halibut that the fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market throw around at each other (and sometimes at unsuspecting customers), these were plush fish toys that four hardy volunteers agreed to pitch dramatically into a receptacle. A Russian librarian (left, named Ekaterina, I think) won the competition. The whole point, as Temple Associate University Librarian Steven Bell explained, was to show that libraries need to fashion a memorable user experience (UX) in addition to providing essential information. According to Rutgers Associate University Librarian Valeda Dent Goodman, the UX involves psychological, interactive, and value-based components. "Starbucks sells coffee, but their success is based on something else" — customers value the experience because they remember the friendly or innovative interaction with the store's baristas. As the poster child for a successful user experience, Starbucks is in the same category as Google, Apple, and the BlackBerry in developing simple, trustworthy, and innovative products that focus on people's participation.

The Difference Factor Bell commented that libraries need to concentrate on their Wow Factor (the fish-toss quality that makes users say, "Your service is awesome") and their Difference Factor (the user experience that can prove more valuable than a Google or Wikipedia search). There is also a Fidelity Factor that keeps users coming back to the library, instead of merely being wowed once then crawling back to their online searches. Bell said that library high-fidelity involves the totality of UX (web access, reference, the OPAC, systems, and circulation) that, when presented in a convenient and meaningful way, retains the user's loyalty.

Brian Mathews, user experience librarian at Georgia Tech, mentioned some of the ways his library did usability testing on library spaces as they prepared for a recent renovation: "We tried storyboarding, psychodemographics, mapping, and decision trees to find out why the user experience works for some people and not others." When users complain, you have to listen, Bell emphasized, but you have to go beyond their recommendations. Henry Ford said that if he had asked people how they wanted to improve their transportation, they would have said "faster horses," not an affordable new car like the Model T.