New databases for April

The following list represents new subscription databases added to the Resource Gateway from April 1 – 30 (and some for which the vendor has changed). You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject pages. If you have questions about a particular resource, please consult its “About” file to find contact information for the resource advocate. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.

Foreign Firms Operating in the United States

ProQuest Business

ProQuest Social Sciences

Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud Text Databank

Augmented Reality a Reality

Earlier this month Google gave the world a sneak peak of Project Glass, the newest creation to come out of the company’s top-secret Google X lab. Project Glass is an augmented reality system worn much like a pair of glasses that displays information layered on top of the user’s visual field. In short, it’s a smart phone for your face.
Project Glass and other similar technology opens up a world of possibilities for social networking, entertainment, education, and even tourism. The concept video released by Google depicts just a few ways that the augmented reality system could simplify our everyday interactions.  The individual in the video uses the specs to check the weather, navigate the streets of New York, book concert tickets, share pictures, and chat with his friends. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Project Glass is the sleek design. The system looks like a high-tech headband with a tiny unobtrusive display screen on one side. Although they might not be the peak of fashion, these are no bulky nerd glasses.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities for augmented reality in libraries. Imagine an individual trying to locate a book in the stacks of Wells (assuming there are still books in this futuristic scenario). She could use voice commands to search the library catalog, chat with a librarian via Skype, follow an arrow that would lead her directly to the location of her book, and scan the barcode on the book to immediately retrieve reviews from library databases – all without even so much as lifting a smart phone or downloading an app.

Keeping all this futuristic awesomeness in mind, there are a host of ethical, social, and even psychological questions that arise with the development of augmented reality technology. Issues of privacy, commercialization, and information overload are but a few reasons to be hesitant about welcoming Project Glass with open arms.  However, as the inevitable extension of mobile computing, this technology is coming down the pipeline whether we’re ready for it or not.   There are many applications of augmented reality that are downright revolutionary, but it is best to proceed with caution into this brave new world.

Sidebar: Don’t expect to be sporting your very own pair of Google glasses on the beach this summer. While Google employees are currently testing prototypes, the company does not anticipate a public release of the product this calendar year.

My Favorite App – ERS: Emergency Response and Salvage

Screenshot of ERS appScreenshot of ERS appI ran across an interesting app recently: ERS: Emergency Response and Salvage. The iTunes description reads, “Based on Heritage Preservation’s Emergency Response & Salvage Wheel, a well-respected cultural heritage protection tool, the Emergency Response and Salvage app outlines critical stages of disaster response, such as stabilizing the environment and assessing damage.” This app might be useful for librarians and preservationists – particularly for librarians who are not preservation specialists but who occasionally have to tackle some immediate damage, and for those who receive inquiries from the public about how to preserve their personal books and documents (a relatively common question at many reference desks).

Disclaimer: Since I don’t have an iThing, I haven’t tried out this app myself – but it looks very cool, and it comes from a reputable organization, so it probably includes good information. According to a post on Heritage Preservation’s Facebook account, they plan to develop an Android version but “are not sure when.”

Price: Free. Available for iOS only (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad), via iTunes.

The Facts About FAQs

There are many different ways that libraries can provide help and guidance to patrons in finding the information they’re seeking online. Web 2.0 applications, such as wikis and blogs, have become increasingly popular for this purpose. These tools deliver information about library resources and services while allowing users input via comments or (in some cases) editing privileges. Another way to help online users is via chat services, available now in many academic and public libraries. Instant messaging allows users to receive feedback and advice almost immediately with all the context and messiness of their question in mind. This is particularly useful for less common questions and unique situations. But by far the most ubiquitous online help resource is the FAQ.

 While the FAQ does not have the personal touch of an instant messaging service or the collaborative features of a blog or wiki, it has some distinct advantages. First, the large majority of users are familiar with the FAQ format. Many websites, whether commercial, personal, or informational, have an FAQ section. So if your patrons have used the internet before, they’ve most likely encountered at least one FAQ. Second, unlike a chat service, it does not require library staff to be immediately available. Although maintenance is a must (as will be discussed in further detail below), the FAQ is an independent animal that can, if properly constructed, be trusted on its own for a little while.

That said, there are many situations in which an FAQ is not appropriate and there are an infinite number of ways to execute an FAQ poorly. In this A List Apart article, R. Steven Gracey is particularly critical of the FAQ. It’s not all condemnation for this universal help tool, however. Gracey also gives some excellent pointers on how to make an FAQ effective and (gasp!) helpful for users. When done right, the FAQ can be a valuable tool for library websites that supports good content by making it discoverable to users. Below I enumerate some points made by Gracey, and a few of my own, on how to create an FAQ that is not a crutch for bad web content, but a scaffolding for good web content.

  • Include actual questions. If a real person has never asked some variation of the question, it probably doesn’t belong in your FAQ. After all, FAQ stands for “frequently asked questions,” not “questions I really think my users want to know, but they’ve never asked because they’re just too darn shy.”
  • Make it easy to find. If your FAQ isn’t findable, you’re in trouble. Big trouble. People are looking for the FAQ because they can’t locate the information they’re seeking. If the FAQ is difficult to find, you will have grumpy users.
  • Keep it manageable. The point of an FAQ is not to document every fact that can be found on your website. A scan of 112 academic library FAQs done at the University of Notre Dame revealed that some library FAQs had as many as 400 questions included. That’s too many. Period.
  • Maintenance! Seriously. If your collections have changed, or if you’ve had turnover in your staff, of if you’ve moved the copy machines, or if the sun has risen, there’s probably something that’s out of date on your FAQ. Update and weed frequently. Add when needed.
  • Make it searchable OR sort by category. No one wants to look through all 400 of your questions to find the answer they’re looking for. Allowing users to search or to scan categories makes the process a whole lot faster and less frustrating.
  • Assume the user won’t find her answer. Never suppose your FAQ can address every question. Provide a link or contact information somewhere on the FAQ page where the user can go for further help. In Libraryland, this will most often take the shape of a link to the chat service (if available) or an email address for a reference librarian.

This list is by no means comprehensive, and it is largely a product of my own experience with FAQs, rather than any kind of authoritative study. Questions (frequently asked, or otherwise) and comments welcome!

Image courtesy of flickr user Ciccio Pizzettaro

Library App

Today cell phones with their huge capabilities are not only a communication tool, but it’s also a source of information and knowledge. With development of touch screen cell phones mobile apps are becoming spread and highly usable. People install apps to have an easy and quick access to information they need. Thereby libraries start to develop their own apps to provide a new experience to their clinets.
    The District of Columbia Public Library is the first library that launched free library iPhone app in Nation. It provides a quick library resources search for books and materials with reviews and summaries. Users can get information on working hours, locations and maps for all D.C. public libraries anytime. Moreover, it allows an online reservation for books and library materials for pick up. This great app allows more interaction for mobile app users. People want to use apps because it is something fresh, new and innovative.



However, university libraries have developed their own libraries for students to provide them better services. Cornell University is a good example for that. Their app allows to search the library catalog and books, get information on library hours, manage your own library account and ask questions of Cornell librarians.
    Today, apps are highly used and easy to develop. May be we will see Indiana University Library app in the near future with cool features that will have the highest downloads.



The Most Basic Interface

Here at DUX we are often concerned with the interface the user is presented with.  Usually, this involves the on-screen interface presented in a web browser.  However, we should also consider that the user is usually interacting with that interface via a primary physical interface (i.e. a mouse and keyboard).  With that in mind, exploring “non-traditional” computer interfaces and hardware can open up new ways of thinking about how users interact with our designs.

Alternative interface methods range from the expected to the bizarre.  Touch screens have been around for quite a while, and are something most users are familiar with now.  These generally offer faster interaction for simple tasks, however are less suitable for more complicated tasks.

Mouse and keyboard is the tried and true method for interfacing with the computer, but what about innovative versions of this hardware? 

Ergonomic designs are intended to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries.  The Safe Keyboard takes this to a new level by placing the most often used portion of the keyboard perpendicular to the desk.  Are ergonomic keyboards a more effective way for users to interact with the computer?  Probably not, but it might be as effective, while being safer.

The mouse is the other staple for human-computer interaction.  Touch pad mice appear both for laptops and desktop PCs.   While this technology isn’t new, it has become more ubiquitous as well as more responsive.

Of course, budget constraints lead to a lot of these “gadgets” being out of reach for libraries to have for every workstation.  The standard mouse and keyboard provide a cost-effective common ground that virtually every user is familiar with.  That said, there is some merit for considering alternatives to the most basic interface all our users are presented with.

UX as Cereal

UX versus UI infographicI’m not a huge fan of infographics – it is way too easy to distort facts in whichever direction you want to distort them (especially if you use pie charts), and oftentimes they are just not that useful.

But here’s one that’s kind of fun. It uses breakfast cereal to illuminate the difference between UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). Click on the small image to view the original post from Usability Counts.

And now I find myself with the strangest craving for cereal… mmm, breakfast for dinner… !