Short term satisfaction versus long term gains

Today @joeyanne posted a link to a blog post “Don’t make it easy for them” which sparked a debate on twitter. As twitter is limited to brief comments I felt the urge to capture some more detailed thoughts on this.

@ theREALwikiman tweeted

@ostephens @JFJ24 @joeyanne For me it’s about the future of libraries… We need to be helpful, not worthy. We need to make things easy.

Now I can see his point, and I think this is one where the boundaries are very blurred and there is no definitive answer. However I think it is all about balancing the needs of the user, with the amount of time they have available when they ask the question, with the need to develop lifelong learning skills so that the user can participate fully in our information society.

From a pedagogical perspective – and yes as librarians you do need to know about the P word! – active learning, and constructive learning lead to deeper learning. So rather than emailing a pdf we should show the learner how to retrieve it themselves. Now this is wonderful in an ideal world, but lets face it we don’t live in that place.

The user, in whatever information environment you imagine, may have time constraints. They just want the article or the book, and don’t care about the route to it. Are we wrong for satisfying that immediate need, or wrong for insisting they should be self-sufficient?

‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime’

As someone who holds information literacy dear to my heart I do feel that where ever we can we should be developing those skills. It is possible to do this in a reference enquiry as much as in a formal session.

But whether it is right to depends upon the circumstances. At the heart of it should be the user and their needs. Another proverb says “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink“, and we shouldn’t be alienating our users by forcing them to learn when it is inappropriate. Learning requires motivation to learn, and if that motivation is not there then it will just be a negative experience.  As professionals we need to be able to identify the right time and place, and if we have any doubt then ask the user. Maybe arranging a separate time after the initial rush has passed is a better option. Being approachable, and leaving the user with a good service experience may encourage them to come back for that information literacy session. And perhaps the way to sell those skills is to emphasise the long-term time-saving that will result, and that time = money so we are saving money too.

We need to make things easy, in terms of our systems, our services and ensuring they are fit for purpose. And yes in some cases we need to make it easy by just doing what the user asks and no more. But we need to have the wisdom to understand when easy isn’t best – for us or our users.

PS Joeyanne also posted on this at  do read it and the comments where the debate continues

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