Is anything more important than convenience?

woman-hammockIn today’s fast-paced world, people want information quickly and conveniently. In almost all situations, they decide what services to pursue and what resources to use based on ease of access, ease of use and the situation and context of the information need. It doesn’t matter if the person is young or old, the deadline near or far, the task scholarly or personal—familiarity and ease of use within individual workflows reign.

This has implications for libraries. If library collections and services are viewed as arduous or not within the individual work environment, more and more people will seek other information resources, reducing library visits—both physical and virtual—and potentially undermining library support in the battle for user mindshare and public funding.

Late last year, OCLC Research released The Library in the Life of the User: Engaging with People Where They Live and Learn, a 10+-year compilation of user behavior studies and findings. Taken together, the ten chapters provide a basic understanding of much of the work we’ve done in this area.

We featured chapter one in an earlier post, where we discussed saving time for the user. This better matches the Ranganathan law of Save the Time of the Reader. In this post, we will highlight chapter six, which explores why people choose one information source instead of another, and what factors contribute to their selection of information sources.

We analyzed data from two, multi-year IMLS-funded projects and several Jisc projects and identified convenience as a constant theme in different information-seeking situations. What we learned will help libraries appeal to the convenience demands of today’s information seekers.

Convenience trumps demographics

An overwhelming amount of data identifies convenience as absolutely central to information-seeking behaviors. The importance of convenience is especially prevalent among younger generations in the studies, but is true across all demographic categories—age, gender and academic role. Convenience is a factor for making choices in all situations, both academic information-seeking and everyday life information-seeking, though it plays different roles in different situations.

Ease of access to resources is one measure of convenience when making rational choices in information seeking. The most convenient sources of information were internet search engines, electronic databases, virtual reference, or online e-reserves, e-books and online booksellers; Google is important to most.

Faculty were moderately more positive in their assessment of databases’ convenience than graduate and undergraduate students, who both favored search engines. When asked to describe a time when they had a situation where they needed answers or solutions and did a quick search and made do with it, undergraduates tended to discuss only Web-based sources, with a heavy reliance on Google in particular. Graduate students also cited Google as being quick and easy, but at the same time, if they are unable to locate an internet source for their quick search, they use the library as a convenient repository of information.

Convenience trumps location

In addition to electronic resources, which carry the convenience of desktop or home access, data emerged confirming the convenience of friends and family as information sources, as well as the convenience of having a personal library. Faculty most often cited their personal home or office library—an incredibly convenient source—as the most often-used place to find quick information, though many of them also spoke about colleagues or Google.

Convenience also plays a part in choosing to use or not to use the brick-and-mortar library, or how to access library resources after hours or on the weekend. When asked to imagine an ideal information system, ideas from undergraduates include the ability to use keyword searching in all books, a universal library catalog for all libraries, reference staff who conveniently rove about the library and federated search in databases.

Convenience trumps content

Different situations for information needs did not detract from the importance of convenience in making choices, though convenience depends on the context and situation of the information need. Professional scholars and students faced with lengthy academic tasks valued the most convenient access to the library’s great store of resources, but acknowledged that those academic tasks that were of more importance or value to them would warrant more extensive searches and more time.

Faculty mentioned Web searches as easy to use, though these searches often next lead them to the library for authoritative and credible information, an evaluation they make in spite of convenience factors.

Perception reflects reality

The image of the library as a quiet place to access books rather than to access electronic sources still is prevalent today. In order to entice people to use libraries and to change their perceptions of libraries, the library experience needs to become more like that available elsewhere on the Web (e.g., Google, Amazon.com, iTunes, etc.) and to be embedded in individual workflows. The Web environment is familiar to users; therefore, they are comfortable and confident choosing to search for information there.

Librarians need to replicate the convenience of major Web services and integrate the discoverability of their resources into social media and Web searches…since, as we’ve seen, convenience trumps everything.

References

Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, comp. 2015. The Library in the Life of the User: Engaging with People Where They Live and Learn. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research. http://www.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/2015/oclcresearch-library-in-life-of-user.pdf.

Prabha, C., Connaway, L.S., & Dickey, T.J. Sense-making the information confluence: The whys and hows of college and university user satisficing of information needs. Phase IV: Semi-structured interview study. Report on National Leadership Grant LG-02-03-0062-03, to Institute of Museum and Library Services, Washington, D.C. Columbus, Ohio: School of Communication, The Ohio State University.

Radford, M.L., & Connaway, L.S. Seeking synchronicity: Evaluating virtual reference services from user, non-user, and librarian perspectives: IMLS final performance report. Report on Grant LG-06-05-0109-05, to Institute of Museum and Library Services, Washington, D.C. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center.

JISC, report, 2010. “The Digital Information Seeker: Report of Findings from Selected OCLC, RIN, and JISC User Behaviour Projects.” Lynn Silipigni Connaway and Timothy J. Dickey, OCLC Research. Project Website URL: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/reports/2010/digitalinformationseekers.aspx Project Report URL: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/reports/2010/digitalinformationseekerreport.pdf

Connaway, L. S, Lanclos, D. M., & Hood, E. M. (2013, December 6). “I always stick with the first thing that comes up on Google…” Where people go for information, what they use, and why. EDUCAUSE Review Online. [Available: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/i-always-stick-first-thing-comes-google-where-people-go-information-what-they-use-and-why]

Your turn:

  • What have you done to make your library services more convenient, and what ideas do you have for the future?