The Shape Of User Demand

Martha WhittakerJudith RussellAlong what once was called the information superhighway, platforms and technologies are the vehicles and the roads. These together require smooth-running traffic patterns. Just as railroads run alongside rivers, and thoroughfares line up with but never cross airport runways, the complexities of the Web must be managed carefully.

At the recent NFAIS 2015 Conference, panels and presenters considered the challenge of “Anticipating Demand,” examining the impact when maximizing user experience leads all other considerations. A concluding panel addressed particularly the ways that user demand now shapes organizational policy — and drives change. Not surprisingly, change driven from outside in raises concerns about control of one’s destiny.

“When things break, they typically don’t break in an explosive fashion. They tend to decline over time. Things become harder. It’s like you’re walking through mud or molasses,” observed Brian O’Leary. “The things that used to be easy are now hard, and we’re not quite sure why. The conversation that takes place within publishers, within libraries and different settings is – ‘well, we used to be able to get this, or we knew how to do this, and we pretty much knew everybody that needed to be in the room.’ Now it’s less the case. A failure to embrace this will erode the effectiveness of the established ecosystem. Other things will come in to replace it, but it’s possible, as incumbents, that we won’t be part of it.”

“As Brian said, there’s a lot of outside forces now, and there’s a lot of innovation just on the part of the users themselves to find new ways to interact with our libraries and with other sources – and even to go around and find other ways to get at information if they don’t feel that the way we’re providing it is adequate,” agreed Judith Russell. “So we do spend a lot of time trying to understand what they’re doing on their own, what they need from us, and trying to adapt what we’re doing and trying not to let the tradition of how we’ve done it before inhibit our ability to interact with them and respond to the way they’re seeking information.”

However, when libraries and publishers monitor user behavior to glean insights that can lead to product and process improvements, the line reserved for privacy can be breached.

“It’s not just a library/publisher problem. It’s ubiquitous because everybody’s going through this. We want all of these services that [also require us to] give up our privacy,” Martha Whittaker told CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “As a society, we either have to get over our obsession with privacy or figure out what the rules really are and make sure that they’re fungible enough to change as we need, because it’s forever going to be battling each other.”

Judith Russell is currently the dean of University Libraries at the University of Florida, the largest information resource system in the state of Florida. She previously was the superintendent of documents at the U. S. Government Printing Office (GPO), serving from 2003 to early 2007.

Martha Whittaker is Senior Manager, Marketing Strategy, at the American Society for Microbiology in Washington, DC, the oldest and largest single life science membership organization in the world.

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian writes extensively on publishing industry issues; he was co-editor of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, a collection of essays from the “bleeding edge of publishing.”

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