Getting ’em to use the tools

Email from a medical librarian in the midwestern United States:

Most of my doctors don’t know what RSS is (techno babble to them) how can I get them to use it when many still aren’t using their email?

I hear this question (or a variation on this theme) an awful lot. This isn’t really a question about feeds or aggregators (though this post has some tips on how to make feeds more “pushy” for users)- what it is asking is for advice on how to convince the library’s patrons to USE its super-cool new tools and services.

Putting the problem in historical perspective
When I teach classes in my library on the use of email, I always include a section on email etiquette. As I start that section, I explain WHY we need to teach email etiquette.

Imagine a friend invites you over for dinner and a movie- you arrive at the expected time and knock on the door. When your friend comes to the door, you can see she has her cordless telephone between her shoulder and ear and is having a phone conversation. As she waves you inside, you automatically do a number of things:

  • You don’t speak to your friend or distract her from her conversation.
  • You try not to make noise that would make it hard for her to continue her phone conversation
  • While she’s on the phone in the kitchen, you busy yourself in the living room with browsing her bookshelves (you’re both librarians in this hypothetical, okay?) so that you don’t eavesdrop on her conversation.

And you do all of these things without even thinking, right? This is when I point out to my class that the telephone is a relatively new invention, and that most Americans didn’t have phones at home just a few short generations ago- and it has taken those generations decades of time time in which to evolve the consistant CULTURE and behavioral expectations around the use of telephone that would let us incorporate it smoothly into our lives. We’re so familiar with them now, that we do it without thinking.

Email, I tell my class, is much newer, and nowhere near as commonly used as telephones, so there’s no shame in not knowing the etiquette that surrounds the technology, and that’s why we teach it in class. I also point out that I believe email etiquette (and that of other text-based communication technologies) will eventually be as obvious to their grandchildren one day as telephone etiquette is to us now. (Cell phone/mobile phone etiquette, by the way, I think will never evolve- but that’s a topic for a future post.)

The point of this?
The adoption of many new technologies frequently moves a lot slower in the U.S. than does the development of the technologies themselves. That’s not a bad thing in itself (I like Neil Postman), but it needs to be accepted as a reality.

There are still clinicians affiliated with our hospital that choose not to use email. That’s fine. That’s okay. That’s their choice, and I’m certainly not going to give them a hard time about it.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep utilizing technology to expand the breadth and depth of my library’s services and to dramatically enhance user access and ease at very low cost to our organization by using new technologies.

Some clinicians will use them right away, others won’t. But some traditionalists didn’t like that newfangled talkybox, either. Now everyone uses telephones. They might not want the newfangled technology-based services now, but they’ll be demanding ’em eventually. I can be ahead of the curve (get users what they want before they even know they want it), on the curve (get the users what they want soon after they ask for it), or behind the curve (annoying users because their colleagues elsewhere already HAVE this stuff and we don’t). I choose to be ahead of the curve whenever possible.

While continuing to leverage technology this way, I’m consistantly trying to place these tools in front of new eyeballs.

  • I teach three orientation classes for new employees every month on using computers at our hospital. I always have a short section on using the library’s digital resources, and demonstrate a few of them.
  • I attend each meeting of the Continuing Medical Education committee to let them know what neat new materials and services the library has for doctors.
  • I regularly touch base with the nurse educators in Staff Development, and made a point of building a page in our library’s portal just to address the library needs of nurses (our hospital is not affiliated with a nursing school, and I think our library has historically underserved nurses).
  • I offer courses every month on using clinical knowledge bases. If someone wants to learn how to use these tools, I drop what I’m doing and go teach that instead.
  • I identify and keep notes on which clinicians LIKE technology and which clinicians GET technology. Both groups can be great spreaders of the library’s gospel, and will likely be pleased to be asked to trial a new product, offer feedback on library services, and tell their colleagues about the coolest stuff the library does for them.

Of course, this isn’t nearly enough promotion. I need to find the time to do a LOT more promotion of the library’s services to the clinicians it serves, and have plans that I hope to execute in the coming year that I hope will significantly increase our library’s visibility.

Proving value to the clinician

I’ve said before that I think most clinicians WILL use new technologies if it can be proven to the clinician’s satisfaction both that:

  1. The technology is easy to use
  2. and

  3. The technology will save the clinician time, money, hassle, professional error, or embarassment.

Saving the clinician money
A physician affilliated with our hospital invited me to his office to talk about a computer problem he was having, and I noticed that he had UpToDate CDs on his desk. Although it was unrelated to why I was there, I pointed out that he could use the hospital’s UpToDate from his office at no charge. He boggled, and insisted it must be difficult to access. Without touching his keyboard myself, I talked him through connecting to the hospital’s network and pulling up UpToDate. He boggled again, then cancelled his UpToDate subscription. The library had just saved his practice a small fortune. This physician now contacts me routinely, and is pretty much willing to try anything I suggest, because I’ve proven to him repeatedly that I want to make his work easier and more productive.

Saving the clinician time/hassle
An obstetric surgeon visited my library and asked me to walk her through some searches in OVID- she does this every few months to see if anything new has been published on obstetric hemorrhage. I asked her how she would like it if she could make the search happen automatically and EMAIL her when it found something. She boggled. I walked her through setting up the search in PubMed for her terms and the specific journals she cares about, and walked her through setting up the email alert or RSS feed. She asked me for written instructions on how to do this herself, and I sent them to her. I hardly ever see her physically in the library now (which is a bummer because I enjoy talking with her), but she’s getting a whole lot more use out of the library, and I’m really happy about that.

Proving the technology is easy to use
I have a favorite line for doctors who insist that a technology is too hard for them: “If you say so, Doc- but I had a bunch of LPNs in here last week who figured it out, and they didn’t even have medical degrees.” As long as I say it with a smile, a doc will give it another go. Once they’re willing, the trick, I think, is not to give ANY unneccessary information. Show ’em what it DOES for them first, how to CUSTOMIZE it for themselves second. If they’re interested in HOW it works (they usually are), they’ll ask. If THEY ask, the learning is their idea- and they’ll be a lot more attentive and receptiveto the explanation.

Metaphors be with you
I’m also a strong believer in the power of metaphor in explaining technology to non-techie people. Here’s an example of what I mean by that– I hope to write more posts like that one in the future.

Wiser folks, please chime in
I’m hoping readers with stronger backgrounds in education and promotion will chime in- the above are just some notes on what I find is working for me.

Here’s the bottom line:
If you’ve made it easy and demonstrated the benefits and the clinician STILL doesn’t want to use it, you can’t make her/him- But you still need to get the services ready. As some forward-thinking hospital libraries will develop these sorts of services for their users, your clinicians will eventually hear about them and will eventually demand them. And you, you forward-thinking MedLib, you- you’ll be ready.

5 thoughts on “Getting ’em to use the tools

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  2. Hi,
    I just read your comment in the shoutbox (never thought anyone would really use it). I’m sorry, but I’m new to blogging and until now I missed the point of a pingback being handled automatically.

    I would have a hard time to put my whole entry into proper english, but I still want to thank you for this very interesting post. I’m currently studying LIS (Germany/Hamburg). In the last weeks I was thinking about the very question of your post being an essential problem for many (german) libraries. More specifically I think it will be a problem for them because for now they are even one step behind, lacking the awareness of new technologies and standards. This makes it a kind of revolutionary news if a library offers a newsfeed. I think another important factor ist that many libriaries/librarians here don’t see themselves offering a service rather than just ressources.

    Ok, I think I’m getting to specifically. Also this is only my opinion (my impresssions) and I guess many people wouldn’t agree with me on this 😉
    Furthermore this opinion does not apply to all libraries – at least not in all aspects. But the experience from my last two internships at least also often posed the question on how to “getting ‘em to use the tools”.

    However, I really like your approach in this general matter.

    (Phew, I hope my english was not to amiss :))

  3. Tobias, I’m really grateful that you took the time to share your thoughts in english- I was having very little success attempting a translation from German. Thanks so much!

  4. David, thanks for pointing out your post. I had briefly looked it over, but needed to give it a more thorough read. I think you take a great approach – and your clinicians are very lucky to have you working so hard to get them to use new technologies. I definitely agree that people will use new technologies if they are easy to use and they provide a necessary service that can save time and/or money. You also make a very valid point about the need to explain new technologies in non-technological terms. People definitely tend to shy away from things that sound too technical. I hope that you will continue to post about your efforts to increase your library’s visibility.

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