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?

5 thoughts on “ARSL conference

  1. Hi, Jessamyn – can you tell me which link on the home page 404ed for you? The new website went live today and it took a little while for links to rectify themselves, so I want to make sure this one got resolved.

    As always, we appreciate your feedback.


  2. This was on the old home page and it was the “member and customer service center” link in the old footer. I don’t even see a similar link on the new site, so maybe it’s all okay now?

  3. I have one to add to your list of things not normal: it is not normal (nor wise) to send your members emails with their profile/account usernames and passwords in plain text. It’s even more abnormal to write back to a member who objects to this, noting that since some librarians can’t handle technology (i.e.- can’t remember their passwords), it’s OK to compromise the privacy of those who can. It is normal, or so I would assert, for those members to have finally had enough and leave the organization after dutifully supporting it for years.

    Have to agree with your comments on interface design, too. It’s bad enough when a minor vendor (sorry, Follett) has bad interfaces; it’s pathetic when the vendor is large and has legion large customers who pay beaucoup maintenance. Our ILS has staff clients that literally haven’t been redesigned since the mid-1990s, and they weren’t exactly well built then.

  4. Dale, thank you for pointing out that massive security hole! I was completely aghast a couple of months ago when I got a routine (unsolicited) membership renewal reminder from ALA that included my member-login-numerical-username-whatsis that ALA uses, and my password, right out there for God and everyone to see.

    Note to ALA: your member profile database includes a “password hint” field. This might be a great time to use it, maybe?

    It never occurred to me to write to ALA and object, however, partly because who exactly was I going to write to? So now I’m complaining about it on poor Jessamyn’s blog, which is about as ineffective as writing to ALA about it, but more satisfying somehow.

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