Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Next Generation Library Interfaces

Marshall Breeding, Director for Innovative Technologies and Research, Vanderbilt University

(PPT presentation link)

Our current interfaces to library resources are too varied, too confusing for average end user. Breeding thinks that it is too much to expect of the end user to understand the difference between the different types of resources the library now has to offer, and the varied ways that one must use to access these resources. Example: A student will need to navigate resources through the catalog, internet, and databases, and understand the differences between the three, including how to access them. The user needs a library card for some and not others, and this is confusing.

We need to integrate the catalog (and other electronic resources) so that users only have to use one access point, one log-in. Libraries also need to enhance searching, navigation, provide tools to refine searches and results for the average user. Search should be more intuitive, like e-commerce, so they don't need to be concerned with how the interface works, or use different behaviors to access these different resources. Let the interface do all the work seamlessly behind the scenes.

Breeding's position is that librarieies should model ourselves after the commercial world by making our information systems more intuitive, graphic, and integrated. Commercial sites' goal is to get the customer's credit car number; get them to buy. Our ultimate goal should be to get the information into the customers hands, rather than train them to get to the varied resources. That's our job.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fast & Easy Site Tune-Ups

Jeff Wisniewski presented "35 1-minute ways to speed up, clean up, and optimize your site with minimal effort." Since we are all busy, and money is always an issue, his suggestions can provide stopgap measures for sites that need updating.

Link to slides will be posted on Conference website in a week...
Here are some highlights:

Update your copyright statement, even if your website is old (provided that your content is still fresh). Customers will look at the date and see that someone is minding the store. Include "Last Updated" statements for each page as it is updated.

Use hCard tools (??) to add metadata specific to your library about blocks of text.

"Harness the Awesome Power of the 3 Question Survey" Survey your users to gauge the effectiveness of your website as it is, and respond to their needs.

Questions to use: 1. What is the pourpose of your visit to ourwebsite today? 2.Were you able to complete your task today? 3. If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?

Don't make the Server think.
add /'s to the end of your a href statements in html. speeds things up. (If your URL ends in "/", use it, so that the server doesn't have to try and figure it out, thereby wasting the patron's time (and patience) searching).

Logos - nice and clear, using small chunks of large sans-serif type

Web2.0 Stylr will create logos for you, including cute little "beta" images.

Be an Icon icon

Crystal Clear: downloadable icons to use on website, all public domain.

Need for Speed: If your site seems slow, find out how slow and why. Install Firebug and Yslow in Firefox. Test your webpage and will make suggestions as to how to improve the speed of the particular page.
Cache: Exploit the users cache to speed up use of your site.
Why does cache matter? Empty cache =more http requests=slower. Full cache=fewer http requests=faster.

Combine small images into Image map commbining multiple smaller images into a single image speeds downloads due to fewer http requests.

Eliminate Inline Scripts :
-In most cases calling scripts from external files to speed page download time, especially if these items are cached.

Exception: Your library's homepage.
-Inline scripts for your homepage
-Making http requests is much more expensive than the size of the data coming down.

Spring Cleaning
Use W3C Markup Validationservice. This validator checks the markup validity of Web documents in HTML, XHTML, SMIL, MathML, etc. If you wish to validate specific content such as RSS/Atom feeds or CSS stylesheets or to find broken links, there are other validators and tools available. Will tell you what's wrong with your page, and fix the errors for you. Takes about a minute.

Is your CSS bloated?
CLeanCSS - CSS Formatter and Optimiserwill clean up and compress your CSS file - cleaner is faster, more efficient for end-user.

Move important information "out of the blindness zone." (showed areas of webpage that are not focused on by end users, exploit the areas that most users focus on).

SEO - Search Engine Optimization: Page titles: must be present AND informative to optimize site.

Google Webmaster Tools
Site Link - diagnostic tools. Title Tag Analysis

Global find and replace...rewrite page titles with the follwing format:
Document titleSection NameLibrary/site name (makes easier for search engines to find you)

Add labels to your forms
Accessibility User friendly

How: (handout)More on Forms

Use radio buttons and check boxes appropriately: Radio buttons for a list of mutually exclusive options, only one choice. Use check boxes when there is more than one option.

Add social Bookmarks links: Social bookmark creator http://www.toprangblog.com/tools/social=bookmarks

Web 2.0 Services for Smaller, Underfunded Libraries

As we all know by now, the web redesign is in the works. Although we are not exactly a tiny, underfunded library system, I thought it would be a good idea to attend this session, because part of the description read that it would "provide information about dozens of quick and free services that any library can add to its website to reach the customers."

So, here are some tips that were provided that I considered to be particularly useful for our system:

1. Communication Tips
Instant Messaging - chat with the customers, online reference.

Meebo Me Widget - make yourself visible, even when you are offline. Sort of a mini Ask-Us-Now.

Text Messaging - talk to and assist patrons via text as they are using the site.

VOIP - voice-chat with patrons over the computer as they are using the site.

Video Chat - talk to and assist patrons over the computer as they are using the site with a visual of the librarian.

Example: San Jose Public Library uses IMing. One of their common questions: "Are you a robot?" Expect that, and just answer that you are not. They want to know that they are engaged with a real person.

2. Don't pay for images (try these for searchable public domain images):

Flickr Creative Commons Search
Wikipedia's Public Domain Image Search.

3. Offer Tools and Mashups: Use or promote the use of these tools to enhance the user's experience at your site:

Library Elf - library account tracking
Library Lookup - bookmarklet that looks up any webpage information in your library's catalog
LibX Toolbar - like google toolbar for your library. Patron installs it into her personal browser.

4. Making Dynamic Lists - don't make booklists in Word anymore. So Long to the .doc book lists.

5. Use Blogs or Wikis (Website Redesign Committee Note: Ann Arbor Library was presented as an example!)

Recommended movies, music, books
Encourage full staff participation (all levels)
Use an entry template, tags, categories
Welcome customer comments (they are commenting on us in other places anyway)

6. Give your Library a Face Using Flickr or other photo site. Create Flickr accounts and make links to these accounts known to customers by providing them on the web page.

Show library's interior and exterior (photo tour)
Anything is possible
To advertise new services

Do more - use tools provided on Flickr and other photo sites to create flair (items with library logo on them) to distribute and replace free pencils with library logos, and so forth.

Moo: calling cards
HP: Posters, books, photo cubes
Qoop: calendars keychains, etc
Zazzle: shirts bags mousepads, mugs and more
Imagekind: print photos on canvas

7. Provide audio content
Podcasts from library website can be done easily and cheaply. You need:

People who can talk and or sing
Digital microphones cheap/free
Audacity (free hosting site)
Blogger blog

Other helpful audio tools (google them to find out more):
Everyzing $ turns audio into text
TextAloud $ turns text into audio
Odiogo (Free) turns text into audio files, create a listen button for blogs

8. Provide video content


People who aren't camera shy
Digital video camera
Avidemux editing software (free)
Blogger Blog (free)

9. Ideas for video casts

Manchester public library does teen book reviews.
DOK Library videocasts community events reports.
Worthington Libraries presents classes and events.
Curtin University library videocasts classes and lectures.

Also, put your content on YouTube! It's where the patrons already hang out.

8: Exploit the blog as a format

Don't call it a blog - may leave some people cold.
Encourage customer comments - you can always edit them if they are inappropriate.
Reuse content across blogs, social networks.
Repeat important posts over time to maximum number of people who see/hear it.
Use Wordpress and Blogger: free, easy, feature-rich

9. Make RSS your BFF

10. Help your catalog; it needs it. Don't rely on catalog software that really doesn't work for you or your customers! Check out:

Open source options:

Librarything for libraries

11. Be Present in Social Networks - show the customer that the library is part of the real world, not the stuffy, inaccessable place that people sometimes still associate with libraries.
be present
be real
be reliable, consistent

12. Try a Wiki: with multiple authors, ongoing creation.
An example of a wiki application would be Subject guides (pathfinders) made available to the public.

13. Use Engaged Patrons.org - a free and low cost web 2.0 service for libraries run by Glenn Peterson, Hennepin County Library. Provides lots of resources that libraries can plug into their websites/catalogs to make site more 2.0 and patron-friendly.

Library events calendar with online regitration
Library blogs --
Much more

14. Use design tools

15. Use other free tools

16. Exploit image generators

17. Recommend websites easily (del.icio.us)

18. Microblog with twitter

19. Keep everything current

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Nette Does CIL!

My colleage, the "Almost-Bald-Technical-Trainer" and I set off today for the Computers in Libraries Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. The conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City Hotel.

Last year, our library system (Harford County Public Library), held a Technology Fair to introduce some major Library 2.0 concepts to our entire staff. We felt that the fair was such a useful tool for introducing staff to Library 2.0 that we sent out a couple proposals to present what we did to other librarians. Surprise, surprise, both of our proposals were accepted!

So - here we are at the first of the two conferences to present our library as a case study in creative ways to train adult staff. Our bit was intended to supplement a morning pre-conference session (I'll elaborate in a later edit).

Our first presentation, the longest one, was today. We had 24 attendees from all over the country, most of whom were trainers or administrators who were looking for some good ideas to get their staff on board with using newer technologies. We had the "Librarian In Black," Sarah Houghton-Jan with us, and who presented her own case study on developing technology-oriented competencies for library staff. Her training dovetailed VERY nicely with ours.

I suppose that I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that people were REALLY excited and interested in our case study. The Tech Fair was a major undertaking, and our system worked major magic, from our administrators, who supported us all the way, to all the supporting trainers, on down to every single participant. We got so many positive comments from the attendees of our presentation today. Ranging from a simple personal "thank you" for the presentation, to a hearty: "I want to do this in MY system!" We had questions for about 20 minutes after the session ended!

Now, there are at least 24 librarians who will at least share our experiences with their systems. Icing on the cake: Right after our presentation, Information Today hosted a "Gaming and Gadgets Petting Zoo" right next door to where our session took place. The intent was to provide a place to unwind and socialize. It was a wild time. "Guitar Hero" in one corner. "Rock Band" in another (this game is way cool - you sing and play drums or guitar for points). A Wii was in another corner, where people bowled and boxed with one another. Librarians BOXING! In the back of the room, people watched or played board games.

Maurice (Almost Bald...etc), has a video of me playing the drums. I am in SO much trouble... unless I can get that darn camera back from him! Here is what he has to say about our first presentation.

I have pictures, too - you'll have to wait until tomorrow, though. I'm bushed!