or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



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Library Anytime: Highlighting 24/7 Library Services

   May 23rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Library Anytime logoHere's an idea that my coworkers and I had talked about for a little while, but really saw take shape at PLA12.

We wanted to create a webpage that really focused attention on all of our library services that patrons can use without having to come into the library. Good idea, right? We went round and round coming up with a name, but eventually settled on Library Anytime.

The PLA session that gelled everything was Designing and Building a Social Library Website, with Rebecca Ranallo (Cuyahoga County [OH] Public Library) and Nate Hill (San Jose Public Library). Their talk was inspiring, and we tried to blend* all their ideas into a single website:

  • Cuyahoga PL has a "library after dark" website, that pops up on their homepage when the library is closed over night - it focuses on resources and services people can use from home or elsewhere
  • San Jose Public Library's website looks great - very distinctive and eye-catching. However, Nate said that after using it for a couple years, they're going to be making some changes (which made me feel less bad about completely lifting their design)

We didn't create any new content for this website - it's just a (hopefully) easy-to-use portal to get to tools that already existed on our main website. But: having a second website to supplement the main website probably means the first website needs work, so our plan is to use this as a basis for a complete redesign of our main website.

Anyway, we launched Library Anytime during National Library Week (which, for those who are counting, gave us a three week development window following PLA), and so far patrons seem to like it. And I can't tell you the number of "I didn't know you guys had..." kind of comments I've heard since.

 


*steal



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CIL2011: Cool Tools – Measuring, Visualizing, and Analyzing What Libraries Do

   March 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Darlene Fichter, Research Services Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
Jeff Wisniewski, Web Services Librarian, University of Pittsburgh
Michael DeMars, California State University–Fullerton

 

Darlene - Counting is easy, knowing is hard

We must looks for signs of success, and places where we're falling down.

Good tools for detailed information:
Type in your library's name, and it searches the web to find comments posted about that you
it also shows trends/frequency of postings (be sure to use all phrases/names your patrons might call you)

Good tools for snapshot information:
Provides an overview of how many times you are mentioned on different sites

  • howsociable.com - gives raw numbers by social took
  • addictomatic.com - builds pages on the fly of the most recent results from various websites
  • socialmention.com - smaller userbase, so only really valuable for larger organizations, but it's one of the best. this also measures:
    • Strength: likelihood of being discussed
    • Passion: is there a fanbase that repeatedly talks about you
    • Sentiment: ration of positive mentions to negative ones

    Since we don't know what metrics they use, it's better to follow these as trends than as absolute numbers (if numbers change dramatically, something big must have happened - what?)

Also, just type your library's name (and variations) into Bing and Google and see what comes up - are people saying positive or negative things? What do your sites say about you?

 

Jeff - Tools for reviewing activity

Google Analytics In Page analytics

  • Available from content section
  • Visualizes activity by overlaying it on your webpage

Facebook Insights

  • Quantitative: fans, users, page views
  • Engagement: likes, comments

Klout

  • measurement of overall online influence
  • from 1 to 100 with higher scores representing a wider and stronger sphere of influence
  • pulls data mainly from Facebook and Twitter and other large social sites

Mywebcareer

  • discover, evaluate and monitor your professional online brand
  • gives you a FICO-like career score (350-850) for your personal brand

twendz

  • tool that analyzes activity and sentiment using keywords on Twitter

Google Places

  • Activity: views, impressions
  • Actions: maps, driving directions, clicks to website
  • Be sure to officially claim your small business listing, to make sure it is correct

Hootsuite

  • social media dashboard - lets you post once to multiple social outlets (Twitter, Facebook, etc)
  • recently added analytics so you can track effects related to your updates (again, in one place, instead of having to go to all of them to check)
  • there is a pay and free, and even though a lot more is in the pay version, the free is pretty good

 

Mike - Using web metrics tools to inform web design decisions

Answering the question: who are they, where are they, and what are they thinking?

The website redesign project - use a formalized process with patrons as center stage, instead of just sitting around a room arguing about which font to use

Google Analytics - it's worth setting up

  • they give you a small bit of code that you past in your site, and instantly starts tracking activity
  • it gives you rich data on how your site is used - activity, times, locations, popular resources,
    this gives you actual numbers, so you don't need to rely on national standards which may not actually reflect the makeup of your community
  • gives you real data to make decisions, instead of basing everything on anecdotes (where people come from, what their connection is, how people are finding you [search engines, keywords], etc) - this gives a voice to the patrons you never see
  • having a short time-spent-on-site metric is a good thing, because it means people are coming to your website, finding the database/website/resource they need, and linking out to it
  • it will tell you what device people are using, and thus if you need a mobile website (and which devices to focus on)


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CIL2011: Usability Express – Recipe for Libraries

   March 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

CIL2011: Usability Express - Recipe for LibrariesBohyun Kim, Digital Access Librarian, &
Marissa Ball, Emerging Technologies Librarian, Florida International University

 

Why Usability?

  • Good information cannot make up for bad design
  • Give people what they want, not what you want:
    Venn diagram of things people want to see on a website versus things that are actually there
    http://www.xkcd.com/773

Users don't...

  • read content on a website
  • want to learn how to use their website
  • visit your site every day
  • return to sites that have failed them

But they are always on the move - design your website like a billboard that would appeal to commuters, because that's all the time you have to direct their attention

Designers Usability means "fit for use"

  • intuitive - you don't need to think about how to use a hammer
  • easy to recover from a mistake
  • conducive to users performing tasks
  • no need to learn to use it

Usability is difficult for libraries because we offer so much with so many options

  • but most of our information in separate silos
  • much of the terminology is jargon and foreign to users
  • information is segmented by departments that is confusing to patrons

What libraries get wrong

  • pre-conceived notions of important
  • lack of research on user behavior
  • belief that design can change user behavior
  • design based upon a committee - this is slow, design lacks unity, and represents insider opinion more than the users'
  • writing is unsuited to the web

 

Common usability problems and examples

1. Clutter/noise

  • promote all things - nothing stands out
  • user have no idea where to start/focus
  • information overload = stress

How to fix

  • improve by taking things out rather than adding
  • be aware of clutter creeping in
  • users are happy to click "as long as"
    • it is mindless ("3 click rule" isn't true as long as clicking doesn't require effort or thought)
    • they know they are getting closer

2. Dated look

  • lowers credibility of the site
  • users suspect outdated content

How to fix

  • replace old icons, images, typography
  • update a CSS file to give a new look
  • as long as the site architecture is sound, serves the same group, and has a clear task pathway that work, no need for redesign - make sure you know what work needs to be done

3. Too subtle design

  • users scan web pages like a billboard while driving at 60mph
  • subtly in web design often backfires
  • good web design is different than good print design, because people do things differently

How to fix

  • make visually clear what's most important, valuable, popular
  • provide a clear visual hierarchy on the page
  • break pages up into clearly defined areas

4. Unclear terms/Library jargon

  • test your site with new users

How to fix

  • replace all jargon with plain terms
  • do now use the product name or vendor names
  • use a short description if name is not clear

5. Redundant and unnecessary content

  • redundant content creeps in as time goes by (welcome, introduction, etc )
  • unnecessary content = small talk (users have no interest in small talk)
  • answer users' questions, not yours
  • serve content that users can grab and go

How to fix

  • remove small talk and explanations by using descriptive names
  • make a content inventory
  • review content by category & purpose
  • remove overlapping, redundant, unnecessary content

6. Bad writing

  • rewrite a page to be half of its length
  • then cut more!

How to fix

  • use clear headings
  • make paragraphs short
  • start with the key points
  • make content easy to scan

7. Design against convention

  • the best ally of usability is convention
  • anything that prompts a pause and thinking is bad
  • surprise, confusion, agony over choice (when there is no distinguishable difference), stress

How to fix

  • don't underestimate the value of convention
  • be creative without sacrificing usability
  • convention implies:
    • obvious and predictable
    • clear paths to goals

8. Unintuitive navigation

  • is it an information architecture an issue?
  • if so, use usability testing method to find out what navigation structure or organization of content makes sense to users

 

User testing - quick, cheap and easy

Profiling Methods

  • find out who your users are
  • focus groups, surveys, and analytics data can all help determine which users to focus on
  • it's best to test in small groups - three tests with five users is better than a single test with 15 users
  • you will learn who your users are, what they want, and how best to get it to them
  • you should use more than one, and make them simple

Focus Groups and User Surveys

  • best to conduct early one, because they gather background information and overall opinions and desires
  • sessions last 1-2 hours, and work best when combined with other methods

Card Sorting

  • put ideas on cards/post-its, and have users arrange them in a way that makes sense to them
  • also helps correct terminology, because users need to understand the words on the cards
  • sessions last 1-2 hours, can be done in groups or individually

Contextual Interviews and Intercepts

  • based on observations of users in their environment
  • ask questions, and be casual
  • this is one of the best methods to use

Paper Prototyping

  • easy, disposable, adaptable, affordable
  • allow your users to be creative
  • create screenshots of various screens of your site for users to interact with
  • easy to generate lots of ideas, because people are more willing to scrap ideas on paper than delete
  • files they have worked on


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Upgrading WordPress

   February 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Wordpress logoI'm upgrading my WordPress installation this weekend, going from way-out-of-date v2.5 all the way up to v3.0.5.

So far so good - a few glitches, but nothing major.

I know commenting is a little different, but if you notice anything out of the ordinary, please let me know.

Updates
I'll post the bigger problems I'm having here, and then solutions as I find them (but I am also open to suggestions if someone else has encountered these):

  • WordPress won't accept my FTP credentials - this is annoying, and it is preventing me from updating any of my plugins
  • Save Draft button isn't working - these are a few interrelated issues here: it seems like something is wrong with the permalinks, which is preventing me from previewing draft posts. Draft posts are also not saving to the list of draft posts, which means I can't save anything in advance

Update 3/8/11:
It looks like this is finally resolved. The root cause was two-fold, I think

  1. I hadn't been keeping up with regular upgrades (it had been years)
  2. The underlying database was corrupt, and wasn't allowing me access to everything I needed access to

Even before I upgraded, the access problem existed - it only became noticeable after such a huge upgrade jump, because WordPress had changed how it accessed the database, and now the parts I couldn't access were more critical than before.

The ultimate fix was to scrap the old install completely and start over with a fresh install - new WordPress, new database, everything. I exported all my posts and other content, got my theme set, and then my host essentially redirected my domain to point to the new directory.

A pain in the butt, basically, that could have been avoided long ago if I had been upgrading properly.

Thanks to Otto from WordPress for all his troubleshooting help, and to Chris of thevale.net for fixing everything I couldn't.



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Mobile Option: Boopsie For Libraries

   February 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boopise for... LibrariesI don't know how I missed this before, but only recently Boopsie for libraries reached my radar screen - it's a company that will create a mobile version of a library's website and catalog.

There are other options* out there, but Boopsie seems like a great and easy alternative to creating your own mobile website. And even better, they also mobile-ize the catalog, which I couldn't do (although apparently non-catalog services are more popular with mobile patrons).

Pricing seemed reasonable (for what you get) - a library near me is in the process of signing up, and reported the cost is in the few-thousand dollar range (or, it would be roughly $10,000 for our whole 36-library consortium to sign up). Lots of libraries are already using them - Sarah has a good write-up on San Jose's experience, and WorldCat and ALA also use their app.

I'm not trying to pitch Boopise, so much as I'm pitching the importance of libraries having a way to serve mobile patrons - using vendors like this* are an option for libraries who can't do it themselves.

 


*Library Anywhere from LibraryThing is another mobile website+catalog solution, and seems to be cheaper than Boopsie



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Detecting and Redirecting Mobile Devices

   December 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Mobile website mockup in testiphone.comRemember a few months ago, when I was inspired by Steve Butzel's presentation at NELA2010 and created a mobile version of my library's website? I bet you have that date marked on your calendar.

Anyway, one lingering problem I had was some mechanism to automatically detect mobile devices when they visited our website, and reroute them to the mobile version instead of the full web version. I finally had some time this week and was able to accomplish that - aided by the fact that it was easier than I expected.

The ultimate goal is to redesign our entire site along the lines Brett suggested, by creating a stylesheet specifically for mobile devices. Brad pointed out that the Canton Public Library employs this, awesomely: visit their site and slowly make your browser window smaller, and watch the website flip from "full web" mode to "mobile" mode.

That was more than I could handle this week, so I opted for the detect-and-redirect approach. I had found online instructions using both javascript and php, and I went with the php method because

  • I think php is more reliable than javascript, because javascript depends on the browser whereas php runs on our server
  • Php is more fun, and I know our server runs php

The website offering the php method is http://detectmobilebrowsers.mobi, and very happily they make it available free for non-profits. Here's what I did:

  1. Read and reread their website
  2. Downloaded the main bit of code, and uploaded it to our web server
  3. Used their Function Generator to create the snippet of code to paste into the top of our homepage. I chose to treat all of their options as a mobile browser, and redirect them to http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile - the resulting code looked like this:
    require_once('mobile_device_detect.php');
    mobile_device_detect(true,true,true,true,true,true,true,
    'http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile',false);
    

    (this should be two lines of code, but it wraps because of the width of my blog - if you use this code, make sure the second and third lines above are actually one long line)

  4. I copy/pasted that code into our index.html homepage. However, because this is php code, it had to go between php tags, (<?php and ?>), so the complete code I actually added to the top of our page was:
    <?php 
    require_once('mobile_device_detect.php');
    mobile_device_detect(true,true,true,true,true,true,true,
    'http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org/mobile',false);
    ?>
    

    (again, see note above about line wrapping)

  5. Note that the path in the "require_once" line must match where on your web server you actually saved the mobile_device_detect.php file (downloaded in Step 2)
  6. Now, the last step was a little tricky, because it involves editing the .htaccess on the server. It's easy though, and one of their faq answers explains it.

    Basically, .html files don't normally run php code - .php files do that. So if our homepage was index.php instead of index.html, I could have skipped this step. Instead, in order to make .html pages execute php, I had to add a few lines to our server's .htaccess file - which was no trouble at all - and then everything worked splendidly

That is, at least, so far. I've done some testing with mobile devices and (as suggested) with the User Agent Switcher Firefox add-on, and all of that has worked. But please, if you have a mobile device, visit our homepage (http://www.chelmsfordlibrary.org) and let me know if you don't get redirected to our mobile site.

A couple other notes:

  • I also added a link to the mobile site in the upper-left corner of the homepage, in case the redirect doesn't work
  • I only added this auto-detect to the homepage. I thought about adding it to every page, but our full site has a lot of information our mobile site doesn't - especially descriptions of our events. If I added the redirect to every single page, people with mobile devices basically wouldn't have access to any of that. So, my thinking is to provide mobile users with the (robust) basics, but if they want more than that they'll have to endure our not-great coding until we're able to redesign the entire site to be mobile-friendly

This was easier than I was expecting, which makes me think I missed something.

Update: someone pointed out a gap in my logic. On the mobile site, there is a link to "Visit our main site" which linked back to our full homepage. However, since the homepage redirected people to the mobile site, anyone clicking that link from the mobile site just got looped right back to the mobile site. So, I changed that link to go to our About page. Again, this is a good reason to just have mobile-friendly stylesheets like Brett and Brad suggest above.



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