The Workshop was run by:

Aaron Schmidt who is the Digital Initiatives Librarian for the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL)

Amanda Etches-Johnson who is the User Experience Librarian, Library and Learning Technologies at McMaster University Library

The workshop opened with a few key thoughts:
One of the initial items expressed was the need to have the library website first be easy and then be interesting. Next he showed us EbscoHost main screen with the “Boolean” box checked and stated that no library patron should ever have to see the word boolean, huzzah to that.

Then we jumped right into the heart of it

  • Usability is more than just visual design
  • we tend to frustrate our users and make them frustrated, we want to alleviate them through usability.

Here are some tips

Writing for the Web

  • don’t put too much text on the page. The words need to be scannable because users do not read content they scan it.
  • instead of paragraphs of information it is better to take the major content and make lists
  • create a conversation, have the website answer questions e.g. “who can get a card?”


Don’t redesign your website

  • It is better to evolve your site from it’s current state so that people can make the transitions gradually. e.g. if you look at or Google they have barely changed their site from the original iteration. We know what is coming and we are used to navigating it would be jarring to suddenly have one of those sites come up looking completely different.

Match Labels & Pages

  • e.g. If you click a link that says “get a library card” you don’t want to be taken to a site that says “borrowing materials”. This causes your audience to become disoriented.

Appearance Matters

  • Simplify. Keep the really good visual design cues and elements


  • This is making the site a better experience for the users
  • e.g. a 404 error page that is friendly and fun, perhaps with a search box in it. This orients the user and makes the page interesting.
  • They showed Hennepin County Library’s Bookspace page where users that made lists of their books for the site could upload pictures of themselves reading in their favorite places. This, of course, drives the users friends and family to the site but it also makes the site more inclusive of the community and therefore more friendly.

Usability Testing

  • You cannot have a good website if you have not tested it.
  • You need to watch people use your website (e.g. present a task to a patron like “what would you do if you needed to renew a book?” at the computer and encourage them to vocalize their thinking process as they navigate)
  • Test Non-Librarians
  • Try giving a task to 3 different patrons and see what trouble they have with it. Make the improvements that seem necessary. Then ask 3 more people to perform the same task.
  • You really only need to test 3-5 people per task because most people operate the same way on the web so they tend to have the same problems.
  • Just understand that the library website will never be finished.
  • Do not forget who you are building the site for.
  • Usability testing helps free the deadlock of people being able to decide what should be put on a page. Once the patrons have shown what is easy for them and what is hard for them you have your answer.
  • You can do an A/B test. Google has an “optimizer” for this. With this tool you can see how many people access via option A and how many access via option B.
  • The five second test. Expose the user to a page for five seconds and have them write down everything they remember. This will tell you what has the most impact.
  • There is actually a website called five second test where you can upload a pic of your page and people will take the five second test on your page and then tell you what hit them.
  • is a little java script that you can embed that will give you a little heat map that will tell you what people are clicking on your website. It’s an analytic that is visual.
  • Usability inventory
  • *  Make a list of things you want to change and go back to it every 90 days. If you do this you can assure that you are constantly making progress.

6 Things You Want to Do

  • Forget current site. Don’t get bogged down by current architecture, start fresh.
  • Gather Planners. Involve different stake holders
  • Determine Your Audience. A quick way to do this is to brainstorm from the mission of your library and determine its focus. Better to talk to library users and see from there what needs to be done
  • Assess and Rank Needs. Again this can come from library users
  • Compare
  • Outline Steps. mapping the steps to your design work.

Remember the web is made of people

Keep the user in mind and remember that they should inform every decision we make on the site.

Next we did a card sorting activity to really bring home how this usability test can be done and what it feels like.

New York Public Library has a “lightweight usability testing service” called infomaki it is open source and allows you to upload a picture of your site and ask a question like “you are looking for homework help, where would you click?” they answer and can move on to another picture, kind of like playing a game and you get a lot of really great information

You can find out more about Aaron and Amanda at

Recommended Books:

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works .by Janice (Ginny) Redish
Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior .by Indi Young
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability ………. by Steve Krug
The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams
The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web by Jesse James Garrett
Card Sorting by Donna Spencer & Jesse James Garrett
The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web by Steve Mulder

Girl screamingIt was with a heavy sigh that all who hold citing sources near and dear to our hearts took in the news that both the APA and MLA had created new style manuals. This means new rules to learn, old habits to unlearn and making sure we know the difference as soon as possible so we can teach others. But it was true the world had become a different place since the last style manuals were minted and it was time for an update.
Considering all of the different bodies that cite sources in academia one would think that the creators of the style manuals would take this task very seriously. One would think that there would be bountiful harvests of editors going over the manual with fresh eyes and testing every aspect of the little gem before publication.
Apparently not, last week the APA released dozens of corrections to the manual that was originally printed in July. What about those of us who have purchased the manual? No replacement will be sent, we are encouraged to download the corrections from this site that would be the APA home page. Go there and try to figure out where the corrections are hidden, it is not easy (insert nerdy Hitchhikers Guide joke here about being hidden in a basement lavatory, inside a locked filing cabinet with a sign that reads “beware of the leopard”).  In fact, if you didn’t know already you would think that the new manual had been hunky dory since it’s first printing.Once you find the 15 pages of corrections you are expected to go into your manual and make the changes yourself by hand.
Of course, the librarian community found these errors weeks ago and has been “musing” about what will be done. As we are a helpful people we have been finding the errors and sharing what we think are corrections or eliminations among ourselves. There has been quite a bit of confusion and no shortage of colorful commentary. Undoubtedly the new news will not go over well either.

reading bugI was recently given the latest statistics regarding school librarians in California. We have 1,255 of them in a State with approximately 9,800 schools . Meaning that roughly 15% of our schools have a credentialed librarian.

It is true that I am a former teacher librarian (aka, school librarian, library media teacher…a rose by any other name…) I worked in the K-12 schools for over 10 years. During those years I was increasingly frustrated with the lack of knowledge regarding what a teacher librarian should be doing in those hallowed halls. Do you know what a school librarian does? (The answer is NOT check-out books). Unless you are one you probably don’t know either. This is what I have found to be an unfortunate truth. The fact that people do not know does not mean it is not an important position to maintain on campus. Heavens, does anyone really know what a vice principal does? And yet we know we need them.

My current position is as an academic librarian at a community college in California. If I were to put my finger on the one refrain that I hear most often from the widest gamut of undergrad professors it is “these students have no idea how to do research!” (Often followed by “and they can’t write!”). Somehow California students are able to graduate from high school without the ability to answer the most basic research question with any authority. And I mean basic, say, does this website come from a credible source? Forget real academic research, if it is not a natural language question they can put in a Google search box there is no way they can retrieve it or analyze it. Let’s take a step back and start with narrowing a topic. Just having the ability to get a topic down to a size that is manageable for a short research paper is very difficult for a majority of our newest college students. These are not skills to be taught in college these are skills that should have been taught in K-12 by a teacher with a librarian. Of course, the teacher librarian also deals with the purchasing and pushing of books and we know that the more a student reads the better they write.

What happens when you replace the teacher librarian with a volunteer or a clerk? You get no instruction. The teacher librarian often has the most teaching credentials and education of anyone on campus and knows what projects are going on in every classroom. This person is an instructors instructor and has their hand in, potentially, every students education. There is plenty of research there that proves a well staffed and funded library raises achievement . And if test scores are all we care about anymore than there is your proof on that front that the teacher librarian is a necessary part of the equation.

But no, instead we pink slip these teachers because they do not have a classroom of specific students assigned to them. And those that do get to keep their jobs become text book administrators because the schools can’t come up with clerks to handle them (and librarians are supposed to handle books, right?…oy!). Textbooks have become such a big issue for teacher librarians that they are finding their jobs being questioned because they have no time to do the work of a librarian what with 2,000 students who need 6 to 8 textbooks each and some that switch every few weeks and let’s not forget the billing for loss, theft and damage…oh and the transient students who need books throughout the school year. It is ridiculous.

If you ask me this would be another large reason that California is so poorly represented academically. Just ask any Freshman English teacher what their students lack. Solving this problem is only rocket science for those who make the decisions in the K-12 system. Shame on them.

Picture Credit

picture credit

picture credit

Verizon is coming out with a new e-reader, time to watch the market forces work their magic! First, allow me to digress.

I have written about my underwhelmed reaction to the Amazon Kindle 2. With hope in my heart I went to my nearest Sony store in August to take a gander at the new Sony e-readers, they have come out with a “pocket”, “touch” and “digital reader daily” (that would be three e-reader offerings to Amazon’s two, but who’s counting). What they have done with the three separate e-readers is allow you to pick and choose the features you want and the price you want to pay, not that you “want” to pay $200 for a digital reader that you have to pay to put books on but you know what I mean. They have added the “innovation” of a touch screen which is a handy upgrade to Kindle’s offering. Like good citizens of the world Sony decided to use the epub format which is far more open than the proprietariness of the Amazon Kindle (although they have done a very nice mea culpa the whole 1984 ebook debacle will not leave my memory any time soon).They are even e-library book friendly as they have partnered with the same company that provides e-books for many public libraries. All in all a bit of an improvement to the Kindle. Take that overpriced, proprietary, silliness!

Now to welcome in the Irex DR800SG (can we not just call it the Irex 1, honestly!). It, sadly, does not have a touchscreen it has reached back to the days of Palm and uses a stylus. However, it does offer the joys of epub (with a promise to stick with the DRM free market) and wireless 3G through Verizon. It even boasts a radio, there’s a novel idea. The screen is 8.1 inches and it actually comes with a case, who would have thought consumers would want that?…not Amazon or Sony. The big downside for me is that it is not compatible with the Mac and I have not heard if public library e-books will be downloadable. And sadly, yes, it will cost $399 through selected Best Buy locations in October. Overpriced, less-than-proprietary, silliness continues but I remain hopeful.


The staff at my library are well aware of my kickboxing habit.  I was flattered when one of them posted to the building that this article made her think of me.

Philadelphia Library ClosingNo seriously. The Mayor of Philadelphia, Micheal Nutter, sees this as a healthy way to deal with the fact that Pennsylvania can not pass a budget.

This MSN article spells it out well. But I can not say it better than this editorial in Boing Boing . Indeed, what does this turn of events say about our society?

I understand that information is much more readily available online these days and I understand that there are technologies out there that can allow us to read without the paper book but this assumes one has the means to provide oneself with said technology. This really only hurts those who need the services most, which is a growing number as the unemployment picture remains bleak. I will never understand how society can blindly kick the needy (and usually silent) instead of feeling some discomfort themselves. How can the citizens of Philadelphia stomach this?

It is a shameful situation.


Breaking News! They have just passed the legislation to keep the libraries open. I am still annoyed that libraries were used as a political pawn.

Popular Library

I have written previously about the studies that have been done regarding a well-staffed and funded school library raising achievement . That was in my response to Governor Schwarzennegar’s call to change all textbooks to an electronic format. Now an administrator at a school in Boston has decided that paper books are absolutely unnecessary.

This reminds of the “heated debates” I used to have with a technology teacher in the mid 90’s who fought against teaching students keyboarding because we would all be using speech-to-text technology within the next few years. We see how well that prediction panned out.

As an academic librarian I see students all day who can not write and have no clue how to start a research paper. We know that the more you read the better writer you become. We know that the more you read in sustained periods the easier it is to work for sustained periods. And we know that when reading is electronic, particularly off of our laptops, that have constant visual updates and reminders we do not read for sustained periods of time, we attempt to multitask. We know there is still a digital divide.  We know that students and schools (including the one in this article) can not afford enough e-readers to supply their students. We know that e-readers are relatively fragile (the polar opposite of anything you want to give a child). We know that strong school libraries have high book check-out numbers and higher test scores than the norm. But who needs facts, right? Out with the proven and in with the shiny shiny.

They will be sorry. In the meantime I am sorry for them and mourn the loss of learning for their students.

This post was submitted to Lita (Library and Information Technology Association) for their blog just moments ago, if approved it will show up there as well.

Title of Conference Program: Casting a Wide Net: Using Screencasts to Reach and Teach Library Users

Taken at Chicago's Millennium Park

Taken at Chicago's Millennium Park

Speakers: Stephanie Rosenblatt, Eric Frierson, Carmen Kazakoff, Mick Jacobsen

Moderated by: Anne Houston

Date time place: Saturday July 11, 2009 from 
10:30am – 12:00pm
 at McCormick Place South, S105 a-d

Sponsor: Reference User Services Association, Machine Assisted Reference Section   (RUSA MARS)

The first speaker was Stephanie Rosenblatt Education Librarian, California State University, Fullerton.

  • once she had created her screencast (i.e. video) tutorials she began to wonder if her students were really learning. In the classroom she is interactive and uses various techniques to get her point across and yet it seemed like it was supposed to be okay that she only used one technique to get her point across in the video tutorial. She is looking for better pedagogical approaches to incorporate into the tutorials. She is still not sure how much learning they can support due to the medium.

Eric Frierson, Education and Political Science Librarian, University of Texas at Arlington

  • His focus was creating a sense of community through screencasts.
  • His University is using LibGuides for their subject guides and although they find them very useful they are still very wordy. He has created a You Tube video that he places prominently in the top left hand corner of the LibGuides that is a basic hello and encouragement to contact if they still have questions. He wants them to know there is a human being behind all of those links.
  • He is more interested in the placement of the screencasts than there construction.

Carmen Kazakoff-Lane, Head – Extension and Inter-Library Loans, Brandon University

  • She was representing the Animated Tutorial Sharing (ANTS) project and talking about their collaborative uses.
  • ANTS wants to collaborate across institutions by syndicating screencasts
  • They disseminate their information through a wiki
  • For better syndication they are now using with a channel called LION: Library Information Literacy Online Network “Participants in this project agree to make these episodes openly available for others to link to, embed, share, download, or edit, provided the appropriate credit is assigned to the author”-    They are using because it has better resolution than you-tube
  • From the LION site you can share to FaceBook, embed videos into your blog, course management system or LibGuide. Basically they want you to be able to put them anywhere you think your users will be. You get the code and you can put it where you’d like.
  • She recommended using embedr with this service you can take videos from any site such as You Tube, Vimeo or Daily Motion and embed them into a playlist that streams from their site into another for example a course management system.
  • She mentioned that in 2009 You Tube will be doing HD videos which may make them a more viable service for the videos that need better definition

Mick JacobsenSkokie Public Library

  • He had tips for better screencasts
  • Patrons only want to know about resources when they know it will answer their question. With that in mind you may want to put their question into the name of the screencast for example “how to get an A on your next research paper” or “how to answer your medical questions”.
  • Additionally he warns not to put jargon in your screencasts or titles. You want to answer their question in their language.
  • Make your screencasts more interesting by telling a story instead of just giving information, take them on a journey.
  • Understand that your screencast is not forever, our site and databases change and so will your videos.
  • Try to put screencasts at a patrons point of need for example, adding them into subject guides.
  • Two free screencasting tools he mentioned were: Jing which takes loading onto your computer and Screenjelly which does not need to be loaded on your computer but you do need a Twitter account.
  • Keep your screencasts short. Anything that is unnecessary should be out of the video.
  • Give the audience one way to get their answer not three. It is like giving directions to your house. If you need to convey three different ways then you need to make three different videos.
  • He noted to look up the screencasts at Westlake Porter Public Library , Orange County Library System, Nashville Public Library, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Pierce County Library System

Q&A Portion of the presentation

  • One presenter mentioned that in MERLOT there are screencasts that have learning objects added to them where people can for example manipulate things on a screen for citation correction or other ways to practice what they have learned.
  • One presenter brought out the Just DO IT philosophy. Just get something made and put it out there. Look at what others have done to help you but go ahead and make the world’s worst screen cast. That is better then nothing just get to learning.  Making = learning.
  • Evaluation of screencasts should not be forgotten. You can put a link at the end of the screencast that goes to a survey that allows you to find out what works and what doesn’t work.

Geek Capture

My MacBookPro desktop dictionary widget says a “geek” is “a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest”. Welcome to my people. Librarians are famous for having an eccentric devotion to their profession. Therefore it was not surprising to see OCLC harness the geekery with their new PR campaign Geek the Library that they have rolled out in Iowa and Georgia and have overarching plans for the rest of the country. One might think that my colleagues in libraryland would be absolutely tickled however the site has been met with mixed reviews from the library blogosphere. There is fear that declaring ones geekery in a subject cannot translate to library support both Jessamyn West and Sonoran Dragon make good points here and there is ongoing dialog on Library and Information Science News that echoes concern. Others are rather proud like Bobbi Newman who actually lives in one of the representative States.

My Impression of the Site

The first thing that hits you upon entering the site is it’s beauty, very slick. Libraries are unfortunately not able to present themselves with this kind of visual eloquence very often. However, next I found myself wondering what the purpose of the site was, it is shamefully not obvious and the top left hand button (the first place my eye went) does not take you to library information but a “what do you geek?” page that is fun but not about libraries. One has to be willing to click around a bit more to get to the reason the website is in existence. Personally it is this design flaw that irks me most and I would venture to guess that their analytics will tell them that is the first click on the site, was that intentional? If so how do they expect to get their PR message across? Are they making assumptions that people will click some more? It is my opinion that the purpose of the site should be gracefully smacking us in the face before we click on anything.

Popular Culture R Us

Am I too much of an NPR fan or is it not over the top to believe that being a “geek” has become a relatively acceptable term to be tagged with? It is this belief that makes me much less bothered with the idea of being a geek as the centerpoint of their campaign as some of my colleagues in libraryland. I can see how OCLC would think that people may aspire to be a geek on some level if they do not feel that way about themselves already (and let’s just get over using “geek” as a verb shall we, English lives, let’s let it grow).

Go with (insert diety of choice here) OCLC

I say good on you OCLC! This campaign is brand new and bound to have a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out. I think that libraries get far less PR than they need due to lack of funding (frequently caused by lack of PR, oh the vicious circle) and if OCLC has the ability, for whatever probably monetary reason, to pick up the ball and run with it I will not complain. In fact, I welcome this campaign to my poor practically bankrupt State of California. And for the record “I Geek Muay Thai Kickboxing!”

computer lecture textbookI was a school librarian (AKA teacher librarian, library media teacher…the list goes on) for over 10 years. In California for grades 7-12 that means you are also the defacto textbook administrator. This, of course, is a fulltime job in and of itself with schools of over 1,000 students and each needing their own textbook for each class and some classes changing every few weeks and add to that student transience the job never ends. There is not just the checking out of books there is the ordering, the billing for loss and damage the shelving and unshelving, rebinding, the scheduling for class pickup…suffice it to say it is a nightmare and can take up the majority of your time. Personally I think this is part of the reason teacher librarians have become extinct in the State of California. How can they possibly do their jobs when they are weighted down with all of this clerical nonsense, and yet it continues and pink slips abound because administration, looking for budget cutting measures, do not see the job the librarian is supposed to be doing only the one forced upon them that does not need to be done by a credentialed teacher (and oh yes, the teacher librarian is often the most highly credentialed teacher on campus). The good that could be done is lost on the California school system particularly with the knowledge we have that a library that is well-funded and staffed raises achievement . Just another blindspot that puts more weight on the classroom teacher to be responsible for every single thing that students spit out on the high-stakes tests. The whole thing is ridiculous and I could rant all day on this subject alone but this is just the prelude.

In an effort to combat the high cost of textbooks our governor Scwarzenegger has just decreed that as of Fall 2009 electronic textbooks should begin their implementation, he even wrote a charming editorial that was run in the Mercury News. On its face doesn’t that sound swell? He says that this will be cheaper, easier, better on students backs and the wave of the future. As a former school librarian I wish this was realistic because it could save the jobs of my colleagues who still have positions in schools, heck it might even restore axed teacher librarian positions and allow students and teachers the advantage of having the expertise of this master teacher in their midst. But I am afraid Arnold has not thought this through. First of all California has an adoption process for textbooks. You can’t just choose one willy nilly this summer and implement it this fall. Every 7 years a subject gets their new books and in year 6 the committees convene to go over all of the publishers options. It is a long arduous process that allows textbooks to be purchased that best fit that school district. Okay, let’s say we throw out the time tested system and take whatever e-textbooks come our way because we are hungry for change. How exactly are the students going to read these electronic books? Public education in our country is “free”. The student can’t be told to pay for their textbook, they are gratis to use and are to be returned when class is over for the year, so we cannot make them pay for the e-reader. And please tell me which school district has the funds to purchase and maintain over 1,000-4,000 e-readers per school? I can fix a damaged textbook but an e-reader? I think not. How do you handle loss and theft? How do you keep an extra couple of copies for every class for those students that forget or need one temporarily? I know that I personally cannot afford any of the e-readers out today and I am one single middle class person (and technology loving librarian I might add, oh how I wish I could).

One might say that the publisher should come out with the reader for their textbook. Well, what if each subject area goes with a different publishers e-textbook? Then we have a different reader for each class? And let’s mention how sturdy the reader would have to be. Nothing survives in a 14 year olds backpack, seriously. The joy of the paper textbook is that damage is only surface deep and students are not thrilled with the idea of keeping them so they usually get returned. With a piece of technology that holds their unloved e-textbook (as opposed to their beloved cellphone and/or iPod) there is no end to the tortures that can be imposed. I just don’t see it. I commend the thought but I am frustrated by the lack of foresight.

Picture Credit