The Creative Librarian is a hub for matters important to librarians/information scientists of today. There is a definite lean towards electronic issues, however it isn't restricted to only those. Hopefully this site will also be useful for informing non-librarians on these issues as so many of them affect us all.
Ebooks readers are great and improving all the time. It’s the ebooks themselves–the DRM, the bad user experience, the complicated and wonky checkout procedures, the lack of privacy, the changing restrictions we deal with as libraries, the terrible websites our vendors create–that are not just suboptimal but at the center of a bad user experience that we’re in the awkward position of promoting as if it were our own.
Here’s what I mean by potholes – on your website, if the navigation is unclear, or if that “what do I do next” thing doesn’t make sense, you have caused a customer to stumble. You have effectively placed a pothole in your customer’s path, making it harder for them to navigate towards whatever it is they wanted to do.
We have a tendency to see ourselves as educators while our patrons see us as service providers. That difference can degrade the usefulness of our services and create conflicts in the community.
Douglas County Libraries, in Colorado, is trying something new: buying eBooks directly from publishers and hosting them on its own platform. That platform is based on the purchase of content at discount; owning—not leasing—a copy of the file; the application of industry-standard DRM on the library’s files; multiple purchases based on demand; and a “click to buy” feature.
Its new DCL Digital Branch is one outcome of this strategy. As of this writing, more than 800 publishers have signed up, and their works are seamlessly integrated into and delivered from the library catalog, rather than from third-party sites.
An interesting alternative to what we have now with at least some of the annoying barriers removed.
I’ve become increasingly convinced that screencasts are not the right fit for teaching people how to use online databases. It’s very difficult while watching a video to work with a database. It’s also difficult to scan for just what content one needs when they are actually using the database. Lori Mestre’s study on learning styles and learning objects confirmed my suspicions when she found that students using a static HTML tutorial were better able to do database searching than a group that watched a Camtasia screencast because they could go back and forth between the tutorial and the database and practice what they were learning while they were learning.
It’s hard to develop standards for the Internet because the technology is still growing and changing so frequently. The best we can do is watch and test continuously to see what actually works.
This event is a great example of how social media can be leveraged by libraries and organizations. It’s a tool for listening to your community, responding to your users, promoting relevant services that meet their needs, telling stories, and demonstrating value.
… publishers are not really all that interested in authors or readers; they are interested in consolidating control of distribution channels so that the only participants in culture are creators who work for little or nothing and consumers who can only play if they can pay. These corporate publishers’ actions are intended not just to protect their traditional business model but to construct a new model that puts an end to sharing, because sharing means goods can slip out of their control. Culture and knowledge, in this new publishing regime, are not common goods, they are intellectual property best controlled by corporations.
The interesting thing about the movement to mobile technology is in many ways it is simply an extension of the changes brought about by the Internet, just made greatly more complicated by the larger variety of devices and the almost infinite number of physical contexts (in the car, sitting in front of the TV, walking to class).
The Impact of the Internet
That said, the Internet may have had an even bigger impact on health sciences libraries than any other kind. The easy access to research citations from PubMed created a demand for full online access from the existing health science students and professionals. Meanwhile new students can’t imagine a world without immediate gratification and they don’t want to. They may be sitting in the middle of the library but if the information isn’t available on their computers they aren’t interested in it.
What Are Mobile Devices?
The first problem with studying mobile technology is defining what constitutes a mobile device. It started with PDAs by Palm and Blackberry for busy people with a lot of money. But now it seems everyone has at has least one device that can be considered mobile.
Laptops are full-fledged computers that can be carted around from place to place and used to log on to the Internet and therefor library resources. Netbooks are stripped down laptops pretty much only good for Internet surfing and Office programs. Tablets, like the iPad are like netbooks but possibly even less capable. And even the most able smart phones are far more limited than anything else if only by the size of their screen.
All of these devices not only have different abilities, but different operating systems which may or may not be compatible with the library’s products. Android devices and netbooks are based on two different versions of Unix which has never been a priority for vendors. All iPhones and iPads use the same operating system but have different abilities. It’s a moving target, with new more capable devices being released every year. The latest version of the iPhone technically has a greater resolution than paper! There are persistent rumors that the next iPad will have the same resolution. The same patron will often use different devices depending on their physical context expecting the library’s resources to respond appropriately.
Implications for Libraries
How have these changes affected library services? While increasing total usage, traditional statistics from the physical world have often gone down, making it look like the library is being used less overall.
There have been opportunities for new services. Mobile technology gives us the ability to provide evidence-based point-of-care health information to professionals that supports improved patient care and safety.
For the patients themselves, who are often patrons of ours as well, mobile technologies facilitate improved communication by enabling appointment reminders, and giving patients better contact capabilities with their health care providers in order to ask questions about their medications and care.
Many of our services seem to rely on the vendors from whom we buy access to information, and these vendors can be slow to adapt to new technologies, waiting to see what becomes popular and taking their time to plan and implement solutions.
This can be a good thing. During my first week in a health sciences library I (young & dumb) was part of an MD Consult demonstration. I didn’t think it would be particularly worthwhile, because it seemed to duplicate so much of what we already had. Of course it became one of our most popular offerings, the convenience making it extremely useful for both the practicing physicians and the students.
The problem with relying exclusively on our venders is that the time they take can make us look slow and ineffectual, irrelevant to the lives of our users.
How do we adjust for these new challenges and opportunities? With a double approach of judicious technological use and creativity.
Up till now, most websites have been created at a set size. But there are a large number of resolutions for web browsing these days. Everything from tiny smart-phone screens to HDTVs. And while it’s really annoying trying to browse a huge site on a tiny screen, small sites can look old or just lost on large ones. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to adjust a website for mobile devices.
Media-queries are a new feature of CSS3 that let you design for different screen sizes and switch between them, customizing how your website looks based on the size of the browsing window.
Go to http://mediaqueri.es/ to see screenshots of websites using media queries. Click on one of the pictures to go to the live site and play with your window to see the changes in real-time. It’s kind of addictive.
Media-queries are certainly not the only way to create a mobile website, although they are one of the easiest. On phone screens, a library website with a lot of content might be better served by cut-down templates that display only the information someone on the go would want. And this is the way most libraries have chosen: They have a full site for desktops and laptops, and a stripped down template for smart phones. The problem that can develop is that netbooks and tablets are in between - the full sites might be too big for their displays, but the stripped down templates almost always show too little, not making good use of their larger screens.
The University of California, San Francisco Library is a good example. Their site is nice on full computers and smart phones but on my iPad the mobile site is uncomfortably stretched out and wastes a lot of space while with the full site, the text gets too small to read.
A good compromise would be to use media queries to adjust the full website for the smaller screens of the medium-sized devices, as well as providing the special templates for phones.
Unfortunately, we don’t always have complete control of our website. Many libraries are expected to use the parent organization’s templates, which don’t always work well with the unique library content like catalog pages and an array of web forms.
You can work-around these problems with outside services that have built-in mobile versions like a hosted blog and almost all social networks. While usually you would want to use these services to draw users back to the library website you can also go in the opposite direction, linking out to those services so that mobile users can get a better experience from their sites. It’s not ideal but a decent temporary fix.
The other answer to the question of coping is creativity. The wonderful thing about librarians is that we like to share. It’s a good bet that somewhere another library has had a similar problem and talked about their solution in a journal article or blog post. In the case of open-source software, they may have even posted the code for others to adjust and use.
Open-source software is software that you can alter as you like and pass along. It’s popular with libraries because of it’s flexibility to meet their needs and because it’s usually free. The most popular one in libraries is probably Drupal, a content management system for managing large and complex websites. The Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) in Ann Arbor Michigan has released several modules they’ve created to integrate their Innovative Interfaces catalog into their Drupal website. These modules have been altered and added to a number of other library websites, creating a community of users who have similar problems and share solutions.
By working together like this, librarians can help each other overcome the challenges of how the Internet and it’s many variations are changing the needs of our users.
The other thing we can do is to rethink the role of the website in the library as a whole. Most library websites are an addition that aren’t really integrated with the rest of the library. As the second face to the world (after the physical building) they need to move to become a central part of the library services and a viable place for web users to interact with the organization as a whole and the librarians as individuals. The biggest advantage libraries have over solely Internet-based services like databases or Google is the human touch of the librarians themselves. We need to rethink our approach to bring that to this new area so others can see it.
“Historically, we had a centralized librarian — a filter for the organization,” [Merkle] says. “In the past decade, there’s a trend to decentralize research and the role of the corporate library. Many consulting companies, for example, are asking people to do their own work [research]. This adds another level of noise around consistency of how we gather, share, and collaborate.”
… In closing, Merkle said, “We have the tools, but now it’s about the users.”
How can we use these personas to tailor and promote our services?