research-based usability

People sometimes think that saying something is more “usable” is a way of saying that you like using it better. And then they’ll reply that maybe they like using it some other way and you’re at a stalemate. In point of fact, usability is testable and quantifiable. There are a lot of places you can go to read about research-based usability, things that work for most people. I just got this link from Twitter today: 10 Usability Tips Based on Research Studies. For people who want a bunch more stuff like this, I highly recommend Usability.gov’s Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines (pdf, 21MB ) which are not only great reading but they’re government documents, so free to repurpose and republish.

just to make sure we’re all on the same page here

“A team from Google interviewed dozens of people in Times Square the other day, asking a simple question: What’s a browser? This was in an effort to understand and improve the customer experience of Google’s own browser, called Chrome.

Turns out that over 90% of the people interviewed could not describe what a Web browser is.”

Don’t believe me? Watch the video. Granted, this comes from Google, but while we’re all being “blah blah Firefox, etc” there are many people who just see what happens when you “click the e” and go forward from there.

world usability day is tomorrow

If you’re into the whole usability idea — and more and more our interfaces to technology are all we have when interacting wiht the goods, services and government in our lives — then you might like to know that World Usability Day is tomorrow. I’ll noodle around a bit looking at my own websites and I suggest that you and your libraries do the same.

Technology should enhance our lives, not add to our stress or cause danger through poor design or poor quality. It is our duty to ensure that this technology is effective, efficient, satisfying and reliable, and that it is usable by all people. This is particularly important for people with disabilities, because technology can enhance their lives, letting them fully participate in work, social and civic experiences. Human error is a misnomer. Technology should be developed knowing that human beings have certain limitations. Human error will occur if technology is not both easy-to-use and easy-to-understand. We need to reduce human error that results from bad design.

ALA finally hiring Usability Officer

You can get 75K plus decent benefits to be a usability officer at ALA. They say “senior” but to the best of my knowledge there aren’t any other usability officers there currently. I’m not sure where officer actually comes from, maybe some ALA-er can explain? In any case, if I were the Usability Officer after I changed the job listings to not spell Website with a capital W, I would ask very specifically what this requirement in the ad means.

The ability to work in a team environment and between two universes of Information Technology and Librarianship is essential in order to maintain an outcome-oriented, global vision.

I’m curious why those are deemed to be two universes instead of, say, two moons orbiting around one big planet of helping people do the things they want to do and go where they want to go. I’m sure Jenny is asking the same questions. I hope they find someone, but I wonder what affect that person will be able to have on the in-process-for-many-years-already website redesign?

my trip to Seattle

I was in Seattle over the weekend. Sorry I didn’t call you. I went to a wedding and then got a terrible cold and spent the last day and a half on my friend’s couch reading comic books until flying home on a red eye the day before yesterday. I am recovered now, mostly. The one thing on my to do list was to see the new library. When I left Seattle four years ago, it was just a hole in the ground and a loose frame but not yet open to the public. I had really liked the old library — though understood why it needed updating — and I even liked the temporary library. I can’t say the same for the new library.

Now, there are many great things about the new library. I connected to the wifi/internet no problem. All the people I asked for advice and directions were super friendly and helpful. I liked having the option to get a cup of coffee and have a dozen interesting places to hang out with it. The place is fun to look at and explore. I enjoyed getting to pore through bound volumes of old periodicals that were right there on the shelves. The online catalog has finally improved to the point where it’s easy to use and makes a fair amount of sense; at SPL in particular that was not always true.

However, I saw a real disconnect beween the lovely outside and grand entry spaces to the library, plus a few other very design-y areas, and the rest of the building. Materials were hard to find. VERY hard to find. Signage was abysmal, often just laserprinted pieces of paper, sometimes laminated and sometimes not. Doors to areas that may have been public were forbidding and unwelcoming. There weren’t enough elevators. There weren’t enough bathrooms. There wasn’t a comfortable place to sit in the entire building. There were lots of “dead spaces” that, because of architecture, couldn’t really be used for anything and they were collecting dust. The lighting was bad. Stack areas were dim and narrow. The teen area seemed like an afterthought. Bizarre display areas with a table and some books on it were in the middle of vast open areas. Most of the place felt like it was too big and then the stacks felt too crowded and I had to climb around people working to find things. Shelvers shut down the entire “spiral” concept with booktrucks. The writer’s area in this library is a shadow of the glorious writers room in the old downtown building where I had a desk briefly.

Did I think it was going to be different? Maybe a little. I left Seattle specifically because its idea of progress and mine were fundamentally at odds and I didn’t enjoy the destabilizing effect of a city always under construction and didn’t get enough from the things that were eventually constructed. This library looks like it was built for a bookless future where we get all of our information from the internet and the digital realm. For now, we’ll just keep the books on hand because people will bitch if they don’t get to read them, but they’re no longer the reason for the library, and they’re no longer honored and appreciated as the things we love and build libraries to house.

My small photoset of the Seattle Public Library is here.

update
: I was pointed to a PUBLIB posting by a librarian who was at SPL quite recently who makes many of the same points that I do in different ways.

usability for library websites and services – UMich

The Usability Working Group of the University of Michigan University Library has a new website up which aims to “provide open access to our reports and working documents in order to share our findings with the University of Michigan Libraries as well as the community-at-large.” [web4lib]

ALA Website Usability Survey

Please take the ALA Website Usability Survey. Please be honest. Jenny has included the text of a letter from ALA’s Executive Director explaning the rationale behind the survey. Even though I think this is too little way too late — maybe this should have beern done before the last redesign? — it’s still an attempt to right wrongs. Give them a chance, take the survey.

SPL’s signage woes

I’ve talked before about Seattle Public’s newish Big Beautiful Library, and others have mentioned the weird juxtaposition of amazing architecture with crummy laser-printed signage or post-it signage. It’s no surprise that you can have cleaner lines and more striking architecture without little notes everyplace saying “this way to the restroom” but those are the choices we have to make as librarians. Now it looks like Seattle is finally paying someone to fix their sign problem. [thanks carolyn]

ALA claims to be doing web site usability survey.

No it’s not The Onion, it’s true. “You may be aware that we are currently conducting a usability assessment of our ALA website.”

this is broken: brief story of me

Libraries, sometimes when you stick those barcode labels on the front of your books, you obscure information on the cover, sometimes changing the meaning of the title entirely. Seriously, there are lots of places to put a sticky barcode, why the front cover?