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Information Technology and Libraries: Editor's Comments: Odds and Ends

Thu, 2016-06-30 04:00
Editor's Comments: Odds and Ends

DuraSpace News: German DSpace User Group Meeting 2016

Thu, 2016-06-30 00:00

From Jan Weiland, Publication Services, EconStor

Hamburg, Germany  The ZBW (German National Library of Economics) gladly invites you to join the next German DSpace UserGroup meeting in Hamburg:

Date: Tuesday, 27th September 2016, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Venue: ZBW, Neuer Jungfernstieg 21, 20354 Hamburg, Germany, fifth floor, Room 519

Shelley Gullikson: UXLibs II: Conference Thoughts

Wed, 2016-06-29 19:05

My UXLibs II experience started with the opening reception. There was a bit of a lull at the bar as I checked out the drinks menu, so the bartender said he’d make me a nice garnish while I decided. He then proceeded to carve a couple of limes into a fish(!) and gave it rather smashing strawberry eyes. I was utterly delighted during the entire process and then had a drink that acted as a fun ice-breaker for the rest of the evening, helping me to connect with some lovely people for great conversations.

And that – great connections with lovely people – continued throughout the conference (though I didn’t have my little lime-fish friend after Wednesday).

UXLibs is an intense conference, demanding a level of focus and engagement that I just don’t feel other conferences. The hands-on workshops and the team challenge mean that we’re not just listening and thinking to ourselves, but we’re creating and thinking with other people. Connecting. Collaborating. It’s really rather marvelous.

The conference organizers have thought a lot about the UX of UXLibs. For instance: everyone’s name badge had a personalized program inside, and beside the listing for my own presentation was a little “Good luck!” A small touch but a delightful one, like my little lime-fish. On Friday, the organizers were clearly exhausted and devastated and chose to be vulnerable and open about how they were feeling. The honesty and hard work (and fun!) the team models made it easier for me to be honest and open and to work hard and have fun too.

This year, the referendum loomed, creating low-level anxiety on Thursday and general sadness on Friday. Friday was hard for a lot of people. As a Canadian I’m a bit detached, but absolutely felt the heartbreak around me. First thing in the morning, Andy underlined the importance of us all being kind to each other and it felt like that really happened. Not that people were unkind on Thursday, but Friday felt different somehow. Emotions were definitely heightened and the sense of community felt heightened too. Last year I said that UXLibs was the best conference I’d ever been to. UXLibs II feels like it might be the best community I’ve ever belonged to.

How UXLibs II will have an impact on my work

I took away a lot from the conference, but Andy Pristner’s workshop on cultural probes – while also making my inner 10 year old snicker – has me really keen to try this method for my project on delight in the research process. How can I not try such a delightful method to explore delight itself? I’ll have to finish analyzing the data I’ve already gathered first, but I’m very excited about future possibilities!

When Ned described the team challenge this year, I’ll admit that I wasn’t immediately won over. I was in the Marketing Up category, where we had to pitch to senior management. I feel like my superpower in my job is that I seem to fly below the radar of senior management. Or at least they’re happy enough with what I do that they let me keep doing it, but are not so interested that they want or need to know much about it. (The latter isn’t ideal, but if it leads directly to the former then I’m not complaining. Yet.) So I thought the pitch wouldn’t be all that relevant to me. But my team was wonderful. Everyone was generous in both offering ideas and (this can be less common) letting go of them. People were happy to step up and happy to step back. It reminded me a bit of my beloved Web Committee; we worked hard but it didn’t feel hard. And after creating our pitch, hearing the other teams’ pitches, and mulling over bits from Donna Lanclos and Lawrie Phipps, I’m starting to realize that flying under the radar will not be a superpower for much longer. I will need to step up to not just do the work (and wow oh wow do I ever love doing this work) but I’ll need to start advocating for it to be a larger thing. I think I’m doing some good things in “stealth leadership” mode at the moment, but I need to think about when and how to go beyond, to amp up my swagger and diplomacy (à la Deirdre Costello).

Finally, I’m keen to embark on more collaborative projects. I have a sabbatical coming up in a couple of years, and I don’t think I’m constitutionally suited to squirreling myself away and working on my own. I feel like I could reach out to the UXLibs community (beyond my fellow Canadians) to find collaborators. Perhaps even on a larger-scale project like Donna was talking about in the final panel. It may not happen, but the possibility is exciting.

I’m already looking forward to UXLibs III, reconnecting with this lovely community and making new connections.

My personalized program/name badge plus winning key ring/bottle opener

Roy Tennant: The Big Flip

Wed, 2016-06-29 15:50

I just returned from ALA Annual 2016 in Orlando, Florida, and besides enjoying more temperate weather I’ve also been thinking about some of what I experienced there. One experience in particular stands out.

Every ALA in recent years my employer (OCLC) has sponsored a “Linked Data Roundtable” where practitioners discuss their cutting edge work with linked data. The Library of Congress is a fixture on this panel, as are we, but we also try to have another one or two others who are doing work with linked data also. This year we invited Marlene Van Ballegooie to talk about the Canadian Linked Data Initiative. We limit presentations to 10 minutes so we can have a lot of time for questions and discussion.

But forgive me, for I have buried the lead.

It was toward the end of the session when I found occasion to assert that there was an elephant in the room that no one was discussing. It is this: the day will come when we will need to completely change our (mostly backend) systems and processes from being MARC-record-based to linked-data-entity-based. For the lack of a better term, I dubbed it “The Big Flip”.

“No one” is an exaggeration. Certainly we are thinking about this at OCLC, and the UC Davis BIBFLOW project is specifically chartered with the goal of figuring this out. Unfortunately, I fear that they may be too far ahead of their time. I’m not sure the profession as a whole is ready. Mostly we aren’t thinking about it, we aren’t discussing it, and we certainly aren’t planning for it.

I’m not privy to internal discussions at other integrated library systems vendors, and perhaps they are planning — and perhaps even working on — updating their systems. But I doubt it. Partly because there is too little to work with that has any kind of stability. BIBFRAME is still very much in development, with the latest version only just released. Even LC is not prepared to produce BF 2.0 records until probably sometime in the Fall.

One of the reasons why this worries me is that people are still thinking about our foundational data in terms of records instead of collections of linked data assertions. And with that old thinking comes old assumptions that must be questioned and replaced with new realizations and opportunities. But without seeing the elephant we can continue to remain ignorant and complacent.

Meanwhile time marches on and The Big Flip only gets closer. It might be nice if we could at least start talking about it as if it will happen one day. Because it will. It would be nice if we were ready for it, and poised to exploit the opportunities it will bring.


Image by Rachelle Meyer, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY-2.0) License.

Karen Coyle: Catalog and Context Part III

Wed, 2016-06-29 15:03
Part I
Part II

In the previous two parts, I explained that much of the knowledge context that could and should be provided by the library catalog has been lost as we moved from cards to databases as the technologies for the catalog. In this part, I want to talk about the effect of keyword searching on catalog context.
KWIC and KWOCIf you weren't at least a teenager in the 1960's you probably missed the era of KWIC and KWOC (neither a children's TV show nor a folk music duo). These meant, respectively, KeyWords In Context, and KeyWords Out of Context. These were concordance-like indexes to texts, but the first done using computers. A KWOC index would be simply a list of words and pointers (such as page numbers, since hyperlinks didn't exist yet). A KWIC index showed the keywords with a few words on either side, or rotated a phrase such that each term appeared once at the beginning of the string, and then were ordered alphabetically.

If you have the phrase "KWIC is an acronym for Key Word in Context", then your KWIC index display could look like:

KWIC is an acronym for Key Word In Context
Key Word In Context
acronym for Key Word In Context
KWIC is an acronym for
acronym for Key Word In Context

To us today these are unattractive and not very useful, but to the first users of computers these were an exciting introduction to the possibility that one could search by any word in a text.

It wasn't until the 1980's, however, that keyword searching could be applied to library catalogs.
Before Keywords, Headings
Before keyword searching, when users were navigating a linear, alphabetical index, they were faced with the very difficult task of deciding where to begin their entry into the catalog. Imagine someone looking for information on Lake Erie. That seems simple enough, but entering the catalog at L-A-K-E E-R-I-E would not actually yield all of the entries that might be relevant. Here are some headings with LAKE ERIE:

Boats and boating--Erie, Lake--Maps. 
Books and reading--Lake Erie region.
Lake Erie, Battle of, 1813.
Erie, Lake--Navigation

Note that the lake is entered under Erie, the battle under Lake, and some instances are fairly far down in the heading string. All of these headings follow rules that ensure a kind of consistency, but because users do not know those rules, the consistency here may not be visible. In any case, the difficulty for users was knowing with what terms to begin the search, which was done on left-anchored headings.

One might assume that finding names of people would be simple, but that is not the case either. Names can be quite complex with multiple parts that are treated differently based on a number of factors having to do with usage in different cultures:

De la Cruz, Melissa
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de
Because it was hard to know where to begin a search, see and see also references existed to guide the user from one form of a name or phrase to another. However, it would inflate a catalog beyond utility to include every possible entry point that a person might choose, not to mention that this would make the cataloger's job onerous. Other than the help of a good reference librarian, searching in the card catalog was a kind of hit or miss affair.

When we brought up the University of California online catalog in 1982, you can image how happy users were to learn that they could type in LAKE ERIE and retrieve every record with those terms in it regardless of the order of the terms or where in the heading they appeared. Searching was, or seemed, much simpler. Because it feels simpler, we all have tended to ignore some of the down side of keyword searching. First, words are just strings, and in a search strings have to match (with some possible adjustment like combining singular and plural terms). So a search on "FRANCE" for all information about France would fail to retrieve other versions of that word unless the catalog did some expansion:

Cooking, French
Alps, French (France)
French American literature

The next problem is that retrieval with keywords, and especially the "keyword anywhere" search which is the most popular today, entirely misses any context that the library catalog could provide. A simple keyword search on the word "darwin" brings up a wide array of subjects, authors, and titles.

Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882 – Influence
Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882 — Juvenile Literature
Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882 — Comic Books, Strips, Etc
Darwin Family
Java (Computer program language)
Rivers--Great Britain
Mystery Fiction
DNA Viruses — Fiction
Women Molecular Biologists — Fiction

Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882
Darwin, Emma Wedgwood, 1808-1896
Darwin, Ian F.
Darwin, Andrew
Teilhet, Darwin L.
Bear, Greg
Byrne, Eugene

Darwin; A Graphic Biography : the Really Exciting and Dramatic  Story of A Man Who Mostly Stayed at Home and Wrote Some Books
Darwin; Business Evolving in the Information Age
Emma Darwin, A Century of Family Letters, 1792-1896
Java Cookbook
Canals and Rivers of Britain
The Crimson Hair Murders
Darwin's Radio

It wouldn't be reasonable for us to expect a user to make sense of this, because quite honestly it does not make sense.

 In the first version of the UC catalog, we required users to select a search heading type, such as AU, TI, SU. That may have lessened the "false drops" from keyword searches, but it did not eliminate them. In this example, using a title or subject search the user still would have retrieved items with the subjects DNA Viruses — Fiction, and Women Molecular Biologists — Fiction, and an author search would have brought up both Java Cookbook and Canals and Rivers of Britain. One could see an opportunity for serendipity here, but it's not clear that it would balance out the confusion and frustration. 

You may be right now thinking "But Google uses keyword searching and the results are good." Note that Google now relies heavily on Wikipedia and other online reference books to provide relevant results. Wikipedia is a knowledge organization system, organized by people, and it often has a default answer for search that is more likely to match the user's assumptions. A search on the single word "darwin" brings up:

In fact, Google has always relied on humans to organize the web by following the hyperlinks that they create. Although the initial mechanism of the search is a keyword search, Google's forte is in massaging the raw keyword result to bring potentially relevant pages to the top. 
Keywords, ConcludedThe move from headings to databases to un-typed keyword searching has all but eliminated the visibility and utility of headings in the catalog. The single search box has become the norm for library catalogs and many users have never experienced the catalog as an organized system of headings. Default displays are short and show only a few essential fields, mainly author, title and date. This means that there may even be users who are unaware that there is a system of headings in the catalog.
Recent work in cataloging, from ISBD to FRBR to RDA and BIBFRAME focus on modifications to the bibliographic record, but do nothing to model the catalog as a whole. With these efforts, the organized knowledge system that was the catalog is slipping further into the background. And yet, we have no concerted effort taking place to remedy this. 
What is most astonishing to me, though, is that catalogers continue to create headings, painstakingly, sincerely, in spite of the fact that they are not used as intended in library systems, and have not been used in that way since the first library systems were developed over 30 years ago. The headings are fodder for the keyword search, but no more so than a simple set of tags would be. The headings never perform the organizing function for which they were intended. 
Part IV will look at some attempts to create knowledge context from current catalog data, and will present some questions that need to be answered if we are to address the quality of the catalog as a knowledge system.

In the Library, With the Lead Pipe: Inclusivity, Gestalt Principles, and Plain Language in Document Design

Wed, 2016-06-29 13:28

In Brief: Good design makes documents easier to use, helps documents stand out from other pieces of information, and lends credibility to document creators. Librarians across library types and departments provide instruction and training materials to co-workers and library users. For these materials to be readable and accessible, they must follow guidelines for usable document design.

Improving document usability requires a basic understanding of accessibility and Universal Design for Learning, plus a few simple tips found in Gestalt and plain language principles. Using Gestalt principles helps connect concepts within the document in a coherent way. Plain language principles emphasize clarity in writing. This includes evaluating linguistic complexity and readers’ comprehension of the text. Keeping the needs of people with visual, motor, and cognitive impairments in mind when creating a document can also improve readability for all users.

The authors will demonstrate how adhering to these principles will improve accessibility and functionality of library documentation for everyone who uses them. They will also direct readers to resources to help librarians create usable documentation for library processes and procedures.


Documents, in the sense we use them here, include external resources such as teaching handouts and library websites as well as internal documents like training guides and policies. As a profession, we should be mindful of the impact of intentionally incorporating usability and accessibility in our practices. Librarians can adopt a document design approach that proactively considers accessibility needs when creating documentation, rather than performing retroactive modifications upon request by a user. (Kumbier and Starkey, 2016; Guest Pryal, 2016) After reading this article, librarians will have tools to make sustainable improvements to their document design processes.

Document Accessibility

Accessibility is not accommodation. Accessibility is the deliberate provision of access through a thoughtful awareness of the multiple ways in which our users might need to interact with our resources. Accommodation puts the burden on our users. Accommodation requires people to request mediation from “a gatekeeper, to ask for something extra, and often to prove that she deserves accommodation in the first place” (Guest Pryal, 2016). When we design resources without considering different abilities or resources that are inaccessible to whole segments of our population, we exclude some of our users from full participation in library services (Williams, 2012; Copeland, 2011).

The Report of the Association of Research Libraries Joint Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities states that “Research libraries have a responsibility to make library collections and services universally accessible to patrons” (ARL 2012, p. 4). As defined in this report, print disabilities are inclusive of visual, physical, perceptual, developmental, cognitive, or learning impairments that hinder people’s ability to process textual information. Text-based library services include discovery tools, subject guides, electronic resources and documentation about how to use these services. If we as a profession do not design our resources to be inclusive of as many people as possible, we may be creating barriers to learning instead of offering pathways.

It’s not just patrons who need to use library documentation. Library employees also need to be considered. While specific accommodations are negotiated with local human resources offices in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), this again puts the burden on the person with disabilities to self-disclose and to go through the bureaucratic accommodations process. Imagine how much easier things would be on everyone if we designed documents with inclusivity in mind.


The ADA states that “[p]ublic entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens” nor make modifications that “fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.” (DOJ, 2009) However, we advocate approaching our work as though these exceptions do not exist. Making utilitarian or rule-based ethical evaluations of accessibility are unnecessarily limiting. While a number of library patrons’ and employees’ disabilities are visible, any number of our users might experience hidden or undiagnosed disabilities. Also, due to stereotypes of people with disabilities, individuals may be hesitant to declare an accessibility need. (Brune and Wilson, 2013)

As we cannot assume to know everyone’s specific situation, we should aim beyond meeting the letter of the law. We should proactively create tools and resources to benefit the widest community of users possible. This includes both internal and external documentation.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a curriculum development method that strives to proactively provide inclusive opportunities for the widest range of learners possible through multiple avenues of representation, expression, and engagement.

Practitioners of UDL are advised to ask two questions about design choices as they create instructional materials:

  1. How does the design choice help learners meet the goals of the learning situation?
  2. How does the design account for learner variability? (CAST, 2014).

UDL co-exists with accessibility. Neither practice requires us to develop more content. Instead, they ask us to be intentional about the content we produce and seek to identify the multiple ways content users might approach the materials.

Throughout this article, we will make a case for asking these questions during the document design process to ensure design choices are purposeful and accessible. As Edyburn states, “[t]o meet the needs of some, UDL is committed to giving the tools to everyone” (2010, 39).

Gestalt theory and documentation

In this section, we will present design recommendations that come out of Gestalt theory. These principles help us understand how people make sense of visual information, which can guide our display decisions. In keeping with the principles of accessibility and UDL, visual displays of information should make a document easier to understand. Follow UDL’s overarching theme of providing options to learners (CAST, 2014) by providing alternative ways to accesses information. Make these alternatives available to all potential users, not just those who request accommodations.

Principles of Gestalt and Relation to Design

Gestalt theory was developed in the early twentieth century by German psychologists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt Koffka. As opposed to the structuralist concept of breaking wholes into component parts, a Gestalt is a complete structure whose parts must be understood in relation to each other. A basic understanding of each Gestalt component in relation to document design will aid document creators in identifying and developing effective documentation. We will also reference related W3C guidelines, as they are becoming the emerging legal standard for disability access in web design.

Figure 1. Visual Gestalt

This work, “Visual Gestalt,” is a derivative of “7 Laws of Gestalt” by Valessio used under CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. “Visual Gestalt” is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by Jennifer Turner.

Figure-Ground Segregation

Figure-Ground Segregation advises that type and essential design elements be distinctly separated from the background image or coloring. This aspect of Gestalt theory is supported by Web Content Accessibility Guidelines principle 1.4, which instructs designers in how to make content distinguishable (W3C 2008). In the “Visual Gestalt” image, we can read the word “Gestalt” with relative ease. In part, this is because it is black text on white background. Use contrast to ensure readers can clearly identify and read the information.

In figure 2, the text in the first box is difficult to read, because it is dark text on a dark background. The second box is slightly better, because a light gradient has been applied to the background. However, it still lacks the contrast that would make it easier to read. The third box demonstrates improved figure-ground segregation. The black text is clearly segregated from the white background. Note that while most people are aided by strong black-white contrast, some people with dyslexia prefer lower color contrast such as black-crème (Rello and Baeza-Yates, 2012).

Figure 2. Figure Ground Segregation


Closure identifies our need to fill in gaps to create complete concepts and images. In the design world, closure advises us to clearly identify and separate different parts of a text. WCAG guideline 1.3.2, which describes creating meaningful sequences, is related to this concept (W3C 2008). We can tell the first letter in figure 1 is a “G,” because our minds fill in the gaps created by the white line through the letter. Unclear closure can make reading documents complicated. In documents lacking closure, images or insets may blend into the surrounding text. This is especially true if these insets are text-heavy.

In figure 3, the table may be difficult for some users to differentiate from the surrounding text. Adding a standard table template from Microsoft Word allows readers to more easily see this information as an inset. The use of shading and lines between table rows also aids readers in following lines of information across gaps. Readers can more easily identify that 337 people asked about the bathroom, while 328 people asked for office supplies.

Figure 3. Closure


Proximity provides information about how to group content. In figure 1, we know the little boxes form the letter “E” because they are close to each other. When information is clearly grouped, we can easily identify conceptual relationships between document parts.

In figure 4, it is difficult to attach the labels for the reference and check out desks to the appropriate map feature. Placing the text in closer proximity to the associated object makes it more clear that the check out desk is the circular structure and the reference desk is the curved structure to its right.

Figure 4. Proximity


Continuity occurs because our brains continue shapes and forms past their actual stopping points. Although not a perfect example of continuity, the “S” in figure 1 is recognizable because we naturally assume the curves of this letter continue behind the rod running through it. Continuity is especially important when designing informative tables. We need to continue lines of information and make sure information at the bottom of a table is clearly associated with information at the top of the table, especially when page breaks are involved.

In figure 5, continuity is interrupted in the first table through the use of lines between information for different semesters. Removing these lines, as demonstrated in the second table, makes it more clear that the information in the last rows of the table still refers to weekly circulation totals. If this example were longer and divided between pages, it would also be important to repeat the column headers and, possibly, the table title across the top of the table on each page to encourage understanding through continuity.

Figure 5. Continuity


The principle of similarity reminds us our minds group things that resemble each other. Although separated by two letters, the letters “T” in figure 1 are similar in shape and texture. As a result, our minds cannot help but see them as related. This element of Gestalt reminds us to use font changes deliberately.

In figure 6, the first box demonstrates how fonts and colors encourage us to seek connections that may not really exist or neglect to connect related information. For example, our minds want to see a relationship between the words “click” and “chat, email, or phone.” However, these pieces of information are unrelated. Conversely, “Class and Subject Guides” and “Ask a Librarian” are both links on a page, but this is not clear, because different fonts and colors are used for each link. The second box removes the confusing relationship, while clarifying the desired relationship between the links.

Figure 6. Similarity

Past Experience

Past experience saves us time by allowing us to interpret designs based on preexisting knowledge. The “AL” in the “Visual Gestalt” image might be difficult for newer readers of Latin script. However, past experiences allow experienced readers to interpret the connected angular images as an “A” and an “L.” On the other hand, experienced readers of English who have dyslexia may still struggle with this particular example because of the unfamiliar font style in the image. (Rello and Baeza-Yates, 2013)

Past experience can also help users navigate cultural aspects of document design. For example, documentation about finding books may tell library users to write down an item’s call number. However, users may have difficulty identifying a call number in the catalog, if this information is not clearly labeled. For new academic library users in the United States searching for Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, E185.615 .C6335 2015 might not look like a call number for the book. Instead, past experiences in public or school libraries might tell them to look for something like 305.8009 Coates to find this item on the shelf. UDL advises us to “provide options for comprehension” by “activating or supplying background knowledge” (CAST, 2014). When possible, refer to prior knowledge, but also enable those without this knowledge to gain it.


Although not always included in articles discussing Gestalt theory, symmetry or equilibrium allow readers to clearly identify starting and ending points for a document.

Figure 1 was created for an English-speaking audience. While experience tells us to begin reading from the left, visual clues of symmetry tell us the entire image is contained in the outline. We know that this image is not a direct part of the surrounding text. Symmetry and equilibrium also allow readers to feel at ease while consuming a document. When symmetry and equilibrium are used in keeping with UDL’s advice to enable users to monitor their progress (CAST, 2014), readers do not need to struggle to figure out if there is more information hidden somewhere or if they started reading the document in the correct place.

In figure 7, poor symmetry is demonstrated through the use of a page number without surrounding contextual information. Think of an online survey without a progress bar. The second image demonstrates improved symmetry by placing the page number in context. Instead of simply knowing they are on page seven, they now know they are about halfway through the document.

Figure 7. Symmetry/Equilibrium

For additional information about and examples of each of these Gestalt elements as applied to design, see Moore and Fitz (1993).

Appropriate image and design use

Even a well-designed image must be used carefully. It can be tempting to include images throughout your documentation. Technology allows us to create images, change fonts, add color, or otherwise modify our work quite easily. However, we need to clearly identify the purpose of any image or design choice. If the image adds meaning the text alone cannot convey, include it. If it does not add meaning to the surrounding content, carefully consider it. Question whether it distracts users from important content or if it might be confusing to readers.

In addition to making sure images and designs are purposeful, it is essential to make sure users with visual impairments can understand the concepts without visually seeing the image or design. Use alt-tags to describe visual images. It is important to make sure these tags are adequately descriptive. Ensure document text is comprehensible when read in plain text format. Keep in mind that screen readers and other reading aids may not navigate a website or document in the same way a sighted individual navigates the content.

This isn’t to say you should stay away from images or special formatting for fear of excluding a segment of the document’s users. While people with visual impairments may find images to be less useful than text, people with cognitive impairments like dyslexia may be helped by supporting images, diagrams, and visual representations that clarify written material (Currier, 2015). As with all design choices, be mindful of the varied ways users will consume a document and look to create a flexible, usable document for these variations.

Plain language and documentation

This section will present recommendations about language use. These principles help us understand how people make sense of textual information, which can guide our writing decisions. The primary principle of plain language is to use language that is clear to readers.


“Logic (in the popular, rather than the logician’s sense of the word) which is the basis of rhetoric, is evolved out of a culture; it is not universal.” (Kaplan, 1966, p. 2) English speakers expect information to be presented in a linear way, with topic statements and topic subdivisions representing either inductive or deductive logical ordering. Many of the following guidelines are based on Western rhetorical preferences, adapted to library contexts from information provided on and in the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s [PDF] A Plain English Handbook.


In keeping with the Gestalt principle of past experience and UDL’s guidance to supply background knowledge, present context before going into details. If you need to use library jargon or an acronym, explain what it means each time it’s used. This is especially important for external documentation and documentation intended for new employees. However, don’t assume that all members of your staff are capable of the cognitive load required to have all library jargon utterly memorized at all times.

For example, when drafting instructions for using the tagging feature in LibGuides, provide information about what these tags do and when they should be added to a library guide. Although this information is not essential to performing the desired task, it will help new or less familiar guide creators in processing and applying the information.


Use descriptive headers and sub-headers. This is consistent with WCAG guideline 2.4, which describes how to make content navigable. Use questions instead of noun phrases. Be consistent with heading levels. These actions lower a reader’s cognitive load and enable them to more easily navigate a document. Additionally, using official headers will assist screen reader users in navigating the document, by allowing them to skip from header to header, rather than reading through an entire document to find relevant sections.


Use short sentences and active voice. Use subject-verb-object order. Avoid embedded clauses and parenthetical statements. Use positive phrasing instead of using “not.” If you can use both visual and textual cues, do so. Generally speaking, don’t post images of text. If you must do so, remember to use alternative text on the images so they are readable by a screen reader.


  1. Library cards can be used to check out books. (passive)
  2. You can use a library card to check out books. (active)


  1. Children must be accompanied by adults. (object-verb-subject, also passive)
  2. Adults must accompany children. (subject-verb-object, also active)


  1. These are the resources you cannot use. (negative)
  2. These are the resources you can use. (positive)


  1. If you find a damp or wet book in the Library collection, and it’s during regular business hours, please bring it to the Preservation Department immediately; if it is on the weekend or in the evening, place the book in the freezer, and contact the Preservation Department. (complex sentence with embedded clause)
  2. If you find a damp or wet book in the Library collection, contact the Preservation Department. If no one is available to help, leave a message. Then, place the book in the freezer. (shorter sentences with no embedded clauses)

Use everyday words. Documentation does not need to be written in highly academic, obfuscatory language. Documentation needs to be written using words that are understood by your audience. If your audience is multilingual, try to find the resources to offer documentation in multiple languages. However, don’t just copy and paste text into Google Translate and call it good. Even if you use your clearly written English version as the basis of a non-English draft, you need to hire an expert speaker to edit and proofread it for you (Wallwork, 2014).

Using a succinct, clear, and active voice directly supports UDL’s guidance to use clear vocabularies and structures (CAST, 2014). This practice also supports access for multilingual learners, who may have more limited vocabularies in their non-native tongues.


You may want to choose a different font type for headings versus the body of a document to help your reader quickly understand the content organization. In keeping with the Gestalt principle of similarity, be consistent in your font choice within those categories. To make documents more readable for people with dyslexia, researchers recommend using common fonts that people are used to seeing. Rello and Baeza-Yates (2013) studied the readability of different fonts for people with dyslexia. They found that sans serif, monospaced, and roman font styles were much more readable than serif, proportional, and italic font styles. They recommend using Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana, or Computer Modern Unicode.


When making spacing decisions, keep in mind the Gestalt theories of closure, proximity, past experience, and symmetry/equilibrium. For Western audiences, left-justified text is easier to read than centered or fully-justified text because the spacing is more consistent. Inconsistent spacing is often unnecessary information that adds to the cognitive load. Additionally, spacing should be used to clearly group pieces of information together. Although white space adds length to a document, don’t be afraid of using it to help clarify concepts and simplify the reader’s journey through the material.

Assuring usable, accessible documentation

“Great text + weak design and weak text + great design will both have the same effect: a document that doesn’t achieve its goals” (Bush and Zuidema, 2011, p. 87).

One of the primary recommendations from Copeland’s study of the needs of library users with disabilities is a reminder that ADA compliance “does not always ensure usability” (2011, p. 236). Actively seek the voices and input of your community, including those with disabilities.

Usability testing

Usability testing does not need to be an arduous process. If you’ve followed accessibility recommendations, you are already well on your way to creating a usable document. Even informal usability tests can help maximize a document’s effectiveness.

Depending on your needs, there are a variety of user tests you can conduct. Make sure your study group has diverse members of your user population, including people with disabilities. Try to build time into your design process to do multiple iterations, so you can modify your documentation and test it again.

If your testing is based on prior knowledge, you could conduct interviews, focus groups, card sorts, participatory envisioning, story boarding, or surveys with users to ask what parts of existing documentation they found easy or hard to understand.

If your testing is not based on prior knowledge, you could have users try to use your documentation. Ask them whether they were able to successfully complete their task. Ask them if they have ideas about how to make the documentation better. Conduct paraphrase testing, where you ask users to explain what the documentation said in their own words. This is helpful for finding comprehension problems.

Before, during, and after usability testing, there are several additional actions we can take to ensure usable, accessible documentation. Usability testing should assist document creators in working through each of these factors and help clarify which document choices are most appropriate for a given document situation. For more inclusive usability testing ideas, see Langdon et al., 2014.


In addition to testing, careful editing helps streamline documentation to the essential pieces, making the document more usable. When editing for content, ask questions like:

  • What is missing?
  • What is unneeded?
  • Does this make sense to me? Will it make sense to other people?
  • Can people navigate the document easily to find relevant documentation and use it to accomplish specific goals?
  • Is jargon explained?

It’s not always easy to edit your own work. Usability testing or an outside editor is great for this. Text-to-speech functions can help identify confusing pieces of information or awkward phrases. This software is standard on many modern computers.

Checking Accessibility

Just as technology assists people with diverse needs, it can also help identify accessibility issues in your documentation. Some tools are freely available online or come standard in frequently used software.

Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker

Many recent versions of Microsoft Office include an accessibility checker. Document creators can use this tool to identify potential issues that may make it difficult or impossible for some people to consume a document, along with tips for fixing the issues.

Unfortunately, accessibility checkers are not universally available in all word processing platforms. This functionality is not yet available on Microsoft Office for Mac. However, there is some movement among software developers to enable software users to create accessible documentation. While not a default feature of LibreOffice, it offers an extension allowing users of this software to check their documents for accessibility. Google Docs also lacks an accessibility checker, but offers a checklist writers can use to develop more usable documents.

Online Color Blindness Simulators

Color blindness can be difficult to describe and understand. Thankfully, online color blindness simulators exist to assist in making documents accessible to these users. Some allow you to upload your own images to check for accessibility for different types of color blindness. Others run entire websites through simulators to give an idea of how color choices may impact users’ interaction with content.

Figure 9. Color Blindness Simulation

Image simulation source: Coblis—Color Blindness Simulator

Other Resources

In addition to using freely available accessibility checkers and simulators, software may be available through an associated office in your school, university or corporate campus. If none of these options is sufficient, libraries should consider purchasing access to accessibility tools such as JAWS Screen Reader or OpenBook. These tools will help you learn how your patrons interact with your documentation. Patrons will also benefit from access to both the tools and library staff with knowledge of tool functionality. If a library cannot afford a large investment in accessibility aids, some may be accessed on a trial basis or at a lower cost for a temporary period. This may be of use when updating, testing, or creating large quantities of materials.

Beyond using tools to help ensure accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines provide information about making web content more accessible to people with visual impairments, hearing disabilities, cognitive and mobility limitations, and photosensitivity. These guidelines cover topics including contrast ratios for readability of text and providing text alternatives for image and audio content so it can be changed into usable formats (W3C, 2008). For assistance creating accessible documentation beyond the web, many colleges, universities, and other educational organizations often provide guidance for meeting the needs of diverse learners in the classroom. This includes how to create accessible handouts and other materials.

Turner’s Five Laws of Document Design

Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science have provided a foundation for library work since their original publication in 1931. These simple guidelines allow librarians to assess library practices and make decisions.

We propose a second set of five laws, Turner’s Five Laws of Document Design, to help guide librarians in developing usable and accessible documentation.

  1. Design is for use. Consider your users. What will make the document more useable for them? Fonts, screenshots, and colors should be considered with the intended user or users in mind.
  2. Every document its design. What format is best for the task at hand? Task-oriented activities might be well-suited for a list format, while complicated concepts might require lengthier explanations. Additionally, consider multimodal documentation. Videos may help document users understand the text and vice versa.
  3. Every design its purpose. Just because a design or format choice is possible, doesn’t mean it is the correct choice for a given document. A fancy font or video should be employed to achieve specific means. Return to the first law of document design and consider the needs of potential users over your own needs. Colored paper may make it easier for you to organize handouts, but document users with vision impairments may benefit from high contrast black-on-white printing.
  4. Save the time of the user. What are the document’s end users looking for in the material? How will they use it? Do they want or need to consume the entire document or would it be better to divide the content into smaller pieces for point-of-need reference?
  5. Documents are changeable organisms. Documents should be continuously updated to reflect feedback from users, changes in conditions, and new information about document design best practices.

The final law, “documents are changeable organisms” reminds us not to wed ourselves to any of our document design choices. Instead, we should be willing to modify our documents to meet newly identified needs.

Principles in Action

We have used these principles to revise a printed document we distribute to newcomers to the university. The resulting document relies heavily on the Gestalt Principles of proximity, continuity, and closure, while also taking into account plain language and native speaker translations for the Spanish version. We also did usability testing to streamline content, so we could make the document a single-sheet multilingual handout.

Linked are examples of Library Quick Sheets


In this article, we discussed the social value of accessible document design. We presented theories and principles to help librarians make visual and textual decisions. We also discussed specific populations that are particularly affected by some of those visual and textual decisions.

Document design is not necessarily an arduous and mysterious process. Using Turner’s Five Laws of Document Design will allow us to be intentional with our design decisions. By thinking about how users will interact with our documentation, we create a more welcoming library environment. It might take more time upfront to design usable, accessible materials, but by being proactive, we can save ourselves time spent retrofitting materials to meet accessibility demands while also meeting the needs of individuals with unstated needs.


Many thanks to the peer reviewers for this article, Bethany Messersmith, Brett Currier, and Dorothea Salo, and publishing editor Ellie Collier for their work to polish and improve our ramblings. Thanks also to the attendees at our October 2015 presentation on this topic who provided us the encouragement necessary to form our thoughts into a written document.

Works Cited

Association of Research Libraries. (2012). Report of the ARL Joint Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities. Retrieved from:

Brune, J. A., & Wilson, D. J. (2013). Disability and passing: Blurring the lines of identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Bush, J. & Zuidema, L. A. (2011). Professional writing in the English classroom: Beyond language: The grammar of document design. The English Journal 100(4), 86-89.

CAST National Center on Universal Design for Learning (2014). UDL Guidelines—Version 2.0: Examples and Guidelines. Retrieved from

Copeland, C. A. (2011). Library and information center accessibility: The differently-able patron’s perspective. Technical Services Quarterly, 28(2), 223–241.

Currier, B. (2015). Comparing Dyslexia and Visual Impairments under W3C’s WCAG: A Legal Standard for Web Design? Retrieved from:

Edyburn, D. L. (2010, Winter). Would you recognize universal design for learning if you saw it? Ten propositions for new directions for the second decade of UDL. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(1), 33-41.

Guest Pryal, K. R. (2016, April 12). Can you tell the difference between accommodation and accessibility? [Web log post]. Retrieved from:

Kaplan, R. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language Learning 16(1), 1-20.

Kumbier, A., & Starkey, J. (2016). Access Is Not Problem Solving: Disability Justice and Libraries. Library Trends, 64(3), 468-491.

Langdon, P., Lázár, J., Heylighen, A., & Dong, H. (2014). Inclusive designing: Joining usability, accessibility, and inclusion. New York : Springer.

Moore, P., & Fitz, C. (1993). Using gestalt theory to teach document design and graphics. Technical Communication Quarterly, 2(4), 389.

Plain Language and Information Network (PLAIN). : Improving Communication from the Federal Government to the Public. Retrieved from:

Ranganathan, S. R. (1931). The Five Laws of Library Science. Madras: Madras Library Association.$b99721

Rello, L. and Baeza-Yates, R. (2012 November 19). Optimal colors to improve readability for people with dyslexia. Text Customization for Readability Online Symposium. Retrieved from:

Rello, L. and Baeza-Yates, R. (2013). Good fonts for dyslexia. ASSETS 2013. Retrieved from:

US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. (2009). A guide to disability rights law. Retrieved from:

US Department of Securities and Exchange Commission. (1998). A Plain English handbook: How to create clear SEC disclosure documents. Retrieved from:

W3C. (2008). Web content accessibility guidelines 2.0. Retrieved from:

Wallwork, A. (2014). User guides, manuals, and technical writing: A guide to professional English. New York: Springer.

Williams, G. H. (2012). Disability, universal design, and the digital humanities. In, ed. M. K. Gold, Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 202-212.

M. Ryan Hess: The State of the Library Website

Tue, 2016-06-28 22:20

T’was a time when the Library Website was an abomination. Those dark days have lightened significantly. But new clouds have appeared on the horizon.

Darkest Before the Dawn

In the dark ages of Library Websites, users suffered under UX regimes that were rigid, unhelpful and confusing. This was before responsive design became a standard in the library world. It was before search engine optimization started to creep into Library meetings. It was before user experience became an actual librarian job title.

We’ve come a long way since I wrote The Ugly Truth About Library Websites. Most libraries have evolved beyond the old “website as pamphlet” paradigm to one that is dynamic and focused on user tasks.

Public libraries have deployed platforms like BiblioCommons to serve responsive, task-oriented interfaces that integrate their catalogs, programming and website into a single social platform. Books, digital resources, programs and even loanable equipment are all accessible via a single search. What’s more, the critical social networking aspects of library life are also embedded along the user’s path. Celebrated examples of this integrated solution include the San Francisco Public Library and Chicago Public Library. Queens is also hard at work to develop a custom solution.

In the academic realm, libraries have turned to unified discovery layers like WorldCat Discovery and EBSCO Discovery Service to simplify (Googlize) the research process. These systems put a single-search box front and center that access resources on the shelf, but also all those electronic resources that make up the bulk of academic budgets.

And while there are still many laggards, few libraries ignore these problems outright.

The Storm Ahead

While the general state of online library interfaces has improved, the unforgiving, hyperbolic curve of change continues to press forward. And libraries cannot stay put. Indeed, we need to quicken our pace and prepare our organizations for ongoing recalibration as the tempo of change increases.

The biggest problem for library websites, is that there is little future for the library website. That’s because people will get less and less information through web browsers. Indeed, consider how often you use a web browser on your phone versus an app. Developments in AI, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will compound that trend.

If you’re like Chris Milk, videographer and VR evangelist, you see the writing on the wall. The modes of how we experience information are about to undergo a fundamental revolution. Milk likens the current state of VR to the old black and white silent films at the dawn of motion pictures.

I’d extend this line of thinking to the web page. Within a decade or two, I expect people will look back on web pages as a brief, transitory medium bridging print information to linked data. And as our AI, VR and AR technologies take off, they will liberate information from the old print paradigms altogether.

In short, people will interact with information in more direct ways. They will ask a computer to provide them the answer. They will virtually travel to a “space” where they can experience the information they seek.

Get Ready to Re-invent the Library…again

So where does the library fit into this virtualized and automated future?

One possibility is that the good work to transform library data into linked data will enable us to survive this revolution. In fact, it may be our best hope.

Another hope is that we continue to emphasize the library as a social space for people to come together around ideas. Whether its a virtual library space or a physical one, the library can be the place in both local and global communities where people meet their universal thirst for connecting with others. The modes of those ideas (books, ebooks, videos, games) will matter far less than the act of connecting.

In a sense, you could define the future online library as something between an MMORPG, and the TED conference.

So, the library website is vastly improved, but we won’t have long to rest on our laurels.

Ready Player One? Put on your VR goggles. Call up Siri. Start rethinking everything you know about the Library website.



DPLA: Job Opportunity: Developer (Data and Usage Analytics)

Tue, 2016-06-28 15:00

The DPLA has an opening for the position of Developer (Data and Usage Analytics).

The Digital Public Library of America seeks a full-time Developer to support large-scale processing and analysis of descriptions of and usage data about open access materials from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States. This position will be directly involved in improving DPLA’s ingestion and extract, transform, and load processes, in addition to helping develop processes and platforms to identify usage patterns of content aggregated by DPLA across user-facing platforms, social media, and APIs.

We are seeking a curious and enthusiastic individual who recognizes both their technical strengths and areas for growth, who can help us work effectively to further DPLA’s mission to bring together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, and make them freely available to all. A belief in this mission, and the drive to accomplish it over time in a collaborative spirit within and beyond the organization, is essential.


Reporting to the Director for Technology, the Developer:

  • Improves DPLA’s metadata ingestion and ETL processes to generate RDF metadata and address data quality issues at scale in a repeatable manner over time.
  • Implements hooks and workflows for data collection, analysis and reporting on data quality and usage metrics throughout DPLA’s infrastructure.
  • Collaborates closely with internal and external stakeholders in data management and reuse of DPLA content, including the DPLA Data Services Coordinator, DPLA engagement and use staff, and staff at DPLA partner institutions.
  • Actively contributes to the development of staff- and partner-facing tools for data analysis and business intelligence.
  • Performs other related duties and participates in special projects as assigned.

As a member of the DPLA Technology Team, the Developer:

  • Contributes to design, development, testing, integration, support, and documentation of user-facing applications and back-end systems.
  • Supports content management policies, process, and workflows, and contributes to the development of new ones.
  • Collaborates with internal and external stakeholders in planning and implementation of applications supporting DPLA’s mission, strategic plan, and special initiatives.
  • Maintains knowledge of emerging technologies to support the DPLA’s evolving services.
  • Embodies and promotes the philosophy of open source, shared, and community-built software and technologies.
  • Ensures both high quality and reasonable throughput in data processing.
  • Brings creative vision around possibilities for work with data that we haven’t yet imagined.


  • 5+ years professional experience in software development or a related discipline.
  • A proven ability to build large, reliable, and scalable infrastructure.
  • Experience with data integration to support analytics and business intelligence.
  • Demonstrated experience with REST API design.
  • Demonstrated experience working effectively in a team environment and the ability to interact well with stakeholders.
  • Desire and enthusiasm about learning new toolsets, programming languages, or methods to support software development.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Excellent problem-solving and organizational skills.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience with extract-transform-load workflows with varying input sources.
  • Broad experience and understanding of analysis and aggregation of metrics from heterogenous sources, including usage analytics
  • Experience developing visualizations, dashboards, or other user-facing tools to support business intelligence.
  • Advanced knowledge of semantic web technologies such as RDF, SPARQL, and LDP, and semantic enrichment and reconciliation processes.
  • Demonstrated experience with standards, data models, and protocols including Dublin Core, MODS, METS, MARCXML, IIIF, OAI-PMH, OAI-ORE, and ResourceSync.
  • A successful history of working effectively in a geographically-distributed organization.

This position is full-time. DPLA is a geographically-distributed organization, with headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. Ideally, this position would be situated in the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston, but remote work based in other locations will also be considered.

Like its collection, DPLA is strongly committed to diversity in all of its forms. We provide a full set of benefits, including health care, life and disability insurance, and a retirement plan. Starting salary is commensurate with experience.

About DPLA

The Digital Public Library of America strives to contain the full breadth of human expression, from the written word, to works of art and culture, to records of America’s heritage, to the efforts and data of science. Since launching in April 2013, it has aggregated more than 13 million items from 2,000 institutions. DPLA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit.

To apply, send a letter of interest detailing your qualifications, resume and a list of 3 references in a single PDF to First preference will be given to applications received by July 15, 2016, and review will continue until the position is filled.

Islandora: Membership Update - Lobstometre Rising

Tue, 2016-06-28 14:04

The Islandora Lobstometre gets another bump this month, courtesy of new members Agile Humanities, the British Columbia Electronic Library Network, and the Marmot Library Network, bringing our total membership funding to $126,000. If we can reach $160,000, we can hire a Technical Lead. Membership comes with many benefits:

Member - $2,000 / year

Included in Initial Membership:

  • 2 Islandora Community Supporter T-Shirts
  • e-badge for organization website

Included in Annual Renewal:

  • 50% discount for 1 Camp registration per year
  • 25% discount Online Training
  • Link to organization website

Collaborator - $4,000 / year

Included in Initial Membership:

  • 3 Islandora Community Supporter T-Shirts
  • e-badge for organization website

Included in Annual Renewal:

  • 1 free Camp registration per year
  • 50% discount Online Training
  • Appointment of 1 representative to IF Roadmap Committee
  • Links to organization sites/collections
Partner - $10,000 / year

Included in Initial Membership:

  • 10 Islandora Community Supporter T-Shirts
  • e-badge for organization website

Included in Annual Renewal:

  • 2 free Camp registrations per year
  • Free access to Training
  • Appoint 1 to IF Board of Directors
  • Appointment of 1 representative to IF Roadmap Committee
  • Links to organization sites/collections
  • Camp booth

Interested in learning more about membership? Ready to join? Please contact us at

Journal of Web Librarianship: A Review of "Practical Copyright for Library and Information Professionals"

Tue, 2016-06-28 03:07
Bradford Lee Eden

Journal of Web Librarianship: A Review of "Using Tablets and Apps in Libraries"

Tue, 2016-06-28 03:06
Dena L. Luce

Journal of Web Librarianship: A Review of "Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, Practice, Prospects"

Tue, 2016-06-28 03:06
Bradford Lee Eden

Journal of Web Librarianship: A Review of "Copyright for Archivists and Records Managers, 5th ed."

Tue, 2016-06-28 03:06
John Rodzvilla

Journal of Web Librarianship: A Review of "MOOCs and Libraries"

Tue, 2016-06-28 03:05
Elizabeth Fronk

DuraSpace News: The Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University Awarded IMLS Grant for Fedora 4 API Extensions Framework

Tue, 2016-06-28 00:00

Austin, TX  The Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University were awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant for Libraries earlier this year. The aim of the funding is to to assist work on the API Extensions framework for Fedora 4 platform that will facilitate the exposure of repository contents as linked data web resources.

DuraSpace News: KnowledgeArc and EIFL Launch the First Open Repository in Myanmar

Tue, 2016-06-28 00:00

From Michael Guthrie, KnowledgeArc  EIFL, in association with the University of Mandalay and the University of Yangon, ran  a series of seminars and meetings in March to finalize institutional open access policies and launch open access repositories.  During this series of meetings, as part of the EIFL eLibrary Myanmar project, KnowledgeArc launched the first open access repository in the country of Myanmar.

DuraSpace News: VIVO Updates for June 26–VIVO 1.9 beta On the Way, Persistent Identifiers

Tue, 2016-06-28 00:00

Conference early bird deadline extended to Tuesday June 28.  And the conference program is available on line!  And we have a new keynote, Dario Taraborelli of Wikidata! Register today at

Shelley Gullikson: UXLibs II: Conference Notes

Mon, 2016-06-27 22:54

As always with my conference notes, this isn’t a faithful summing up, but rather a few of the points that stuck out most for me. I’ll follow this up with a more reflective piece.

I haven’t added in anything about my own presentation, but have uploaded the pdf version of it: “From user-testing to user research: Collaborating to improve library websites.” I’ve also uploaded the pdf version of my poster: “Cram it all in! Exploring delight in the research process. And Summon. Oh, and subject guides too” in case you’re interested.

Andy Priestner: Opening address

Andy told us a couple of stories about his recent experiences on trains in Hong Kong and Melbourne. Despite the language barrier, he found the Hong Kong trains to be much easier to use, and in fact, made the experience so enjoyable that he and his family sought out opportunities to take the train: “Hey, if we go to that restaurant across town instead of the one down the street we could take the train!”(this isn’t a direct quote)

My notes on this read:

How can we help students not feel like they’re in a foreign place in the library?

How can we help the library feel desirable?

But now that I think about it, that first point is totally unecessary. Feeling like you’re in a foreign place isn’t the problem; it can actually be quite wonderful and exciting. Being made to feel unwelcome is the problem, regardless of whether the place is foreign or familiar. So I quite like the idea of trying to make the library feel desirable. I think my own library does this reasonably well with our physical space (we’re often full to bursting with students) but it’s a nice challenge for our virtual spaces.

Andy also talked about Ellen Isaacs idea of “the hidden obvious” when describing library staff reaction to his team’s user research findings. He also mentioned Dan North on uncertainty: “We would rather be wrong than be uncertain.” These two ideas returned at other times during the next two days.

Donna Lanclos: Keynote

Donna also told us stories. She told us stories about gardens and her mother’s advice that if you plant something new and it dies, you plant something else. With “Failed” as one of the conference streams, this key next step of “plant something else” is important to keep in mind. Failing and then learning from failure is great. But we must go on to try again. We must plant something else. Not just say “well, that didn’t work, let’s figure out what we learned and not do that again.” Plant something else.

Donna’s mother also said, though, that “sometimes the plant dies because of you.” So that maybe, sometimes, it’s not that you need to plant something else. You just need to plant the same thing and be more careful with it. Or maybe someone else should plant it or look after it.

Another point from this garden story was that there are always people in the library who take particular pains to keep lists of all the dead plants. People who say “we tried that before and it didn’t work.” Or who make it clear they think you shouldn’t try to plant anything at all. Or who cling too strongly to some of those dead plants; who never intend to plant again because of it. Don’t keep a list of the dead plants. Or maybe keep a list but not at the forefront of your mind.

Donna told us another story about her fieldwork in Northern Ireland. How she found it difficult to be gathering folklore when there were bigger issues; problems that needed fixing. Advice she got then and passed on to us was that just because you can’t fix problems with your ethnographic work doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything, that you aren’t doing anything. Gathering understanding – a new and different understanding – is valid and valuable work and it’s different work than solving problems.

She argued that ethnographic work is not about finding and solving problems but about meaning. Finding out what something means, or if you don’t know what it means, figuring out what you think it means. The work can help with small wins but is really about much more. This is a theme Donne and Andrew discussed further in the wrap-up panel on Friday.

Finally, I have this note that I can’t at all remember the context for, but boy do I like it anyway:

Not risk, but possibility

Jenny Morgan: UX – Small project/ high value?

Jenny’s was the first of the Nailed, Failed, Derailed sessions I attended and she was a wonderfully calm presenter – something I always admire since I often feel like a flailing goon. She spoke about a project she led, focusing on international students at her library at Leeds Beckett University. A couple of my take-aways:

  • They asked students how they felt about the library. I like this affective aspect and think it ties in with what Andy was talking about with making the library desirable.
  • Students don’t think of the whole building; despite the library making printers available in the same place on every floor, students didn’t realize there were printers on any floor other than the one they were on. As a consequence, students would stand in line to use printers on one floor instead of going to another floor where printers were available. Of course this makes sense, but library staff often think of the whole building and forget that our users only use, see, and know about a tiny portion.
  • The international students they spoke to found the library too noisy and were hesitant to ask the “home” students to be quiet. They didn’t like the silent study areas or the study carrels; they wanted quiet, but not silent.
  • International students are often on campus at times when “home” students are not (e.g. holidays, break times). They like going to the library for the community that they can’t find elsewhere, often because everywhere else is closed. This hit home for me because our campus really shuts down at the Christmas break, and even the library is closed. It made me wonder where our international students go for that feeling of community.
Carl Barrow: Getting back on the rails by spreading the load

One of the first things that struck me about Carl’s presentation was his job title – Student Engagement Manager – and that Web is included under his purview. I think I would love that job.

Carl was really open and honest in his presentation. He talked about being excited about what he learned at UXLibs and wanting to start doing user research with those methods, but feeling hesitant. And then he looked deeper into why he was feeling hesitant, and realized part of it was his own fear of failure. Hearing him be so honest about how his initial enthusiasm was almost sidetracked by fear was really refreshing. Conference presenters usually (and understandably) want to come off as polished and professional, and talking about feelings tends not to enter into it. But it makes so much sense at a UX conference – where we spend a fair bit of time talking about our users’ feelings – to talk about our own feelings as well. I really appreciated this about Carl’s talk. A few other points I noted down:

  • He trained staff on the ethnographic methods he wanted to use and then (this is the really good bit) he had them practice those methods on students who work in the library. This seemed to me to be a great way for staff to ease in: unfamiliar methods made less scary by using them with familiar people.
  • Something that made me think of Andy’s point about “the hidden obvious”: they realized through their user research that the silent reading room had services located in the space (e.g. printers, laptop loans) that made it rather useless for silent study. I personally love how user research can make us see these things, turning “the hidden obvious” to “the blindingly obvious.”
  • I just like this note of mine: “Found that signage was bad. (Signage is always bad.)”
  • They found that because people were not sure what they could do from the library’s information points (computer kiosk-type things), they simply stayed away from them. At my own library, trying to make our kiosks suck less is one of my next projects, so this was absolutely relevant to me.
Deirdre Costello: Sponsor presentation from EBSCO

Last year, Deirdre rocked her sponsor presentation and this year was no different. I was still a bit loopy from having done my own presentation and then gone right to my poster, so honestly, this was the only sponsor presentation I took notes on. My brain went on strike for a bit after this.

Deirdre talked about how to handle hard questions when you’re either presenting user research results, or trying to convince someone to let you do user research in the first place. One of those was “Are you sure about your sample?” and she said the hidden questions behind this was “Are you credible?” It reminded me about a presentation I did where I (in part) read out a particularly insightful love letter from a user, and someone’s notes on that part of the presentation read “n=1”: surely meant to be a withering slam.

Other points I took away from Deirdre:

  • Sometimes you need to find ways for stakeholders to hear the message from someone who is not you (her analogy was that you can become a teenager’s mom; once you’ve said something once, they can’t stand to hear the same thing from you again).
  • One great way of doing the above is through videos with student voices. She said students like being on video and cracking jokes, and this can create a valuable and entertaining artifact to show your stakeholders.
  • Again related to all this, Deidre talked about the importance of finding champions who can do things you can’t. She said that advocacy requires a mix of swagger and diplomacy, and if you’re too much on the swagger side then you need a champion who can do the diplomacy part for you.
Andrea Gasparini: A successful introduction of User Experience as a strategic tool for service and user centric organizations

Apologies to Andrea: I know I liked his session but the notes I took make almost no sense at all. I got a bit distracted when he was talking about his co-author being a product designer at his library at the University of Oslo. The day before I came to UXLibs II, I met with Jenn Phillips-Bacher who was one of my team-mates at the first UXLibs. Jenn does fabulously cool things at the Wellcome Library and is getting a new job title that includes either “product designer” or “product manager” and we had talked a bit about what that means and how it changes things for her and for the library. That discussion came back to me during Andrea’s session and took me away from the presentation at hand for a while.

The only semi-coherent note I do have is:

  • Openness to design methods implies testing and learning
Ingela Wahlgren: What happens when you let a non-user loose in the library?

Ingela described how a whole range of methods were used at Lund University library to get a bigger picture of their user experience. She then went into depth about a project that she and her colleague Åsa Forsberg undertook, trying to get the non-user’s perspective.

One UX method that was taught at last year’s UXLibs was “touchstone tours,” where a user takes the researcher on a tour of a space (physical or virtual). This lets the researcher experience the space from the user’s point of view and see the bits that are most useful or meaningful to them. Ingela and  Åsa wanted to have a non-user of the library take them on a touchstone tour. They might see useful and meaningful parts of the library, but more importantly would see what was confusing and awful for a new user. I thought this was a brilliant idea!

Most of the presentation, then, was Ingela taking the audience along for the touchstone tour she had with a non-user. With lots of pictures of what they had seen and experienced, Ingela clearly demonstrated how utterly frustrating the experience had been. And yet, after this long and frustrating experience, the student proclaimed that it had all gone well and she was very satisfied. ACK! What a stunningly clear reminder that what users say is not at all as important as what they do, and also how satisfaction surveys do not tell us the true story of our users’ experience.

Ingela won the “best paper” prize for this presentation at the gala dinner on Thursday night. Well-deserved!

Team Challenge

The team challenge this year focused on advocacy. There were three categories:

  • Marketing Up (advocating to senior management)
  • Collaboration (advocating to colleagues in other areas)
  • Recruitment (advocating to student groups)

Attendees were in groups of about 8 and there were 5 groups per category. We had less than 2 hours on Thursday and an additional 45 minutes on Friday to prepare our 7-minute pitches to our respective audiences. I was in team M1, so Marketing Up to senior management. I’m going to reflect on this in my Conference Thoughts post, but there are a few notes below from the other teams’ presentations.

Andy Priestner: Welcome to Day 2

Friday was a sombre day, with the results of the Brexit vote. Andy has written a lovely post about writing and delivering his Welcome to Day 2 speech. I will have my own reflections in my upcoming Conference Thoughts post. But suffice it to say, Andy’s speech was spot-on, clearly appreciated by the audience, and left me rather teary.

Lawrie Phipps: Keynote

I got a bit lost at some of the UK-specific vocabulary and content of Lawrie’s keynote, but he made some really rather wonderful points:

  • Don’t compromise the vision you have before you share it. He talked about how we often anticipate responses to our ideas before we have a chance to share them, and that this can lead to internally deciding on compromises. His point was that if you make those compromises before you’ve articulated your vision to others, you’re more likely to compromise rather than sticking to your guns. Don’t compromise before it’s actually necessary.
  • Incremental changes, when you make enough of them, can be transformative. You don’t have to make a huge change in order to make a difference. This was nice to hear because it’s absolutely how I approach things, particularly on the library website.
  • Use your external network of people to tell your internal stakeholders things because often external experts are more likely to be listened to or believed. (Deirdre Costello had said pretty much the same thing in her presentation. It can be hard on the ego, but is very often true.)
  • “Leadership is often stealthy.” Yes, I would say that if/when I show leadership, it is pretty much always stealthy.
  • Finally, Lawrie talked about the importance of documenting your failures. It’s not enough to fail and learn from your failures, you have to document them so that other people learn from them too, otherwise the failure is likely to be repeated again and again.
Team Challenge Presentations

I didn’t take as many notes as I should have during the team presentations. The other teams in my group certainly raised a lot of good points, but the only one I made special note of was from Team M5:

  • There are benefits to students seeing our UX work, even when they aren’t directly involved. It demonstrates that we care. Students are often impressed that the library is talking to students or observing student behaviour – that we are seeking to understand them. This can go a long way to generating goodwill and have students believe that we are genuinely trying to help them.

My team (M1) ended up winning the “Marketing Upwards” challenge, which was rather nice although I don’t think any of us were keen to repeat our pitch to the whole conference! We thought the fire alarm might get us out of it, but no luck. (Donna Lanclos – one of our judges – later said that including the student voice and being very specific about what we wanted were definitely contributing factors in our win. This feels very “real world” to me and was nice feedback to hear.)

There were a couple of points from the winning Collaboration team (C4) that I took note of:

  • Your networks are made up of people who are your friends, and people who may owe you favours. Don’t be afraid to make use of that.
  • Even if a collaborative project fails, the collaboration itself can still be a success. Don’t give up on a collaborative relationship just because the outcome wasn’t what you’d hoped.

Again, my brain checked out a bit during team R2’s winning Recruitment pitch. (I was ravenous and lunch was about to begin.) There was definitely uproarious laughter for Bethany Sherwood’s embodiment of the student voice.

Andrew Asher: Process Interviews

I chose the interviews workshop with Andrew Asher because when I was transcribing interviews I did this year, I was cringing from time to time and knew I needed to beef up my interview skills. I was also keen to get some help with coding because huge chunks of those interviews are still sitting there, waiting to be analyzed. Some good bits:

  • You generally will spend 3-4 hours analyzing for each 1 hour interview
  • Different kinds of interviews: descriptive (“tell me about”), demonstration (“show me”), and elicitation (using prompts such as cognitive maps, photos)
  • Nice to start with a throwaway question to act as an icebreaker. (I know this and still usually forget to include it. Maybe now it will stick.)

We practiced doing interviews and reflected on that experience. I was an interviewee and felt bad that I’d chosen a situation that didn’t match the questions very well. It was interesting to feel like a participant who wanted to please the interviewer, and to reflect on what the interviewer could have said to lessen the feeling that I wasn’t being a good interviewee. (I really don’t know the answer to that one.)

We looked at an example of a coded interview and practiced coding ourselves. There wasn’t a lot of time for this part of the workshop, but it’s nice to have the example in-hand, and also to know that there is really no big trick to it. Like so much, it really just takes doing it and refining your own approach.

Andy Priestner: Cultural Probes

I had never heard of cultural probes before this, and Andy started with a description and history of their use. Essentially, cultural probes are kits of things like maps, postcards, cameras, and diaries that are given to groups of people to use to document their thoughts, feelings, behaviour, etc.

Andy used cultural probes earlier this year in Cambridge to explore the lives of postdocs. His team’s kit included things like a diary pre-loaded with handwritten questions for the participants to answer, task envelopes that they would open and complete at specific times, pieces of foam to write key words on, and other bits and pieces. They found that the participants were really engaged with the project and gave very full answers. (Perhaps too full; they’re a bit overwhelmed with the amount of data the project has given them.)

After this, we were asked to create a cultural probe within our table groups. Again, there wasn’t a lot of time for the exercise but all the groups managed to come up with something really interesting.

I loved this. In part it was just fun to create (postcards, stickers, foam!) but it was also interesting to try to think about what would make it fun for participants to participate.  When I was doing cognitive maps and love letters/break-up letters with students last summer, one of them was really excited by how much fun it had been – so much better than filling out a survey. It’s easier to convince someone to participate in user research if they’re having a good time while doing it.

Panel Discussion (Ange, Andrew, Lawrie, Donna, Matthew)

The next-to-last thing on the agenda was a panel discussion. We’d been asked to write down any questions we had for the panelists ahead of time and Ned Potter chose a few from the pile. A few notes:

  • In response to a question about how to stop collecting data (which is fun) and start analyzing it (which is hard), Matthew Reidsma recommended the book Just Enough Research by Erika Hall. Other suggestions were: finding an external deadline by committing to a conference presentation or writing an article or report, working with a colleague who will keep you to a deadline, or having a project that relies on analyzing data before the project can move forward
  • Responding to a question about any fears about the direction UX in libraries is taking, Donna spoke about the need to keep thinking long-term; not to simply use UX research for quick wins and problem-solving, but to really try to create some solid and in-depth understanding. I think it was Donna again who said that we can’t just keep striking out on our own with small projects; we must bring our champions along with us so that we can develop larger visions. Andrew and Donna are working on an article on this very theme for an upcoming issue of Weave.
  • I don’t remember what question prompted this, but Ange Fitzpatrick talked about how she and colleague were able to get more expansive responses from students when they didn’t identify themselves as librarians. However, as team M5 had already mentioned and I believe it was Donna who reiterated at this point: students like to know that the library wants to know about them and cares about knowing them.
  • Finally, to a question about how to choose the most useful method for a given project, there were two really good responses. Andrew said to figure out what information you need and what you need to do with that information, and then pick a method that will help you with those two things. He recommended the ERIAL toolkit (well, Donna recommended it really, but Andrew wrote the toolkit, so I’ll credit him). And Matthew responded that you don’t have to choose the most useful method, you just have to choose a useful method.
Andy Priestner: Conference Review

Andy ended the day with a nice wrap-up and call-out to the positive collaborations that had happened and would continue to happen in the UXLibs community. He also got much applause ending his review with “I am a European.”

Like last year, I left exhausted and exhilarated, anxious to put some of these new ideas into practice, and hoping to attend another UXLibs conference. Next year?


William Denton: Collaboration is not causation

Mon, 2016-06-27 22:03

Good to remember when you embark on a project with someone, both of you full of good intentions that it will be completed soon, but a bit vague on who will do what work how: “Collaboration is not causation.”

Jeremy Frumkin: Libraries and the state of the Internet

Mon, 2016-06-27 19:04

Mary Meeker presented her 2016 Internet Trends report earlier this month. If you want a better understanding of how tech and the tech industry is evolving, you should watch her talk and read her slides.

This year’s talk was fairly time constrained, and she did not go into as much detail as she has in years past. That being said, there is still an enormous amount of value in the data she presents and the trends she identifies via that data.

Some interesting takeaways:

  • The growth in total number of internet users worldwide is slowing (the year-to-year growth rate is flat; overall growth is around 7% new years per year)
  • However, growth in India is still accelerating, and India is now the #2 global user market (behind China; USA is 3rd)
  • Similarly, there is a slowdown in the growth of the number of smartphone users and number of smartphones being shipped worldwide (still growing, but at a slower rate)
  • Android continues to demonstrate growth in marketshare; Android devices are continuing to be less costly by a significant margin than Apple devices.
  • Overall, there are opportunities for businesses that innovate / increase efficiency / lower prices / create jobs
  • Advertising continues to demonstrate strong growth; advertising efficacy still has a ways to go (internet advertising is effective and can be even more so)
  • Internet as distribution channel continues to grow in use and importance
  •  Brand recognition is increasingly important
  • Visual communication channel usage is increasing – Generation Z relies more on communicating with images than with text
  • Messaging is becoming a core communication channel for business interactions in addition to social interactions
  • Voice on mobile rapidly rising as important user interface – lots of activity around this
  • Data as platform – important!

So, what kind of take-aways might be most useful to consider in the library context? Some top-of-head thoughts:

  • In the larger context of the Internet, Libraries need to be more aggressive in marketing their brand and brand value. We are, by nature, fairly passive, especially compared to our commercial competition, and a failure to better leverage the opportunity for brand exposure leaves the door open to commercial competitors.
  • Integration of library services and content through messaging channels will become more important, especially with younger users. (Integration may actually be too weak a term; understanding how to use messaging inherently within the digital lifestyles of our users is critical)
  • Voice – are any libraries doing anything with voice? Integration with Amazon’s Alexa voice search? How do we fit into the voice as platform paradigm?

One parting thought, that I’ll try to tease out in a follow-up post: Libraries need to look very seriously at the importance of personalized, customized curation of collections for users, something that might actually be antithetical to the way we currently approach collection development. Think Apple Music, but for books, articles, and other content provided by libraries. It feels like we are doing this in slices and pieces, but that we have not yet established a unifying platform that integrates with the larger Internet ecosystem.