What is your title at work? Do people understand what you do by your title? Does it matter? Controversy abounds in the world of school librarianship.

When I began my work experience as a librarian in the K-12 education system I was a teacher. In fact, as time went on I was often the most credentialed teacher on my campus with as many as five credentials under my belt. Interestingly, my own instructional colleagues often did not know that I was a credentialed teacher with all of the same rights and benefits that they had even though I attended all faculty meetings and even taught research skills to their students. I was not alone in this strange no mans land of misunderstanding. As a member of the California School Library Association (CSLA) I watched the membership grapple with this conundrum from one end of the State to the other. I think part of the problem was a lack of proper understanding of what the lone school librarian was doing in that big book and computer filled space. I believe the thinking was that if the name was more descriptive things would change (does that ever really work?).

Frankly, upon entering the profession I thought my title was “school librarian” because that is the term I had always known for this position. However, I was quickly informed that my title was “library media teacher” because that better explained what I did (although I found it a confusing mouthful). I was told that “Librarians” were all about books and we were so much more now that technology was such a large part of our lives. Additionally, it brought the word “teacher” into our title which was a pitch for more understanding about our standing with our campus communities. Apparently I was not alone with my feeling that the “library media teacher” moniker was clunky. A few years ago the CSLA’s legislative committee was able to get the name officially changed on the government website and related documents to “teacher-librarian” which is what you will find today.

And that should be the end of the story, no? Actually, no. We have a new twist. At the national level of library associations there is a group called the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). In my opinion they are the big dogs of school library land. They make the national decisions which naturally means the States should follow their lead. Makes sense right? CSLA may not feel that way. Although “teacher-librarian” is clearly preferred here in California AASL had other ideas. They recently pronounced that the official name for the profession is going to be “school librarian”  (mon dieu!). So now we have a bit of a schism…who is to be called what? Canada prefers “teacher-librarian” so the AASL was not looking for world-wide continuity. Some in the profession (outside of California) are baulking at the AASL and saying they will continue to call themselves by a name other than “school librarian” due to its passive and outdated inference. Is it okay to go by whatever works in your work environment even though the government documents do not support you? Or is it better to go with the nationally recognized standard? Some people really do have a dog in this fight. However, I have to ask myself why?

As for me, I have gotten out of the K-12 political system. I am a “librarian” at a college. Yes, I am a tenure track faculty member. No, most faculty and staff do not realize that I am also a professor. We are well respected and seen as a vital part of the academic community all the same and that’s good enough for me. Perhaps there is too much emphasis on the title in K-12 , perhaps the interest this kind of thing generates should be moved into the realm of advocacy at the local level to educate the public about what they do and save their jobs.

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One of the too many listserv’s that I mainly lurk on had a message that I found very sad the other day. A librarian out there had been asked to videotape one of her research/library instruction classes to be used in lieu of her face-to-face class for someone. She was scared and looking for a way to get out of it. Why? Under the veil of pedagogical intellectual property she did not want to become obsolete. She thought that if this video got out no one would want to come in and have her personal lessons anymore. Basically she wants to hoard the knowledge so people must come to her to get the education in this area that is so desperately needed.

This goes against all I know to be the librarians credo. We share. I have rarely met a librarian who was not all about giving intellectual stuff away. What do you think sites like ANTS and PRIMO are all about? They share video tutorials other people have made so that you can put them on your website and use them to get to the widest audience possible.

Out of all of the seven librarians at my institution no ones position is seen as having more staying power than my own (in my own humble opinion). I am the online services librarian my job is to put us online as much as possible. Particularly for those who will never step foot in our library for whatever reason.

It is librarians like the one on that listserv that never cease to surprise and depress me. It is librarians like the one on that listserv that will find herself obsolete and as well it should be.

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A news release came out from the Justice Department  on January the 13th regarding e-readers and their use in university classrooms.

This is an excerpt: “Under the agreements reached today, the universities generally will not purchase, recommend or promote use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless the devices are fully accessible to students who are blind and have low vision. The universities agree that if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. The agreements that the Justice Department reached with these universities extend beyond the Kindle DX to any dedicated electronic reading device.”

I think this is a good thing. Like all electronic items (e.g. e-books, screencasts) provided by educational institutions we must remember those who are not fully “abled” so they can have a fair chance at the same educational opportunities being provided to the rest of the students. But it does give me pause. An e-reader is an electronic way to read a book, how good have we really been at providing physical books to those who have poor vision. Large print library books are rarely, if ever, found at the K-16 levels. I vividly remember the hoops I had to jump through to get large print textbooks for students in the K-12 system for the few that needed them.

Perhaps the switch to e-readers, slow as it will be, brings some of the best opportunities yet for access to those who have visual difficulties.

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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?”

URL’s

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 Amazon.com 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

Whimsy

  • 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.
  • Crazyegg.com 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 http://influx.us/

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.
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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.
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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 http://apastyle.org/ 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.
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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.

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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.