Each year, OCLC Research staff gather together to review current activities and to plan for the upcoming year. During this year’s meeting, which happened in September, we reviewed our activity areas. I lead the User Behavior Studies and Synthesis activity area; our group engaged in a discussion about describing and possibly renaming the activity area. We discussed “user behavior studies” and whether this terminology is overused and whether it reflects the whole picture of studying and identifying how individuals engage with technology; how they seek, access, and use information; and how and why they demonstrate these behaviors and do what they do.
I wonder if we, as librarians and information professionals, spend too much time contemplating and discussing users of our services and resources and if this energy would be well spent on identifying those individuals who choose not to use library services and resources. I wonder why we are fixated on users of library services and resources and why we do not expend energy on learning about those who go elsewhere for their technology and information needs and try to position library services and resources in their workflows and personal and professional landscapes. Marie L. Radford and I define these individuals who do not use library services and resources as potential users.
If we do buy into this need to identify potential users and their behaviors, what do we call this group? Are these individuals users also, just not users of library services and resources? The term potential user seems cumbersome and not very enticing when trying to promote interest and activity in this area. Even more difficult is identifying a term that describes both users and potential users of library services and resources. Could that term be Elusive Users? According to Choose Your Words, “Anything elusive is hard to get a hold of. It eludes you.” Does this term, elusive, accurately describe the individuals who we observe, interview, and track in various contexts of using technology and acquiring information? I invite you to share your ideas in the comments!
Director of Library Trends and User Research at OCLC Research. I study how people get & use information & engage with technology.