Anne Haines: If She Knew What She Wants – Librarian Mind-Reading Tricks for Fun and Profit

Anne Haines, Web Content Specialist at Indiana University Libraries, shares strategies to get at what people really need.

4 Levels of Information Need

  • Hat-tip to Robert S. Taylor

Visceral Need

  • Don’t have the words to describe the need

Conscious Need

  • Ambiguous, rambling statements

Formalized Need

  • Can form a qualified and rational statement of what user is looking for

Compromised Need

  • Phrasing question in terms of system¬†user thinks can help them

Interview as Negotiation

  • Iterative, collaborative
  • Not adversarial or judge-y

What We Need to Understand

“Inquirers frequently cannot define what they want, but they can discuss why they need it.” – Robert S. Taylor

  • The situation
    • The context of the question
  • The gaps
    • What is it that they don’t know and need to know
    • Ask people to describe what they don’t know
  • The uses
    • What does the person want to be able to do after bridging this knowledge gap?
    • Task-based

Asking Questions

Closed Questions

  • Yes/No
  • Helpful to focus the convo

Open Questions

  • Infinite set of possibilities
  • Get your person talking and you’ll understand their context better

Neutral Questions

  • AKA: sense-making questions
  • Subset of open questions
  • Examples
    • How much info do you need?
    • What’s your deadline?
    • What are your top priorities?
    • What have you done so far? Where have you looked for answers?
    • What do you plan to do with the info?
    • What would a perfect solution look like?

Active Listening

  • Slow down
  • Be as present with the person as possible – don’t try to jump ahead to solving the problem
  • Things to do/say:
    • Tell me more
    • Can you explain how you came to that idea?
    • Loop back – “Earlier, you said…”

Resist Premature Diagnosis

  • Let people finish explaining what’s going on
  • Hear everything else
  • Don’t box yourself in with pre-conceived solution (will color your thinking, you’ll hear the rest of the convo through the context you decided on)

Channel Selection

  • Email, Skype, IM, face-to-face meetings, etc.
    • Choose the best channel for the need (death to unnecessary meetings!)

Other Tricks

  • Ask for clarification
  • Be deliberate and careful in how you word questions – nuances matter
    • “Can I help you?” vs. “How can I help?”
    • “Can I help you with something else?” vs. “Can I help you with anything else?”

Anne’s resources and slides posted here:¬†

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *