Shhhh…you’ll wake the librarian.  Whoops, she’s awake.

Despite my reputation for being outspoken, I’ve let several library-world blow-ups fly by of late without comment.  I’ve gotten dozens of requests to write about these issues and have said no. I’ll tell you what I think if you ask, but I’ve stayed out of the fray intentionally.

Why so quiet? Over the years, multiple significant others have said to me: “When you get quiet, that’s when I know something’s really wrong.” They’re absolutely right. It’s not petulant pouting; it’s me afraid that if I open my mouth I will: a) scream, b) cry, c) berate you so hard you’ll feel like you just got beaten with a broom handle by Frank Underwood.

In short, me being quiet means that I’m so beyond mad about something that I don’t even want to talk about it yet because I cannot do so in a productive manner.  Remember that video of me getting all huffy about Amazon and OverDrive’s anti-privacy partnership?  That took me over a month of mental processing and about 20 takes to calm down enough to record.  And even then, I still get all “RAWR – kill all of the things!” during the video.

Though I’ve been quiet about a lot lately, there are two large-ish issues I’d like to bring up — particularly why I haven’t written about them.  It’s the same damn reason in both cases. I’m disappointed in the members of our profession who choose to express themselves in unproductive, negative, and hostile ways.

The ALA Conference Code of Conduct

  • My reaction: I was happy that ALA codified something that was already, more or less, included in various other long-standing statements of conduct, values, and ethics. My blog post on professional harassment was part of a long catalog of pieces that apparently started the avalanche of opinion that such a code is needed by ALA. I was happy that something I’d written had helped contribute to a large-scale positive outcome. Is the code perfect? Of course not. It, like everything else on this blasted planet, is a living and changeable beast. Something really good, however, is much better than nothing at all.
  • The library-world reaction: I expected a little bit of pushback on this from people in denial of the problem, but I did not expect the infantile backlash that happened. People said that the code could curb freedom of speech. People said that it was addressing a problem that didn’t really exist.  People said that only a few women were harassed, so why create a code to deal with only a few victims. Oh yeah, and all of these “people” saying this stuff? People from the librarian profession. I’m not even going to link to the many, many reactions on all sides to the code because, well, because of what I write next.
  • My reaction to that reaction: Disappointed Sarah is disappointed in her peers. I am disappointed in the pettiness of some in our profession, the blinders many people have on to the diverse experiences of others, and the desire of some to tear anything and everything down–no matter how much good it can do–because, in their minds, it’s not perfect.  I am also beyond raging that people would doubt the word of many, many people who have been harassed at conferences. We’re talking about a lot of people here, a lot of experiences, and a lot of anger and grief that could be avoided in part if we had a code of conduct to deal with such situations. Will the code prevent all potential harassment or assault? No, of course not. No written document can. But it can deter that behavior, and for that I’m glad. I’m glad the code exists.  The haters can go sit in a corner and wax poetic about their delusional reality where no one is harassed and everyone is equal all the time, and leave the rest of us to deal with reality–dirty and imperfect as it is.

This is What a Librarian Looks Like

  • My reaction: Cool! Look at that, librarians look like people. Go figure. And hey–a mainstream photo essay featuring librarians in a positive light. And one that’s getting a lot of traffic! Big props to the photographer too, Kyle Cassidy, for taking some beautiful photographs and capturing our profession in a non-stereotypical, non-inflammatory, non-hypersexualized way. Yay!
  • The library-world reaction: Not every demographic was fairly represented in that small sampling of photos! Too many people looked this way, or that way! Not enough people looked this other way! I hate this particular person who was featured! I hate this person, therefore the value of the entire photo essay is negated! I wasn’t photographed, therefore this is stupid! Why do we need photographs to represent a profession that is so pure and idealistic that we should be able to represent ourselves through theremin music and laser shows alone!
  • My reaction to that reaction: Fucking Hell. Some people will take every good thing and make it look like a steaming pile of rat dung. This was popular media coverage of our profession, which we will mostly agree is underappreciated and underrepresented. The public reaction to it was good, for goodness sake! Our reaction to ourselves, however, was shameful. To everyone who posted hateful comments about the way that the featured librarians looked, what they were wearing, or their gender or ethnicity–Shame on you. Instead of tearing something down, try building it up. Offer productive feedback on how to extend the project and make it more in keeping with what you personally think is important. But don’t destroy a photographer with pure intentions (who even wrote a follow-up piece about the Twilight Zone-esque backlash).  Don’t destroy subjects who love our profession (even though you may not like them all as individuals) and who are willing to put themselves out there in the public spotlight to raise awareness about what we do.

In short, I didn’t want to write about these because anything I was infuriated with my fellow librarians. And besides, anything I wanted to say was already being said by others.  But I come away from these two incidents with a mantra that a former manager of mine used to repeat to us at project meetings: “You can criticize something, but do so politely and offer solutions for how to make it better–don’t just tear it down.”

So, all of you librarians out there: you may have valid points and you may have good arguments about why something is imperfect. But be professional enough and smart enough to do more than tear something down–contribute to a solution. Until you’re able to do that, shut your talking holes. You’re hurting my ears and making me angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. [which, incidentally, is why I choose not to write when I'm angry--see the connection?]

I’m going to go over here into the corner and resume my quietness now, and try to make the world of my own library and community a better place.

I’ve been getting a weird rash of people asking what conferences I’ll be at over the next several months (no…I’m not going to ALA Midwinter or Computers in Libraries). But I am going physically (or virtually) to some other places coming up. Come say hi if you’re there too!

  • January 15 – Wild Winter Web Conference (online conference for Wisconsin libraries) ["Keep It Real, Keep It Simple"]
  • March 13-15, 2014 – Public Library Association Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana ["Filtering out Internet Censorship: Advocacy, Professional Ethics, and the Law" panel and "So You Want to Be a Director: Fleas, Death Threats, Budget Cuts, and Prison Wardens"]
  • April 11, 2014 – Urban Librarians Conference, Brooklyn, New York ["Rise of the Youngsters: A Gen X and Millennial Management Team" (with Vanessa Christman)]
  • May 9, 2014 – Joint Conference of the Maryland and Delaware Library Associations, Ocean City, Maryland ["Future of Libraries"]
  • June 26-July 1, 2014 – American Library Association Annual Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada ["Stepping into the Director Role: Preparing for the Part" panel and "Technology Priorities for the New Library Reality"]

10 years ago today, I started this blog.

I know, right? It doesn’t seem that long ago…

I never thought that Librarian in Black would be active a decade and more than 4,500 posts later.

10 years in Internet time is forever. 10 years ago:

  • I was only two years out of library school and had long blonde hair (OMG)
  • Friendster was the bomb
  • MySpace was just starting to be popular
  • Facebook and Twitter did not exist
  • The human genome project was completed
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as California’s governor
  • SARS was scaring  everyone
  • The U.S. invasion of Iraq had just started
  • The Columbia shuttle broke up in the atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard
  • iTunes had just launched

What a difference a decade makes! It has been my privilege to write and discuss library, technology, information freedom, and education issues on this blog for a decade.

My very first post was an introduction to the site, and I am happy to see that I used the word “rawr” :)  The site looked different back then and was run on Typepad (it’s on WordPress now).  Here’s the first snapshot the Wayback Machine took of my site, in January 2004–a mere 5 days after I started the blog.  I was writing multiple posts most days, and the posts were brief, only nominally longer than Tweets are today.  I focused on digital information resources, reference, tech tools, hardware, software, and freedom of information and privacy.  I said things then that seem a mite silly now, displaced by time and context–including that I was happy Amazon was finally turning a profit (I know, I know…I deserve a boot to the head for that one).

My blog today is very different.  I write less about technology and more about bigger picture library issues, including administration and management, as that’s how I spend my days now.  I write fewer, but longer, pieces. All the short posts from yesteryear have migrated to Tweets and Facebook posts now.  I reserve blogging for the important, long form discussions.

I’m not writing as often, not by a long shot.  My average was 61 posts per month in 2004 and in 2013 my average is 2 posts per month. Part of the reason is that I can’t write about much of what I do in my daily work now due to confidentiality, good taste, prudence, and respect.  I would love to write about progressive discipline, coaching employees, facilities emergencies, presenting to City Council, dealing with other city departments, being “politic” without bullshitting anyone, banning patrons, and a host of other things that fill my days.  But I can’t. Another contributing factor to the dearth of posts is that I work longer hours than I did 10 years ago and am desperately seeking a healthier work-life balance, which means not reading and writing an additional 2-3 hours a day to keep this blog populated with multiple daily posts.

Now, some numbers:

  • Depending on the tools you use and how you count, I have something like 40,000 blog subscribers through RSS and email.
  • I’ve had over 5 million page views on the site during its 10 years of existence.
  • My post with the most comments? 1,975 comments on Eragon gets a script-writer,” posted on February 19, 2004. The post inexplicably turned into a weird message board of sorts for fans of the book. I had to moderate some pre-teen behavior a few times.
  • My post with the most traffic? “Hello, my name is Sarah and I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.” This post consistently gets 500 views a month.  There was, and still is to some extent, a lack of people discussing health issues publicly online. Sure, there are private support group bulletin boards and Facebook pages, but open posts are rare.  Add to that a relatively rare condition, and bam…my posts on EDS have become something many newly diagnosed people find first online.  They ask for help and I happily give whatever advice and pointers I can.

What is my most controversial post? I can’t pick just one! The ones that get the most attention seem to be the ones where I’m mad about something, which has led me to believe two things: me being mad = good writing, plus people just like controversy.

Here are the top twelve posts from the last decade, based on views, comments, emails and other messages about how awful/awesome I am:

  1. Unethical Library Vendors: A Call to Arms for Libraries to Fight Back
  2. Why internet filters don’t work and why libraries who filter are wrong
  3. Library eBook Revolution, Begin
  4. The eBook User’s Bill of Rights
  5. Just say no to Freegal
  6. Libraries Got Screwed by Amazon and Overdrive
  7. The Creepy Librarian Stalker Hypothesis
  8. OverDrive Has Different eBook Catalogs for Different Libraries
  9. Notice to publishers: curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal
  10. I’m breaking up with eBooks (and you can too)
  11. All Your Data Are Belong To You: TSA, DHS, devices, and your rights
  12. Wear What You Want: Dressing to Lead in Libraries

I want to give a big shout out to a few people who hugely impacted my writing and this blog.  Michael Stephens and Aaron Schmidt are the ones who inspired me to write a blog in the first place.  Cris Miranda needs some major props for the current site’s design (which is still frigging amazing–kitties!).  And Blake Carver of LIShost has been hosting this bad boy for a long time now and doing a damn fine job of it too.

And finally, thanks to all of my readers out there, some of whom have been with me for the entire decade.  Your response continues to be humbling and awe-inspiring.  Here’s to another ten years!

The Wrong Love

December 20, 2013 | Comments (16)

heartMuch is written about love and libraries.  There is ILoveLibraries.org, a site created by the American Library Association.  The site does many things toward library and librarian advocacy, including the I Love My Librarian award.  There is also the Love Libraries website run out of the UK, promoting UK libraries.  There is also a We Love Libraries film and Pew has been doing a ton of research on libraries, much of it focused on how much people love and value libraries.

I believe that we are having the wrong conversation.

The conversation we should be having is how much we in libraries love our communities.

We who work in, for, and around libraries know that people love and value the work we do. The loud rumblers, grumpy naysayers, and anti-all-public-service stinkpots are few and far between (though indeed they do be loud).  We get validation all the time from our communities, from the small “thank you” after a reference question to a huge donation from a grateful patron.  If we know that we’re essential to the community, that people love and trust us…why are we constantly expending energy to remind the people we serve of that very fact?

In thinking about this issue, I can’t get away from the image my brain conjures up of a librarian hurriedly following someone on the sidewalk shouting pronouncements like “All your neighbors love libraries!” and “You love us. Don’t forget that you love us!”

Are we truly that defensive that we feel we have to prove our worth through reminding the people we serve that they think we’re so frigging awesome that they’d better keep loving us or else risk societal shunning?  This defensive posture does not serve us well.  It does not prove our worth, but rather sounds like a whinging adolescent trying to convince himself that he’s cool by telling the cool kids “I’m cool – no really I am!”

And that’s the crux of the issue.  I don’t think we focus on “library/librarian love” for the sake of our communities, to remind them of what we do so they’ll use us more, as an outreach or advocacy tool, or as a political move to solidify our value in the minds of stakeholders.

We do it to make ourselves feel better.

In a time of decreasing employment for MLIS-holders, reductions or (at best) stagnation of library funding, and a nearly unprecedented increase in demand and workload (my library is a good example of this), I think that some librarians and other library workers are feeling rather unappreciated and pessimistic about the future.  But of course we can’t say that out loud in public, so instead we mount these library/librarian love campaigns and beg other people to validate our existence.

What bothers me most about this is that nearly everyone I’ve ever met who works in a library, no matter the position or type of library, believes wholeheartedly in what we do for a living.  The way I phrase it is “We democratize information and expertise.”  We all believe in that goal.  We fight for it.  We believe in what we do because…(wait for it)…we love our communities and want to serve them to the best of our ability.

Most library staffers I know bend over backward to serve people.  We live in the communities we serve.  We love our neighbors.  We love information, freedom of access, education, and entertainment.  We who work in libraries love them more than anyone else.  But what do we love more than libraries?  The communities we serve.

And that, my friends, is what we should be focusing on.  We should be campaigning that “The Library Loves You”…not begging for loving scraps of endearment ourselves.

Shifting that viewpoint, changing the looking glass, is going to be my goal for the beginning of 2014.  I hope you will join me.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Digital Signage: Bridging the Divide

Suzanna Conrad and Young Lee

Suzanna presented first. At Cal Poly Pomona they are using a hybrid print and digital signage library.  She feels they do a good job of not over-using signage.  Digital signage allows you to have multiple concepts per sign, but requires a higher level of skill and can be expensive to install or move.  Principles of good signage—it should be positive and welcoming.  Signage is always a work in progress and thinking about what makes sense to people.  How much do your patrons really need to know?  She showed a couple of photos of libraries with multiple signs all next to each other and confusing.  Develop a sign policy with the purpose of digital signage, terms of use, the approval process, technical guidelines and specifications, how to develop a good sign, and copyright/licensing issues.  The biggest problem is still content.  It takes time to generate content (especially video content).  The message needs to be visually pleasing.  Tips for effective PowerPoint slides for signage – answer who/what/where/when/how but only if you have to, limit content and text, adjust for distance viewers, does each slide make sense when viewed separately?  Tips for generating effective video content – get a camera editing program, and find tech savvy or tech eager staff, shoot and edit in the right format (4:3 vs. 16:9), be aware of the length of each video clip, use transitions appropriately, does each frame make sense when viewed separately?  Alternative content from the web—creating a feed page, finding free APIs or feeds, determining how content should be displayed or rotated.  They’re currently running videos with WMP, VBS, scripts, and task schedulers.  They’re testing Apple TVs to replace the WMP process.  They’re also investigating proprietary system add-ons and open source digital signage systems.

Young then presented about his library’s attempt to make legal resource orientation more engaging and interactive.  His library was looking for digital signage that had interactive capabilities, could provide an orientation in an engaging fun manner, and which leverages game theory.  Some of the commercial systems available are the Viewsonic 42” ePoster ($2500, built-in media player) or the 22” ePoster.  Commercial system pros: turnkey, features, quality, support.  Commercial system cons: proprietary, limited options, expensive.  Things to keep in mind if you choose a DIY solution—content, delivery method, display method, make it easy to use and maintain, secure, reliable, inexpensive, looks good, and upgradable.  Tons of options: Smart HDTVs, HDTV monitor + desktop computer/Raspberry Pi/Android mini PC, streaming devices like Roku/AppleTV/Chromecast, all in one computer+monitor, or tablets.  He chose to set up an Android driven system.  The Android OS (mobile) is light on resources, popular, has good management tools, and many available apps.  With Android you can choose tablets, all-in-ones, or mini PCs.  Performance is decent, the devices are readily available, and they’re inexpensive. AutoStart is a good app that will start an app at boot.  SureLock Kiosk Lockdown secures the system and has a free version available.  Dropsync lets you do a full autosync with Dropbox –keep the files all in one place and have multiple kiosks grab the updated files immediately.  Other apps to look at for digital signage: Web Server Ultimate (fully functional server), SureFox Kiosk Browser, OfficeSuite 7, and Digital Photo Frame Slideshow (or Web).  They’re using an HTML5 WebApp–it’ offers offline caching and updating, is content cross platform, interactive and touch-capable, you can easily reuse content on a website, and the kiosk browser app has lots of features built-in.  Some caveats–Android mini PCs have weak wifi strength, some lack true 1080p capability.  Design challenges include mounting and installation.  For the future–no touching but swiping in the air.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Building a Participatory Library

Matthew Hamilton

Matt presented on the programs of his library, the Anythink Library in Colorado.  We’re here to refine and refresh the services we bring to our communities.  Increasing participatory opportunities is consistent with the changed expectations from the public.  Retailers are changing their approach to bring people into brick and mortar stores – e.g. Converse offering concerts.  This works for libraries and museums as well.  We need to keep the different generations engaged.  As much as people like socializing online, there’s been a push-back toward creating genuine in-person experience.  By supporting patrons’ opportunities to express themselves and contribute dialog to the public sphere, we stay true to our values of access to information.

Instead of thinking about how they were going to build and lay out new buildings, they thought about how they would create an experience for their users.   Matt recommends reading The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon.  The 5 stages of engagement are a useful construct to use in examining how institutional experiences measure up.  Library models of participation—Library 2.0, library as conversation, library as platform.  A majority of Americans used a public library in the past year – 59% used the physical library or the library website or both.

The Digital Public Library of America is attempting to bring to life the idea of library as platform.  Matt wants us to think about diversifying our participatory experiences—taking them from the digital realm and into the physical realm.

There are three categories of public participation in scientific research.

Contributory projects have community members sharing information.  Example: people writing valentine’s cards about someone they love and posting them up on a wall in the library.  Another example: they asked a question—Would you risk jail time to defend your favorite book (yes or no). People voted with tokens.

Collaborative projects involves community members having an influence over the outcome of the project.  Example: They have an outdoor classroom, providing the space and most of the materials.  The kids decide what to do with it.  The library brought in goats to eat back some overgrown areas of land.  This accidentally turned out to be a participatory experience as people asked the goat handlers questions.

Co-creation participation.  Example: community gardens provided by the library—dirt, water, space, plot sign-ups.  After that, though, the community members form teams, set policies, organize group buys and watering schedules.  This met organizational goals of increasing access to healthy foods and building a sense of community.  Each garden runs differently because it’s decided by the local users themselves.  Another example: National Dance Day.  Although initiated by a library staff member, most participants came through word of mouth.  They didn’t know what the outcome would be but provided the tools.

A project intended to be contributory but that ended up being co-created.  They make experience zones—small interactive exhibits (think of it as an unstaffed program).  The zen garden they set up became a sandbox play space—people brought in their own beach toys.  Their CompuGirls program teaches girls various technology and software skills and learn about social justice.  The library provided the space and promoted it, but the CompuGirls staff designed and offered the program.

The library revamped their space to add group collaboration rooms, technology space, etc.  At a branch where they don’t have space for a permanent installation of this type of space, they have “the studio” which offers teens the opportunity to participate as much as they want with the software and technology available.  They had a Grammy night where teens who’d made videos, music, etc. were given awards.

For participatory services to work you need institutional commitment — budgetarily and for staff to be trained and willing to work with the community in new and different ways.  At Anythink they build from day one a set of expectations that staff will be open to experimentation and their customers’ curiosity.  Staff and supporters are handed a great poster that begins–“You are not just an employee, volunteer, or board member.”  There is still staff reticence to new ideas.  When they opened their first digital media lab staff were intimidated and afraid.  At their annual Tech Fest staff development day they divided into groups based on interests and worked with mentors to produce content and showcase it at the end of the day.  A spirit of play helps staff meet customer needs with a light heart.  The organization also becomes more flexible.  People crave experiential learning.  Look at your organization’s goals and form participatory library experiences to support them.  The library must be committed to increasing participation.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Beyond Literacy: Exploring a Post-Literate Future

Mike Ridley

[Sarah's note: No, I was not doing LSD or taking mushrooms before or during this talk, believe it or not.]

Ridley said he was here to talk about “the welcome demise of literacy.” Reading and writing are doomed. Literacy as we know it is over.  Welcome to the post-literate future.  He’s talking about alphabet systems and writing systems when he says “literacy.”  The premise is that just as the powerful capability of literacy displaced primary orality, it is inevitable that literacy will be replaced by a more powerful tool, capacity, or capability.

He’s been on sabbatical and published an eBook-like-thing called Beyond Literacy that came out as a series of blog posts originally.  He wanted U Toronto iSchool students to be co-creators of this.  The irony that a discussion of the death of literacy   is in a book format does not escape him.  They set up a Pinterest site for the bibliography.

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan

The literacy/writing box limits us.  What is beyond that box, that tool, that could open up new ideas?  The alphabet warps us and limits us.  So we should get rid of it and move beyond it.

He makes a distinction between written language and spoken language.  There are very few written languages.  Most languages (97%) don’t have a written equivalent.

We have too much information.  Our environment has lots of stuff and it’s reached a point where we can’t deal with it.  We face this “too much information” problem regularly as a culture.  At these iterations we develop new tools.  The writing systems we have are not that good—it takes a long time to learn.  It’s addictive too.

So what’s post-literacy look like?  Cognitive neural implants, perhaps.  To him, though, he thinks that’s hyperliteracy—it wouldn’t change the undercurrent of our literary selves.  Telepathy? What if we all were telepathic, that it’s a capability we all have that’s just suppressed?  Collective unconscious? If we elevate ourselves to a higher level, do we become the Borg?  Could pharmacology replace writing? People have been taking drugs to understand the universe for centuries.

Technologically we are closer to creating computers that are way smarter than we are, using a concept of computing intelligence in the abstract.  Machine code is going to take over.

Or maybe it’s not about us at all.  We like to put ourselves at the center of history. Maybe it’s really about “that next evolution,” the next species that’s coming along.  Maybe the new toolset/change is the post-human species.

Can you maintain the self in a collective unconscious or a post-human species?

We’ll go through this phase and it will take a while to get this next iteration right.  We’ll have to go through this transition and that’s fine.

What about the physiology of information?  This is a tremendously interesting time for neurology. Where will this science take us?  The brain is a soup of proteins, neurons, synapses, redundancies, and chemicals.  Connectivity is a huge piece of it.  Information is stored in this soup…it’s not an alphabetic component but a biological structure.

What about cognitive pharmacology?  What if we could create a drug that would grown in your mind a particular understanding or idea?  Take a pill, learn French.  This would be the end of learning.

Mind-melding is powerful. There’s a philosopher who has written a book on mind-melding.  It’s part philosophy and part neurology.  It’s achievable.

Some of his students theorized that aliens would bring us a post-literate culture.

There is a radio station about this research—Beyond Literacy Radio.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Holistic UX: Applying Lessons From the Web Everywhere

Aaron Schmidt

Websites are an important touch point for your users, but they are just one of many touchpoints of the overall user experience with the library. Most library tasks require interaction with multiple touchpoints.  For example, If you want to place a hold and pick up an item—you have physical, customer service, and online touchpoints.  Having a bad website is like taking your grumpiest librarian and putting them on the desk all the time.  We need to be creating all sorts of goodness in our libraries.  Our library websites and digital properties have problems.  Those problems also impact other areas of the library.

Interaction design is arranging things to elicit a certain behavior.   Signage in libraries is an important touchpoint.  The language we use in our catalogs/subject headings is a touchpoint too (cookery vs. cooking).  Aaron came across a page on a library website with a glossary of library-ese.  Yeah, don’t do that.  Just use common sense language instead.  Our buildings and service points are a touchpoint too.  Paternalistic attitudes in libraries inform the overall user experience.

The overarching issue of not being user focused and having marginal interaction design is also manifested in examining the question “What is the purpose of a library?”  We are more than a place of access.  People’s perceptions of libraries are that we are books.  This isn’t necessarily good because we’re facing some challenges with books and reading in our institutions.  This impacts our users’ experiences with our digital products (e.g. DRM/OverDrive/etc.).  Let’s just imagine for a second that we had something like a great streaming popular content service.  We cannot match the budgets of Amazon, Google, and Apple.  Aiming to do that is letting our competition define us and puts us at a strategic disadvantage.  We can do better and user experience design can help us do this.

Libraries are more than what Joan Frye Williams calls the “grocery store model of librarianship,” where people are expected to come into the library, check something out, then take it home and do something with it.  We’re more than that.  What is a library without people?  Is it a library without a librarian?  Places that provide access to physical copies of content are shuttering—Blockbuster and Borders, for example.  We’re seeing libraries close as well.

We’ve been selling our worth to stakeholders using circ stats, and relying on that one figure for our main reason for being is shortsighted and should be avoided.  This is a tough thing to get beyond.  It’s simply not possible to circulate more materials every year, physical or digital.  Eventually every library will flatline.

Innovation in libraries has been reactive recently.  We wait for trends to happen in the tech world and then we respond by trying to integrate them into our services.  We can go deeper with our innovation.  Go beyond tools.  Examine people’s motivations for using these tools.  For example, no one wakes up and thinks “Wow, I really want to use my measuring cups today.”  No—it’s about the result, making a dessert.  We should focus on the results, not on the tools used to get there.

Design – everything we do in libraries is a design act.  Design is arranging things for a purpose.  The role of the designer is that of a good host anticipating the needs of their guests (a quote from Charles Eames).  Design does not always happen by a creative genius sitting in a corner with a moleskine notebook.  Design is deeper than that and there is a method to designing.   Aaron recommends The Art of Innovation.

There are 5 basic design steps.  Understand a problem.  Observe the behavior around that problem.  Prototype a solution.  Evaluation the prototype.  Implement a solution.

A good design example: The new product from Nest is the Nest Protect, a smoke detector.  Their tagline for the product is “safety should not be annoying.”  You can hush the smoke detector with a wave (sweet!).  Another good example: Porter Airlines.

What is user experience?  It’s not just for technology.  It’s not just tech fixes for problems.  It’s not just customer service.  The goal of user experience design is to create a service or product that is useful, usable, and desirable.

We should do service safaris in our library’s service area.  Assess other services in other places—museums, cafes, etc.  Think about whether the goal of the service was met, what was good about the service, what detracted from the experience, whether or not you were confused at any time during the experience.  Have a debrief meeting to talk about different people’s experiences.

Conduct a UX Audit at the library.  Can members readily approach service points?  Are service points able to adjust to changing needs?  Can members receive assistance when and where they want it?

Next summer Aaron and Amanda Etches have a book coming out through ALA Editions entitled Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to your Library. 

Take a UX Audit to the next level through UX Partners—partnering with someone to do some assessment of your library’s UX.  Because we’re in the middle of it every day we don’t see things accurately anymore.  Find another library and trade off services—swap staff for an audit.  Central to UX is criticism.  Another idea is “work like a patron day.”  Brian Herzog had his library’s staf use the library like a patron in order to evaluate it.

Journey mapping is a useful tool to think about your touchpoints in a whole-library fashion.  Take a common library task, for instance “reserve and pick up an item,” and list all the different steps someone must take to do this task.  It helps you identify touchpoints that can use improvement, what works well and what doesn’t, where there are red flags.

What about our signage in libraries? Do a signage audit.  Are signs regulatory, instructional, directional, idenfitifcational, or informational.  Are any of these signs rogue?  Aaron recommends just taking down as many signs as you can.  You can create templates for your signage—that they all have a cohesive look.

Three books Aaron recommends: Grid Systems, The Non-Designer’s Design Book, and Making and Breaking the Grid.

Contextual inquiry is a useful thing to do with library websites.  If people aren’t using your library spaces and tools as intended, something needs to change.  Observe behaviors of a certain space or tool for 45 minutes and analyze what behaviors you saw.

You must do user research to establish a good user experience.  This helps you move beyond opinions of librarians to actual data.  Where does this user research live?  Establish personas – just like you do for a website.  Use personas to help you plan your building.  Who should be doing this?  A lot of people in libraries—have across-department UX teams.  Get everyone on board with creating a UX vision statement (some idealized version of what you want it to be like to use your library).

We need to play up our physical spaces.  He mentioned the Oak Park Public Library’s Idea Box’s flexible space as an example.  Start collecting things in your library that people can’t get elsewhere (like baking pans and tools).  Create spaces for creation not just consumption.  Likewise, help your community members publish their information.  Connect people with experts in the community.  Libraries should help solve problems.  The H.O.M.E. Page Café (Philadelphia) invited homeless individuals to be employees of the library café.  The Pratt Public Library in Baltimore is a pick-up point for local produce.  A library in Finland opened a new space with nothing in it and they developed the space together with their community.

We are designing for people who are not librarians.  We can’t shout at people loudly enough to get them to use us.  People are more than just sheep that can be herded into a specific place.  We need to listen, not shout.  We need to solve problems.

Read “What’s a Library Worth” in American Libraries in 2007.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Creating a Cohesive User Experience

Ginny Boyer

Ginny is the Discovery Services Librarian for East Carolina University Libraries, but her job also includes system and web librarian responsibilities.  Her staff had drastically different agendas and personalities, different cultures (internal and external), and physically separate divisions with different affiliations.  To be successful she had to be stubborn, use a grassroots effort on neutral ground, and a neutral person in a position of leadership.  Her library has three distinct libraries—the main library, a music library, and a health sciences library.  The virtual library is actually funded separately and has an oversight committee (rather neat).  They had two different OPACs, two different ILLiads, two different database lists, etc. between the main library and the health sciences library.  Problems with this?  Duplication of effort, wasted staff resources, multiplicity of access points, poorly designed and outdated search tools, etc.

They have Summon, the Serial Solutions discovery tool.  They branded it One Search, deployed widgets to both libraries’ homepages, included the libraries’ local catalog records, and found that a major problem existed—at the item level the resource links out to the native OPAC…bad since they had two different OPACs.

Consolidation was a dirty word.  Instead they said “collaboration” or “unification.” You have to have a strong project manager and strategic leadership.  Everyone has to be willing to give a little.  You need tech folks to play nicely or tech leaders to be involved directly with the projects.  And finally, communication and interaction across departments is key.

They created a combined catalog, which was a big deal to them—the first time they had one tool for the library as an entity.  The problem was the branding for “ECU Libraries.”  Each library has an independent website—no one site for the libraries.  The newly developed ECU Libraries page is mobile optimized, simple, and clean.  Front and center is the search with three graphical links to each of the three libraries underneath.  Spin-offs from this have been a combined ILL page a single system and log-in.  Book Recall form—got the circulation staff talking about standardizing policies for users too.  Suggest a Purchase form—got collection development talking between the two libraries.  Ask a Librarian—there were three and now there is one.  Two WorldCat Local implementations—now only one.

This work fortified the evolution of the ECU Libraries brand.  It also served as a public declaration of combined efforts to benefit the university.  Their branding was approved by university marketing as an official logo.  And most importantly, it created a cohesive user experience under a combined front.

Initially they had tools.  Now, however, they’re looking overall at search tools and usability, user experience and its impact on discovery, the integration of library websites as an essential piece of discovery, and overall access and retrieval concerns as they affect discovery.  So far they’ve consolidated their classic catalog, WorldCat Local, and database lists and also redesigned their LibGuides and LibAnswers.  Their next steps are an implementation of VuFind, redesigning all Serials Solutions pages/tools, and an implementation of BlackBoard Bento.

The websites are a big nut to crack.  They’re hoping to have an ECU Libraries consolidated website.  There is also a room reservation system for one library that they chose to place under the ECU Libraries brand and website.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Usability Testing: On Board and On a Shoestring

Sara O’Donnell and Jodie Borgerding

Sara began by talking about the ideal situation of rolling usability testing into the fabric of your website management.  But if your institution hasn’t done usability testing in the past, how do you communicate that need to your colleagues?  A year ago she was hired into a brand new user experience position at her library.  Her goal was to make usability assessment an ongoing systematic process.  What’s the value of getting your colleagues involved in usability testing? Support—financial, person-power, professional, intellectual.  Colleagues can also offer perspective and help make implementation easier.

Share something about yourself – When you start talking to colleagues about usability testing they likely won’t understand what you’re talking.  So demystify it.  Talk about the 3-7 users rule, which will likely surprise them.  It can also be inexpensive (thank you gifts for participants).  It can also be low tech—you can just do this with a video camera, notes, or Camtasia.  No crazy stats with such a small sample size.  It can also have a fast turnaround time.  Forming a taskforce for usability testing can help, especially if they represent a cross-section of your organization.  Do pilot testing first to let people get their hands dirt with usability testing.

Bring something cool to show and tell – Make usability testing more visual, tangible, and present for people.  She assigned the taskforce homework—to read a couple of Jakob Nielsen’s blog posts (“Usability 101” and “How Users Read on the Web”) and Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy.  She also assigned Krug’s video that corresponds to the book (20 minutes).  At the end of pilot testing they did a brown bag session for other interested staff.

Make new friends – Seek out other committees or groups that can help you, outside the library too in your larger institution (university, city, county, school, company).  Involve public services staff too—they know how the users are using the website and they know where the stumbling blocks are.

Tell good stories (and listen to good stories) – Communicate your users’ needs and stories.  Creative a narrative of the outcome of your usability testing.  Usability testing tells you not only the what but the why.  And don’t be afraid to touch on those higher order institutional priorities.  Make sure you listen to your colleagues’ feedback as well.

Share (your enthusiasm) – If your continually enthused about a project, that transfers to your colleagues.  It can be a challenge if you’re doing ongoing usability testing.

After a year in her position she has standing funding, colleagues with an interest in being a part of usability testing, colleagues who propose new directions for testing, and is working on a major restructuring of the library website’s navigation.

Jodie’s portion of the talk focused on doing usability testing with few or no resources.  The library maintains their own web servers and so they don’t need to work with university IT.  The current website design was implemented in 2009 at the request of the library dean, in response to the university changing its template (library trying to be more in line with the university).  The timeline for that change was short so there wasn’t time for usability testing.  In 2011 they decided to do usability tests on that design to see if it was meeting the needs of their patrons.  They decided on task analysis as a way to evaluate the efficacy of the site.  They spent only $30 on incentive flash drives for participants—that was their whole budget.  They used Adobe Connect, which they already had access to.  Various committee members recruited and observed the participants.  It was hard for the librarians to not intervene when observing the participants take a wrong turn or get confused (LOL, totally true).

They did 3 months of testing—two faculty, two staff, and one undergraduate student. There was inconsistency with the recording — only two of them ended up being satisfactory quality-wise.  Also, some of the tasks were confusing to users (which is true to life–some of their tasks are confusing to them).

Lessons learned.  Task one person to record and observe who actually knows how to use the technology.  Test the tasks beforehand, ideally with a non-library person.  Revise the task list again and again.

Future plans: The university has adopted a new CMS and design but the library fortunately did not have to move to the new system.  An extensive needs assessment demonstrated that the university’s CMS did not meet their needs (it didn’t support forms, third party widgets, etc.).  They’re now doing a new redesign of the library’s site, starting with a satisfaction survey and card sorting.