Internet Librarian 2010: Mobile Usability

Jeff Wisniewski

Usability is the study of the relative ease with which a user can complete a given task.  We want users to be able to do something — the sites are there for use, so how do we do it right?  There are major guidelines for app development for all of the major platforms.  Even if you’re developing a mobile site, not an app, the guidelines can still be helpful to show you the experience your users expect.  Also check out the W3C’s Mobile OK Checker to ensure your mobile site meets coding standards.  Not only are you designing for occasional inexperienced users, but highly distract-able occasional inexperienced users.  Instead of thinking of broad detailed tasks, focus on smaller micro-interactions (like finding the hours).  Desktop sites are wide, tend to be deep, and very complex.  They are stable and get infrequent use.  And you can predict how folks will be interacting with your site — a mouse, keyboard, trackpad, etc.  Mobile sites need to be simple, slim, and get even more infrequent use.  But the device proliferation and fragmentation within OSs has created a difficult situation for predicting how our users will be interacting with our sites.  What should we test on mobile sites?  Functional testing — much more critical in mobile than in desktop.  Task-based testing.  User satisfaction surveys are important too.  Mobile resource usability is affected by so many layers — the hardware of the device (processor, screen size), the device OS, the flavor of user interface (as with the HTC Sense UI for Android), the device browser, etc.  There are of course the popular touch-screen mobile phones, non-touch screen mobile phones, quick messaging phones, and the tablets/pads proliferating like gangbusters.  Jeff suggests first to conduct a heuristic evaluation of your content.  Then he recommends doing some rapid paper prototyping to sketch up UIs.  There are a number of simulators and emulators to use on your desktop computer to view what the mobile site will look like. Jeff showed some examples of basic and seriously advanced paper prototyping.  You can do some HTML prototyping too, a wireframe of a mobile site testable on desktops and mobile devices.  Jeff provided a long list of emulators and simulators, but recommended that we test our mobile content on someone’s real device that they use every day.  Just pull in those favors from your colleagues. There is a tool called MobiReady that checks your mobile site’s code (similar to W3C MobileOK Checker).  Jeff recommends Browsercam, which does offer mobile browser previews.  Another tool, DeviceAnywhere, collects data for mobile testing.  It’s helpful to also gather more subjective user feedback as well — Did they like the site?  Would they use it again?  Ensure the questions are short and not text-boxes (after all, remember they’re on mobile!) 🙂

Internet Librarian 2010: Foursquare, Location-Based Social Networks & Library Apps

Joe Murphy

<I missed Jason A Clark’s part of the presentation unfortunately – sorry!>

Foursquare is baed on social rewards for sharing information – badges, interactions, comments, mayorships, etc.  We’ve already had our first check-in in space on Foursquare.  Joe pointed out how the Internet Librarian Conference listing in Foursquare is for an event, not just for a place/venue.  Joe recommends that libraries claim venues for their libraries, which gives you the opportunity to monitor statistics and create promotions.  The most important thing we can do is to just be aware of Foursquare — users will engage with this service whether we’re doing anything or not.  Joe touched on Facebook Places as well — Foursquare, as popular as it is, only has 3 million users.  Twitter has 145 million and Facebook has 500 million.  Facebook Places simply adds a social place-based interaction to your existing Facebook social network connections.  Facebook Places privacy options are critical – something that we should be teaching our customers about.  So many of us are haters of the “check your friends in” feature, which I now thing Facebook must realize is a mistake.  Joe says the future of location-based information is a combination of proximity relevance and social interactions. (Sarah’s note: This is reminiscent of basic augmented reality.)

Internet Librarian 2010: Designing a Mobile Experience

Dave McLaughlin – Harford County Public Library
You can program in the native code or you can use a javascript framework.  The latter gives you the window dressings of a native app.  JS Framework web apps and mobile webkit devices include iPS, Android, Palm webOS, and Blackberry OS devices. jQuery Mobile is free and open source, and available at  JQuery Mobile has broad compatibility, even with Nokia devices or the Opera Mobile browser.  JQTouch is another player to watch. JQTouch has one thing JQuery Mobile doesn’t–it more closely approximates the native app experience.  Each of these “pages” you can view within JQTouch is a <div> tag, letting you flip thru the carousels to the different pages.  When using JQTouch, you create a boilerplate for each page for a consistent layout and navigation, and then you insert your content into the body.  He also recommended the iPhone simulator tool as well.  HCPL Mobile, their app, with which you can look up items, log into your account, and more.  You can’t request an item or renew it, and they’re hoping that with their new ILS they can add this functionality.  HCPL Mobile is a “web app” (read: mobile webpage formatted for the user’s particular device to mimic an app experience).

Jason Michel & Kwabena Sekyere – Miami University Libraries
Their mobile site is located at  They wanted to be accessible to as many different mobile devices as possible, so they chose a mobile website instead of an app, using the Drupal mobile module functionality.  They have a catalog search, links to their database vendors who actually have mobile-friendly content, ways to contact the library, social media presences, etc.  They wanted catalog inter-functionality too, just like Harford, but their ILS vendor (Innovative Interfaces) doesn’t allow it.  (Sarah’s note: I always recommend doing a mobile site over a mobile app, but one huge benefit to our Boopsie-created mobile app @sanjoselibrary is that they offer full library user account functionality by screen scraping III’s Millennium patron interface).  Once you are able to set up your mobile profile for EBSCO you can send out a static link to get users access.  MU Libraries also offers IM, email, phone, and text-a-librarian which they offer through the Google Voice hack.  Sekyere demonstrated how the Google Voice hack actually works, which was helpful I think for people not familiar with the service.  More libraries are using this hack despite the fact that, strictly speaking, it might violate Google’s terms of service.  But hey…why not try?  MU Libraries directions interfaces with the iPhone’s mapping system.  They will continue to develop.

Yesterday I gave a webinar for Infopeople about mobile services for libraries.

You can view the archived webinar in full (audio, slides,  + chat) through the Infopeople site.

And the slides for that presentation are below.  Enjoy!

Hi y’all.  Yesterday I gave a webinar for the Florida Panhandle Library Access Network about online marketing for libraries.  The slides for that presentation are below.  Enjoy!

  • Free user-contributed repair manuals from iFixIt: Site is still building content but hey…it has the Roomba!
  • Great article for library webmasters from the adaptive path blog: “Six habits for visual designers new to UX design” –
  • ALA’s Statement about FCC modernizing ERATE to benefit libraries (from @ALA_TechSource). I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • 37 Productivity Tips for Working From Anywhere –
  • Blog Post: Practical Open Source Software for Libraries from @nengard:
  • Namechk – Instantly check your username’s availability on dozens of social sites. Grab your identity everywhere now.
  • “8 Villains of Social Media” from @sejournal. Good lessons on what to avoid when you’re posting yourself!
  • Warning signs of information overload
  • Kurzweil’s company’s eBook product, Blio, looks interesting.
  • Check out a FREE Project Gutenberg collection on North Carolina Digital Library website (from @DigiLibraryBlog)
  • Veezle stock photo meta search engine: a great review from Tasha Saecker:
  • The Future Of The Library Is Not The Apple Store (from @ALA_TechSource):
  • The Internet Archive has scanned its one millionth book! Congrats!
  • Open Office splits from Oracle, becomes LibreOffice. Same great software!
  • Review of The Social Network movie from @jeffjarvis: In short, if you know the real story it’s gonna annoy you.
  • From @wired: Scribd added Facebook “Instant Personalization” this week. It’s a privacy nightmare, says @pgcat
  • Why Technology Matters for Children, The Digital Divide ([email protected]):
  • Allen Ginsberg figurine & poetry CD (via @BoingBoing): As a San Francisco groupie & literati, this is a must-buy!
  • Ooooh shiny! Star Wars app pack coming to Verizon 10/4 ($2.99 for photos, live wallpapers, trivia, widgets):

eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
R. David Lankes Closing Keynote

Lankes wanted to start with a thought experiment.  What would happen if when we bought our next device, $10 was added to the cost and that went into a universal author’s fund and you could download any book any time?  Would this be a good thing for libraries?  Would it be a good thing for librarians?  Those are two different things.  For libraries, it would allow people to get access to information anywhere any time.  The value of libraries is the librarians, not the warehouse of stuff that we have. (Sarah’s comment: We know that, but the general user perception is that libraries are books, so if we no longer have books, won’t it will be hard to maintain community support and funding without a major overhaul of our public image?) We have seen a huge disaggregation of content.  Content is being ripped and remixed into different places — an explosion of data.  We see the disintegration of profiteering on content too.  One doesn’t, and hasn’t historically, made a lot of money off releasing a music album.  You make money off of touring and merchandising.  Same with books.  The real threat is that people have the perception of libraries as a mausoleum of stuff.  He also promoted the term “members” instead of users, customers, or patrons.  eBooks make Lankes cranky.  He only reads fiction in eBook format.  What makes him cranky is that the current implementation of hardware and software is so boring.  Book virtual interfaces made to look like wooden bookshelves are boring.  “Stop!” says Lankes.  He sees such potential in eBooks but we’re ignoring the possibilities of what could be.  eBooks aren’t solving the real problem:  access to information.  When we move books to a different format, there’s a problem.  Traditional terminology becomes a metaphor.  We append prefixes like “e” to traditional terms, but that doesn’t always translate conceptually.  If we look at reading the first thing we have to realize is that it should be a social and conversational experience.  Part of reading is processing language, turning words into concepts and images in your mind.  Some people believe reading to be quiet and contemplative, but Lankes challenges that assumption.  While reading is an isolating physically, mentally it is extraordinarily social — how we choose what to read, our pre-conceptions before reading it, how we feel about it and what we share about it afterward…  We can organize books and electronic content in all sorts of ways, allowing for hyperlinking and cross-referencing and community suggestions, not just “the librarian’s way.”  If we aggregate the unique individual connections, is there a commonality?  Yes.  We definitely don’t want the “every book’s an app” model that has started with the iPad.  We need to get back to the idea that book creation is part of a knowledge creation process.  The idea of authoring and reading is merging as tools make it obvious that there is an ongoing conversation.  Why annotate text only with other text?  He says that librarians are key to sense-making, production, distribution–all steps of knowledge creation.  Just as we are authors of our own mobile experiences through customization and apps, we should be authors of our own eBook experiences.  Multimedia, chat and other communication, and other functionality will benefit the creation and consumption experiences.  Libraries need to stop waiting for others to figure this eBook challenge out.  This is our problem and our opportunity.  We need to stop waiting for publishers to figure out the eBook model of the future – it’s like waiting for heroin addicts to develop the methadone of the future.  He asks the million dollar question: Why aren’t libraries building a unified eBook platform?  We need to stop buying from vendors and simply accepting what they give us.  We need to add our existing added value in our expertise, our passion for knowledge.  He encourages us to stand up for our users’ rights and innovate.  Librarians are not consumers or customers.  We are participators and so are those we seek to serve.  “Lead!” he says.

eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
Kevin Kelly (Wired CEO) Keynote

The web as we know it is only 7,000 days old.  Early prognosticators thought that the web would be TV, only better.  But what we have is a multi-device, multi-author, hugely connected infrastructure for communication.  There are 2 billion people linked up via the web.  With eBooks, we have the same problem — we’ve guessed that eBooks would be books only better.  But Kelly says that what’s coming is very different.  Our entire environment is saturated with screens–in airplanes, on the sides of buildings, mobile devices, computers, etc.  It’s important to recognize that the eBook is therefore part of that multi-screen environment.  We lean forward to use our small screens and lean back to use our big theater-style screens.  Where do eBooks fall into this?  2 billion YouTube clips are viewed daily.  This is a much larger audience than book readers.  As people we need to parse, index, browse, search, manipulate, annotate, re-sequence text…and have it be ubiquitous.  He sees the same thing happening with video and other images.  A move from orality to literacy happened with the printing press, and now we’re moving from literacy to what Kelly calls “vizuality.”  One media platform, blurred lines between media: TV, books, music, blogs, websites, magazines, radio, etc.  We don’t want to get stuck on screens being rigid — we’re already seeing flexible screens.  We can think about all of these devices that we have, which are windows into a single set of content in the cloud.  We and our devices are part of the cloud…it’s not a separate entity.  We create content for it and interact with it.  All types of things that people said they’d never share are being shared: shopping purchases, locations, health records, travel plans, personal genetics, eating patterns, and work histories.  As we move into the cloud, our content moves away from being a single file to being a stream which is tagged.  We are shifting from new page creation on the website (which has already peaked) to streams of content on Twitter, YouTube, and other sites.  If we think of books as a long-form stream, how does that change how we think about the future of the book?  People expect everything to be “always on,” everything to be available all the time.  iPads are one of the most popular media for kids because they don’t have to type.  Futuristic displays use gestures and interactions instead of keyboards and mice.  Kelly introduced the idea of a “watchful eBook” — one that tracks your eye movements and responds accordingly.  Lastly, he brought up the issue of the eBook “copy.”  The only value is that which cannot be copied.  If you want an old copy of National Geographic you can search for it and find a download for a slow download for free or a quick download for a fee.  If you want it personalized, that would carry a cost.  If you want to be sure that a piece of software, that requires a fee.  Or if something that was sent by a creator that you want to be a patron for, you pay them a fee.  Charge for different formats optimized for your accessibility needs.  But don’t charge for the thing itself.  Basically, he’s advocating for free eContent but charging for added-value services.

eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
eBooks and the Library User Experience
Josh Greenburg, Jean Costello, Aaron Schmidt, and Michael Bills – moderated by Rebecca Miller

Josh Greenburg started by talking about standard user stories for physical books — you find a book from the library catalog at home, see that it’s checked out, click on a button to place a hold and then you wait.  Or if you’re lucky and it is available, a mechanical and physical process starts and the book makes its way to whatever site you choose to pick it up at where it goes on a shelf and waits for you.  You might have to stand in line to check it out and then you have access to it for only a limited period of time.  eBooks have the same holds issues, but there is no physical transferral of the book from place to place, and no lines to wait in, no need for the user to go into a specific physical place, no real need to have due dates (if there’s no DRM and limits).  And in a lovely way the need for fines goes away too if the eBooks don’t have due dates any more.  But this is all a Utopian dream.  eBooks have a lot of speed bumps.  They’re usually, in the physical world, designed to slow people down so they don’t hurt themselves or those around them.  Speed bumps for eBooks slow people down, but not for their benefit or the library’s benefit–solely for the publisher’s benefit.  Things to think about: What are your goals for eContent at your library?  Do you have a fixed cost or do you subsidize rentals?  What type of collection do you want?  What does this look like for the user’s experience?  What speed bumps are you going to put into place in the experience?

Jean Costello spoke as a patron who took public libraries for granted for a long time, but her library was threatened with closure.  She learned how much she loves and treasures the organization, and now blogs as The Radical Patron.  She asks questions that are probably easier to ask from outside the organization rather than from within.  Book stores are cash-strapped and rethinking what they do and offer as their primary business model.  The real primary changes are digital content companies: Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Publishers have, as a result, become outsiders to the emerging publishing paradigm.  Leaders in the publishing industry recognize the tipping point and rethink their alliances and values.  What she sees from libraries is that we look at eBooks as “just another technology to contend with, to be adopted but not fully embraced.”  (Sarah’s comment: Heck yes, that is totally true for most libraries.)  Will the public’s association of books with libraries translate to the eBook realm?  Are publishers looking to bypass libraries as an outlet  for digital media?  Are we aware of this threat?  Libraries are really focused on “collection.”  Content is so fluid that we need to stop thinking about content as a commodity, a thing to own.  She thinks we’ll see passionate readers and cultural institutions create enhanced versions of public domain works, self-published authors forging new ways and terms of distributing their work, and that news and magazines will be seamlessly and fluidly consumed on the fly.  Readers advisory will be wrapped around content automatically — look at the recommendation engines in Pandora or Netflix as a potential model.  The library user has little motivation to use the library.  Any sub-set of content within a world-vision of complete access to everything everywhere will be seen as insufficient.  There are many ways that libraries can add value.  They need to get past library culture and self-conception and the conflict of values they often have with the vendors.  We also need a strong representative to negotiate with the various stakeholders in the legislative and publishing industries.  But what do we have in libraries?  Libraries have widespread public trust and we need to start using that in new and creative ways.

Aaron Schmidt then took over the discussion and said that the eBook ship has sailed and we are not on it.  Years back we had arguments about whether VHS tapes should be in our collections and a whole paid industry sprung up while we were arguing.  DVD checkouts make up a large percentage of checkouts in libraries but many people still don’t know that we do that.  We have experimented with eBooks a long time ago before the general public was even interested in them — in the early days of the eBook Readers (oh yeah, the ones like the Rocket that failed).  We’re used to providing library customers with difficult to use resources (think about your database page).  Library patrons should never have to see the word Boolean logic.  DRM doesn’t work.  Determined users get around it, and all it takes is one ripped copy to open the floodgates for pirating.  And there will always, always be one ripped copy no matter what DRM you put in place.  All that does is stymie usage by law-abiding, EULA-abiding people.  The e-experience should not try to mimic the print experience – that is a failure waiting to happen.  Users are accessing eContent on their mobile devices.  Apple, Amazon, and Google have changed the game.   Better readers will make reading more enjoyable.  We don’t want libraries to become mausoleums for dead books.  Libraries should stop being like grocery stores (lots of stuff on the shelves) and more like kitchens (easy convenient access).  We need to concentrate on our most important asset — the people in our buildings, the library staff, and train them to provide a good user experience for our users with digital content.

Michael Bills talked about enhanced eBooks through Blio (free eBooks platform in development) — text-to-voice, video, annotations, links, etc.  eInk devices have proliferated, but the type of content that can be delivered to those devices has been constrained.  Blio provides full color enhanced content, interactivity, multiple viewing modes (2 page, 3D, thumbnail), is device-neutral, works on smaller and larger screens, and has a much deeper content catalog.  The Book Industry Group sees that people still read eBooks dominantly on computers, with the kindle in a close second.  Mobile devices like smart phones come next, ahead of other eReaders like the Sony Reader or the Nook.  What could be brought to eBooks that consumers would pay more for?  Blio actually has 80% of the extras that consumers said they’d pay for.

eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
Ebook What-Ifs: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning
Me (!), Bobbi Newman, and Matt Hamilton + moderated by Josh Hadro

Questions about specific eBook scenarios were posed to us.  Here’s what we talked about.  Twitter hashtag to follow the conversation during our session was #ebookswhatif

Question: What if there is a Google Book Search terminal in every library?

I tackled this question first.  The Google Book Search settlement, if approved, will let every public library building have access to a terminal with access to the Google Books orphan works collection (in copyright but out of print), and academic libraries get access through terminals as well.  If there is a terminal in every library, not a darn thing will change.  For academic libraries, most of what was scanned has the most potential for people doing research on academic topics.  The academic libraries got more flexibility on the number of terminals and the types of access.  For public libraries, the question is: how useful is that scanned material to our users?  For special libraries, same thing – that material is not highly useful.  School libraries didn’t factor into the settlement at all, which is very worrisome.  Having one terminal per building with access to something very specific is hearkening back to the days of the single-purpose CD ROM stations.  People think of information as ubiquitous and think of everything as being everywhere.  A single-use terminal won’t be very helpful to people very much.  Plus there are restrictions on what you can do with the books (printing, copying, search, annotations) depends on how much the libraries paid Google for the extra privilege of accessing the information.  This means an inevitable inequitable set-up in different libraries.  I just don’t think a Google terminal will get used in our public library.  There is no information in the settlement about the user access data and user privacy, but Google would have sole full access to it, which is worrisome.  ALA and other groups also worry about how much providing good access and printing/copying will cost libraries.  I think that some libraries would not participate in this project based on the privacy issues alone.  But a lot of people don’t worry about their privacy.  Up to 15% of what Google scans can be excluded from this collection at their discretion.  What would Google choose to exclude?   I think that the cost issue will be the limitation.  Google has not told us how much they will charge us to allow people to print or download, money that we have to collect ourselves and then split the money between the Books Registry and Google.  The unknown cost issue is frightening.
Bobbi agreed that privacy is a concern as well as space.  A computer whose sole purpose is to access Google Books is not likely to be useful to her users.  It becomes a customer service issue when a computer stands unused.
Matt agreed that the material in the collection is not something that his users will be drawn to use.  They don’t see demands for these types of books that are more academic and esoteric.

Question: What if the price of eReaders drops to zero?
Matt tackled this one first.  The price of eReader are dropping drastically.  What if the device is thrown in for free with the purchase of a certain number of eBooks?  This would result in a flood of cheap eReaders into the market.  Can libraries meet demand and utilize this quick influx to the market?  Matt thinks it’s incredibly likely that this is going to happen, whether the publishers are subsidizing it or that it’s a contract-based vendor subsidy.  For many, this seems like a possible death knell for libraries.  A world with free or nearly free eReaders and cheap or free content subsidized by advertising.  The democratizing role that public libraries play, our commitment to intellectual freedom, makes us more relevant than ever.  If we see free eReaders we may not see a lot of change in demand for our collection, which would create a complacency in library staff that is dangerous.  Over time, will we see generations of kids who first learn to read on electronic devices and use them for textbooks and homework?  Will paper books become more of a rare and exotic item?  New formats combining text with multimedia should be something we consider too.  Libraries should assert our values of universal access and intellectual freedom into the emerging standards of the cloud and future technological and legal developments.  ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom should be bending the ear of the FCC and other government agencies who are currently giving away the public good to corporations to destroy.  Libraries could be the tax-funded space for data and form the infrastructure that helps our local communities share data.  There has to be a public good component.
I chimed in and said that there is huge potential for demand increasing with a zero barrier to entry for eReader technologies.  With that huge, and fast, an increase our library would not be able to meet eBook demands.  The questions of format, different device platforms, and the technical support staff would be asked to perform would be a problem.  We are ill-equipped to handle this kind of change so quickly.  We’re ill-equipped to handle any change quickly, really.
Then Matt agreed that the differences in format and devices are a huge barrier for libraries.  It’s a huge physical challenge to get each staff member to have hands-on experience with all the various eReaders and formats.
I agreed and said is it possible to have enough of these eReaders to give everyone enough time to learn on them?  The libraries would get the free eReaders at the exact same time, or likely after, the public got them.  We would therefore end up giving some bad service because we’re unprepared to meet these needs.  Another issue would be bandwidth – if we’re trying to download a whole bunch of eBooks simultaneously, our infrastructure could not handle it.

Question: What if the DRM issue went away tomorrow?
Bobbi got this question.  DRM is a huge frustration.  Every eReader, platform, and format combination has a different set of challenges.  No device that allow for library eBook use allows for direct-to-device lending yet.  So, what if the Librarian of Congress declared 3 years from now that libraries are given huge leeway with regards to copyright and DRM?  A lot of what prevents users from using library eBooks with their chosen devices is the DRM.  The clunky experience at the library makes people turn to the direct paid consumer products instead.  If DRM went away, demand for our eContent would increase by huge amounts.  There would be a bandwidth impact here too.  A lot o the library’s policies about in-library computer access would need to change too to more easily allow for access to downloadable content.  Even if DRM went away, how does that affect the patrons who already tried accessing the collections and had negative experiences.  Patrons expect that the Kindle and other eReaders will work with library eBooks.  Libraries have to be the ones to break the news to people that our eContent won’t work with their devices, which is beyond our control.  But we sound like the bad guys.
I agreed that we would see an unprecedented increase in demand, but without DRM that increase in demand would at least be a good thing.  The first time experience with library eBooks is often bad.  Our stats show that we lose a lot of first-time users of our eBooks — they don’t come back.  Maybe they would come back if access was easier.  I gave up too and turned to a Kindle app on my Android phone.  Comparing my experiences with that to my experiences with library eBooks is distressing.
Bobbi replied that the eAudioBook process is a lot smoother, but the eBook process is a lot harder…largely because of connecting to a computer and go through the more cumbersome process.  Also, since you can’t download most eBooks in most libraries within most libraries, we have to break the news to them that we don’t allow downloads in the library.  (Sarah’s note: this is a policy that libraries need to change.)
Matt sees the same thing where he works too.  If DRM went away, doors could open for ways to deliver services in libraries.