This month’s T-SQL Tuesday, hosted by Robert Pearl, is all about Data Presentation. At first I wasn’t sure what to write about, but then I had a first hand experience in poor design that gave me the inspiration for today’s post.
Just the Facts
Fact: I love to read.
Fact: I do not own a money tree.
I’ve always been a big fan of the library. When I was younger, much of my Summer vacation was spent biking between different branches around my neighborhood. And when I got my license to drive, it meant that I could reach even further, more exotic branches that weren’t in biking distance. For whatever reason, once I entered college, my library-centric habits fell to the wayside. It’s only recently, in light of the aforementioned facts, that I’ve renewed my focus.
The Case of the Missing Book
Today, I was researching a number of books to rent, and noticed that a copy was available in a branch not too far from my house. During lunch, I decided to walk over to check it out. Arriving at the branch, I walked in and headed over to the single shelf where all the business books are located. I searched up and down, yet my choice was nowhere to be found. Determined, I walked over to the New Arrivals section to redouble my search. Alas no: it was not there either.
Finding a librarian, she took a break from chatting with a friend in order to help me. Drawing up the information on her computer, it appeared that the book was brand new. Asking me to search New Arrivals once again, I assured her that it wasn’t there. We eventually catch the attention of her supervisor, who came over and studied the data on the monitor.
“Oh… you can see here, sir,” she pointed to the monitor, “that the book came into circulation on September 9th of this year, but no one has checked it out yet. It’s probably still on its way here from MLK.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. Library is DC’s main branch. And one hell of an ugly building.)
“Wait… so you’re telling me that you advertise new books that you don’t even have yet?” I asked.
“No. We have it. It’s just not here yet.”
“I’m not seeing the difference. Why let the information go public in your catalog when I can’t get the book today? Don’t you see how this might be a problem?”
“Would you like me to order it for you?”
Too Much or Too Little?
In my case, the library gave too much information too soon. Or maybe it wasn’t enough. It’s fantastic that I can log onto my account from any internet accessible location, search for books, see my due dates, and even reserve books and send them to the branch of my choice. All good stuff. But why, oh why, place books that haven’t yet reached circulation into the public catalog? Or if determined to have new books listed immediately, why not add a note stating, “This is a new order – it may not be at your local library yet.”
It’s a case of bad information design, which in turn caused something much worse: an unhappy customer. Let’s just say that DC’s employees aren’t the best when it comes to customer service, and I’ve learned the valuable lesson to simply order my books online rather than chance going into a library. They’ve lost my trust all because the information presented to me was incomplete.