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


#nelaconf12 Notes and Insights

   October 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

New England Library AssociationI spent the first part of this week at the New England Library Association 2012 annual conference, which I found I enjoyed more than others in recent memory. Partly it was due to talking with way more people than I usually do, but the guys from ByWater Solutions, Koha developers, also picked up my lunch tab one day, which is awesome - thanks Nate.

Anyway, I mostly stuck to the technology track this time, which seemed like it was all ebooks all the time. Often, that turned into Overdrive-bashing (for past practices), but there was also a lot of looking to the future of what-could-be. Here are a few notes I wrote down from the various sessions over the three days:

  • Followup on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
    Last week I posted about this case now before the Supreme Court, and mentioned that Alan Wexelblat of Copyfight would be speaking at NELA. This was probably the hands-down absolute best session I attended, and if you ever get the chance to see Alan speak, jump at it.

    He offered more insight on the speculating I did last week - for one thing, this case will be limited to items imported from overseas, and only items that have (or can be) copyrighted. So, things like iPhones (which are patented, not copyrighted) and clothes (which are not copyrighted at all) will not be affected (so no "Garage Sale Police: SVU" any time soon).

    Alan also said he expected the Supreme Court to rule in Wiley's favor, albeit with a very narrow ruling. Arguments between October 29th, so keep an eye on it.

  • The (not so bright) future of ereaders
    In more than one session, I heard people say that 2012 was the peak for dedicated ereaders. They will start to decline in 2013, and from here on out, ebooks will be read on smartphones and tablets, because ebooks will cease to be something special or unusual and just part of peoples' normal lives. As people get more and more used to doing everything on one device, dedicated devices - like ereaders - will be left behind.

    Dedicated ereaders have the advantage with cheaper prices and better eink displays, but hardware prices are always falling, and the more people use smartphones and tablets, the more they become accustomed to those displays. Besides, Betamax was better quality than VHS, and it still lost out.

    Except maybe in libraries, since the libraries that circulate hardware will only want patrons using them for ebooks. But the death of ereaders was still an interesting observation (and again, a widely-held one, it seemed).

  • But if you are buying ereaders...
    A few speakers gave kind of best-practices reviews of ereader lending programs in their libraries. One recommendation was that, if you are buying ereaders to lend to patrons, definitely get the extended warranty.

    Another model for ereader/ebook lending was to give patrons a gift card in addition to loaning them an ereader. That way, patrons do your ebook collection development for you. And, since the books are being purchased, patrons aren't limited to just what is available through Overdrive, and instead they get to read whatever bestseller they want, right now. A couple libraries in Massachusetts are doing this, and they have not had any problems - the gift card is tied to the library's Amazon account, and patrons are told not to buy more than three ebooks.

    However, again, there was the recommendation to buy tablets, not dedicated ereaders at all - they will have a longer useful life.

  • The (ever brightening) future of ebooks
    Another common opinion was that ebooks really are a major revolution in publishing, whether we like it or not. And by revolution, we're really talking evolution along the lines of cave walls > clay tablets > papyrus scrolls > bound books > ebooks. However, ebooks won't necessarily totally supersede print in our lifetime - more likely, they will be viewed as different experiences, not as mutually-exclusive.

    A great example of this was keynote speaker T. Scott Plutchak's story of reading picture books to his granddaughter. She has one favorite book, which they have both in print and on his iPad. She always wants him to read it to her, but sometimes she wants the interactive play of the iPad, and sometimes she wants the traditional page-turning of the print book. I like the view that it's not all or nothing - print and ebooks can coexist. And kids don't see them as competitors, just different. I think I've said this before, but I still use both pencils and pens, and I also still listen to the radio every day. Pencils and the radio are good for certain applications, pens and keyboards and television and internet good for others.

    Another analogy I liked was that ebooks are a total revolution in technology, along the lines of sheet music > phonograph recordings. Before Edison, music was distributed as sheet music - people bought it and then played the piano themselves in their own parlors. But after the phonograph, people could buy and listen to a recording. This is a fundamental change in how people interacted with music - it removed the personal experience of playing it, and standardized what version of the song people heard. This isn't a direct ebook correlation, but the basic "this is a fundamental shift in how people interact with stories" is worth considering.

    However, one of the funniest lines at the conference came up when a speaker was trying to make the point that new technology does often replace old technology: "yes, people still raise horses, but how many of you rode a horse here today?" Ha.

  • DRM is the problem.
    Universally, the cause of all ebook-related problems right now is DRM. Not copyright, not technology, not piracy - just DRM. So, the recommendations were always: buy DRM-free ebooks - publishers like TOR and HumbleBundle are leading the way and need to be supported.
  • Create your own electronic content
    For libraries in Massachusetts, contact the Boston Public Library to get on board with BPL's local resource digitization program. For free, libraries, historical societies, town offices, etc. can have their annual reports, yearbooks, special collections, whatevers digitized by BPL and Internet Archive staff. The items will become part of the Digital Commonwealth and Internet Archive collections, and will be freely available online. This is definitely worth checking out - send a message to digital@bpl.org for more information.

    Good quotes relating to this were, "copyright is like a speed limit - it's flexible, so going a little over is okay." And, "copyright is often a gray area - and to us, gray means GO!"

  • Training - it's what we do
    Lastly, lots of talk about training and tech support - library staff training patrons to use ebooks, the reference desk evolving into a community technology help desk, etc. These ideas are not new, but they bear repeating, because I do think this is the future for libraries.

    I did hear one new idea though: one speaker found he was having trouble training senior citizens to use their brand new ereaders, because they had no computer experience whatsoever. No matter how patient and repetitive he was, he could just not communicate with them in the way they needed. So, he got the idea to train one of their peers - a senior woman who volunteered at the library - and then had her show other seniors how to use technology. He said results were instant and fantastic, because she, being from their generation, was naturally more attuned to speaking at their level. Great idea, up until he told us what he called it: "The Old Lady Support Group."

In all, it was a great conference. My only complaint is that I couldn't get to all the sessions I wanted to see. Presentations are being posted online, so please check them out for more information.



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Book-Related Diversions and Professional Development

   July 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Here is an assortment of things people have sent me recently, or just random items from the internet (so I can clear out my "to blog" folder):



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What I Learned at CIL2011

   March 29th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Computers in Libraries 2011 logoI had a great time at the Computers in Libraries 2011 conference last week - I met nice and smart people, attended good sessions (read my notes), learned a lot, and hopefully helped a few people by giving a workshop with Nicole Engard.

After a week of digesting, I wanted to share the three main points I took away from the conference. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Simplify your website
This was mentioned in multiple sessions (also good stuff here), and sadly it bears repeating - library websites should not be junk drawers, hanging on to everything everything everything just in case some might want it. They might, but it makes your site so cluttered that they'll never find it anyway.

Another related principle is Aaron Schmidt's idea gradual redesign - instead of just one day - boom - entirely changing everything, do things gradually. Consolidate content, reorganize navigation, etc, in stages - it's easier for users to adapt to a few things at a time, and staff get to see continual progress, rather than having to wait until the entire project is done. I want start implementing this approach for our redesign project.

2. Libraries are about the experience
You know how you hear something and read something again and again, and then you hear it one more time and you finally understand what it means? That happened to me at CiL with the idea of User Experience (UX). Again, Aaron Schmidt has been out in front on this for awhile, but I only every thought of it in the context of using websites.

What dawned on me is that, in the library, the patron experience is everything - to us and to them. People don't use libraries because they like the idea of libraries - people use libraries for the experience they can find there. Whether it is curling up a print book to experience a story, or attending a lecture, or a storytime, or using our free internet access, or idly chatting with the circ staff about new books, what people are after is the experience.

Perhaps this isn't too novel unless you think of it this way: libraries aren't about books, or information, or programming, or even community - libraries are about experience. Patrons can experience our community space or our content, but it's their emotional perception that is key. Of course, different patrons experience different services in different ways, but it's our job to make sure they are good experiences.

3. The only good DRM is no DRM
When I was babbling about the HarperCollins fiasco, I focused mostly on their ridiculous policy approach, and didn't talk much about DRM itself. It's the technology that makes self-destructing ebooks possible, sure, but I considered it just a tool - a misused one, but not the real root of the problem.

But the Librarian in Black's "dead technologies" talk changed my mind. I wish I recorded her to share here - everyone should see it. DRM is the main problem with ebooks - and not even in a technological way. The problem is that publishers who are afraid to let go of old models insist on using DRM to cripple the potential of ebooks. I love analogies, and here's a good one: does your refrigerator limit the kind of ice cream you can buy, or get rid of it after a certain amount of time? No, so why would we allow it with ebooks?

We should not stand to be treated like criminals - that's what DRM does. Any effective and robust ebook model cannot implement DRM. I am not remotely as passionate or as eloquent as Sarah, but now I'm just as motivated.

end drm logo


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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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CIL2011: Mobile Landscape and Location

   March 23rd, 2011 Brian Herzog

CIL2011: Mobile Landscape and LocationJoe Murphy, Science Librarian, Coordinator of Instruction & Technology, Yale University
Chanitra Bishop, Instruction & Emerging Technologies Librarian, Indiana University
Jason Clark, Head, Digital Access & Web Services, Montana State University

 

Foursquare and Libraries - Chanitra Bishop

Location-based mobile apps use your device's GPS data to locate information about what is going on around you. The advantage is the potential for targeted marketing to users in a specific geographic location
Examples: Foursquare, Brightkite, Yelp, Gowalla, Google Places

People like them because they are fun, almost like games, and can earn points and badges for their activity.

Foursquare allows you to

  • check in to different location
  • create a to-do list for locations
  • find out what frineds are doing
  • learn about events, restaurants, etc in a location

Notes of caution: you are broadcasting where you are, so people could follow up, or know where you are not (ie, your house)

Foursquare and Libraries

Libraries can claim your location and/or add new locations

  • give each feature of your library a location (cafe, DVD collection, reference desk, etc) to promote those services to people on Foursquare
  • gives you the opportunity to run promotions
  • engage with patrons, award the mayor
  • use tips, descriptions, photos, and tags to share information
  • update incorrect user-generated information

 

Where are You? Locations and Library Applications - Jason Clark

How does location matter for libraries?
Content isn't just enough anymore - now the context is also important (about 50% of Google searches have some geographic component). Neat mashup: Wildlife near you (plotting flickr photos on a map to show animals in your area)

Library applications

  • Mapping (give context in a snapshot)
  • Check-in like Foursquare - Darien Library gives a totebag to patrons who check in
  • Crowdsourcing geo information - maps.nypl.org allows people to overlay historical infomration on current city maps, and also allow people to correct errors
  • Local interest apps - San Jose WolfWalk historical walking tour of campus

Getting Started - Tools



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