Confab Higher Ed 2017: What We Thought

[Image: Our own Courtney McDonald welcomes Confab Higher Ed registrants. From @ConfabEvents on Instagram]

In DUX, we see content strategy as a crucial part of overall UX design; it doesn’t really matter how easy your website architecture makes it to find content if that content doesn’t make sense when you get there, or if it isn’t the content that you need! Confab is a terrific and well-organized content strategy conference; prior to 2018 it encompassed not only a big annual conference in Minneapolis but also smaller and more focused conferences that convened in a different city each year, including Confab Higher Ed. (See past blog posts about Confab.)

In November 2017, we got lucky in that Confab Higher Ed landed a mere 50 miles north of us in Indianapolis – making travel easy. I was delighted to be invited to give a talk (“Interview Your Stakeholders Like a Librarian” – here are my slides), and  while I’d attended both Confab Central and Confab Higher Ed in the past, this time around some other IU Libraries folks joined me at a Confab event.

My job as the Libraries’ Web Content Specialist means that I “do” content strategy as a part of my day-to-day work, so the talks presented at Confab are highly relevant for me. I especially loved Scott Kubie‘s talk on content ecosystem mapping – which seems especially relevant to some of my work right now as we evaluate our social media workflows and the relationships between content, and the people & processes managing that content, across multiple channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the Libraries’ blogs, the Libraries’ website, IUCAT, etc.). As a nice bonus, it was awesome to reconnect with IU grad and Confab speaker Melissa Beaver, with whom I worked when she was a grad student in information science! It makes me happy when our grads are professionally successful.

But I was curious how useful the conference would be to my colleagues who aren’t so closely involved with content strategy and who hadn’t attended Confab before. I asked them, and here’s what they told me.

Ashley Hosbach, Graduate Assistant, Reference Department:

As graduate students in the Library and Information Science program, we are encouraged to attend a variety of librarian oriented conferences. But what about conferences in different disciplines? Most of the people we work with aren’t fellow librarians; our work environment is built off of communicating and collaborating with other departments within our organizations. Attending Confab Higher Ed gave me the opportunity to connect with professionals in higher education across the board. I think that all MLS students should look into conferences like Confab. Approaching content strategy from a variety of perspectives made me reassess how I view library media and user design. To create content that is both impactful and accessible to our users requires sifting through our sites, media and catalogs. After all, there’s millions of stories floating throughout the stacks, and the voice of the library “brand” should rise above them all.

Leanne Nay, Digital Engagement Librarian:

Why did you choose to attend Confab Higher Ed?

After hearing Anne Haines rave about this conference I had to see if it was worth the hype!

What was your favorite session, and why? 

I loved Jared Thomas Meyer’s session, “Too Many Cooks: Overcoming Content Interference.” He had excellent practical tips for collaboration, but what I really enjoyed was his discussion of empathy and vulnerability. As Jared put it, “It’s our job to build a world that is compassionate and empathetic.” In retrospect, this statement sums up the entire conference. Content strategy isn’t about making money or getting the most followers on social media, it’s about seeing things from the user’s perspective.

If you learned one thing that you plan to implement or at least investigate in your day-to-day work, what was it?

A lot of presenters mentioned repurposing content across platforms. Here in the library, we have lots of different ways to communicate with our users, from the website to digital screens to social media. Instead of creating content and graphics for one platform, it’s a huge time saver to remix things and use them across multiple channels. Not to mention, it helps with brand consistency. I tend to use things once and move on, but I’m trying to think in these terms going forward.

If you don’t “do content strategy” in your day-to-day work, did you still find Confab relevant to what you do? Why or why not?

The most obvious application in my daily work is how I approach social media. You can apply content strategy to something as simple as writing a tweet. For any given tweet, I might ask myself, “Who is this tweet for? Is there an image I can use to help communicate the message? (Make sure to add alt text for screen readers!) Am I using an acronym that only a handful of people will know? Is there a hashtag I can use to reach more people?” And the list goes on.

Long story short, yes, I think content strategy is very relevant in my day to day work.

Can you compare Confab to other conferences you’ve been to? How was it different or similar?

The overall energy level was higher and the speakers were more dynamic than most conferences I’ve attended.

In general, do you think it’s a good experience for librarians to attend conferences that aren’t aimed directly at a librarian audience? Or do you think librarians should focus on deeper study within their own field?

Confab is a great conference for librarians because it speaks to how we communicate with our users. I think it’s applicable to all librarians.

Anything else you’d like to share with the class?

It was worth the hype!

Courtney McDonald, head of DUX and interim head of Reference:

Why did you choose to attend Confab Higher Ed?

I had heard such great things about it from a trusted colleague!  And it was, in fact, great.

What was your favorite session, and why? (If you had more than one favorite feel free to talk about as many as you’d like!)

My experience might have been a little different in that I also volunteered at the conference … that said, I actually really enjoyed the continuity of being in a single room all day and seeing the variety of presentations just in that one space. If I had to choose, I’d probably say Matt McFadden’s talk on “Content in the Age of Personalization” – I loved how he framed personalization in terms of presenting content and letting the user refine, rather than how I often think of personalization which is all about account creation, etc.

I also really enjoyed the presentation by Kelly Davenport and Jackie Wolf
titled “How to go from good to great: A case study on redesigning the University of Michigan Medical School website.” They manage a Drupal site that serves the entirety of Michigan Medical so hearing how they thought through a redesign on that scale and managed to meet so many individual and varied needs and goals of departments and content editors was inspiration for our own upcoming redesign / migration here.

In general, do you think it’s a good experience for librarians to attend conferences that aren’t aimed directly at a librarian audience? Or do you think librarians should focus on deeper study within their own field?

Yes! If the work that we do has connections to a larger industry or community, inside or outside of higher ed, I think there’s so much benefit to be gained from actively connecting to that community of practice. We do have opportunities to connect with the library community of practice, and I value those, but I am also part of the content strategy Community of Practice and that helps me approach my work with a different, and useful, context.

DÜX BÜX rides again!

Fall semester has kicked in! Your desk is piled high with to-do lists and notes, Inbox Zero is just a nice dream you once had, and your calendar is bulging with meetings.

Meetings! They’re a huge part of the workday – and of the experience of being an employee. Meetings are part of your everyday UX. They are created on purpose, and like most anything else, they can be redesigned to provide better UX and to be a more effective tool.

Never thought of it that way? You’ll want to join DÜX BÜX, our monthly UX book club, for the next book on our reading list: “Read This Before Our Next Meeting” by Al Pittampalli.

Some of us have had this book on our reading lists and/or on our Kindles for a while now, and we thought this fall would be a nice time to dive into it. It’s only 80 pages in hardcover, so each month’s “assignment” shouldn’t be too onerous – and, as always, you’re welcome to attend the meetings even if you haven’t done the reading. We are a judgement-free book club!

The book is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats (as well as on Audible or audio CD if you are so inclined), and the Business/SPEA IC has a copy in IUCAT with a second copy on order. Feel free to read either the first or second edition, whichever is easier for you to get your hands on; it looks like the changes are relatively minor.

We’ll be meeting from 12:00-1:00 (feel free to bring your lunch!) on the following dates (contact anyone in DUX for location details):
Tuesday, September 12 – Chapter 1: “What Do You Do For A Living?”
Tuesday, October 10 – Chapter 2: “The Seven Principles of Modern Meetings” (or, if you have the 2nd edition, “The Eight Principles of Modern Meetings”)
Tuesday, November 14 – Chapter 3: “You Must Decide”
Tuesday, December 12 – Chapter 4: “The Modern Meeting Standard” plus “Frequently Asked Questions” and “More questions?”

All IU librarians & library staff are welcome to join us!

Read more about the genesis of DÜX BÜX (and why the umlaut?) and about our spring semester readings.

New databases for June

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the title, vendor, or platform has changed, from June 1-30, 2017. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides.

This will be the last blog post enumerating newly acquired resources. You can find a list of the newest resources, and those for which a trial is underway, at http://libraries.indiana.edu/electronic-resources-trials-and-new-additions. This list will be updated as resources are added, and resources will remain tagged as “new” for approximately two months following acquisition.

17th & 18th Century Nichols Collection of UK Newspapers
https://libraries.indiana.edu/17th-and-18th-century-nichols-collection-uk-newspapers

Cambridge Archive Editions
https://libraries.indiana.edu/cambridge-archive-editions

Der Literarische Expressionismus Online
https://libraries.indiana.edu/der-literarische-expressionismus-online

East India Company
https://libraries.indiana.edu/east-india-company

Telegraph Historical Archive, 1855-2000
https://libraries.indiana.edu/telegraph-historical-archive-1855-2000

Za vozvrashchenie na Rodinu Digital Archive
https://libraries.indiana.edu/za-vozvrashchenie-na-rodinu-digital-archive

Travelling Without Moving

Summertime!

Like many of you, no doubt, through my college and graduate school years my summers were a mish-mash of activity. Perhaps you, like me, managed always to wedge in some trips to the pool or park, a “family vacation” or maybe a week at summer camp. As a young child, I played outside for hours, then later I had part-time jobs.

One thing that has always been a large part of my summer was reading. Without the “call to duty” of assigned texts, I relished the freedom to read widely and voraciously from the moment that classes finished in the spring until their start the following autumn. This is probably not a surprising revelation from a librarian. My tastes are varied – fiction, non-fiction, you name it – but one genre that has always been dear to my heart are travel narratives.

Cat in a suitcase next to bookshelf
Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski – Camouflage cat // CC BY-SA 2.0

Travel narratives, as I see it now, have a lot of connections to my work in user experience design. In a travel narrative, a person goes to a place – whether new or familiar – and writes about their thoughts, feelings and activities. Travel narratives give us an opportunity to see something from someone else’s perspective, and in so doing, help us better understand both their and our way of looking. What do we share? How do we differ? Can we learn to look in a new way?

In 2007, Condé Nast Traveler gathered submissions from a “literary all-star jury” and compiled The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time. Who were these “literary all-stars”? Well, to name a few: Monica Ali; Vikram Chandra; Jared Diamond; Peter Mayle; John McPhee; Francine Prose; Paul Theroux; and Gore Vidal.

Naturally I wondered how many were available via IUCAT, our shared statewide library catalog: 82 of 86. I’ve created a public list where you can peruse them, to which I added a few of my own favorites (my selections appear first on the list):

82 of Condé Nast Traveler’s “86 Greatest Travel Books” + a few of my own favorites

Notes on my additions:

  • Come, Tell Me How You Live, by Agatha Christie Mallowan – yes, that Agatha Christie, prolific author of mystery novels. I found it fascinating to learn of another side of her life, accompanying her archaeologist husband to his digs in Syria in the early 20th century.
  • Love Among the Butterflies, by Margaret Fountaine – I came across this title (while travelling!) at an English language bookshop in Amsterdam. Margaret Fountaine collected butterflies (and adventures) all over the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, sometimes travelling solo and other times with her partner Khalil Neimy. I realize that the only copy the IU system owns is held by Kinsey and doesn’t circulate, but there’s always interlibrary loan …
  • Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum – The title really says it all. I will only add that Slocum also built his boat.
  • Tracks, by Robyn Davidson – I will confess that I was surprised not to find this title on the Condé Nast Traveler list. Have you ever thought, I’d like to train my own camels and travel overland from the Australian Outback to the coast at Perth? Me either. But you can read about what happened when she did. Bonus title: Accompanying photo essay book From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback
  • Staying Put: Making A Home in A Restless World, by Scott Russell Sanders – who says you have to leave home to travel? This collection of essays by IU’s Distinguished Faculty Emeritus (English) meditates on what it means to be “home.” I’m a Bloomington native, so reading this the summer after my high school graduation, and thinking that he was writing in and about my hometown, made it extra meta.

2007 just too old a list for you? You can also find a more recent list of recommended travel books from the UK’s Telegraph, published in March of this year: The 20 Best Travel Books of All Time.

I wish you happy travelling, with or without moving from your couch.

Why you should judge a book by its cover

Everyone knows the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. In his two Ted Talks, book designer Chip Kidd, the associate art director at Knopf, gives us a compelling reason to do so. These talks will make you think, make you laugh, make you want to read, and finally will make you look at all design in an entirely different light.

In the 2012 talk titled Designing books is no laughing matter. Okay, it is, Kidd describes the thought process that goes into creating book covers. He focuses on the importance of imagery, first impressions, and how book cover design influences the way you as the reader will perceive the story.

With his 2015 talk The art of first impressions — in design and life, Kidd gives the listeners an important lesson. That first impressions matter and our design choices (even the ones most of us never even think to notice) have an impact on how we see the world around us. He shows us how good design can grab your attention and the wrong design can leave a bad taste in your mouth.

New databases for May

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the title, vendor, or platform has changed, from May 1-31, 2017. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month. You can also find a list of the newest resources, and those for which a trial is underway, at http://libraries.indiana.edu/electronic-resources-trials-and-new-additions.

Cuban Culture and Cultural Relations, 1959-
https://libraries.indiana.edu/cuban-culture-and-cultural-relations-1959

D&B Business Browser (formerly OneSource)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/db-business-browser

Education Research Complete
https://libraries.indiana.edu/education-research-complete

Educational Administration Abstracts
https://libraries.indiana.edu/educational-administration-abstracts

Fashion Photography Archive
https://libraries.indiana.edu/fashion-photography-archive

MGG Online
https://libraries.indiana.edu/mgg-online

Middle Eastern Manuscripts Online 2: The Ottoman Legacy of Levinus Warner
https://libraries.indiana.edu/middle-eastern-manuscripts-online-2-ottoman-legacy-levinus-warner

Middle Eastern Manuscripts Online 3: Arabic Manuscripts from the Hungarian Academy
https://libraries.indiana.edu/middle-eastern-manuscripts-online-3-arabic-manuscripts-hungarian-academy

Nutrition Science Legacy Archive
https://libraries.indiana.edu/nutrition-science-legacy-archive

Open Folklore
https://libraries.indiana.edu/open-folklore

Performing Arts Periodicals Database (formerly Performing Arts Database)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/performing-arts-periodicals-database

Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism
https://libraries.indiana.edu/routledge-encyclopedia-modernism

SMA: Sports Market Analytics (formerly Sports Business Research Network)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/sma-sports-market-analytics

Udndata
https://libraries.indiana.edu/udndata

New databases for April

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the title, vendor, or platform has changed, from April 3-28, 2017. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month. You can also find a list of the newest resources, and those for which a trial is underway, at http://libraries.indiana.edu/electronic-resources-trials-and-new-additions.

Hindu Conspiracy Cases: Activities of the Indian Independence Movement in the U.S., 1908-1933
https://libraries.indiana.edu/hindu-conspiracy-cases-activities-indian-independence-movement-us-1908-1933

India-Pakistan conflict : records of the U.S. State Department, February 1963-1966
https://libraries.indiana.edu/india-pakistan-conflict-records-us-state-department-february-1963-1966

Indian Army And Colonial Warfare On The Frontiers Of India 1914-1920
https://libraries.indiana.edu/indian-army-and-colonial-warfare-frontiers-india-1914-1920

Leisure, Travel and Mass Culture: The History of Tourism (formerly History of Mass Tourism)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/leisure-travel-and-mass-culture-history-tourism

Lippincott Procedures
https://libraries.indiana.edu/lippincott-procedures

Market Research and American Business, 1935-1965 (formerly American Consumer Culture)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/market-research-and-american-business-1935-1965

Pakistan from Crown Rule to Republic: Records of the U.S. Department of State, 1945-1949
https://libraries.indiana.edu/pakistan-crown-rule-republic-records-us-department-state-1945-1949

New databases for March

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the title, vendor, or platform has changed, from March 1-31, 2017. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month. You can also find a list of the newest resources, and those for which a trial is underway, at http://libraries.indiana.edu/electronic-resources-trials-and-new-additions.

CALLHOME Spanish Speech
https://libraries.indiana.edu/callhome-spanish-speech

China Digital Library (formerly Apabi Chinese Ebooks)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/china-digital-library

Ebook Central (formerly eBrary)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/ebook-central

Ebook Central Academic Complete (formerly eBrary Academic Complete)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/ebook-central-academic-complete

Enzyklopaedie des Maerchens Online
https://libraries.indiana.edu/enzyklopaedie-des-maerchens-online

Marquis Biographies Online
https://libraries.indiana.edu/marquis-biographies-online

New databases for February

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the title, vendor, or platform has changed, from February 1-28, 2017. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month. You can also find a list of the newest resources, and those for which a trial is underway, at http://libraries.indiana.edu/electronic-resources-trials-and-new-additions.

Bon Usage
https://libraries.indiana.edu/bon-usage

Music Periodicals Database (formerly International Index to Music Periodicals)
https://libraries.indiana.edu/music-periodicals-database

National Technical Reports Library
https://libraries.indiana.edu/national-technical-reports-library

Writing to be read… by a screen reader

Screen readers? What?

If you’ve heard anything about web accessibility, you’ve probably heard of screen readers – devices that allow blind or vision-disabled people to access websites by listening to a speech synthesizer or, in some cases, via a braille display. There are a number of different screen readers; this recent review of three popular screen readers is interesting – the comments in particular illustrate that “accessibility” is different for different users with different needs, an important thing to keep in mind.

If you’ve never seen a screen reader in use, by the way, there are some good videos out there. I like the one embedded below; using JAWS – one of the more popular screen readers – the narrator goes through the BBC website and shows you how it works. Pay particular attention to how the screen reader handles links and headings, and you’ll understand why we always say that you should use heading tags when your page has sections rather than just making the section title bold and why we always say that your links should be semantically meaningful rather than just saying “click here.”

WebAIM, a great source for web accessibility information in general, has an extensive overview of how screen readers work and how to design for them. One of the most important points they make is that, while sighted users tend to quickly scan the entire screen and focus on what stands out as looking important to them, screen readers present content in a linear fashion. (Another “what it’s like to use a screen reader” video I found mentions that in another context: if a student receives a lengthy email from an instructor, they  have to go through the entire email and remember what they have to do or respond to once they’re finished, or even literally take notes on the email as they listen – they can’t just scan the email or easily go back and forth between the email and the response they are composing.)

But I’m not a web designer. Should I care?

What does this mean for those of us who don’t design entire websites, but who do write and publish content on the web? Well, for one thing, a giant block of text is going to be a huge pain for someone using a screen reader. Since they can’t quickly scan to figure out what the most important points are, they are going to have to sit and listen to the entire block of text. It would be much easier for these users to break up your content into smaller portions, using heading tags to separate them.

You’re not breaking it up at random, of course – more than just controlling font size and weight (for sighted readers), heading tags describe how your content is structured. Think of how an outline works – you have section I, and below that sub-sections A, B, C – then section II, and so on. Headings work the same way. H1 is generally your title, then H2, then on down as far as H4 if your content is that complex – then back to another H2, and so on. Or, think about a book with sections and chapters – or even feature story in the newspaper, which may have a headline and multiple sections, each with its own smaller title or headline.

This post, for example, uses heading tags instead of just rambling on and on nonstop. Ta-da!

Great news: Structuring your content using these semantically meaningful, well-organized heading tags also makes it easier for sighted users to scan your page and quickly spot the content they are looking for.

Accessibility benefits everyone.

This is a recurring theme that you find once you start learning about accessibility: many of the measures you take to make your website usable for disabled users are actually usability improvements for most of your users. This is true of accessibility features in the offline world, too – the button that lets someone using a wheelchair open a door is also helpful for a non-disabled (I love the term “temporarily able-bodied“) person whose arms are full of packages.

"Accessible" painted on pavement
flickr: Jonathan Moore CC BY-NC 2.0

The thoughtful folks over at GOV.UK (run by the Government Digital Service, the group responsible for designing digital services for the UK government) recently published a great post, “How to create content that works well with screen readers.” They don’t offer a bulleted to-do list, but rather discuss how screen readers work and some of the potential implications for writers of web content. For example, it’s useful to think about how screen readers interpret acronyms. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this article concludes that writing content that works well for everyone will benefit screen reader users. Proofreading your content to make sure words are spelled correctly and using consistent standards for how you deploy acronyms and abbreviations, for example, will benefit everyone.

Of course, blind and vision-disabled users aren’t the only people with disabilities who use the web. People with color-blindness, deaf or hard-of-hearing people, people with limited fine motor control or who have difficulty using a mouse, and people with cognitive or memory disabilities can all have a better experience on the web if content is thoughtfully designed.

Captioning your videos will make them usable not only by deaf users but also by those who may want to watch your video in a public place but don’t have a pair of headphones handy. Plain language helps dyslexic users, those for whom English is a second language, and people who are in a hurry. And breaking up those intimidatingly huge blocks of text into more manageable chunks helps pretty much everybody. Making your web content accessible isn’t about providing “special” access to a few users – it’s about providing good access to ALL users, including those with disabilities, while remembering that for some users it means the difference between being able to access your content and being told “no, this content is not for you.” (Besides being a violation of the ADA, that’s just plain rude.)

Want to learn more?

If you find yourself intrigued by these issues, WebAIM’s Introduction to Web Accessibility is a great place to start. For IU-specific accessibility information and some great resources to help you create accessible content, visit Accessibility at IU. The UITS Assistive Technology & Accessibility Center, conveniently located in the Wells Library, has tremendous expertise in web accessibility and is available for consultations, trainings, and presentations.  And we in DUX are always happy to answer – or find an answer to – any specific questions you might have!