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: 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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With Friends Like These

   November 11th, 2008 Brian Herzog

flickr friends screenshotIf you haven't already, read David Lee King's post about Web 2.0 and friending. It might be hard to swallow at first, but he's absolutely right.

His main point:

When your organization decides, say, to create a Facebook page … who are you trying to connect with? Me? I don’t live in your neighborhood. Another library on the other side of the world? They’re not going to use your services.

He's right in that libraries aren't implementing Library 2.0 tools to connect with other libraries - we need to focus on connecting with our patrons. Any library service (be it a newsletter, a storytime, a flickr collection, or an rss feed) should be directed to the patrons. Those are the people (we hope) who will benefit from it.

Friending other libraries is safe and tempting, but is slightly counterproductive (we don't want it to look like these are library-only tools). But I also agree with David (and commenters) in that it's important to connect with other librarians professionally, and to keep up with what other libraries are doing - there are a lot of good ideas out there that we can adapt for our own libraries.

Hmm. I'm guilty of this myself, but I'm going to keep in mind moving forward.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/9/07

   September 15th, 2007 Brian Herzog
WebTV logo & Netflix logo

Helping this patron after she asked the question was straight-forward, but the question itself was kind of interesting (for three reasons).

Patron: I need help with my Netflix account.
Me: Sure, what's the problem?
Patron: Well, I have WebTV at home, and I just signed up for a Netflix account. It worked far enough to allow me to input my credit card number and purchase the account, but it stopped working when I got to the part were I set up my request list. I called their tech support, and they said that yes, the WebTV browser will not work with this part of the Netflix website, and that I should go to my public library. So here I am.

3 Reasons Why This Is Interesting

  1. People still use WebTV?
  2. WebTV does not work with Netflix
  3. WebTV tech support's solution to this computer problem is the library*

The patron and I went over to one of the public computers, logged into her account, and selected a few movies for her to start with. She figured it out pretty quickly, and should be able to do it on her own the next time she comes in.

*Earlier this week I read a Public Libraries article by David Lee King and Michael Porter entitled, "You as Internet Know-It-All". Basically, it explains why it is important for librarians to (at the very least) be familiar with emerging technology and what's popular, regardless of whether or not we use (or even care about) them ourselves.

I liked the article, but the reference question above nicely illustrates the importance of their point: this patron would not have been served well by a librarian who wasn't comfortable with websites, at least somewhat familiar with Netflix**, and willing to explore something new. This is who our patrons are, and we need to be ready for them.

**And for the record, I don't use Netflix myself. I mean, come on; I work in a public library... every movie I'd ever want to see, and no little red envelopes.

david lee king, librarian, libraries, library, michael porter, netflix, public libraries, public library, reference question, webtv, you as internet know-it-all

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CIL2007 Sunday & Monday

   April 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

computers in libraries 2007 badgeA coworker of mine and I are in Washington, DC, this week for the Computers in Libraries 2007 conference. So far, I’ve been to just three sessions (and some sightseeing), and it’s already worth the trip.

First I went to Michael Sauers’ Sunday afternoon preconference session on integrating RSS into websites. This notion had always kind of intimidated me, outside of the built-in feeds provided by WordPress. But Michael showed us about 20 tools over the course of three hours which can make adding feeds very easy. Those that looked the most promising were:

  • ListGarden for writing the rss code and managing the feeds (it also supports podcasts and has built-in ftp feedspring and RapidFeeds)
  • feed2js for getting an rss feed to display on a webpage (like rss viewer, rss2html, feed digest, grazr and many others)
  • RSSCalendar for a free, web-based, rss-fed calendar of events (which can also be outputted to your own website)
  • Something that was neat, and I might like to try, was feed2podcast, which will automatically read your text feeds and convert them to podcasts in a computer's voice
  • All of this and more is available on Michael's cil2007 del.icio.us account

Next was David Lee King's Monday morning session on planning and implementing Library 2.0 projects. This was a quick session on why and how libraries can use Library 2.0 tools, and what absolutely must be kept in mind – planning. He covered blogs, wikis and flickr in very general terms, focusing mostly on why proper planning is important, and what could happen when projects are launched without planning. Basically, a lot of effort is wasted, not to mention an opportunity to communicate with patrons.

Then it was on to Jessamyn. I love her. Her pre-lunch talk was on how to sup-up your Firefox browser. She shows a bunch of plug-ins, extensions, and skins, and, in her own way, convinced a crowd of hundreds why Firefox should be on every library's public computers. I only hope they take her advice, and that I can convince my library of this.

She also spent a lot of time on greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that allows you to run little scripts to modify webpages. I've played a bit with greasemonkey in the past, but it was great to see what someone else does with it. Now I've got some ideas, and that's when I'm at my most dangerous.

The schedule for Tuesday looks like it'll be a little more filled out. Plus, the exhibit floor will be open all day, so I can talk to some vendors, too. And then in the evening, I'm meeting up with my cousin Elizabeth, who recently relocated to the DC area after finishing her MBA. So all in all, it should be a good day.

cil 2007, cil2007, computers in libraries, computers in libraries 2007, david lee king, greastmonkey, jessamyn, jessamyn west, libraries, library, michael sauers, public libraries, public library, rss

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  • Hiya. My name is Brian Herzog, and I am, among other things, a reference librarian at a public library in MA, USA. more about me...

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