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


Two Examples of Doing Things Well

   April 25th, 2012 Brian Herzog

I don't post nearly enough instances of Things Done Well (check out Walking Paper for lots of examples), but here are two things I saw recently that deserve attention:

Thing One: Ramp-In-Stairs
What I like about this is that they were designed together, from the start, and not only look nice, but (presumably) work well too. Much better than having a magnificent grand staircase, then a rickety wooden ramp up the side, or worse, a sign saying "ramp access around the back."

stairs with ramp built in

It's similar to deliberately designing websites and catalogs that look good and work well on multiple browsers at multiple screen resolutions. The best approach, I think, is starting from the ground up with responsive web design (à la Canton (MI) Library, à la One-Pager), instead of trying to backward-hack mobile-compatibility in after the fact, or just tacking a mobile-friendly site on in parallel to your main website.

Thing Two: Domino's Engine Noises
So apparently, Domino's delivers pizza via scooter in the Netherlands, but the scooters were so quiet that cyclists couldn't hear them. To help prevent accidents, Domino's added a "motor" sound to the scooters - but instead of just a typical engine noise, they had fun with it:

[video link]

Awesome, because it not only serves the purpose of an audible warning, but it's also extremely well-done audible advertising - it's funny, attention-getting, memorable, and shows an unexpectedly playful side of an otherwise perhaps impersonal company.

When libraries start delivering items to people via scooters, this would be a great thing to try - the engine noise could be "vrrrlibrarylibrarylibrary BOOKS librarylibrarylibrarylibrary DVDs librarylibrary..."



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Online Newsstand Makes Databases Fun

   March 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Update 3/30/12:
Library Journal published an article on the project, EBSCO's objection, and the process of working towards a resolution.

Update 3/20/12:
Good news: EBSCO and Steve have been in contact, and they are currently exploring the possibility of developing a service comparable to the Online Newsstand that would be acceptable to publishers.

Update 3/12/12:
EBSCO contacted Steve and asked him to shut down the Online Newsstand project. They said they had been contacted by a publisher who had concerns, and EBSCO cited the Online Newsstand violating their license agreements.

I'm hoping this is a temporary "let's meet and work this out" kind of deal, and not a "we don't want anyone doing something better than us" situation. After all, EBSCO isn't losing any money (and Steve isn't making money) - if anything, EBSCO and their publishers only benefit from increased database usage, because higher stats make libraries more inclined to renew their database contracts. Not to mention that EBSCO gives out awards to libraries for doing exactly this kind of innovative project (I won one):

Steve has contacted EBSCO to try to get Online Newsstand back online. If you're so inclined, you can contact EBSCO to let them know what you think:

  • Tim Collins, CEO: tcollins@ebscohost.com
  • Mark Herrick, Senior Vice President of Business Development: mherrick@ebscohost.com
  • Ed Roche, Vice President of Field Sales, APK: eroche@ebscohost.com
  • Emily Hayden: Senior Director of Customer Success, ehayden@ebscohost.com
  • Melissa D'Amato, Vice President of Publisher Relations: mkenton@ebscohost.com

Only EBSCO has demanded Online Newsstand be taken down, but to be on the safe side until this is resolved, Steve has also brought down the Gale version as well. What an incredibly unfortunate and unnecessary state of affairs.


Original Post:
Online Newsstand logoDo you wish the great content in your databases was easier to access and more engaging for patrons? Sure, we all do. And now it can be, with the Online Newsstand.

Steve Butzel of the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library developed the Online Newsstand Project to promote some of the great content libraries are already paying for - just by making that content more visible to patrons. Instead of having to go into MasterFILE or Expanded Academic ASAP, patrons can browse their favorite magazines on, well, an online newsstand, right on the library's website. It looks like this:


Pretty neat, huh?

Patrons don't need to know what a database is, or how to use one - they just click the magazine and article they want to read, log in with their library card number, and they're in! Almost as easy as reading an actual magazine.

And the second best thing about this (the first best is how awesome it looks) is that it's free for libraries to use.

Here's how it works: the Online Newsstand doesn't replace databases - it's just another (prettier) way to access their content. Steve compiles a list of the top articles of each magazine issue, along with the direct link to that article in the database. That way, the Online Newsstand can easily display the table of contents for a magazine, which eliminates all the searching and drilling down into publications in databases.

Check it out at the Portsmouth Library, on my library's website, and also on our mobile website (which is great for patrons on the go).

Updating the table of contents for each issue in the Online Newsstand would have been a monumental task. But it occurred to Steve that, since so many libraries are paying for the exact same content in the exact same databases, a bunch of libraries working together could make light work of it.

So, instead of libraries paying to use the Online Newsstand, participating libraries "adopt" a magazine, and they are then responsible for adding the new article titles and links to the Newsstand whenever a new issue is published. The interface Steve created makes this extremely easy - I do The Economist (a weekly magazine) and Outdoor Life (a monthly), and it takes me about ten minutes per issue - tops.

I love the approach of libraries working together. My ten minutes' labor a week benefits other libraries, and also gives my patrons access to the work done by other librarians. This is the true spirit of cooperation that is so emblematic of libraries.

The Online Newsstand is available both for EBSCO and Gale customers. And as more libraries get involved in the project, more and more magazine titles will be added. And again, this doesn't change or affect your relationship with database vendors - it just improves the patron experience of using the resources we're already paying for.

If you're interested (and I hope you are), contact Steve Butzel at sbutzel@gmail.com. And of course I'm happy to talk about how it works in Chelmsford, too.



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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: Building Great Websites

   March 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Amanda Etches-Johnson and Aaron SchmidtAmanda Etches-Johnson, Head, Discovery & User Access, Univ. of Guelph
Aaron Schmidt, Consultant, Influx Library User Experience

Two areas of websites we don't have easy control over

  • Catalog
  • Databases

Websites must be three things:

Useful

Our Content Strategy (planning the creation, deliver and conveyance of UUD content) must address this question: What do people want to do on our site?

  • Identify your critical tasks
  • Spend a few minutes each day just asking people what they want to do, and whether or not you're meeting their needs
  • Perform a content audit - not just pages, but the images and information on each page (cataloger, being detailed oriented, are good at this). Is each page: accurate, usefulness, used, web-written, on message, last updated. Rate each piece on a scale of 0-2 to identify areas to keep, remove or improve.

 

Usable

  • Smaller is better
  • Websites should not be junk drawers - "just in case" is not the right approach
  • Design your website around your FAQs - if it's on an FAQ, it doesn't get on the site
  • Write for the Web - we keep hearing that people generally don't read on the web (though this might be changing with tablets and larger mobile devices). What people do is Function Reading - skim to find what's important to them
    • Write with a conversation and friendly tone, not like a policy document
    • Put the most important stuff at the top of the page
    • Use bolded headlines, bullets, and white space - it is easier to scan - be sure to use white space correctly to group related headlines/content
    • Use simple urls: http://library.org/kids vs. http://library.org/kids/pages/content.php?p=423
    • One idea per sentence (fragments okay), not too big, bot too small, never all-caps, use active voice, correct contrast
    • Refer to library as "we" and patrons as "you" or "I" - good example "How do I reset my PIN?"
    • Never use "click here" - make the link text meaningful ("Search Catalog" instead of "Click here to search the catalog")
  • Do usability testing - You can find this out by simply watching people use the website - walk out, ask a patron if they have a minute, give them a task ("use our website to find a receipe" or "can you find out our branch's Tuesday closing time on Tuesday") and then watch them
    • Use Google Optimizer to test multiple versions of pages with the same content, to see what content is important and which design works best

It's also important to have a mobile version of your website. Visit Influx.us/onepage - a library website template that puts this idea into practice - works on mobile devices

 

Desirable

  • Choose a good color palette - use a professional, use a free website color matcher, etc
  • Don't use clipart
  • Use common conventions, grid layout, pre-made themes from the community
  • Make content interesting - example: transmissions between NASA control and space flights presented in back-and-forth Twitter-like conversation
  • Make it convenient - definitely a mobile-friendly version
  • Marketing: put your stuff out there, and keep at it

 

Four Stages of Library Website Development

One builds on the other, and you can't move up until you finish the lower levels (like Maslov's Hierarchy)

Basic
Necessary information, relevant functionality, no major usability issues

Destination (a "destination website")
Librarian-created content, basic interactivity

Participatory
Serious user generated content, patrons creating culture - library acts as the aggregator, and patrons have reason to do this here, instead of somewhere else
example: Hennapin County bookspace

Community Portal
Library website as community platform, the website becomes a community knowledge bank (tool like this is Kete)

 

Take-away goal

Reduce your site by half - it doesn't mean you have bad content, but people cant find it because there is too much to look through - bit.ly/smallsites



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How is the DC Metro Like A Library?

   April 15th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Welcome to the Metro signAnytime you go to a conference, like Computers in Libraries, you learn about all sorts of neat things, hear great ideas, and get excited about taking these ideas home. The trouble (for me, anyway) can be in connecting those exciting ideas to the real world outside of the conference.

In his Experience Design Makeover talk, David Lee King mentioned the idea of "Touch Points" - the times a person comes in contact with an organization's product or services. While riding the DC Metro system, I realized a group could achieve their primary goal while still failing at many touch points (and I apologize for this long rant, but I tie it back to libraries at the end).

Here's what I mean: the Metro's primary goal is to move people around the city quickly and safely. They do this very well. Once you're on the Metro, it's easy to get to where you want to go, and there were maps of the colored routes everywhere I needed one.

However, I still think they failed at many of the touch points. First of all, actually getting onto the Metro was very difficult. There are big vending machines from which you need to buy a ticket - which is fair enough. However, they sell three different kinds of tickets, charge different prices depending on where you're going, and the fares also change depending on the time of day.

DC is a tourist city, so these vending machines were always swamped with people squinting at the tiny text on the machines trying to figure out what they needed to do. And even though there would be a bank of six or seven almost identical-looking vending machines, they each would offer different kinds of tickets.

So the complicated and confusing fees and policies is a touch point failure. So too is spelling it all out on a big sign with small print that no one could hope to read and understand.

I'm usually forgiving when it comes to technological breakdowns, because I know software hiccups and machines wear out. But I experienced an overabundance of this in the Metro. I saw broken escalators in at least half of the stations I went through. More than once when buying a fare card, one machine wouldn't take my dollar bills but another would. The machines all had coin slots, but all but one I tried just rejected all coins. This meant that for a $1.35 fare, I had to put in $2.00, and the machines don't give change.

In the Metro, you have to swipe your fare card to get into the system, and then again when you leave. Twice upon leaving my fare card was rejected, even though it had enough money on it, and I had to ask the station manager to let me out.

Another touch point fail are all of the big red slash-circles prohibiting items from the Metro. I like their sign explaining why they ban food, but all the "you can't do that here" signs seemed overly unfriendly.

Something that I did like was that inside the Metro they promoted their DCMetroOpenDoors.com website as a way to find out the status of stations and trains. But when I visited it, it does nothing but points to back to the main transit website, and even that link is hard to see. So working hard to promote a website that isn't helpful is a double-fail.

So what does this have to do with libraries?
I'm a dork and often relate daily experiences back to my job. In this way, the DC Metro reminded me of an unfriendly library. A library could have a great collection, anything a person could want, and yet still fail at every patron touch point:

  • Signage unreadable and unhelpful
  • Catalog and shelves difficult to navigate
  • Building facilities (elevator, catalog stations, etc) out of order
  • Policies complex and restrictive
  • Fees appear arbitrary and take people by surprise
  • Staff required even for simple tasks

So don't overlook your library's touch points - your patrons certainly don't. Just being open and having books and other materials on the shelves shouldn't be the main goal - the patron's experience in getting their items is what should be most important.



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Shopping for a Library

   February 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Shop for a librarianI liked this post about a library experience Marilyn Johnson wrote while researching her book, This Book is Overdue!* - actually, I like reading any non-librarian review of a library experience, because it's the best way to learn how well libraries are serving patrons.

Another post worth reading is Do Library Staff Know What The Users Want? (via Jessamyn). Good user experience has to start with library staff making an effort to accommodate patrons' needs and wants, but we will not out-smart (or out-stupid?) patrons about everything.

"Anticipate and respond" are words to live by, but it's also a good idea to go right to the source. Here are a few ideas for that:

  • Easy-to-find suggestion box at each service desk and online (and promote it)
  • Teen advisory board, or Adult Advisory Board, or ESL Advisory Board, etc
  • Focus groups (private and confidential) and open forums to invite comments, reviews and suggestions
  • Encourage members of the Friends of the Library to regularly relate their library experiences, good and bad
  • Trustees organize a "secret shopper" program - especially to test out library policies, which will help keep them up-to-date with patron needs
  • Have evaluations at the end of each program (library-sponsored as well as club/group meetings) and ask open questions as well as specific questions about the facility
  • Pay attention to what people ask - if everyone needs to ask where the bathroom is located, that might be an area to improve
  • If a patron comes to you with a comment/complaint/suggestion, listen, and encourage (but don't require) them to put it in writing to make actionable paper trails
  • Ask friends and family what their experiences have been
  • Visit other libraries for a fresh perspective, and share ideas with other librarians
  • Then of course, celebrate Work Like A Patron Day

[Please share additional ideas in the comments]
And when you do make adjustments based on patron input, get feedback on the new setup, too. Nothing is static, and it's possible to improve improvements.

Using the library shouldn't be annoying or complicated or antagonistic. Occasionally patrons tell me that they come to my library because the staff at their town's library was rude or unhelpful, or they can't find parking, or the policies are prohibitively restrictive. It should make me feel good about where I work, but really it makes me sad they had to shop around for a library.

I am glad they came to us, but I also always tell them to make sure they report their complaints to their home library to make sure they know about it and can work to improve it. Most of the time they laugh at that idea, as if they've washed their hands of their home library. What really worries me are the people who have a bad experience at one library and never go back or to another one, and instead take their information needs, community participation, children, and votes elsewhere.

There has to be a balance between what the patrons need and what each individual library can offer, but if we don't support our patrons, why would they support us?

 


*Full disclosure: I was mentioned in the book (page 20 and 258!), but absolutely read it anyway. And if you're interested in obituaries, I also enjoyed her previous The Dead Beat.

And check it out - there's a contest to win a This Book Is Overdue! mousepad



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