make Amazon suck like your OPAC. innovative + api haxie

If Amazon sucked like our old OPAC. To be fair, this Innovative version is pretty ancient. Funny? Yes. Accurate? Not entirely. [thanks marlene]

co-browsing: why use software that you can’t use and patrons don’t like?

The Librarian in Black has a few more things to say about co-browsing in her post How much is co-browsing really helping our users?

I stopped trying to use co-browsing a long time ago. It’s bad customer service to give something to someone that has a good chance of not working. Period. Everyone touts co-browsing as the cat’s pajamas, and it is kind of cool A) when it actually works, which is rare and B) when the user’s question actually warrants it…. I am not a co-browsing fan. At all. If the big-name software companies can get to work on a Mac with a firewall and a dial-up connection running Firefox, then rock on. I’ll be a fan.

how do patrons perceive your filtering system?

Filtering is a reality that many libraries have to deal with in order to get funding for their connectivity and/or technology. I think some libraries give up once they have to filter and don’t make the patrons’ filtering interactions as user-friendly as their other library interactions.

Accessibility in books, websites, libraries and your mind.

I have been reading a lot of books about accessible design lately. This started around the time that I got sent this story about the National Library for the Blind in Norway and some of the design flaws that make it very hard for the visually disabled to get into, much less use. The Vermont Technical College has a lot of these books on access. Sadly, I am one of the only people to have checked them out in the last decade. As an aside, I think at this point I would have a very hard time going back to a library where they didn’t have datestamps in the back of the book. I think libraries keeping circulation info “secret” — not on purpose, but by ILS system design — is a decline in information-sharing with patrons, and a shame. Here are the books I have read, with links to my reviews.

Beautiful Barrier Free
Access by Design
Design for Dignity: Studies in Accessibility

And, of course, let’s remember how to make our web sites accessible. Jacob Nielsen has come out with lists of top ten web design mistakes as well as top ten weblog design mistakes. Check to see if you make any of these mistakes. I recently wrote a note to ALA’s webmaster commenting on the lack of ALT or title tags on the ALA Midwinter Meeting page. It’s a nice looking page, but information is imparted through lots of graphics, with no alternate navigation. Usually there is a set of text links at the bottom of the page if they use images for navigation. This is what someone viewing the page with a text-only browser would see. I cannot stress enough: this is the conference information page for the largest library association in the world. If we can’t follow our own rules about accessibility, how can we expect others to?

What We Want, The OPAC Manifesto

Andrew Pace reminds me that I used to have a wiki, way back when. This wiki was a place where, among other things, I had a roomshare page for ALA as well as the OPAC Manifesto which was going to be an article in Searcher Magazine. However, the final version was not quite Searcher material, so I shelved it temporarily while I thought about wikifixing and promptly forgot about it. The OPAC Manifesto is back for your viewing [though not editing] pleasure. Thanks very much to people who helped with it. Feel free to link or republish in any not-for-profit venture, just cite it and credit it.

update: for those of you who missed this topic before, the manifesto was set up on a wiki so that anyone could add or edit ideas on it. The intro and outro are mine, the rest was collaboratively built.

audiobooks + OPACs and interface design

Remember when your library makes a choice to go with audiobooks from a vendor that supports one platform only, usually PC, you’re not just reflecting the user demographics, you’re also helping create them. What’s not to like about a library service that you can’t use inside the library?

radio book, book radio

When you look at the creative bleeding edge things people are doing with user interface design you have to wonder why we can’t hire someone like this to design our OPACs. [thanks adam]

Our final concept, the “book radio,” takes the mental model of a physical book where user can browse by flipping pages, read by keeping a page open, and create a reminder of a specific page by placing a bookmark.

Each page of the “book radio” represents a frequency. The user flips pages to scan the frequency spectrum; opens to a specific page to listen to a station; places the bookmark on a desired page to listen and store the station; and slides the bookmark up or down to control the volume. In addition, the “book radio” inherits other qualities of a book. The user can scribble in it, place stickers or take notes while listening.

Library Journal Redesign

Library Journal’s redesign is up and available. I can’t say I’m too impressed, though I am a tough customer. Here is my bulleted list of critique following my first 15 minutes on the LJ site

  • no rss feeds
  • search delivers a segmented results set, subscriber-only pages come up first, then pages available to anyone, lower on the screen. This doesn’t seem like a sure-fire way to get more subscribers, just to alienate non-subscribers [example]
  • searching in the “reviews” section leads to a subcribe page for anyone not logged in as a subscriber
  • URLs are still long and unclean [example]
  • no 404 page [example]
  • fixed width columns make site hard to read at large text sizes and require a lot of scrolling
  • empty content areas [example]
  • ads are giant and blinky, this may be necessary in today’s tough times but blinky ads, banner ads, text ads, and parent company ads and logos make the home page a mishmash of colors and sizes making it very hard to figure out where the important content is
  • Search our reviews section is non-functional. Search boxes are available, but all searches redirect to the LJ home page [example]
  • The privacy policy and terms of use pages seem broken on at least some sub-pages [example]

Some of these critiques are just bugs that I’m sure will be fixed fairly quickly and are standard in brand new sites. Others have more to do with the actual structure of the site and what it’s set up to do. Library Journal has always had good printable templates and pretty great writing. However, a web site that has almost thirty sections and forty topics [accessible via pulldown menus] really could benefit from an information architect, or some groupings more like the site map, which is my favorite page on the site so far. Does it validate? No. Is it accessible? No. Since LJ is a business and not a library, they can take the risk of losing the business of people who can’t use or understand their site. Public libraries aren’t so fortunate, and this site is not a great example of a 2005 web site of an otherwise pretty nice looking magazine.

usability in OPACs

Meredith of ALA Wiki fame has two good posts this week on the usability of library catalogs and access to library information generally. One comments on the In Defense of Stupid Users article — which I mentioned here a while ago but bears re-linking — talks about taking responsibility for our difficult to use catalogs. The second post discusses Lorcan Dempsey’s post about user interfaces and why people enjoy sites like Amazon and Google, and why they don’t enjoy searching at the library. Meredith pulls out the “how does this affect libraries?” parts of this article and wonders, as I often do, how do we fix systemic problems that aren’t going to be addressed by buying better middleware?

So, unlike the major online presences, our systems have low gravitational pull, they do not put the user in control, they do not adapt reflexively based on user behavior, they do not participate fully in the network experience of their users….The more I think about these isues, the more I think that a major question for us moving forward is organizational. What are the organizational frameworks through which we can mobilize collective resources to meet the challenges of the current environment? How do we overcome fragmentation; streamline supply; reduce the cost of the system and service development which is incurred redundantly across many institutions.

Anyone who continues to think that this problem is all about “being like Google” or “dumbing down the interface” is missing the point. Our interfaces have been so difficult for so long, we have a great opportunity to make great strides simply by not making it hard for people to find what we have, that’s a good start.

lipstick on a pig, more wisdom from Roy Tennant

I’ll be on the road for a few days at the New Hampshire Library Association conference. I wanted to add one link before I left, just so I’d know what was at the top of the page if I decided to show off this blog. Roy Tennant’s article Lipstick on a Pig, about the sorry state of OPAC interfaces, was just what I was looking for.

Recently I viewed a library catalog redesign before it went public. This was the first major change in many years, and it turned out to be quite an improvement to the look and feel of the system. But despite this, it still sucks. Badly.

I don’t know how much time was spent on this cosmetic facelift, but until the deeper problems that plague this system are addressed, users will remain poorly served. Librarians appear to be afflicted with a type of myopia. We see only minor, easy-to-make corrections instead of changes that will truly affect the user experience. We ask our vendors to tweak this or that to make our lives easier, while the users are left to founder on an interface that only a librarian could love.