Cataloging for the Users

I’m not quite as offended as Chris Schwartz is about the statements made by Chris Oliver in her Changing to RDA article – maybe because I haven’t read it – or the RDA draft, but I wanted to chime in anyway ;)

Chris Oliver says:

The standard is designed to be easy to use and to generate records that contain data that is relevant and important to users.

And Chris Schwartz answers:

Aside from the fact that the last 3 RDA drafts are anything but “easy to use”, we are told that we will be creating “records that contain data that is relevant and important to users.” Sorry, but I think we’re already doing that.

Are we really? I know we’re trying to, but with so many silly rules holding us back how can we? In the last 5 months I’ve been shocked to find the variety in subject headings available (did you know that there is one for religious aspects of nursing? I was amazed to find that one – but it took me a good 15 minutes to do so), but I keep coming back to things I’ve heard in LibraryThing presentations regarding the headings for Bridget Jones’ Diary (Jones, Bridget (Fictitious character)–Fiction. Single women–Fiction. England–Fiction.) and Neuromancer (Computer hackers–Fiction. Business intelligence–Fiction. Information superhighway–Fiction. Nervous system–Wounds and injuries–Fiction. Conspiracies–Fiction. Japan–Fiction.).

If users want to find books like these they’re not going to be looking for Nervous system–Wounds and injuries–Fiction or Single women–Fiction! They’re going to look for Cyberpunk and Chic lit.

Now, I doubt that RDA is going to solve this problem – but my argument is that we’re so bogged down with rules set years ago that we’re not always providing our users with the best access to the items they’re looking for – no matter how hard we try!

So – who’s side was I taking here? No one’s – I just get frustrated once in a while because I do want to provide users with the best access to information, but I’m boxed in by a binder that’s heavier than my dog and a listing of god knows how many subject headings!

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Understanding our Students

Remember this video? Almost every Web 2.0 talk starts with this video now. Thanks to Stephen I now know that this professor has put together more videos.

Information Revolution

A Vision of Students Today (This is the latest and it’s awesome! A MUST SEE VIDEO. I lve the creation process too.)

Other videos are available at the Moving Forward pages.

I just watched A Vision of Students Today and while it could use some editing (it was hard to read at some spots) it’s great! I just finished reading The Academic Library and the Net Gen Student by Susan Gibbons and while most of it was review for me (intro to Web 2.0 tools) it had some great points about understanding our students. I’ve also had the chance to talk to students and professors from the area (I’m loving being in an academic environment now!) and it’s shocking how little the students are consulted, interviewed or even considered regarding library matters. I repeat my comment from this morning:

As for the user experience – the only way to understand this is to – here's a shocker – ask the user!!! This is a hot button with me – how often do we ask our users what they want? I'm sure it's not as often as we sit it closed meetings with our colleagues discussing what we think the user wants/needs.

Territorial Thinking

…[C]an we ever break the boundaries of departmental self-interest? The Reference department has one perspective, while Circulation has another; Systems/IT has their agenda, while Cataloging has another"”and so on. I've worked in several large academic libraries and this territorial thinking seems to be universal. If each department perceives the "user experience" differently than how can we ever truly be user-centered?

This from Brian at Designing Better Libraries.

Brian, I have some good news for you – it’s not every academic library – I have been lucky to find one where if there is territorial thinking – it’s so minimal as to not effect work within the library. When the catalogers want to make a change to the OPAC the other librarians are consulted. Everyone (or at least the decision makers) seems to understand that everyone else has a different perspective to bring and decisions are made together.

That said – does this come back to what I was saying about a well-rounded core curriculum in library school? I know that learning what other departments do doesn’t help you understand the users better, but it does help you understand your colleagues and work more efficiently with them.

As for the user experience – the only way to understand this is to – here’s a shocker – ask the user!!! This is a hot button with me – how often do we ask our users what they want? I’m sure it’s not as often as we sit it closed meetings with our colleagues discussing what we think the user wants/needs.

Free Webcast: Understanding Users

There is a SirsiDynix Institute that sounds pretty interesting on the 2nd of October. I have an appointment in the AM, so I probably won’t be able to attend :( , but you can:

At the Elbow: Understanding Users’ Perception of Process and Effort
Presented by: Ulla de Stricker "”Consultant, de Stricker Associates
Date : Oct 02, 2007
Start Time : 11 a.m. Eastern

A key step in designing any user oriented service is recognizing the fact that people are careful investors of their time. When clients perceive a process to be too lengthy or cumbersome in relation to the benefit it produces, they will generally ignore it or seek an easier or faster alternative. Therefore, it is essential that we “sit at their elbows” to gain a detailed understanding of the activities they perform in their work and how they experience “us” (or not!). Whether we are constructing intranets or supporting research, we need to know when and where we ought to “pop up” to make them an offer they can’t refuse – because it meets an immediate requirement, because it is effortless, and because the investment of time pays off for them.

I’ve heard Ulla give another webcast in the past and it was well worth the listen. I’ll be waiting for the archived podcast to be posted!

Anger Drives Innovation

I’m catching up on my podcasts (mostly because I had to take the train into the city today) and I got to listen to a great IT Conversation with Jeff Bonforte from Yahoo!.

Jeff starts out by telling us that anger is the most untapped emotion in start ups and innovation – and that’s unfortunate because he feels that it’s the most important emotion. How does this apply to libraries? Well I think that in our case the anger is coming from inside – librarians are becoming angry (look at the ILS market) and are trying to push innovation internally.

Jeff thinks that rather than think about the application or features or cool technology aspects – we should be thinking about emotion. He goes on to list 4 types of people:

  1. The Lovers – these are the dorks, nerds and geeks – the technology lovers who see something new and say “ooo cool!” – a reaction that Jeff thinks is the wrong one to base a new innovation on
  2. The Irrational – these are the angry, the insecure, the people who are looking for another alternative no matter what the cost. The example of this is Skype. Skype came along when everyone was out there screaming that they were pissed at their phone companies – so instead of yelling at the support people we’re yelling at our computer screens so people on the other end can hear us.
  3. The Efficient – these are the money crunchers, the people who think rationally in terms of money and time.
  4. The Comfortable – these are the people who will use the old way because it’s the way they know. Jeff gave a great example of an aunt of his who is paying $800 for her trip through a travel agent even though it costs $173 online because it’s the way she’s most comfortable with. These are the people who won’t change until we remove the old way.

I’m not sure where I fall in this spectrum – I’m sure we all have a bit of the comfortable in us – there are some things that we just love to do the way we do them. I’m certainly among the angry (as I’ve made clear here many of times) but I’m also among the lovers. I guess that this is a good thing for me because I can see things from different angles – or maybe I have blinders on when it comes to the things that make me comfortable – or angry.

Another great bit I picked up from Jeff’s talk is how to sell your innovation. Don’t go out and say it’s a “peer to peer blah blah blah”. Sell it the way you want your customers to tell their friends about it. And educate your consumer through experience with the product. I think we see a lot of this with 2.0 tools. The companies are clear on what they’re offering and they give you a way to demo the product.

This was a great (and short) podcast that was fun to listen to – so if you have 20 minutes, I recommend giving it a listen.

The Fear is Worse than the Reality

Richard Wallis has a post at Panlibus about an article found via the BBC regarding the Open Library project.

My favorite quote:

As with the rest of society, the fear of something nasty happening can be far more corrosive that the possibility of it happening.

Maybe I should give you a little bit of background. This was in response to comments by Stephen Bury, head of European and American Collections at the British Library, who voiced a concern of people changing things maliciously.

The fact of the matter is that people expect a bit of freedom. There is always going to be the idiot who thinks it’s funny to use profanity to describe a book, but for the most part the people who choose to participate in adding content are the people who have a respect and love for books and libraries. LibraryThing is the perfect example of this.

Tune Your News

David Weinberger makes an interesting point (and teaches me something new).

I’ ve been showing a screen capture of USA Today’s redesigned site. It includes a button you can click on to give a Digg-like thumbs up to an article. Great, except, um, where’s the thumb down? We want to be able to say to the Britney or Justin or We-Should-Teach-Our-Students-Judo article “No no no no no no no no.” We want to tune our news.

That’s very cool – I’ll have to go play with USA Today a bit. I love that everyone is trying to accommodate the user more with their web designs!

It’s about more than converting print to e-formats

After his talk for the PALINET & Library Connect event yesterday, Jonathan Clark of Elsevier came over to me and said, “You were nodding a lot, does that mean you liked the talk?” It was (for me) the best talk of the day!!

Jonathan talked about user-centered design and how it has been used at Elsevier. It’s important to note that most of us can’t afford to do some of the things that Elsevier did – but that doesn’t mean we should be limited in following the principles outlined.

The presentation started with a story. Jonathan used to be a scientist, so he thinks he knows how scientists think – he’s got the inside track and he can design the perfect tools for them. His colleague is married to a scientist – and so she also thinks that she has the inside track. The two of them always get into arguments on what design is best for the user – but when the user is asked – it’s always different from what they thought. The fact of the matter is, that even if you’ve worked with the user, been in the user’s shoes, or are married to the user – you are not the user – and you don’t know what they want or how they think without asking them.

First and foremost, we have to be user-focused in our design of web applications. By starting with the user you can avoid what Jonathan calls opinion wars. Opinion wars are what was defined in the scenario above – everyone thinking they know what’s best for the user. Stop thinking for your user and ask your user – observe your user.

The second principle is that product development should deliver just what’s needed. I know this sounds somewhat slacker-ish – but the fact is, there is no reason wasting time and money on something fancy when the user just wants the simplest tool. This will hopefully help you avoid requirement wars – discussions where everyone thinks they know what features are going to be required to make the new system the best.

User-centered design has three steps:

  1. Understand the user
  2. Design for the user (possibly using personas)
  3. Evaluate the user interface (not the user) – the users aren’t stupid it’s your interface

A tool of user-centered design is stories. Stories are short 1-2 sentence descriptions of the users’ wants. These stories usually look like this:

“As a ____________, I want to ____________, so that I can ______________”

This gives you a clear picture of your user and the goals he/she has.

The other method that Jonathan discussed was Agile development. We went over this a bit in my systems analysis class last term, but Jonathan’s definition was much simpler.

The Agile development methodology is iterative and time-boxed – meaning that there are specific iterations and each iteration has a goal assigned to it. You complete the goal in a set amount of time and at the end you have a working product for that goal (not a wire-frame or a screenshot). With Agile programming you need a dedicated team and you need to be customer-focused. Lastly, you have to intensively test the product – with the user!!

This means you have to show your software to the users – and frequently, don’t worry so much about it not being perfect or looking just right, the goal is to see if the product does what the user wants/needs. This testing with and showing to the user will lead to constant refinement and a better product!

In short, when the product revolves around the user, you get a better product. You also (theoretically) get teams that have a common focus – which leads to better collaboration by all.

Jonathan made me want to go out and pick up a few books on the topic!! A similar presentation can be found here if you’re interested in seeing the slides.

In The Library Of Misshelved Books

I’m still reading The Long Tail – and hoping to finish it today since the next term starts tomorrow – no more reading for fun :( Last night before bed, I was reading the section that starts on page 156 titled In the Library of Misshelved Books. I was reading so many great things that I had to go get my post-its so I could mark these pages to mention to you all this morning.

While reading these pages I kept thinking back to David Weinberger’s keynote from KMWorld & Intranets 2006. Anderson talks a lot about the limitations of physical space when it comes to the long tail.

One of the most vexing problems with physical goods is that they force us into crude categorization and static taxonomies … That means that the windbreaker can be in the “Jackets” section or the “Sports” section, but not in the “Blue” or “Nylon” sections. Generally, this isn’t seen as a big problem, since most of those categories would be silly for most people … With the evolution of online retail, however, has come the revelation that being able to recategorize and rearrange products on the fly unlocks their real value.

Anderson goes on to show the limits of the Dewey Decimal System “which divides the world of knowledge into ten top-level categories” – only 10?? What were we thinking? This is where it reminded me of my summary of Weinberger’s keynote:

It's as if libraries were invented to keep ideas apart. Where do you put a book about the history of military cooking? You can't put it in all 3 places because of the rules of matter, books can only be in one place at one time.

Anderson talks about the Seattle Public Library re-construction and how architect Rem Koolhaas “faced the challenge of making stacks of books fit into a search-engine culture. There were a few pictures I found in the library’s photo slideshow that helped me see what Anderson was talking about (one, two, three). The only thing I noticed in these pictures that was different from other libraries I had been in was that the Dewey numbers are on the floor beside the shelves. The fact of the matter is:

Yet even within this commendably flexible system, [Koolhaas] obviously need to arrange the books in some order. Since it takes more than the turn of a century or two to change library culture, that order was our friend the Dewey Decimal System.

I’m not sure that library culture is 100% to blame for the limitations of our physical spaces, but I do see where Anderson is coming from. As a consumer, it’s important for us to be able to find what we’re looking for without having to ask for help. This brings us back to my post last week about the usability of our public libraries. Something has to change if we want people to find what they’re looking for.

It’s be belief that that something is going to have to be our catalogs. We can’t help that the laws of physics say that one book can only take up one space on a shelf – but we can help that our catalogs are only searchable by a few main categories – and even those aren’t helpful. Until I worked in a library I didn’t realize (and this may not be true of all systems) that a title search only searches for titles that start with the words you’re typing it!! So if I want to find books with HTML in the title I have to do a keyword search and sort through all of the garbage to find what I’m looking for. Why is there so much garbage? Because HTML could be in a link in the description of the book (ex: page.html) – not very helpful if I want a book on learning HTML.

When I develop a new database for work I always make it clear to my users that they can search anything they want – in any combination – and I do my absolute best to provide them with the tools to do just that. The same should be true for our catalogs – even though I already knew this – this book as really brought this truth home. It’s time for librarians to stand up and demand more – and if we’re not getting it we need to be out there making it – or helping those who are already making it.

Why should it take the “turn of a century or two” for us to change our culture? Why, when there are so many of us out there with the skills to make the change ourselves? I make this promise to you all – I’m not all talk – when I finish my MLIS I’m going to take the time to learn everything I can about the way we catalog and the way people want to use our catalogs – and then I’m going to find someone who wants my help. We can’t just all sit around and complain over and over – we need to be out there doing something about it – and that’s my goal – I’m going to DO something!

Intranet != Design

I just read this great quote on the Intranet Blog:

An intranet is about 20% technology, 80% people and process. To change or redesign the intranet has in fact little to do with design, and everything to do with change management.

This is very very important for library web managers to understand. You can copy all of the neat little things I did for our intranet – but it won’t matter without the support for your management and staff – without them there is no intranet.