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.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Web Trends to Watch in 2014

David Lee King

Mobile Trends

1)   Mobile-First Design – Everybody’s website is mobile now, whether or not you designed it to be so.  You want things you can touch, big obvious buttons, no weird navigation menus that only work well on a desktop.  If you can’t do it on mobile, maybe you don’t need it on the big website either.  Why are we so focused on mobile first?  56% of American adults have smart phones.  David’s library website sees 20% of people coming to it on a smart phone and 10% on a tablet.

2)   Responsive Design – The code base shrinks and stretches to different screens.  Content and buttons that rearrange themselves and optimize themselves for the device.

Designy Things

1)   Simplicity – Simple design that lets text and images speak for themselves.  David highlighted the Oak Park Public Library’s website as a good example of this.

2)   White Space – This helps emphasize important content on a page.  Lawrence Public Library is a good example of this. (Sarah’s note: This library is doing Nerd Nite apparently, which is awesome! That’s something I’m trying to bring to my library too! Anyone who works for Lawrence, talk to me!)

3)   No Flash – Apple dumped it and websites are dumping it fast.  Instead use HTML5.

Visual Design

1)   Parallax Design – 3D-ish, cool wow factor that’s fun and gives depth to the page.  The iOS7 update’s motion thing utilizes this, as does the Spotify website.

2)   Flat Design – Clean visual design and use of color.  He cites Princeton Library and Des Moines Public Library (new design that isn’t live yet) as examples.  Color makes things pop instead of fancy design elements like shadows or gradients.

3)   Blocking – Pinterest, Facebook’s new timeline, Flickr’s photo display.  NYPL’s recent redesign is using this also.  David doesn’t think it works well on a library site because content gets lost. (Sarah’s note: I totally agree…come on NYPL, you’re a huge urban library with resources…get your design chops together for the sake of the rest of us. Your last few web designs have been rather bad…a victim of design by committee perhaps?).

4)   Big Images – Centering a website is popular right now.  Using visual cues for something important and useful.  Multonomah County Library does this with a background image.  David says to be sure that the background image isn’t the focal point of your website though.

5)   Colors – Color is huge right now, but designers are disagreeing on what color combinations are popular.  A couple of ideas – Ask people what colors they like, or use Adobe Kuler (color scheme generator).


1)   Web Fonts – We’re no longer limited to 2-4 web safe fonts.  We can use Typekit or Google Fonts to choose interesting fonts that will actually display on users’ devices through CSS grabbing the font off of Google or Typekit instead of the user’s device’s fonts.  The Really Simple website is an example of this.  This is better for SEO because we can have more of our words be text instead of images.  Check out and


1)   Video – There’s a continued increased presence of video on websites of all types.  CNN’s main page has 25 videos (someone from the audience guessed “too many”—yup).   78% of online adults have watched online videos—how-to videos, music videos, comedy, etc.  What should libraries do? Learn to make videos.  Dump that video to YouTube and Facebook.  People like to watch things.  Don’t be afraid of a camera.

2)   Social Media – It’s still big…go figure (says David).  It’s a great way to push out your content.  It makes the library known.  David’s Library had a Painted Piano around and recorded people playing it and posted it on social media.  People respond well to pictures and video, not just text.  Make sure you have pointers on your website to social media, and from social media back to your website.

Usable Navigation

1)   Large Buttons – Firefox’s website is a good example of this.  David recommends using buttons for a call to action—“Ask Now” or “Download.”

2)   Vertical Scrolling – You want easy access to a navigation menu at the top, which stays put, but you can still scroll down (called a sticky navigation bar).  Happy Cog’s website is a good example of this.  Same with the vertical share menus that you see on many sites.

Start working on these things, incorporate a few of them into what you’re doing now.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Designing Our Future

Lewis Belfont 

As leaders of the change process it’s important to ask ourselves three questions: Who are we / what is our library’s brand?  What do we do / what is our business?  Why is it important?

Lewis works for the Howard County Library System.  During a strategic planning approach  they assessed the environment in which they operate to come to a fundamental understanding of who they are, what they do, and why it’s important.

Appreciative inquiry is a philosophy and methodology of change.  All human systems, and an organization is a human system, have times when they perform optimally.  We need to identify those times of peak performance and the factors responsible in order to build our future for those factors to thrive.

Appreciative inquiry is founded on principles:

1)   Constructionism – what is your functional organizational structure?

2)   Anticipatory – the images of things we anticipate area  powerful reality in and of themselves.

3)   Poetic – an organization’s story is continually being co-authored by the people within and outside the organization. The past, present, and future are endless sources of learning and inspiration.  We have a choice about what we study, investigate, and focus our attention on.

4)   Positive – Momentum for change requires hope, inspiration, and joy in creating with one another.

A common approach to strategic planning is SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).  Appreciative inquiry is an alternative.  Conversations produce knowledge—new ideas, perspectives, understandings, and potential for action.  There is usually a small group within any institution that guides strategic planning—who are more involved and push forward more than others (well, yeah, of course).  Leaders of organizations are responsible for defining the future but also developing shared meanings and understandings.

The process of appreciative inquiry has 4 phases: discovery—dream—design—destiny—all surrounding a positive core. (Sarah’s note: what kind of double-speak alliterative nonsense is this?).  This process management is something you can do yourself.  You don’t need an outside facilitator. Using a staff day for appreciative inquiry is a good idea…you can do this whole process in one day.

What has been a time of your organization’s greatest success?  Think about a time… Tell us about a time when… Tell us about your proudest accomplishment…  Then identify themes—commitment to excellence, community connections, exceptional customer service, winning teamwork, everyone a leader, etc.

He recommends reading The Encyclopedia of Positive Questions, a book that helps structure questions in a positive way.  Probe to discover sources of success.  Engage external stakeholders through a traditional survey and a community leadership breakfast.  Dream – tell us what the library will look like in the future when every strength is operational.  How do we make these dreams a reality?  What new organizational architecture needs to exist?  What service initiatives need to be in place?  When we talk about designing our future it involves getting everyone inside and outside the library invested in this future.  That’s not easy to accomplish.  But the reward is a much more profound and deeper commitment.

Internet Librarian 2013 – The New Library Patron

Lee Rainie

Rainie’s slides are up at

Rainie summed up his presentation as 5 points (supported by a veritable butt-ton of statistics from Pew, as we have come to lovingly expect from Rainie).

1. Libraries are deeply appreciated, especially for their community impact.

91% of people say libraries are important to their communities and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families.  People are significantly more concerned about the library’s impact on their community than on their own family (when asked what the impact would be if the local public library closed).  People have more confidence in us and think we’re more important than the military, small businesses, the police, and the church (among a whole slew of other institutions including, interestingly, public schools).  Firefighters and nurses are the only two institutions that rival the library’s public reputation and trust.  Rainie recommends having libraries challenge the local firefighters to tug-of-wars and trivia contests.  We’d lose one and win one 😉  People like librarians a lot too.  98% of people who ever visited a library say that their interactions with librarians are very or mostly positive.  81% of people say we’re very helpful.  50% of people got help from a librarian last year.  No other public institution has that level of everyday interaction with the community.  Our rebranding of ourselves as tech hubs has been slow going, but now 77% of people say free access to the computers and internet is a very important library service (compared with 80% who say the same things about both books and reference librarians). But then an equal number of people say that the library’s function as a quiet study space is very important.  26% of people surveyed use in-library computers, and here’s what they do with them: research for school or work, browse the internet for fun, use email, get health information, visit government websites, looked for and applied for jobs, social networking, online video, online retail, paid bills, and taking online classes.  Libraries are a platform as well as a place for interesting people.

2. Libraries have a PR problem.

People don’t know what we have and what we do.  Half of people surveyed say they know some of what is going on at the library. 30% know not much or nothing at all of what libraries offer.  Rainie says these numbers should distress us.  There are ways for us to address this knowledge gap though.  Library non-users are primed to listen.  They like us, they read books, and they have at one point or another visited a library.  We have to start selling ourselves in ways we never used to have to do, and perhaps are uncomfortable with.

3. Library patrons are diverse, but there are some groups who are quite removed from the library world.

Library users are largely women, are not 65+ (Rainie highlighted that seniors are less likely to have been a recent library user, something that runs counter to my own intuition—I want to know more about that…), have completed some college or graduate school, and are parents.  Parents over-index on everything.  They use every type of service than anyone else, they are more likely to say we’re important, etc.  Job 1 for us should be evangelizing to parents—find the mommy bloggers! Who uses library websites? Those same groups, but at a slightly lower percentage point.  Rural users are somewhat less likely to have visited the library or used the library website.  Top reason library use increased for people = enjoy taking their children or grandchildren.  Top reason library use decreased for people = they can get books, do research online, and the internet is more convenient.  Sometimes getting an eReader drives people to use the library more.  There is a large detached population out there that should matter to libraries.  44% say no one else in their households uses the library, 39% don’t have library cards, 33% say if the library closed it would not have an impact on them, 20% never remember family members visiting the library when they were growing up, 19% have never visited a library, 16% didn’t read a book in the last year, and 9% don’t know where the nearest library is.  In early 2014 Pew will be doing a new library survey – What kind of library user are you?  This survey will go beyond demographics and look at people as information and technology consumers.  A quiz widget will be forthcoming to help librarians gather local data (look for that soon-w00t!)

4. Patrons’ “wish list” for new services is extensive and pretty undifferentiated.

The most enthusiastic people for new tech-based services are women, non-internet users, African Americans, Latinos, Spanish-speakers, parents of minors, and urban residents. (Sarah’s note: Umm, that’s most of my population then….Right-o).  People were asked if the library should move some print books and stacks out of public locations to free up more space for things like tech centers, reading rooms, meeting rooms, and cultural events.  The response to this was mixed…  The people who adore us and are our regular users said “NO!” while our non-users are the ones who are asking us to do it.  As Rainie said, this is our biggest dilemma summed up in one sentence.  It’s difficult for innovators to abandon our customer base in order to innovate. Why screw around with our users?  Disruptive sources…disruptive sources, son.  Raine recommended two books: The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution.  The second book states that in order to truly innovate in institutions that have deep pockets of resistance to change, you have to set up a skunkworks, a separate parallel institution, in order to facilitate any real innovation. Word.  Users would like the most from us (in terms of new servies): online ask-a-librarian services, cell phone apps for library services, tech petting zoos, GPS app to navigate the library, kiosks for library checkouts around town, personalized recommendations, classes on downloading eBooks, pre-loaded eBook readers, digital media labs, and instruction on using eReading devices.  African Americans and Latinos are especially enthusiastic about libraries offering these new services.

5. Libraries have a mandate to intervene in community life.

These are big numbers! 77% of people think libraries should coordinate more closely with local schools to provide resources to kids.  77% also think libraries should offer free early literacy programs to help young children prepare for school.  Part of this is the affection for libraries and librarians, but people also think the library has some “secret sauce” that the local schools don’t (they trust us more).  Libraries are at once people, place, and platform.  Some examples of market and cultural shortcomings libraries are (and could) address: technology non-users/skills training in new literacies, pre-school programs, after school activities, English as a Second Language issues, lifelong learning opportunities and credentialing competency, fill gaps in local media ecosystems by performing community and civic information curation, help small businesses and non-profits, and be serendipity agents of discovery (as people set up more filters for information they miss out on serendipitous discovery…which we can help with).

Internet Librarian 2013 – The Next Big Thing

Roy Tennant and Emily Clasper

Roy started this talk by noting how difficult it is to predict the future accurately.  The last big thing was the graphical web and that was 20 years ago.  What’s happened in the last 20 years has been incremental in nature.  Asking now “what’s the next big thing” is therefore a lot of pressure.  A few things that Roy’s watching that keep him awake at night or is interested in: 1) The Maker Movement: This is potentially very personally empowering.  2) MOOCs: This will have an impact on how people give degrees, but it’s too early to tell what the impact on academia and libraries will be.  3) Open Access Movement: Getting to a real tipping point.  When a highbrow institution like UC requires faculty to deposit their work in an open access repository, this will really affect libraries in the present and future.

Emily notes that MOOCs have taken learning out of the hand of the institution and placed that control in the hands of the user.  What do we as professionals need to be doing in our own learning experience to be able to facilitate that for our users?  This is affecting not just college students but lifelong learning too.  Consider the “library as service” model—the library is everywhere.  If you, the librarian, are in the community then the library is there with you…tapping into information and providing expertise and resources.  Lastly, Emily believes we’ll see success measurements coming more to the forefront of library conversations.  How do we tell our success stories to our stakeholders?  Circ stats don’t cut it.  Are you even asking the right questions about what constitutes a success for a library?

Then it opened up for group discussion.  Some of the points highlighted by the audience: contextual awareness in web services, empower ourselves to take back what IT is doing and bring it back into the library, EveryLibrary PAC, being out in the community more, getting more art into the library, self-publishing through the library, telling our story differently to our stakeholders to communicate our relevance, gigabit connectivity to libraries, putting storytelling into the hands of the users, as libraries become places of making and idea creation can we help our users capitalize on that (patent lawyers were mentioned), followed by lawsuits for intellectual property infringement, knowledge audits, targeting/offering library-offered tech/software classes to city employees, reviving the people’s university idea in libraries, the move of periodical publishers limiting access to their content online (a role for libraries?), libraries being “the support center” for our communities about any topic, reexamining the bad terms of the licensing agreements we’re subject to that prohibit resource sharing between libraries, doing less with less, providing more at-home streaming services through libraries (which we can’t do because of freaking licensing agreements…dammit).

Internet Librarian 2013 – Big Data: Fitting the Framework

Amy Affelt 

Let’s begin by taking the “big” out of big data. It’s just data.  We’ve always worked with data.  Our role as librarians isn’t to get big data, but to get bigger data.  We’re very good at finding valuable, credible information and that’s what we should be doing in the context of business problems.

The big data communication framework: Understand the business problem. Determine impact measurements.  Discover available data. Decide which data is most valuable (where did the data come from, which data can be merged). Formulate hypothesis(ses) (prove and disprove—could a change in conditions affect assumptions).  Communicate the business impact of the results.

Example: Hurricane Sandy.  The challenge – sea gate costs would be $50 billion vs. the aftermath costs of the storm.  Data to consider include sea gates costs and maintenance costs.  Storm surge aftermath costs include infrastructure rebuilding, lost revenue, insurance payouts, tourism loss, etc.  Sources of data—government websites, commercial building firms, chambers of commerce, building associations, etc.  Hypothesis—the data might show that sea gates are cheaper than disaster aftermath costs.  What do the results show or not show?

Big Data Analysis, Brought to You by Librarians.  Storytelling with data is a skill we bring as librarians.  The story of a storm: damage caused by surge not storm, list of damages, remedies and costs, alternative of sea gates and costs.

Amy then had us work on specific “big data” scenarios at our tables.  A good learning process!

Internet Librarian 2013 – Responsive Web Design

Ben Bizzle, assisted last-minute by Jeff Wisniewski

Ben wins for the best slide presentation title so far: Please Web Responsibly.

Ben came to his library, the Craighead County Jonesboro Library, several years ago and the website was pretty friggin’ bad.  Spinning GIFs, different fonts, bad layout, etc.  They started working on a new design for the website immediately – about 4 years ago it launched.  The focus was on simplicity—making decisions easy for users.  The website was designed in Drupal and the mobile site was designed in WordPress.  The mobile site had access to a limited subset of the main website’s information, the calendar, EBSCO databases, staff picks, etc.

They recently launched a new main website that is completely responsive.  They tried to design with the F-pattern in mind.  Their mobile site today has the same content as the main website.  You have to make decisions, though, for mobile about what to turn off, reorder, and prioritize.

Ben emphasized that libraries should have mobile sites, not apps.  Libraries are portals to a whole bunch of resources—apps are self-contained.  A huge benefit of responsive web design: every change you make to your website is reflected in every single user’s interaction with your site, no matter the device.  If you’re using an app for your mobile content, users would have to update their app before they’d see the new content/changes.

The front end of your website has to be fully responsive, clean, elegant, simple, and function as a true information and entertainment portal.  A lot of companies promote themselves backward.  Think of what we do as a series of concentric circles, starting on the outside with the What, then the How, and the very smallest circle in the center is the Why.  Many organizations start from the outside and work their way in.  You should instead start with the Why, and work your way out.

When someone goes to your website and has a bad experience and sees outdated design, they make a judgment about you and your services.   We’re competing with companies, not just libraries.  Is our site competitive with Amazon or iTunes?  If not, fix that.

Responsive ROI for their website – 4 year life cycle, 185,000 visits per year, $18,000 cost, which works out to only $0.025 per visit.  Yay for numbers!

Internet Librarian 2013 – Responsive Web Design from the Trenches

Jeff Wisniewski

Jeff started his session with a definition of responsive web design.  It’s crafting a single site to provide an optimal experience across a wide range of devices.  Responsive design has become popular because of the wide variety of screen sizes, orientations, and operating systems.  There’s this whole range of devices people are using to access our websites.

Who’s gone responsive already? Microsoft, TechCrunch, and some libraries.  A responsive site doesn’t just resize, it changes dynamically.  Some things disappear, other new things appear.  Why not a dedicated mobile site?  People are doing things on mobile devices in a similar way to what they do on a desktop.  Maintaining a mobile site is redundant, and there’s no need to leverage special device capabilities for a library site.  Responsive design is thinking and doing mobile first.  Anything will work on mobile.  You also need to have a content strategy and design responsively.

Designing for mobile first means designing with touch in mind by creating larger targets and having more white space.  All images should add value.  Designing for content first means that all design flows from the content.  Do a content inventory and identify whether items are outdated, need to be deleted or rewritten, etc.  “Writing for the web is now writing for mobile.”  Be concise and clear, chunk content out.

Your site needs to be responsive under the hood too.  It should be a flexible grid-based layout (using percentages, not pixels), use media queries, and if you’re using images or other media to make those flexible and responsive as well.  Flexible grids use relative units (not fixed or absolute).  Media queries are starting with small screens first by setting a minimum width, then retooling.  At a certain width, set the design to remove a column, move something, etc. to optimize it for different screens.  Where you insert these break points depends on the content…don’t set the break point at 320, the width of an iPhone screen, but rather at 300…before it maxes out to popular screen sizes.  Responsive images – serve different sized images or different images entirely according to the platform someone is using.  Avoid simply hiding them since they’re still served, taking up bandwidth.

A responsive redesign process requires adjustment.  The design process needs to be agile, more circuitous than linear.  Part of the reason is that you’re working across form factors—you can’t do that linearly.  Start with a content inventory, then do content prioritization, create content reference wireframes, and rewrite all content (thinking “mobile first”).  Create a breakpoint graph, design fo the various breakpoints, sketch and wireframe, do usability testing (on paper, people…paper dammit!), and functional testing (and repeat), and then create the HTML design prototype.

Staff tend to get nervous with responsive web design because you’re doing so much on paper, so much planning…and only in the last phase is there actual tangible coding going on.   If you can get someone in your organization, higher up, to give you a design directive in writing it makes it easier for you to move forward.

Three cheers for frameworks!  Frameworks are packages (think toolkits, or templates) made up of a structure of files and folders of standardized code (HTML, CSS, JS, etc.) which can be used to support the development of websites as a basis to start building a site.  Most widely-used frameworks – Skeleton, Omega, Bootstrap.  Jeff’s library used Skeleton.

Tips, tricks, and lessons learned…  It was hard to resist the urge to start coding earlier.  Rewriting content was time very well spent. Library websites are all still handing off to many non-optimized sites/services (read: our vendor services are not mobile-friendly or responsive…bah!).  You should focus on design, not devices.  You should design in text.  They successfully used personas to test platform use cases.

Internet Librarian 2013 – Opening Keynote – Inspiration Architecture: The Future of Libraries
Peter Morville

The conference’s opening keynote began with Morville saying that the internet has not improved with time. The internet he remembers is a different internet – we had such big dreams. It was a time of promise and hope. We’ve lost some things along the way. His hometown lost its newspaper and their biggest bookstore. Online we’ve lost the “national park for ideas and innovation.” The internet has become increasingly commercial and we’ve lost our privacy along the way.

Information Architecture isn’t enough, but it’s still important. In the 1990s, we talked about IA as structuring and organizing websites. That definition was right for the time but has caused us trouble ever since. Our community has spent so much time arguing over definitions that we have a hashtag for that process: #dtdt (defining the damn thing). We’ve been moving toward a medium-independent definition of IA. One example: “Where architects use forms and spaces to design environments for inhabitation, information architects use nodes and links to create environments for understanding.” (Jorge somebody-or-other).

Morville has worked with the LoC for several years. He wrote a report that the LoC’s information was fragmented and there was a huge problem with findability. The LoC embargoed his report and wouldn’t allow it to be widely disseminated. As our websites become more core to the work of our organizations, people and politics become a huge part of being able to push forward.

Education is changing. Access to information and research is changing. We need to figure out ways to bring parts into a whole that is larger than the sum. He recommends the book Making Learning Whole by David Perkins and also Disrupting Class by Clayton M. Christensen. MOOCs are an opportunity for collaboration between teachers and librarians.

When students are given a research question, they go to Google (of course). It’s fast, easy, and familiar. But it’s also limited, has inaccurate metadata, and has limited advanced search capability. We’re starting to see the results of our reliance on Google. We’re graduating people into the workforce who don’t really know how to search. Librarians are the only ones who speak Boolean. Someone’s going to solve the single search box problem eventually, maybe the MOOCs will do that…

We have an information literacy gulch.  This huge difference in people’s ability to find, organize, and create resources.  We’re painfully aware of the growing gap with respect to income.  Information literacy widens that gap.  He agrees with Larry Lessig that some of these problems can only be solved by striking at the root—corruption.    But part of the problem is culture—we wear blinders.  There is a limited set of information and ideas that we are open to.

We need to explore the limits of information. How do we effect change when information is not enough.  One of the most effective ways of changing behavior is changing the environment.  Immerse yourself in another culture—that’s a great way to take off those cultural blinders.  The book Nudge talks about using psychology to influence choice.  There’s a lot of nudging going on online.  What does it mean when results are sorted by “featured”?  Willpower is more important for academic success than IQ… (true, that).

The Ann Arbor District Library is in a phase of change.  When the current director (Josie Parker) took over, in order to rebuild credibility she set out to build “a culture of generosity.”  Their branches are beautiful buildings. They have contests with “the forgiveness of fines” as a prize.

Libraries, like national parks, teach us that we all benefit when our most valuable treasures are held in common.  With national parks all we need to do is preserve the wilderness that already exists.  But with libraries we’re talking about creating something entirely new.  For this work, we need information architects.  Somebody’s got to focus on that single search box, but that’s not enough.  We also need inspiration architects.  We need folks who can lift us up and inspire us by reminding us that our ability to create and share knowledge and ideas is truly wonderful and amazing.  For that, he’s counting on all of us.

Decisions, Decisions

September 3, 2013 | Comments (15)

I have a hard time making decisions.


Well, that’s only partially true. I actually make decisions very quickly–sometimes instantaneously when faced with a problem to solve or a strategy question.  Given an either/or decision to make, give me 30 seconds max. I make decisions about people very quickly too. Your friend-potential is judged within a few minutes. You go on a date with me and within about 15 minutes I know where things are going (or not going).

See…the problem is that even though I pretty much know my path of action from the first moment (which you can argue the merits of if you want to), I then start to doubt myself.  I run through the million permutations that a decision could take, then the million permutations of the other decisions I already rejected.  I circle fully back to where I started and reaffirm my original decision.  Then I start to worry about whether I missed something, and I do it all over again.  Sometimes I talk things through with colleagues or friends, and sometimes I just let my own brain run rampant all hours of the night…sometimes about relatively inconsequential decisions.  Impending big decisions mean weeks of poor sleep and anxious waking hours.

I think back to some of the decisions that I put off–at work and at home–and I am frustrated by how much mental energy I have expended seemingly unnecessarily.  I ultimately follow my original impulse almost always (we’re talking 99% of the time), and yet I spend countless hours and Xanax prescriptions worrying that my impulse is wrong.

Part of me wonders if this is normal for people in general.  Another part of me wonders if this is merely a symptom of my Type A personality, my anxiety-prone mind, or if it’s a symptom of people in positions of leadership who still give a damn.

The reason for that last one is that I don’t remember having this kind of waffling on decisions–at work or at home–until I first became a manager several years ago.  Maybe I only waffle now because what I do impacts more people (in theory)? Or a fear that a wrong decision will have negative consequences for my career or my colleagues?  Or perhaps experience in the managerial seat has taught me that you’d darn well better run through all the scenarios before jumping?  Or perhaps the simple experience of time and age has taught me to be more cautious or prudent?  Is this simply a sign of a responsible person? Of someone who still cares about the effects of her decisions?

What’s disturbing is that it has definitely bled from my professional life into my personal life. Those personal decisions are just as hard for me to make as the professional ones now.  That’s not good.

I have no idea where it comes from…all I have are guesses.  I know that the indecision I feel is real.  But I still muscle through and make the decisions, including the really big ones, the really hard ones, and the ones that I know will have negative consequences for someone, including me. Ultimately I take the plunge, but I ruminate far too long.

After reflecting on this issue over the last week or so and writing this post, I am going to make a concerted effort to trust my intuition more. My judgement is pretty good both personally and professionally. Sure, sometimes I’m wrong. We all are.  But my instinct is usually right, despite my self-doubt. I need to stop self-doubting and learn some self-confidence. I encourage you to do the same.