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

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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CIL2010: Well-Organized Sites and Portals

   April 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Well-Organized Sites & Portals
Mr. Chris Jasek, UCD Portfolio Manager, Elsevier
Emily R Shem-Tov, Research Portal Program Manager, Global Market Research & Planning, Adobe Systems, Inc.

Jasek offers best practices on how libraries can organize all of the features that their websites offer. He shares a five-step process that explains how to get from understanding users and the main tasks they come to accomplish to making the right choices on links or features to present. He recommends broad categories for organization of tasks/content to help web browsers find exactly what they need by improving the overall organization of features offered. Shem-Tov presents a case study of how a team of special librarians collaborates to provide services through a taxonomy- and search-driven research portal, physical and online libraries, information skills training programs, and a variety of social media tools. Find out how they continue to push the limits of what they can do by incorporating new technologies and tactics to better serve their customers and raise awareness of their offerings and of better information skills in general, and how they tie in the different elements through coordinated campaigns.

Chris Jasek:

Well-organized refers to

  • page layout, visual design, perception
  • user's mental model, user's tasks, intuition

"People don't come to a website to admire in, they come to get work done."

5 Steps to a well organized site

  1. Research your users Understand their needs and tasks, why they're coming to your website and what their abilities and expectations are.
    • Allow for multiple ways to locate information (by name, by suject, by material type)
    • provide detail (people want description, fulltext, and good suggestions)
    • Need help in recovering from wrong paths
    • Use words they understand
    • They want speed
  2. Survey similar sites Look at how other libraries are doing it. But don't blindly take ideas - test it with your patrons.
  3. Follow best practice design
    • Use page real estate wisely (top left is most important) and cut down on junk/ads/noise
    • Minimze number of clicks - shoot for 2-3 clicks
    • Use consistent navigation
    • Treat links according to convention - don't get fancy with colors and underlines. It's easier for patrons if your links look like what they're used to, and all of yours should be the same
    • Be consistent with design elements (provide help and contact links in upper right corner)
    • Use minimal colors and fonts
    • Make sure your site is accessible
  4. Test your design with users
    • Getting feedback is key, and make sure stakeholders and decision makers observe user tests
    • Plan first before development
    • do usability studies - observation is the best
    • Track stats
  5. Address issues and repeat
    • Identify problems, not solutions (figure out what is wrong, don't implement a fix that doesn't address the why
    • Multiple iterations are important - prioritize and realize that you are never done

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CIL2010: New and Hot: The Best of Resource Shelf

   April 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

CIL2020 Gary PriceNew & Hot: The Best of Resource Shelf, with Gary Price, Publisher, ResourceShelf

Keeping up with all the changes in our industry and staying one step ahead of our clients require solid strategies to deal with this challenge. Our popular expert shares his ideas, learnings, top tips, and techniques from the search and search engine world to ensure that you stay in step with the fast-changing online information world.

Complete list of links at http://www.resourceshelf.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bor2010cil.html, but I have some annotations below:

Web searches

Ready Reference

  • Wordnik - shows word-based results: definition, number of mentioned, examples common usage, etc.
  • Wolfram Alpha - educators are focusing on this as a replacement for almanacs and also as a computational engine. They're always adding and updating data.
  • MRQE - Movie Review Query Engine - reviews coming from traditional and social sources
  • AllMusic - info on singers, albums, groups, songs, and it also provides "related songs" and "influenced by" suggestions. Now all features are available without login. There's also allmovie.com and allgames.com.
  • Lyrics Wiki - great for song lyrics. One of the first spinoff wikis hosted on Wikia.com by a specialized group of Wikipedia editors
  • Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection - the go-to place for maps in the news, for education use, map research, or for general use

People Search

  • NNDB Notable Names search and biographical information. And NNDB Mapper is a visualization tool that shows relations between people.
  • Whitepages.com - like a typical people search, but uses public data to build a personal profile, including ages and neighbors
  • Muckety.com - similar to NNDB, but does it for business and business relationships between people
  • Go to http://www.resourceshelf.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bor2010cil.html for more useful links

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    CIL2010: Experience Design Makeover

       April 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

    CIL2010 David Lee KingMy first session at Computers in Libraries 2010: Experience Design Makeover by David Lee King

    Have customers said your website is confusing? Does your website desperately need an experience design makeover? This session guides you through a real-life library website extreme makeover, focusing on experience design elements used. It provides five ways to jump-start your own experience design makeovers and leaves you with solid ideas to use on your own website!

    Review of Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library website

    • Their website uses Expression Engine, will likely move to Drupal in the next interation
    • Modern websites should allow comments and provide feeds
    • Have Subject Feeds with new resources in those subjects, including Delicious bookmarks and new books
    • 240 staff person maintain 20+ blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook web presence

    How did they get there? Ask.
    Staff: What do you like? What don't you like? What do you see patrons struggling with? What would you change?

    What would you change?

    • Too noisy - too many tabs, too much movement, too busy
    • Content - need to separate out emphermiral blog content from permanent library services info, too much jargon
    • Catalog - needs to be more Amazon-like (more like everywhere else on the web)
    • Functionality - doesn't print well, not kid-friendly (not a parents page about kid information), footer is wasted, accessibility (need text-only)
    • Services - not everything is listed on website

    Patrons: will do focus groups with the same questions as above

    It's good to surprise people with how cutting-edge you are. It doesn't hurt the people who don't care, but it will really impress and involve the people who do.

    Once you decide what you want, you need staff with the right skills to get you there. Just like you need the right staff at a service desk or branch library, you need to think the same way about your website.

    Maintenance is key - staff need to be taught how to write for the web, use a digital style guide, train staff on Web 2.0 tools so they're using them correctly, delineate responsibility

    5 Ways to Jumpstart Your Own Makeover

    1. Write an Experience Brief - the experience what you want people to have when they visit your website. Think about what you want it to be, and then plan for it and find the tools to support it. Think about target audience, what their needs are (from their points of view), how to put the information they need where they'll find it in terms they'll understand, including things relevant to them that they may not have thought of (classes, magazines [“deep web” subscription resources])
    2. Take a Touch Point Journey around your website (“touch point” is every time a patron comes in contact with the library) - “Get an Account” should be “Get a Library Card” (with prominent link text); form shouldn't be text-heavy - just use a picture of a library card
    3. Conversation is Experience - visors want to talk. Are you providing this ability? Do you answer them? This goes for your website but the rest of your online presence - Twitter, Facebook, etc.
    4. Answer the Why Questions - Put yourself in the patron's shoes and ask, Why should I read this? Why should I care about this page? Why should I attend this event? Do I care about “databases” or know what they are?
    5. Focus on the patron - Flip design from “staff-centric” to “patron-centric.” You can train staff, but you can't control patrons and you'll lose them quickly. Use patron-centric language, services, etc. Website should be as easy as a light switch to use.

    How do you handle department responsibilities for content management?
    We don't really have a gatekeeper - we train the staff and then trust them.

    Can you eliminate the RSVP link in Facebook events?
    We don't really use it. But there is a website for how to design a Facebook fan page.

    How do you decide to cross-post and cross-promote everything?
    We have a marketing director who handles most of that, but she does look at stats to see who our target audience is and use the appropriate tools

    Cross browser-problems?
    We have fewer problems with this, but we do check them

    How do you get staff doing content?
    Management team included “digital branch” in strategic plan, so creating content is a priority for staff (ranked in with shelving books and everything else)

    Do you do usability testing?
    Yes, we use focus groups just for questions, but we'll do limited “watching” of tasks

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    Going to Computers in Libraries 2010

       April 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

    cil2010 logoNext week is Computers in Libraries 2010, and I'm lucky enough to be going and co-presenting a pre-conference workshop with Nicole Engard.

    Our workshop is Implementing Library Mashups, based partly on the book Nicole edited, Library Mashups. I'm looking forward to hearing Nicole speak, and I'll present* my chapter, then the rest of the workshop will be hands-on building mashups with the attendees. Keep an eye on Nicole's presentations page for the slides.

    There will be lots of other great speakers and workshops, so it should be a good time**. If you're there, be sure to say hi. And if you need help convincing your boss you should go, CiL provides help on justifying your trip, complete with a draft memo [doc].

    I'll try to blog, tweet and flickr as much as I can while traveling, both library and touristy things.

    Update 4/7/10: If you're going to Cil2010, here are some resources to check out. If you're not going, for you there is a list of bloggers who'll be taking notes.


    *Ah, public speaking, we meet again.

    **Not to mention sightseeing in Washington. I [heart] that city. And this time, I'm going to the International Spy Museum, tour the Capitol and see Senate in session - all outside of conference hours, of course.

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