The angry librarian: A great example of the human side of bad user experience

I was tipped off to the angry librarian when it went around the office; if you haven’t seen it please watch it below and then read the rest of this post.

I hope that was an especially painful 5 minutes and 10 seconds — I know I found it painful, and not, as many of the commenters on YouTube did, because “that spacey girl is so dumb”. This is an excellent (if spoofed) example of a bad user experience in an unusable system that involves a human being. The girl’s task is relatively straightforward, she wants to print a picture in colour for a university assignment. When she tries (and fails) to complete the task on her own, she asks the librarian on duty for assistance.

From this point, the librarian completely fails to offer a good user experience; he doesn’t provide enough information at any stage in the proceedings for the girl to know that what she wants to do is impossible, and during their conversation, the girl (a library user, the person on the customer end of the equation) makes the only attempts that are made toward solving the problem — only to have each one rebuffed in a ruder and ruder manner.

Rebuffing the girl’s attempts to print a document in colour takes five minutes, time that is wasted for the librarian and wasted and frustrating for her. There are ways to deal with this that would have taken much less time, and would have been a much better experience for both parties:

  • The obvious: Make colour printing available to students.
  • If colour printing is not available for students, then make this fact obvious, and provide an alternative, for example “I’m sorry, we can’t do colour printing for students, but the copy shop next door can and is open 9am to 9pm 7 days a week”.

The bad user experience in this case was caused by an interaction between an obstinate person (the librarian) and a set of rules that would be incomprehensible to the average user (and aren’t readily available for users to read). While I am sure that this scenario is not in the least bit library-specific, this video is an excellent incentive to assess how our rules and our customer service may make our users’ lives difficult.

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2 Responses to “The angry librarian: A great example of the human side of bad user experience”


  1. 1 tony Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Having just returned from Japan, can I just say that the most frustrating of interactions can be ok if the people who are supposed to be helping are actually pleasant and helpful.

    When I misunderstood the Osaka subway map and tried to make a non existent connection, the station master tried to direct me up the street and mimed directions for where I should go. I then somehow managed to walk in the complete opposite direction and ended up even further away. Finding another subway station I tried to get back in, but my ticket was no longer valid and all the red lights and bells went off at the turnstile. The station master, looking at the ticket and wondering how I had ended up here, and realising I was obviously lost and confused, waved me through with a smile and asked me to wait while he went and found an English language subway guide. Suddenly everything was ok again.

    I can only imagine how this scenario would have played out in Melbourne.

  2. 2 Bob Montgomery Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 6:45 am

    “If colour printing is not available for students, then make this fact obvious, and provide an alternative, for example “I’m sorry, we can’t do colour printing for students, but the copy shop next door can and is open 9am to 9pm 7 days a week”.”
    Would that this situation were that simple. But the patron asked for a color “copy” ; a service which is actually available. The complication arises when she has no original to be copied by the librarian. That leads to her making a request that can’t be fulfilled. So how is the librarian able to copy a document that doesn’t exist– as he asks her. Is he snarky? Without doubt. Is the patron persistently annoying, demanding and entitled? No doubt.
    What would I have done differently? After acknowledging and apologizing for the fact that making a “photocopy” and printing out a color copy, can be a confusing distinction, I would have suggested that she go to the nearest copy shop and print out a color copy of her document. I would conclude by apologizing for the inconvenience that results from the university library not enabling users to print color copies.
    So, I agree with you– but I think your view is too one-sided. To do customer service education in today’s IT environment in the context of limited budgets, we need to acknowledge the context as a challenging one for both the service provider and the customer alike.
    A frustrated librarian in the USA.
    P.S. I felt for each party in this interaction.


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