From its recommendation algorithms to its auto-play features, the objective isn’t to make sure you find what you want when you search — it’s to make sure you never search at all.
No sentence has summed up my frustration with library interface development than this simple statement. It came from this article in the Verge that is actually about catalog depth in Netflix and other streaming services, but that throwaway line encapsulates all the frustrations I have had with the direction libraries are taking in their UI development. Our catalogs and websites are designed for focused, terminal searches. I had a quick email conversation recently with Nate Hoffelder of the Digital Reader about the trouble libraries have getting readers to try something that is not a blockbuster or bestseller. The above quote perfectly captures the difference between libraries and Netflix. Our physical bookstacks function more like Netflix's approach where a user wanders in thinking one thing and wanders out with three extras they did not anticipate. But our best virtual efforts to date appear only at the item level:
Some might argue that our search results do this as they utilize key words and other control vocabulary to rank search results, but the similarity is only superficial. Contrast Netflix's interface with a library's:
You can argue that libraries are starting to catch up as our catalogs are moving away from text and more to images and content, but the adaption is really superficial because we are not data mining and curating our content to user preferences the same way Netflix, Amazon, Google, Apple, Spotify... you get the idea. The items we display on our home page are not tailored to the individual user, meaning that we are far less likely to get a positive feedback loop. The only way to increase our clicks and checkouts with our superficial design tweaks is to put bestsellers and blockbusters on the home page, which leaves us no closer to expanding the depth of our circulation than before.
I attended the National Association of Broadcaster's conference this year and heard the same question pop up about Netflix. How had they managed to grow while their A list catalog shrunk? The answer was that Netflix figured out how to move B list content. They did that using the opposite design and interface philosophy of Libraries. Netflix doesn't want you to search, they just want to deliver content that you like. They have a much smaller catalog than us, but tech tools could easily manage the differential, we just aren't using them because we still adhere to 20th Century privacy ethics. I don't know if that is a good choice for us anymore and Bibilocommons doesn't really fill the gap- yet.