Gadgets, Gadgets, Gadgets!

I didn’t get to attend this session, but I can keep up because Aaron Schmidt has put the presentation online.

The most confusing (and kind of useful) item – the USB heated gloves (on page 17) – at first I couldn’t figure out why I would have my laptop with me while out in the snow. But Aaron’s description cleared it up for me – I can use these in my icebox of an office at work!!

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Wireless at Internet Librarian

This year I was doing double duty as a conference blogger and a MLS student. This means I needed reliable internet access. I was planning on paying for wireless, but as Sarah has pointed out – wireless was insanely priced at $50 a hour or $300 a day!!!! See the screenshot on Sarah’s blog. Instead I paid $10 a day for wired access in my room.

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The RSS & JavaScript Cookbook

Meredith Farkas & Paul Pival gave a fun presentation on RSS (something I use tons of) & JS (something I don’t use much of).

Using JS and RSS Paul & Meredith showed us how to create a dynamic subject page for your library site. The problem with traditional subject pages is that they aren’t updated often, they’re not easy to update (HTML required), and since no field is static a static page isn’t the right solution. Why not use some of the tools mentioned to create a dynamic page that pulls news, journal updates, and new books from RSS feeds? You can even mix together RSS feeds into one consolidated feed using RSS Mix (doesn’t show the source), KickRSS (registration required), or FeedBlendr (shows the source & no registration).

Another suggestion from Meredith – if you don’t have access to edit your library’s website easily, why not create a blog and put the updates there – then use JS to pull in the RSS feed to your subject guide – that means the webmaster only has to update the page once (to add the JS code) and then you can make updates whenever you want. This works great for people with locked down servers and websites.

One last tool lets you add an RSS feed reader widget on your site. Grazr imports an OPML and lets you put the reader right on your website. Meredith used my IL2006 OPML as an example!

Up until now I have been using PHP to parse RSS feeds for our intranet – I’m going in to work on Monday to switch to JS. Meredith & Paul have provided a nice long list of tools here on their wiki.

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Mashup Applications

So I’m sitting in the presentation about Flickr & Libraries and I realize I wanted to see John Blyberg’s talk on mashups – so I run to the other side of the conference center and sit down right in front. Of course I missed the introduction – so I had to jump in in the middle.

The main reason I wanted to see John was because of his PatREST application.

PatREST (Patron REST) is an XML specification developed at the Ann Arbor District Library for the purpose of providing a simple and easy method of accessing various data and methods. The PatREST service is intended to be used by both professional and amateur programmers as it's data objects are clean, simple and intuitive. The idea behind having a simple interface to online library services is to bring library-oriented development tools into the hands of non-librarians–the library users themselves.

I had skimmed some of the documentation in the past and wasn’t sure I really understood. So John shows us all of the neat things he’s been able to do – like his award winning Google widgets, most popular books in the catalog and the card catalog images.

Then he tells us that you need III’s XMLOPAC “feature” to use this class – and they’re no longer selling it!!

So, my disappointment aside – Why should we create applications like this for our patrons?

  1. Creates a sense of stewardship. It lets the patrons feel like they’re a part of the library and makes them more likely to become library advocates. Also you’re tapping into a community of knowledge you wouldn’t normally have access to. John urges us all to get our our Super Patron – just so long as we don’t take his.
  2. It encourages innovation (and isn’t that what this whole conference has been about so far?)
  3. It has the potential to benefit other libraries – applications that wouldn’t otherwise be developed can be shared across boundaries.
  4. It solicits high quality feedback – when the users feel like you’re listening and care about their input they’re going to give you more valuable information
  5. Most importantly – it’s a promotable service – you’re offering a service to your patrons to let them have access to your data and mash it up the way that bast suits them.

John was followed by Chris Deweese who told us about Google Map Mashups – I was a little disappointed that he didn’t have more time, but he did make me feel like it might be pretty darn easy to add a Google Map to our library’s site – so that’s something I’m going to add to the mile long list I have of projects for the Intranet & library website.

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My Presentation

Well, I’m all done and it went well. I had to provide an intro because 2 of the panel speakers were unable to make it. I didn’t get to show everything I wanted on the Intranet, but that’s okay because I uploaded a bunch of images and they can be found in my Flickr set.

Also as promised the presentation is available here and through my presentations page. It does not include the images I pointed you to above – but it does include a link.

There are also some pictures of me presenting on Flickr – they’re a bit dark – but they’re there.

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Bottom-Up Web Redesign

The description for this talk read:

Web site redesign used to be a chore, but no longer! By using a process that combines evidence-based design, user-driven planning, and extensive user testing, you can create a site that practically designs itself. Wisnewski will map out how a bottom-up design process is both easier, as well as more effective, at producing an attractive and functional Web site that meets user needs.

Sounds promising doesn’t it?? Well if you’re in a public or academic library it probably is – but I’m not so sure how these techniques will work in an environment where time is money for our patrons. Jeff Wisnewski was a great speaker and fun to listen to. He started by defining bottom-up web design for us. Usually when it comes time to redesign a page we start at the top and list the things we want. Jeff says we should start with the users and work our way up to what we think we want.

Some hallmarks of Bottom-Up Design are:

It is evidence based

Using tools like, Library Terms That Users Understand, and Yahoo! Pattern Library we can see evidence that certain web designs work and others don’t. The example Jeff used was that drop down menus are not the best design technique and that left menus are better than right. Why should we spend time answering silly questions like “where should the menu be” when they have already been tested and answered? Jeff also reminds us to ask users what they think things should be named – there is no reason for librarians to debate whether it should be called “research” or “reference” because it’s likely the user doesn’t understand either of those terms.

It is user driven

We have to include the users all throughout the process, not just when it comes time for testing. Keep data logs to see what tasks people are completing on your site and how they’re going about doing them. Use affinity mapping to let your users organize the site the way that makes sense to them – trust me it won’t be the same way you think the site should be designed. Ask users questions like “If you could design the site – what would it look like?” Let them draw out a sketch or just talk through it with you.

It is highly credible

How willing are people to trust your site? Jeff includes some results from a report (I didn’t note with one) that lists the impact certain factors have on credibility when people look at a site. The first was Design/Look with 46% saying it was the most important.


As I said before, it’s not quite as easy to get people to stop and talk to you about your website when they have to bill that time to someone, but I’m hoping that we can put some of these practices into play because it sounds like such an obvious (and less painful) way to redesign a site.

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Presenting Today

I know that I’m behind on my reporting – but I’ll catch up on the plane – I hope :)

Today I give my first national conference – and I’ve been up since 4am CA time! Last night I was having too much fun with everyone to come back here and prepare – so now I’m paying for it ;)

Well, I guess I better get back to it – I’ll post again when it’s over.

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OPAC Tips & Tricks for Improving User Experience

Glenn Peterson from started out this presentation with template that read “Libraries Change Lives Through Lifelong Learning” – I LOVE IT!!

Glenn reminded us of some big OPAC developments in the past year:

One of the things that we do at our library and is a pet peeve of mine when other libraries don’t is integrating the catalog into the website. This is not an easy task given the inadequate tools our ILS vendors provide to work with the pages – but it’s well worth taking the time to implement. Glenn mentioned that this will increase the user’s experience (and I agree) and will save the user’s time – if you catalog is a separate template than it’s not easy for the users to get to other library resources while in the catalog – by integrating everything you make all of your resources available from everywhere.

There are 2 options for this integration. The first is to use a portal – this hands over the control of the design to your vendor – but not every library can have someone on staff with these skills. The second is to integrate the catalog as a web-based resource (like we do at Jenkins) – this option is for users (like me) who don’t want their site co-opted by their vendor.

Other suggestions from Glenn include linking right into your catalog from your website (something else we do on Jenkins with our New & Noteworthy section) on booklists, newsletters, and new book alerts. The fanciest thing Glenn showed us was a script that he (or his team – I don’t remember) wrote that keeps the patrons logged into the catalog as they browse the site! I love this! This is exactly what he meant by save the user’s time.

Nanette Donohue took over from here and talked about her library’s redesign project (funded by a grant). I have to say I loved hearing from Nanette, she said so many great things about redesign projects – things I think all librarians need to keep in mind when making changes to the website and/or catalog.

So where do you start? A survey of course (which wasn’t very successful for us – but might work better for you). Ask the users what features they’re using – give them options and leave room for an open ended answer as well. Ask what they’d like to see – once again provide some options. lastly, ask them what their thoughts are on usability. We need to focus on the user’s prospective when it comes to catalog redesigns. Nanette reminds us that we are not trying to make this easier for the departments within the library – it’s all about the user!!

So, where else do we look for information before starting our redesign? She suggested consulting (and listening to) your public services staff. They are out there on the forefront all day long, they know the users better than your catalogers or IT staff do. And Nanette reminds us to DREAM BIG! Go in without dismissing anything – who knows what you might be able to achieve – par your list down later if you have to.

What can libraries do to help this process along?

Hire programmers – and if you can’t do that grow your own! This will make all of the difference in the world to the end product. I’d like to add a note – that you should hire a library programmer or grow your own – programmers are great at what they do – but they have no idea what we do and it’s better to get someone who understands our silly little quirks and rules ;)

We need to only support the vendors who will provide us with APIs – and this means real APIs (Glenn pointed out later that the vendor said they’d give an API – but their idea of an API was not what an API actually is). If you can’t find a vendor willing to open up the data (back to Paul Miller’s presentation) then go open source – if we all demand this feature or start moving to open source then the vendors are going to have to make some major changes in they way they do work – and that’s what we want!!

Along those same lines, insist on features that your “power users” want – these are the features your average users will want in a year or two – why not have it in place for them already?

What can the vendors do?

For starters they can do what Talis is doing – join in the discussion – get out there where you users are and listen to what we’re saying! By doing that they will be able to anticipate our needs and maybe have the innovations in place before we ask ;) . They can look at what librarians are doing to “hack” the catalog and offer those features as standard in the next release. And last but not least – OPEN APIs – if Microsoft can provide them then so can our vendors – stop being so stingy – it’s our data after all – we should be able to do with it as we please.

Perfumed Skunk

What can catalogers do?

Nanette has some strong feelings about cataloging & catalogers (and she’s allowed – cause she is a cataloger herself). She reminds the catalogers out there that we are competing with Google and we need to modernize our practices! Catalogs need to understand that tagging is not the end of controlled vocabulary – it’s just a way to help provide access on another level.

Nanette ended with this quote on the screen:

Until we change the way materials are cataloged, any enhancements to an online catalog are tantamount to spraying perfume on a skunk.

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