work like a patron day – october 15

I’m at work today, not at the library but at the pool. The pool always goes through a lot of soul searching deciding whether to be open on minor holidays like US Columbus Day. The big rift is this: it’s a holiday so lifeguards and building managers would like a holiday. It’s also a holiday so the people who would be swimming have the day off and might want to use the pool. It’s pretty hard to make the right choice. If you’re closed, people will say they wanted to be there. If you’re open and no one shows up, your staff gets bored and annoyed.

The same thing happens with libraries, in a big way. Here in Vermont pretty much every library is closed on Sundays. This is nice for the librarian who wants to work mostly M-F but bad for the patron with regular work hours who would like to get to the library. I do admit that I applied for a library job in Vermont at one point and balked at the mandatory Sunday evening hours.

This is all my way of leading up to Brian Herzog’s Work Like a Patron Day which you may recognize seems similar to a few of Ryan Deschamps’ zero-tech 2.0 no brainers. The basic idea is to try to take your librarian hat off and see how your library feels to someone who uses all the public services and utilities — bathroom, computers, web interface, etc — and see if you get the same vibe off of it as you do as a staff member. Brian has demarcated October 15 — six months after National Library Week — as WLAP day and has some more information on the Library Success wiki. Try it out and see what you think.

ARSL conference

I just got back from the Association of Rural and Small libraries conference where I gave a talk about using technology to solve problems in small libraries. I had a great time and I only wish I could have stayed longer because the people at that conference, they are my people. A lot of them are in rural areas with limited or no access to broadband, they have small budgets and often untrained staff and yet they’re being told that all teenagers are “born with a chip” and that technology is moving faster than any one person can keep up with, etc. It’s daunting. Being able to know what “normal” is becomes sort of important as you have to determine what’s appropriate for your library and for your staff.

I think about this specifically in terms of our library organizations and how they determine what normal is versus what end users think is normal. Not to point the finger at ALA too much but it’s not really normal in 2008 for a website redesign to take years. It’s not really normal in 2008 to speak in allcaps when you’re emailing people as the incoming president of your organization. It’s not really normal to have a link to customer service on the main page of your website be a 404. I’m aware that it’s easy to cherrypick little pecadillos like this about an organization that does a lot of things very right. However, I do believe that one of the reasons we have trouble as a profession dealing with technology is that we don’t have an internal sense of what’s right and what’s appropriate technologically-speaking making it hard for us to make informed decisions concerning what technology to purchase or implement in the face of a lot of hype and a lot of pressure.

I’m going to work today at the Kimball Library in Randolph Vermont (I fill in there sometimes) and the librarian-facing part of the Follett OPAC interface is becoming one of my favorite slides. It looks like it was designed for a Windows 95 interface, in fact it probably was, and just never revisted. It’s 2008. People can create a blog on Tumblr that’s 100% accessible and legible and nice looking in less than two minutes. Why do I have to click a 32×32 pixel image of … a raccoon mask? to circulate books. And why can’t we agree on what usable means?

YakPac

I subscribe to the LibLime news blog which is often announcements of libraries that have decided to go with Koha. It’s an interesting blog, I’m always curious who decides to go to the Open Source route. This latest announcement about the Derby Public Library cheered me because not only are they going with Koha, they’re implementing YakPac which is a kid-specific OPAC that still has a huge degree of functionality. I show it off a lot in my 2.0 talks because it’s engaging and entertaining and represents the answer to the question “how far can you go with the OPAC?” without a lot of bells and whistles, just fun easy-to-use design.

review ALA’s new proposed design

You’ve got two days. Go! I don’t want to influence your opinion much but I will tell you that I have already used the word “sadistic” once. I tend to agree with this comment on web4lib.

The review process comprises two stages. First, you’ll step through ten web pages that show and describe the proposed new graphic (visual) design of the ALA site. Each of these pages presents a type of page in the design. Each has a textual description (summary or detailed) of the page type at the top, and provides below it a screen shot of a sample page of that type.

[web4lib]

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?

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 invites member participation, sort of

Dear ALA’s Member Participation task force,

I am happy you have a blog. I am happy that its URL is fairly short. It’s very attractive. However I think one way that you could help members participate would be to make the links in some way distinct from the text that surrounds it. They are, on my monitor, the exact same color and boldness as the text around them. The underline only shows up when you hover over the link making using your blog an experiment in hide and seek. Usually links are indicated by a distinct color, an underline (not just a hover underline) or by being in bold when the surrounding text is plain. Using two out of three of these increases usability dramatically.

Two other smaller points which are more a matter of personal preference.

  1. Usually titles of blog posts link to the post on a page by itself with the comments underneath, a permalink. The blogging software you use does not do this. This is not necessarily a problem, but it is non-standard and might confuse people. One of the great benefits of blogging is that it allows people to use a user interface that does not change much from blog to blog. You might want to consider configuring your blog to work the way most blogs work.
  2. Linking to Word documents is a less than optimal way to get your message across. While I think allowing people to look at a Word document with “track changes” turned on is a neat way to show the evolution of a document, it relies on a proprietary piece of software that people may not have (or Open Office if they are savvy enough to use it) and makes the information contained in the linked document unavailable to search engines and posterity except for the pull-quote you provide. It also increases download times for people on dial-up which is a non-inconsiderate amount of ALA members. Consider making the text of documents you describe available in some way that is more findable and usable to the widest range of people. While I wish it were not the case, ALA member are not always the most tech savvy people around and anything we can do to encourage their participation is a good thing.

Sincerely,

Your friend
Jessamyn

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.

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.”

understanding what users understand

Library Terms that Users Understand – a big survey of available data to show us that there ARE best practices as far as our users are concerned.

This site is intended to help library web developers decide how to label key resources and services in such a way that most users can understand them well enough to make productive choices. It serves as a clearinghouse of usability test data evaluating terminology on library websites, listing terms that tests show are effective or ineffective labels. It presents alternatives by documenting terms that are actually used by libraries. It also suggests test methods and best practices for reducing cognitive barriers caused by terminology.

Surprise surprise, the word periodical is confusing. So are words like database, pathfinder and Do-it-Yourself in Unicorn. [web4lib]