Day Against DRM – today!

Thanks to LiB Sara for the tip. Read her post about what libraries can do about DRM and what we should be mindful of. You can read more about the Day Against DRM on this wiki and don’t forget to grab yourself a nifty graphic for your website.

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.

The Usable Library

the usable library poster

Short attractive website telling us some things to keep in mind. The Usable Library. Thanks for the CC attribution on the poster!

Who knows what users want? Maybe not library staff…

“The bottom line: the priorities for the library staff and for the library users are poorly aligned.” Complete article available via Project MUSE or email me and I’ll “check out” a copy from my library for you.

dad using his library card

This is the second and last part of the Jessamyn’s Dad’s Library Card story. I went home yesterday. I got a phone call from my Dad.

Dad: So I clicked the link in that email the library sent?
Me: Yeah? Good.
Dad: It connects me to “iBistro on the go…” what is that?
Me: That’s the library’s online catalog. The library is supposed to type their name at the top there but it looks like they didn’t.
Dad: It’s hard to read.
Me: Yeah it sure is isn’t it? [explains how to make font bigger]
Dad: How do I look for a book, do I really have to log in first?
Me: You shouldn’t have to, but maybe, it depends how it’s configured.
Dad: My login number is fourteen digits long! Why is that?
Me: Good question. You can probably set the browser to remember it. Your PIN is probably the last four digits of your phone number
Dad: It is. Why do I have to log in here?
Me: Well you can reserve books and check your account and there are privacy laws about that information.
Dad: Where does this catalog live?
Me: Depends on the library, many libraries run it off of servers in their basement. Some use hosted versions of the catalog. The consortium probably hosts this one.
Dad: And this iBistro thing is something they buy?
Me: Yeah and they pay a lot of money for it.
Dad: It sucks.
Me: Yeah. It’s sort of useful for consortiums [explains consortiums] so libraries can do interlibrary loan and stuff.
Dad: Okay I searched for sailing and I get 1500 hits. How do I search for the most popular books?
Me: I don’t know if you can, you can redo your search and sort by relevance.
Dad: Amazon lets me search by popularity. I like that.
Me: Yeah I do too. Can you sort the search you have?
Dad: No, it says there’s more than 500 records so I can’t search.
Me: You may be able to search by subject heading and get a shorter list.
Dad: Didn’t I do that?
Me: No, you searched by keyword [explains difference] or you can search just the books in your library.
Dad: I’m not already doing that?
Me: No, you’re searching the whole SAILS network.
Dad: How can you tell?
Me: Because on the search page next to where it says library, is says ALL.
Dad: Okay I’ll find my library. There are like 100 libraries on this list!
Me: I know, you can borrow books from any of those libraries.
Dad: I just want to know if there’s a book at my library.
Me: Yeah, that should be easier.
Dad: What are these libraries at the bottom of this list just called zddd and zddddd?
Me: That’s probably some kludge that the libraries are using to put books in a category or location that isn’t available in the regular catalog.
Dad: Okay thanks for the tutorial. I’ll try again tomorrow.
Me: You’re welcome. It’s not you, it’s them.

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.

Free as in chicken, an experiment in terrible usability

So hey this is barely library related. I was reading library_mofo and saw someone complaining about Oprah. Yes Oprah the lady who seemed to have single-handedly revived reading in some circles. I didn’t understand the problem. Apparently somehow Oprah was telling people to go get a coupon for free chicken at KFC. This was a problem at libraries for some reason. I investigated further.

Turns out, you go Oprah’s site and then to this page and have one day (now only a few hours, maybe not even okay anymore depending when you read this) to print up to four coupons to get a free meal. Actually now that I go there I get message that “Our partner, Coupons, Inc. is experiencing an exceptionally high volume of traffic to the site right now. Please check back soon to get your coupon. Sorry for any inconvenience.” Color me surprised.

That brings me to my next point. This isn’t just a coupon on a page that you can print, this is a coupon system which involves downloading… something … to your computer (mercifully available for Mac/Win, don’t know about Linux, I assume not). Once you have downloaded and installed the something, you can then click the “Print coupon” link which will load the coupon on to a web page as a PDF and allow you to print it with a special barcode. Photocopied coupons are, for some reason, not acceptable at restaurants. I could not get it to easily work with Firefox but it was a breeze with Safari and I assume the Firefox issue was mine alone.

So, people without printers head to the public library to get a coupon for a free meal. You can use a printer at the public library, yay for the library! They can’t do this for any number of reasons up to and including

  • They can’t download the application to a library computer because of library policy
  • They can’t download the program to the computer because the website is being flakey
  • Coupons Inc is down
  • They manage to download the application and get to the “print coupon” link only to wait forever and have no idea if their coupon is printing or not
  • The “you are limited to four downloads of this coupon” restraint is somehow per computer which means the first four people are lucky, the rest not so much

Yes that’s right, it’s the coupon so popular and so buggy they had to create a FAQ for it. Do people look at this fiasco the way I do, as an well-meaning but ill-conceived program that uses a lot of stupid middleware to prevent fraud that mostly managed to tank itself due to overpopularity and complicated implementation? No, they think the library isn’t the place to go for printing. Or that librarians can’t solve technical problems as easy as printing a coupon from a website, so the next time they have a coupon to print, they’ll go elsewhere. Or that computers are hard.

This system encourages cheating. It complicates what should be a fairly straightforward computer activity for no particularly good reason. What do you suppose happens if you show up at KFC with a photocopied coupon? What happens when you print more than four coupons? Thanks for reminding me that “Coupon fraud is punishable by law.” If I ever get this website to load again, I’m printing 100 coupons and you can take me to jail. The nearest KFC to here is 21 miles anyhow. Boy am I glad I’m not working at the library today.

note: If you did download the coupon printing software, please make sure to uninstall it (read more).
second note: here are all 4789 comments on the Oprah site about this promotion.
final note: if you think I am overstating the case, check the twittermachine for the KFC+library keywords and weep.

How accessible is your library?

I was looking for something completely different and wound up finding the Traveling Wheelchair’s four star review of the Boston Public Library and noticed they’ve reviewed a few other libraries in the Massachusetts area. Reading Kenny’s experiences in and around Boston Public Library gives you a really good idea of not just what accessibility means from a legal perspective, but how it’s perceived from a wheelchair user perspective.

Applying for a grant….

firefox users go fuck yourselves, love OCLC & WebJunction & the Gates Foundation

So today my task at the library where I am employed as the nominal “systems” librarian (a very part time job mostly concerned with the eventual automation of the card catalog) was to decipher the procedure for using WebJunction’s TechAtlas (© Powered by OCLC) to do an inventory of our four public access computers. This inventory is mandatory for those applying for funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here is how my day went.

Our library had gotten a letter from our state librarian including a letter from the TechAtlas people explaining the steps we needed to take to do this. The first step which was strongly suggested but not required was to sign up for a webinar that explained, I suppose, how to do the inventory. My boss wanted to arrange a time where she and I could both be present for the webinar. I got as far as the Wimba set-up asking me to disable my pop-up blocker (do not get me started on the 2.2 MB door card again) and then said I thought we could figure out the process (for our FOUR computers) without it.

The letter had a space where our login and password were provided for us. Unfortunately our letter only had our password and not our login. I called the help number at the bottom of the sheet and talked to a nice lady at NELINET who gave me my login (which was just the password as a techatlas.org email address). She wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be upper or lower case. When I logged in, I had to set up my profile [and choose our own login and password] which included a library name that was not ours. [Note: I fixed this problem, but our "network" still displays a library that is nowhere near us and not related to us]. This occasioned another telephone call to NELINET where they actually had to call the TechAtlas people and get back to me. I had to enter our library’s information — actually my information — on a page with no privacy policy or terms of use. Every time I update an item on my profile page, TechAtlas sends me an email. I have seven emails from them now.

I did track down the privacy policy, not because I’m worried I’ll be spammed but because I think it’s a good idea generally to read them and see what they’re about. Oddly, the privacy policy page in the TechAtlas universe ended prematurely, halfway through the word “statement.” Of course I took a screen capture, but they have since fixed this, making the privacy policy a downloadable pdf, which doesn’t seem super user friendly to me (and hey isn’t that what OCLC just did with another policy…?). Here are the Terms of Service which aren’t in a pdf. There are also the terms of use linked from this About Us page which are a LOT more legalistic. Please keep in mind that if I do not agree with any of these, I am welcome to not use the site and I can not apply for funding in this round of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding.

So, on to the mandatory inventory. This was the first thing that greeted me, a browser incompatibility message (some language nsfw there). What this means, in a more polite fashion is that TechAtlas has some nifty IE tools that can make the inventory process a lot simpler. Firefox users need to do more of the process by hand. You know, that’s fine with me. I don’t like it, but that’s okay. However, acting like this isn’t a series of choices that were made by designers and program managers seems somehow odd. Odder still, when I went home this evening to grab some screenshots, the site now gives me a similar “Browser Incompatibility” message and yet displays that I am using a compatible browser. Apparently Firefox got compatible within the last few hours. I guess this is good news? The part they left out is that my browser is incompatible because I’m on a Mac, not because I’m using Firefox.

So we have four computers and it’s not that difficult to fill in the blanks. For each computer, there are twenty-two fields to fill out, but only five of them are mandatory. We have four identical computers so this was actually pretty simple and you can edit the entries if you get anything wrong. Oddly, one of the questions: “Opportunity Online Grant Funds?” which is asking whether you used this certain grant to get the money to buy the computers originally (a question our librarian wasn’t totally sure about, but was pretty sure) isn’t actually editable after the fact. I hope I chose correctly!

So, it didn’t take terribly long. Most of my time at work today was spent cursing at Overdrive and having to do Windows Media Player updates on computers that are locked down via Centurion guard. What I told the librarian — who is a very nice lady, and sympathetic to my muttering in a “There but for the grace of god go I” sort of way — is that this time around, if they let us, maybe we should get Macs.

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.