ER&L 2013: Listening to Users

“Belinha has more than good looks” by Francisco Martins

What the “Google Generation” Says About Using Library & Information Collections, Services, and Systems in the Digital Age

Speaker: Michael Eisenberg, University of Washington Information School

We’ve moved from scarcity to abundance to overload. We have so many great resources our students don’t know where to begin. They’re overwhelmed.

Think about how our computing technology has evolved and shrank in both size and price while increasing in power over the past 30 years. Where will be 20 years from now?

We live in a parallel information universe that is constantly feeding information back to us. The library is anywhere anytime, so how can we best meet the information needs of our users?

Project Information Literacy seeks to answer what it means to be a student in the digital age. They have been assessing different types of students on how they find and use information to get generalized pictures of who they are.

Why, when you have an information need, do you turn to Google first and not research databases?

Students ignore faculty warnings about Wikipedia. They still use it, but they just don’t cite it.

Students aren’t really procrastinators, they’re just busy. They are working to the last minute because every minute is highly scheduled. Have we changed our staffing or the nature of our services to help them at point of need?

Students don’t think of librarians as people who can help them with their research, they think of them as people who can help them with resources. They are more likely to go to their instructors and classmates before librarians during the research process. The hardest part for them is getting started and defining the topic (and narrowing it down). They don’t think librarians can help them with that, even though we can, and do (or should if we aren’t already).

Students are more practiced at writing techniques than research strategies. Professors complain that students can’t write, but maybe writing shouldn’t be the only method of expression.

Most students don’t fully understand the research process and what is expected. They need clarity on the nature and scope of assignments, and they aren’t used to critical thinking (“just tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you”). Most handouts from profs don’t explain this well, focusing more on mechanics and sending students to the library shelves (and not to databases or online resources). Rarely do they suggest talking to the librarian.

Students are not the multi-taskers we think they are, particularly during crunch time. Often they will use the library and library computers to force themselves to limit the distractions and focus. They use Facebook breaks as incentives to get things done.

After they graduate, former students are good with technology, but not so good with low-tech, traditional research/information discovery skills.

Information literacy needs are more important than ever, but they are evolving. Search to task to use to synthesis to evaluation — students need to be good at every stage. The library is shifting from the role of information to space, place, and equipment. Buying the resources is less of an emphasis (although not less in importance), and the needs change with the academic calendar.

What do we do about all this?

Infuse high quality, credible resources and materials into courses and classes. Consider resources and collections in relation to Wikipedia. Infuse information literacy learning opportunities into resources, access systems, facilities, and services (call it “giving credit,” which they understand more than citing). Provide resources, expertise, and services related to assignments. Re-purpose staff and facilities related to calendar and needs. Offer to work with faculty to revise handouts — emphasize the quality of resources not the mechanics. Offer flexible and collaborative spaces with a range of capabilities and technology, less emphasis on print collection development. Consider school-to-work transitions in access systems, resources, services, and instruction.

Beyond formal instruction, what are the ways we can help students gain the essential information literacy skills they need? That is the challenge for eresources librarians.

conference tweeting etiquette

“Tiny birds in my hand..” by ~Ilse

Conference season, or at least the part of it that appeals to my area of librarianship, is starting soon.

Up first for me is Computers in Libraries in DC, where I won’t be attending, but instead vacationing nearby (since it is so close) and visiting with colleagues and friends who will be attending. I’d go, but I already have funding this year for three conferences, and it didn’t seem fair to ask for another.

Next,  I fly to Austin for the Electronic Resources & Libraries conference. From the venue to the content, this is becoming my favorite conference. I’ve had to actively introduce more diversity to the sessions I choose to attend, otherwise I would spend the whole conference geeking out about use data and spreadsheets and such.

Finally, I head to Buffalo for the conference that shaped me into the librarian I became: NASIG (North American Serials Interest Group). I like this one because I’ve known many of the attendees for the entirety of my relatively short career, and because it works very hard to not be just a librarian conference, but rather an industry-wide discussion of all things serial in libraryland.

It was in the context of thinking about these upcoming conferences that I read the latest Prof Hacker blog post from The Chronicle of Higher Education. Ryan Cordell writes about his experiences with conference tweeting and the recent revelations he has had regarding the impact this can have on the presenters, whether they are active participants on Twitter or not. Many things he wrote resonated with me, and reminded me that Twitter — as well as other popular social media platforms — is no longer the private back-channel of a few techie friends, but is a global platform that can have a broader impact than any of us may know.

I suggest reading the whole article, but I would like to quote here the Principles of Conference Tweeting that Cordell offers, as something for us all to keep in mind:

  1. I will post praise generously, sharing what I find interesting about presentations.
  2. Likewise, I will share pertinent links to people and projects, in order to bring attention to my colleagues’ work.
  3. When posting questions or critiques, I will include the panelist’s username (an @ mention) whenever possible.
  4. If the panelist does not have a username—or if I cannot find it—I will do my best to alert them when I post questions or critiques, rather than leaving them to discover those engagements independently.
  5. I will not post questions to Twitter that I would not ask in the panel Q&A.
  6. I will not use a tone on Twitter that I would not use when speaking to the scholar in person.
  7. I will avoid “crosstalk”—joking exchanges only tangentially related to the talk—unless the presenter is explicitly involved in the chatter.
  8. I will refuse to post or engage with posts that comment on the presenter’s person, rather than the presenter’s ideas.

Moving Up to the Cloud, a panel lecture hosted by the VCU Libraries

“Sky symphony” by Kevin Dooley

“Educational Utility Computing: Perspectives on .edu and the Cloud”
Mark Ryland, Chief Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services

AWS has been a part of revolutionizing the start-up industries (i.e. Instagram, Pinterest) because they don’t have the cost of building server infrastructures in-house. Cloud computing in the AWS sense is utility computing — pay for what you use, easy to scale up and down, and local control of how your products work. In the traditional world, you have to pay for the capacity to meet your peak demand, but in the cloud computing world, you can level up and down based on what is needed at that moment.

Economies, efficiencies of scale in many ways. Some obvious: storage, computing, and networking equipment supply change; internet connectivity and electric power; and data center sitting, redundancy, etc. Less obvious: security and compliance best practices; datacenter internal innovations in networking, power, etc.

AWS and .EDU: EdX, Coursera, Texas Digital Library, Berkeley AMP Lab, Harvard Medical, University of Phoenix, and an increasing number of university/school public-facing websites.

Expects that we are heading toward cloud computing utilities to function much like the electric grid — just plug in and use it.


“Libraries in Transition”
Marshall Breeding, library systems expert

We’ve already seen the shift of print to electronic in academic journals, and we’re heading that way with books. Our users are changing in the way they expect interactions with libraries to be, and the library as space is evolving to meet that, along with library systems.

Web-based computing is better than client/server computing. We expect social computing to be integrated into the core infrastructure of a service, rather than add-ons and afterthoughts. Systems need to be flexible for all kinds of devices, not just particular types of desktops. Metadata needs to evolve from record-by-record creation to bulk management wherever possible. MARC is going to die, and die soon.

How are we going to help our researchers manage data? We need the infrastructure to help us with that as well. Semantic web — what systems will support it?

Cooperation and consolidation of library consortia; state-wide implementations of SaaS library systems. Our current legacy ILS are holding libraries back from being able to move forward and provide the services our users want and need.

A true cloud computing system comes with web-based interfaces, externally hosted, subscription OR utility pricing, highly abstracted computing model, provisioned on demand, scaled according to variable needs, elastic.


“Moving Up to the Cloud”
Mark Triest, President of Ex Libris North America

Currently, libraries are working with several different systems (ILS, ERMS, DRs, etc.), duplicating data and workflows, and not always very accurately or efficiently, but it was the only solution for handling different kinds of data and needs. Ex Libris started in 2007 to change this, beginning with conversations with librarians. Their solution is a single system with unified data and workflows.

They are working to lower the total cost of ownership by reducing IT needs, minimize administration time, and add new services to increase productivity. Right now there are 120+ institutions world-wide who are in the process of or have gone live with Alma.

Automated workflows allow staff to focus on the exceptions and reduce the steps involved.

Descriptive analytics are built into the system, with plans for predictive analytics to be incorporated in the future.

Future: collaborative collection development tools, like joint licensing and consortial ebook programs; infrastructure for ad-hoc collaboration


“Cloud Computing and Academic Libraries: Promise and Risk”
John Ulmschneider, Dean of Libraries at VCU

When they first looked at Alma, they had two motivations and two concerns. They were not planning or thinking about it until they were approached to join the early adopters. All academic libraries today are seeking to discover and exploit new efficiencies. The growth of cloud-resident systems and data requires academic libraries to reinvigorate their focus on core mission. Cloud-resident systems are creating massive change throughout out institutions. Managing and exploiting pervasive change is a serious challenge. Also, we need to deal with security and durability of data.

Cloud solutions shift resources from supporting infrastructure to supporting innovation.

Efficiencies are not just nice things, they are absolutely necessary for academic libraries. We are obligated to upend long-held practice, if in doing so we gain assets for practice essential to our mission. We must focus recovered assets on the core library mission.

Agility is the new stability.

Libraries must push technology forward in areas that advance their core mission. Infuse technology evolution for libraries with the values needs of libraries. Libraries must invest assets as developers, development partners, and early adopters. Insist on discovery and management tools that are agnostic regarding data sources.

Managing the change process is daunting.. but we’re already well down the road. It’s not entirely new, but it does involve a change in culture to create a pervasive institutional agility for all staff.

Charleston 2012: hotel internet sucks edition

Scream by Daria
“Scream” by Daria

And so does the WordPress app for iPad, or at least the current version. I had drafts of the three sessions I attended this afternoon, ready to publish as soon as I returned to my room, which is the only place I can connect to the wifi. As soon as the WordPress connected to update, the contents of all three posts reverted to the blank drafts I had created as placeholders.

Yeah. Pissed. That’d be me right now.

In short:

Eresources librarians need to demonstrate their value to the library/university, and they either need more staff to do the increasing work, or other departments need to suck it up and process e-stuff like they should. And yes, someone needs to handle licensing, but that someone shouldn’t also be responsible for every little tiny detail of eresources management (i.e. cataloging, trouble-shooting, invoices, etc.) when there are staff already handling similar processes for other materials.

Librarians need to learn how to market eresources effectively, and assess their marketing strategies effectively. Marie Kennedy has a book coming out next year that can help you with that.

Eresources librarians (or licensing librarians) need to make sure language supporting text mining is included in their license agreements with publishers. Your researchers will thank you for it later, and your future self will be happy to not have to go back and renegotiate it into existing contracts.

beers, a love story

"11 - beer festival" by Dave Morris
“11 – beer festival” by Dave Morris

I drink beer because I’m a librarian. Or, more accurately, I started drinking beers with my library school classmates in grad school. Mainly because bars in Lexington (Kentucky) didn’t carry wine coolers or Zima. Yeah. It was that bad.

I remember my first NASIG conference in 2002. We were staying in dorm rooms and meeting in classrooms at the College of William & Mary. Back then, NASIG had a tradition of having an evening social with snack food and buckets of iced beer (and probably wine, too, but I definitely wasn’t drinking that then). One of my sharpest memories from the conference is of fishing out a Corona Light because it was all that was left by the last night of the conference. And discovering Purple Haze with Bonnie at the Green Leafe Cafe.

The next year we were in Portland, Oregon. I was introduced to many craft beers, and my journey towards becoming a beer snob was set.

Three years in Washington state taught me to appreciate well-balanced hoppy beer, which was hard to find my first year back on the East Coast. But I soon discovered Mekong, and began my now four-year romance with Belgian beers.

Most recently, I’ve discovered that I do like sour beers, and I suspect that is part of the reason why I’m incorporating more wine into my beverage consumption. That, and maybe the semi-regular meetups with a friend (also a librarian) at Virginia wineries.

Librarians. Who knew they were such lushes?

my presentation at PTPL

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation on our ERMS implementation at the annual meeting of the Potomac Technical & Processing Librarians. It was a great honor to be asked to present along with a panel of other librarians talking about their ERMS. It was also the longest I’ve been asked to speak, and while a completely nerve-wracking experience internally, it seemed to have been well-received. If you are interested, my notes and slides are now available on SlideShare.

my presentation for Internet Librarian 2012

Apologies for the delay. It took longer than I expected to have the file and a stable internet connection at the same time. You’ll find the notes on the SlideShare page.

IL 2012: Transforming Roles: What Do You Want to Be?

monarch butterfly, freshly hatched
“monarch butterfly, freshly hatched” by Joan

Moderator: Donna Scheeder
Speakers: Marshall Breeding, Nicole C. Engard, Scott Brown, Cecily Walker, & Renee Chalut

Cecily thinks that among some people that there is a perception that if you are a techie, you aren’t a “real” librarian, and that bothers her. Regardless of her title, first and foremost, she’s a librarian and advocate for libraries. Whatever you think a librarian is, you’re wrong.

Marshall says that there are a lot of folks who do work in libraries at a lot of levels who don’t have library degrees, and there aught to be many ways to grow up in the profession and contribute as you can.

Audience member says that a lot of her relatives think she’s not a librarian because she doesn’t work in a public library.

Nicole says that the distinction between those who have a library degree and those who don’t does nothing but cause a rift.

Are library schools up to teaching the skill set needed to deal with constant change? Cecily says no, and that they should open up the curriculum so students can learn from other programs/schools. Audience member says that it’s a class issue kind of thing, and some people are uncomfortable with the title “librarian.”

Another audience member says she’s proud to be a librarian and proud to have an MLS, but thinks that you don’t need one to work in a library. She shared an anecdote of an excellent and skilled staff member who was not admitted to a MLS graduate program because of her 30 year old undergraduate GPA.

Scott sees the MLIS as an overlay on the skills he has already. You can’t teach the soft stuff in graduate school. Students need to learn how to think strategically. Renee thinks we need to have courage.

Nicole thinks we need a desire to keep learning, and in three years she hopes she will be doing more of the same, and getting to see libraries becoming more one in the same as she travels. Marshall says you need to think about what is coming in three years and start becoming an expert on it. Cecily says that flexibility has served her best, and although she has no idea where she’ll be in three years, she thinks she’ll be ready for it.

Audience member says she didn’t learn much in library school as far as skills, but she learned attitudes about working with users that is transferable to any kind of library. She says her job is to be a change agent, to be supportive, and to have a professional network that is broad and wide.

What would be your advice to young professionals graduating from library school? Nicole says you didn’t learn it all, so take an internship. You can’t learn it all in school; you have to see what a real job is like. She also recommends finding a mentor.

Michael Sauers says he’s a mentor, but he doesn’t think that he does it in a way that the mentees know they are being mentored.

Cecily says that recent grads should be a special snowflake — find something that you can do that nobody else is doing and let the world know you are doing it. Marshall agrees, continuing on his earlier recommendation of finding a niche. Renee says that if you get hired in a place without a lot of innovation happening, it’s okay to be a little pushy and bring the organization along with you.

“That homeless person who hits you with their socks… that doesn’t happen in library school.” Audience member’s point on how library programs don’t teach the real world.

Audience member says that mentoring today is much easier with technology. Another audience member agrees.

Marshall says there’s the career in your organization and then there’s your career beyond it. The organization might not be able to support your ambitions for your broader career. So do what you can and the pay-off will be in your next job.

Nicole says that if you can’t make your passion your career, find a way to do it anyway.

IL 2012: Sensible Library Website Development

Jakob Lodwick
“Jakob Lodwick” by Zach Klein

Speaker: Amanda Etches

Asked some folks on Twitter why their library has a website. A few of the responses: to link to online resources, to allow access to the catalog, to support research needs, to provide access to resources & services, to teach, to help, to provide access to account function, to post events, to post policies & hours, it’s the primary way our patrons interact with us, and as a two-way communication tool between the library and the community they serve. Audience member noted that marketing your library is missing.

While we are all unique little snowflakes, we aren’t all that unique in our motivations for having a library website. So, how can we learn from each other?

Website planning needs to have a clear understanding of scope. Since most of us have a website, this talk will focus more on redesign than from building from scratch. Most people tend to skip the scoping step when doing a redesign because we assume that it will cover the same stuff we already have.

Sadly, most libraries are like a big, messy junk drawer of stuff. We tend to take a “just in case” approach to designing sites. Less is not more, less is actually less, and that’s a good thing. Consider the signal to noise ratio of your website. What users don’t need is too much noise drowning out the signal. Pay attention to how much you are putting on the site that meets your needs rather than your user’s needs. It’s better for half of your website to be amazing than all of it to be bland.

Think about your website like a pyramid, where the bottom half is the basics, followed by destination information, then participatory components, and finally a community portal. Think of it like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — the basic stuff has to be good or you can’t get to the participatory level.

Etches and some colleagues created a website experiment that is an entire library site on one page called the One-Pager. Freehold Public Library has taken this and ran with it, if you want to see it working in the real world.

Designing for mobility requires you to pare back to what you consider to be essential functionality, and a great way to help scope your website. If you wouldn’t put it on your mobile version, think about why you should put it on your desktop website. Recommend the book Mobile First as an inspiration for scope.

How do you determine critical tasks of a website? As your users. A simple one-page survey, interviews, focus groups, and heat maps. Asking staff is the least useful way to do it.

Web users don’t read content, they skim/scan it. People don’t want to read your website; they want to find information on it. When writing copy for your website, pare it down, and then pare it down again. Your website should be your FAQ, not your junk drawer. Think about your website as bite-sized chunks of information, not documentation. Adopt the inverted pyramid style for writing copy. If you have a lot of text, bold key concepts to catch skimming eyes. Eye-catching headers work well in conjunction with the inverted pyramid and bolded key concepts.

Treat your website like a conversation between you and your users/audience. Pages not be written by passive voiced writers. Write in the active voice, all of the time, every time. Library = we; User = you

It is not easy to redo the navigation on a website. Bad navigation makes you think, good navigation is virtually invisible. Navigation needs to serve the purposes of telling the user: site name, page name, where they are, whey they can go, and how they can search. Salt Lake City Public Library and Vancouver Public Library do this very well, if you want some real-world examples.

It’s very important to match navigation labels to page names. Also keep in mind that your navigation is not your org chart, so don’t design navigation along that. Do not, ever (and I’m surprised we still have to talk about this 15 years after I learned it), use “click here”. Links should be descriptive.

Why test websites at all? A lack of information is at the root of all bad design decisions. Usability testing runs the gamut from short & easy to long & hard. Watch people use your site. It can take just five minutes to do that.

We are not our patrons, so don’t test librarians and library staff. They are also not your primary user group and not the ones you need to worry about the most. Five testers are usually enough for any given test, more than that and you’ll get repetition. No test is too small; don’t test more than three things at once. Make iterative changes as you go along. Test early and often. The best websites do iterative changes over time based on constant testing.

Have a script when you are testing. You want to ensure that all testers receive the same instructions and makes it a little more comfortable for the test giver. Provide testers with an outline of what they will be doing, and also give them a paper list of tasks they will be doing. Remind them that they aren’t the ones being tested, the website is. Don’t tell them where to go and what to do (i.e. “search a library database for an article on x topic”).

From Q&A section:
All of your navigation items should be in one place and consistent across the site.

What do you do when use and usability says that you should remove a page a librarian is keen to keep? One suggestion is to put it in a LibGuide. Then LibGuides become the junk drawer. One way to keep that from happening is to standardizing the look and feel of LibGuides.

For policies, you could put a summary on the website and then link to the full document.

NASIG 2012: Mobile Websites and APP’s in Academic Libraries Harmony on a Small Scale

Speaker: Kathryn Johns-Masten, State University of New York Oswego

About half of American adults have smart phones now. Readers of e-books tend to read more frequently than others. They may not be reading more academic material, but they are out there reading.

SUNY Oswego hasn’t implemented a mobile site, but the library really wanted one, so they’ve created their own using the iWebKit from MIT.

Once they began the process of creating the site, they had many conversations about who they were targeting and what they expected to be used in a mobile setting. They were very selective about which resources were included, and considered how functional each tool was in that setting. They ended up with library hours, contact, mobile databases, catalog, ILL article retrieval (ILLiad), ask a librarian, Facebook, and Twitter (in that order).

When developing a mobile site, start small and enhance as you see the need. Test functionality (pull together users of all types of devices at the same time, because one fix might break another), review your usage statistics, and talk to your users. Tell your users that it’s there!

Tools for designing your mobile site: MobiReady, Squeezer, Google Mobile Site Builder, Springshare Mobile Site Builder, Boopsie, Zinadoo, iWebKit, etc.

Other things related to library mobile access… Foursquare! The library has a cheat sheet for answers to the things freshman are required to find on campus, so maybe they could use Foursquare to help with this. Tula Rosa Public Library used a screen capture of Google Maps to help users find their new location. QR codes could link to ask a librarian, book displays linked to reviews, social media, events, scavenger hunts, etc. Could use them to link sheet music to streaming recordings.