Reflections on DUX

 “Duck invasion,” courtesy of flickr user nic0

After working as a graduate assistant in DUX for the past 2 semesters, it’s time for me to spread my wings and fly the nest.  This will be my last post for reDUX, and I thought it would be appropriate to give the department a sophisticated farewell in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet.

An Ode to DUX

On the fifth floor of Wells, in cubicle land
a department called DUX makes its abode.
And if you are ever in need of a hand
with websites, or widgets, or finicky code,
call Courtney, or Garrett, or Mary, or Anne
to fix it right up and give you some peace.
They’ll make every effort they possibly can
as user experience is their expertise.
Discovery, Blacklight, mobile, and more,
all with a public services bent.
Seamless computing is at DUX’s core,
not to mention the finest web content.
Farewell to ye, DUXors. I’ll fondly look back
on my time here in DUX with a grin and a quack!

In all seriousness, the opportunities I have had as part of this department have been invaluable.  I will most certainly be taking them with me as I start the next chapter of my life in my first job as a librarian.

Ask a Librarian to their Face(book)

Ask a Librarian, the Wells Library’s online reference service, has long graced the banner of every IU Libraries page. Last December, a widget for the chat service was integrated into EBSCO databases, allowing patrons to get help right when they need it. This proved a success, with traffic from the integrated widget accounting for 150 chats to-date; that’s approximately 5% of all library chats.

 In a continuing effort to reach patrons in their frequented online spaces, the latest incarnation of Ask a Librarian can be found on the Wells Library Facebook page (click on Ask a Librarian) and the Business/SPEA IC Facebook page (click on Research Help). It is “live” and available now! So be on the lookout for that handy chat box. Don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook, and for other ways to follow your favorite libraries and collections check out the IU Libraries’ Follow, Tweet, Listen, Learn page.

Don’t Get Stressed by RSS!

RSS feed iconA recent post from Prof Hacker – the Chronicle of Higher Education’s teaching and technology blog – discusses the challenges of intentional reading online. The author suggests that RSS feeds, in addition to being a stellar way of keeping up-to-date on your favorite Digital User Experience blog, might have the unfortunate side-effect of contributing to information overload.

This got me thinking about the ways in which we use RSS feeds and similar information aggregators. In theory, these tools are intended to help us filter out extraneous content and focus in on the good stuff. Although they might not be able to prevent the online avalanche of information, at least they tailor the avalanche to our interests. In practice, however, RSS feeds may actually amplify our anxiety over all the stuff we can’t devote our attention to. I have more than a few feeds in my Google Reader with 1000+ unread items that niggle at the edges of my conscience. They serve only to remind me of all the articles I’m not reading; of all the potentially brain-expanding tidbits that I’m passing up in favor of checking Facebook just one more time. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it! And I know I’m not the only one with a somewhat antagonistic relationship with their RSS reader.

So how do we put ourselves back in the RSS driver’s seat? Prof Hacker suggests some rigorous pruning. I would like to second that sentiment. Subscribing to a feed does not put you under any obligation toward the information presented there. And if you chose to subscribe, you can also choose to unsubscribe. RSS feeds are wonderful tools that should help us streamline the flow of information, not intensify the data deluge. As seasoned internet users we are accomplished scanners, but every once in a while taking the time to read selectively and deliberately might be just the ticket to a more meaningful online experience.

Despite the potential drawbacks, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable RSS feeds are for managing online reading. I subscribe to all manner of feeds that support both my personal and professional interests, making it easier to access information that’s important to me. If you’re not familiar with RSS technology and are looking for a good place to start, check out this easy to understand video.

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.

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

Discovery services in a Google world

Pete Coco’s recent post on the ACRLog discusses the ups and downs of discovery projects like EBSCO Discovery Service, a tool recently implemented at the IU Libraries as OneSearch@IU.  Coco writes that these tools may look like Google, with their sleek white single search bars and straightforward interfaces.  They may even act a little like Google, crawling through thousands upon thousands of resources to bring you only the most relevant, most perfect source you could possibly imagine.  Right?  Well, not quite.   According to Coco, who is a humanities liaison and library instructor at Wheaton College, although his students are usually able to find something using these discovery tools, they are not always able to find the thing.  One reason for that could, of course, be unreasonable student expectations.  Students often suppose that their sources must iterate their perspective verbatim, or cover the exact parameters of their research question.  Of course they’re not going to find a source comparing the ironic symbolism in Franz Kafka’s Before the Law with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Some things just don’t exist.  That said, student misconceptions about scholarship might not be the only issue at play.  While discovery services, acting as a sort of hybrid between Google and academic databases, are good for getting students into the research pool, often it leaves them in the shallow end.  Once students understand the scope of what’s available, more specialized databases might be just the ticket to finding the thing and giving students that tough-love push into the deep end of scholarship.

That is precisely why quality information literacy instruction is still a necessity in academic libraries – to help students find their scholarly legs in a strange new land of information.  In order to achieve that end most effectively, perhaps we should be emphasizing the differences between popular and scholarly modes of information gathering, rather than the similarities.  Despite OneSearch@IU’s outward resemblance to Google, the fact is that it is not Google, and we are not doing students any favors by marketing it as such.  Coco writes:

To find the scholarly articles that will meet the paper requirement, the student will need navigate a host of alien concepts, vocabularies and controversies that will, at least at first, drive his experience with peer-reviewed scholarship. And while some degree of anxiety is probably useful to his learning experience, there can be little doubt that the process would be easier and of more lasting value to the student who has support—human support—as he goes through it.

Advances in technology require more, not less, pedagogical attention to ensure that students comprehend the underlying structures of scholarly communication.  We often expect this generation of tech-savvy undergraduates to see a blank search bar and know what to do with it.  But the reality is, not all search bars are equal.  Effective library instruction serves to illuminate the unique function of academic databases and discovery services as compared to popular search engines.  After all, if what you want is Google, you can always go to Google.

Aside: Read this post by Margaux DelGuidice from In the Library with the Lead Pipe to see why librarians are oh-so-glad that discovery services are not Google.

Photo credit: Opening of Lincoln Park swimming pool 1925, courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives from flickr.com

Apple’s new education apps

For a graduate assistant in DUX, I’m actually a bit of a luddite when it comes to new technology.  My phone is not smart, my computer remains firmly planted on a desk, and my books are the kind that won’t crash when you spill coffee on them (a necessity, given my reading habits).  That said, when I read about Apple’s new iBooks Author software, I drooled a little bit.  iBooks Author works in conjunction with the iBooks 2 app, released by Apple in mid-January, to allow Joe Nobody to publish his very own digital book.  It’s clearly geared toward the educational community with an emphasis on textbook publishing, but ostensibly you can publish any kind of book your heart desires (yes, even that sci-fi novel you wrote when you were 16.  HarperCollins doesn’t know what it was missing).

No, I don’t harbor a secret desire to publish a textbook (or Zombie Vampires from Mars, even though it would have been an instant classic), but I do harbor a not-so-secret desire to see educational materials become more accessible.  Apple has teamed up with several prominent publishers to deliver textbooks that normally cost somewhere in the triple digits at much lower (dare I say reasonable?) prices.  Digital distribution makes good sense in the textbook market, where new editions come out every few years.  Who wants to drop another $200 because the editors added a new chapter and updated citations?  No one!  Just consider how much coffee $200 could buy.  iBooks Author further increases accessibility by enabling instructors to publish their own materials digitally.  I could see this technology easily taking the place of traditional course packs, which are expensive for the university to print, expensive for students to buy, and wasteful of natural resources (yay trees!).  All this with the fun of mixed media (embedded YouTube videos in my textbook?  Yes, please!) makes me think that edu-apps like iBooks and iBooks Author are indicative of the future of educational materials.

Caveat 1: As it stands, iBooks textbooks are only viewable on Apple mobile devices.  There seems to be some way to convert these files to PDFs so they can be viewed on other devices, but I’m a little fuzzy on the details and Apple’s documentation certainly isn’t helping me out on this front.  In the name of educational democracy, a work-around for students without iPads would need to be in place before the iBooks app is fully implemented in the classroom.

Caveat 2: There’s some lingering confusion about authors’ rights with regard to the content they publish and sell using the iBooks Author platform.  Check out this post from the New York Times technology blog and this article from the Telegraph to read about the two sides of the issue.

As a future librarian, my question is this: How can libraries get it in on the edu-app fun?  Here in DUX, we’re working daily to make our available resources more mobile-friendly.  What else can libraries do to reach students who increasingly learn digitally?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Faces of DUX presents: Mary Popp

The Digital User Experience (DUX) department is the new kid on the block in the Wells Library, so we’re pretty keen to show everyone who we are and what we do. The Faces of DUX, reDUX’s newest recurring feature, is intended to do just that. Each post will introduce one department member to give the readers some insight into what the department is all about and how we fit into library world. So without further ado, let’s find out what makes DUX tick (quack?)!

 Mary Popp is the Research and Discovery Services Librarian in DUX – a position she describes as carrying “the coolest title I’ve ever had.”  And it is an apt title for a true explorer in the land of libraries.  Mary’s days are filled with evaluating current technologies and discovering new ones, all in the name of improving user experience.   Her primary task is “simple to explain, but hard to do” – finding out what users’ needs are and figuring out how to meet them.  As she discusses the ins and outs of being a Research and Discovery Services Librarian, her spirit of adventure becomes evident.  It’s a fun job, she says, because every day presents new challenges and new opportunities.  Although there are the constants of meetings and database management, she thrives on the unexpected twists and turns that come with the implementation of new technologies, such as Blacklight and the new and improved OneSearch@IU.  Mary is constantly reflecting on how users actually use resources rather than how they’re “supposed” to use resources.  By evaluating data about user practices, Mary hopes that DUX can develop these resources to more effectively meet patron needs.

Mary is a through and through Hoosier, having gone through her entire library career at IU, beginning with receiving her Master of Library Science from SLIS.  Mary has explored just about every position there is in the IU Libraries.  Her first job out of the gate was the Assistant Librarian in the Graduate Library School Library.  After helping get that library into the IU system, she became Head of the Halls of Residence Libraries.  Following that she transitioned to Head of the Undergraduate Library.  Administration was not her forte (she claims), so she became Instruction Librarian for the Undergraduate Library which eventually led her to become the Head of Instruction for Libraries.  After chairing an IUCAT committee her career trajectory shifted more toward the information technology side of libraries, culminating in her current position in DUX.  Mary values the opportunities that she had to become involved in library technologies when she did – at a time when library technology and user expectations were in such flux.  From changes in federated searching to being part of the team that developed the current website, it allowed her to be on the cutting edge of technology and catch a real glimpse of the future of libraries.

Speaking of the future…when I asked Mary to describe her vision for libraries a few years down the road, she replied that DUX is representative of that future.  DUX is a department that is public-service oriented, but with a technology framework.  Mary envisions libraries moving ever further in this direction as patrons’ use of library resources shifts more into the digital realm.  She is eager to start the conversation that will ensure users can effectively access library materials and content as their needs change.  This often involves examining and challenging assumptions about what is possible and what is necessary.

Mary reveals even more of her adventurous spirit when she discusses her life outside of libraries.  She travels frequently – by air, sea, and land.  She has been on cruises, traveled to Egypt, and is always keen to hop in the car on a lazy weekend to see what awaits her on the open road.  Upon retirement, she hopes to treat herself and her husband to a trip to Greece.  In the meantime, Mary’s current big adventure is as the incoming president of the American Library Association division called Reference and User Services Association, aka RUSA.  Yeah, she’s kind of a big deal.

The Faces of DUX presents: Courtney Greene

The Digital User Experience (DUX) department is the new kid on the block in the Wells Library, so we’re pretty keen to show everyone who we are and what we do. The Faces of DUX, reDUX’s newest recurring feature, is intended to do just that. Each post will introduce one department member to give the readers some insight into what the department is all about and how we fit into library world. So without further ado, let’s find out what makes DUX tick (quack?)!

 Courtney “Fearless Leader” Greene is the Head of the Digital User Experience department.  When asked to describe her position, she replied, “everything is my job and nothing is my job.”  That’s real helpful, Courtney.  Oh wait, there’s more.  She says that her primary charge as department captain is to support the goals of  the department as a whole, as well as enabling the success of the individuals that make up the crew (I’m going with a pirate theme here, see?).  She skillfully tacks back and forth between utilizing the strengths of each department member while ensuring that the user experience objectives of the library are met.

Courtney, an Indiana native and IU graduate, received her degree from SLIS in 2000.  She began her career in librarianship in the public services cove of the library sea.  After her first job as a reference librarian at UIC in Chicago, Courtney moved on to DePaul as an instruction librarian.  Although she didn’t know it at the time, the northwesterly winds were consistently pushing her toward the open seas of user experience.  While at DePaul she became involved in the library’s web committee and proceeded to chair the committee through a major redesign of the library’s website.  It was here that she found her niche between coders and people who need the code that coders code.  She bridged the gap between public services and technical services further by pursuing her Master’s in Human Computer Interaction at DePaul.  Courtney now looks back at the last decade of her career and sees a clearly mapped trajectory leading her ever-closer to her current areas of interest.  X marks the spot at user experience.

Courtney is currently involved in several projects that will be sure to make the IU Libraries’ website more seaworthy.  Shifting the IUCAT interface to Blacklight and implementing EBSCO Discovery Service – in the form of the new and improved OneSearch@IU – are at the top of her priority list.   She is also involved in the migration of the website’s content management system to Drupal and is keen to see the current CM walk the plank.  The future of user experience in libraries is currently unclear to Courtney, not because she lacks vision, but because libraries (and especially library technologies) are in a constant state of flux.  She describes the future as a “series of transformations” leading to better, more seamless, user interactions with library resources and services.  “We’ll never be done improving,” she says.

Courtney states that the most rewarding part of leading DUX through such maelstroms of change is working with the hardy souls that crew the department.   They are a “great staff, full of ideas and energy.”  They make it possible to be professional and playful at the same time.  Courtney firmly believes that there are always opportunities for fun and creativity on the job.  In this spirit, rubber ducks pop up everywhere around DUX.  Apparently, Courtney knows a sweet site for all things rubber ducky.  If anyone finds themselves in need of a rubber duck, she’s got the hook up.

Outside of DUX, Courtney is a bona fide foodie.  In addition to gardening and cooking, she writes cookbook reviews for Library Journal.  Crafting is another joy of hers.  It complements the abstractness of a job working primarily with technology, she says. At heart she is a tinkerer.  She finds something very satisfying about being presented with a problem and then making it work.  In DUX, “If it feels like magic [for the user] that’s what we aim for.”

To say “Ahoy!” (or find out more about that rubber ducky thing), follow Courtney’s adventures on Twitter at xocg.

The Faces of DUX presents: Garett Montanez

The Digital User Experience (DUX) department is the new kid on the block in the Wells Library, so we’re pretty keen to show everyone who we are and what we do.  The Faces of DUX, reDUX’s newest recurring feature, is intended to do just that.  Each post will introduce one department member to give the readers some insight into what the department is all about and how we fit into library world.  So without further ado, let’s find out what makes DUX tick (quack?)!

 Garett Montanez is currently the Lead Web Architect for the IUB libraries’ website in the Digital User Experience department, a position he describes as “mapping out what’s possible.”  While he does his fair share of programming and playing about with code, the majority of his time is spent on planning and analysis, determining what is working for users and where to take that technology in the future.  He puts much of his energy into finding new technologies to fulfill the dreams of the residents of library land.  Reading about and testing these technologies fill much of his days.  As Lead Web Architect, he is also Lead Web Technology Trouble-shooter, and spends a good amount of time putting out fires that crop up around the website.  While there are a million possibilities for the future of technologies in libraries, he says, it is his task to figure out what’s the best and most feasible route to improve user experience.  While navigating this vast landscape can be overwhelming, Garret expresses that the people he works with make the whole enterprise worthwhile.

He is currently working on migrating some of the libraries’ technologies over to more appropriate platforms, like Drupal for the website’s content management system and SharePoint for the libraries’ intranet.  As far as the future of the libraries goes, he sees a lot of possibilities for linked data in the future.  Linked data – which Garett explained eloquently as I stared blankly – is, in a small, general, and possibly grossly inaccurate nutshell, a method of structuring data such that both humans and computers can find relevant and related information easily, making the world wide web even webbier (and wider and worldlier).   For more information on linked data, check out these reports on linked data in libraries from the W3C Incubator Group and the Council of Library and Information Resources.

Garett did not begin his career in libraries with wide-eyed dreams of linked data.  In fact, he describes his path as a balancing act between traditional academic librarianship and the more technical side of librarianship.   He began his journey at IU, receiving his dual MLS/MIS degree from SLIS.  Out in the wide world he started as a computer tech, networking websites at a public library in Fort Wayne.  From there he continued to shift from tech guru to academic librarian and back again.  Garett discovered that having a background in both the technical side and the public service side of librarianship has served him well.  He is knowledgeable about the needs of public service librarians and can deliver results quickly due to his experience on both sides of the tech line.  Knowing the needs and the possibilities makes it easier to fulfill the goals of the libraries and librarians and work toward the best possible future.

Outside of DUX, Garett is the proud new father of baby James.  Although he says that having a baby has pretty drastically changed his lifestyle (he and his wife can no longer jet off to Indianapolis or Chicago for the occasional concert…for the next 18 years), he doesn’t seem too put off by this.  Ultimately, he says, he finds fatherhood to be “pretty cool.”