I love using other people’s really good ideas. David Lee King embedded a meebo widget in his catalog’s 404 equivalent. So, I copied him. Great music videos and a nifty improvement to the catalog- thanks, David!
I see this “No Entries Found” page on our in-house catalog-only machines all the time. When I mentioned at a meeting that I had stuck a meebo widget in our catalog on the “try again” page, it took a few moments for everyone to recall what that page looks like. A title, subject or author search gone wrong plunks the searcher into a list of what’s closest alphabetically. Only the keyword search that runs afoul of our records lands the user at this screen. My hunch is that our users see this screen a lot. My informal poll says that my colleagues hardly ever see it.
That’s not even remotely surprising, but it’s just another reminder of how different our services look to our patrons. They fall down rabbit holes on our websites that we’ve forgotten about. They get confused by our ILL rules, our terminology, our acronyms. Try to remember the first time you walked into your job- how strange and foreign everything looked (I got lost the first time I came to my library, and it isn’t very large). If you can’t look at your library without it looking familiar, try going into an unfamiliar store and looking for something small.
Last year, I was in a new (to me) yarn store and I was looking for recycled silk yarn. It’s distinctive, but in a tightly-packed yarn store, everything starts to look the same. I asked at the counter and the owner told me the yarn was in a small basket at the back. Okay. Except there were lots of small baskets and I wasn’t sure if she meant the back, as in the opposite wall from the door or the opposite wall from the counter (which was perpendicular to the door). Also, how far back is “at the back”? I wandered through the store until the owner came over and pointed me to it. She was not thrilled by my cluelessness. I felt dumb, she felt impatient with my slowness to grasp what “in the back” meant and I wasted a lot of time because I didn’t want to ask for clarification right away. No one likes to ask twice, no one likes to feel dumb, no one likes answering questions over and over, but only one of us is getting paid to be nice.
It’s all much more complicated than that, of course. We can’t always hold people’s hands while they navigate signing up for their first email account or try to force Excel to do their calculus homework for them. Sometimes, the best we can do is civil and helpful. But our job is getting people found. Online, in the library, staring at a screen or a room they’ve never seen before. “Where is the new book…?” “How do I find job listings for…?” “Where are your…?” Patrons often feel lost in our buildings and our services. Chat in the catalog is just one more way we can help them find their way.