The Faces of DUX presents: Anne Haines

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?)!

 Anne Haines’ journey to DUX is reminiscent of a Homeric epic, in which Anne plays the role of Odysseus and computers play the role of all that stuff that Odysseus has to deal with (you know, like the man-eating Cyclops, and that one goddess who turned all of Odysseus’ buddies into pigs).  She describes her path as a constant bargaining with the machine.  As an undergraduate, Anne took a computer programming course that led her to swear off computers forever.  Upon being abandoned by her project partner, skipping the final project, and receiving the lowest grade she’d ever received, Anne was ready to never face a computer again.  Little did she know…

Anne is now the Library Website Editor in the Digital User Experience (DUX) department.  She is adamant that she is not a coder or programmer and knows no more HTML than your average Library Science student.  She truly thinks of her role as an editorial one, much like a book or journal editor, in which she acts as a bridge between the users and the creators to bring material to people in an accessible and approachable way.  She translates programmer-speak to user-speak and back again.  Her typical day in DUX is never typical, a fact she is perfectly fine with.  Every day is a new adventure, consisting of meetings, committees, and putting out internet fires left and right.  So how did our epic hero go from forever eschewing computers to being the libraries’ primary contact for all things website related?

After completing her undergraduate degree in English, Anne describes her career path as less of a trajectory and more like “being flung from place to place.”  After a brief stint in a bakery she got a job in the registrar’s office, largely, she claims, because she could “type and show up.”  It was then that she realized computers were not devices of the underworld, but could be quite useful, and even (gasp!) fun.  Social networking, through music listservs and community bulletin boards, truly pulled Anne into the thrall of computers.  Finally, in 1993, Anne purchased a 213mb hard drive beaut of a machine.

It was at this point that Anne considered library school as a route through which she could play with computers without necessarily having to mess with 1s and 0s.  Throughout her time in SLIS, she worked several jobs in the library, including branch coordinator of the SLIS library and support staff in the Subject and Area Librarians office.  In the latter position, like a true hero, she successfully navigated the office through Y2K.

Upon completing her Master’s in Library Science, she moved fully into the tech world when, she claims, she was put in charge of the intranet while out sick one day.  That’ll teach her to be sick.  The libraries created a position in Library Information Technology as Documentation and Instructional Writing Coordinator, where she wrote content for the website and knowledge base.  With the formation of DUX, Anne finally fulfilled her destiny as Website Editor.  This brings us to present day.  What does our epic hero see on the horizon?  Anne believes that content strategy is the future of user experience in libraries.  You can read her blog post on the subject, as I’m not even going to attempt to tackle an explanation.

Outside of saving users from their website woes, Anne is a published poet (yes, you can check out her chapbook of poems from the Wells Library!), music lover, devoted cat mom, and social networking advocate.  Continue to follow her adventures on Twitter at annehaines.  When asked if she had any final thoughts for her devoted readers, Anne replied, “I really like my job, maybe not every single moment, but I think I have the best job in the library.”

Student technology use during crunch time

Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a long-term national research study based out of the University of Washington’s Information School.  The overarching goal of the study is to better understand how college students engage in information-seeking and research behaviors in the digital age.

Earlier this month PIL released their findings from a short-term technology study they completed during the spring of 2011.  For the study they interviewed 560 undergraduate students at 11 different libraries on 10 different campuses during “crunch time” to determine how students use technology during stressful times of the year.  “Crunch time” is defined as the two weeks preceding final exams.  For the interviews, they asked students what tasks they had been engaged in during the last hour and what devices, resources, and library services they had used to help them complete those tasks.  The purpose was to discover how students managed technology and how they defined their “individualized information space,” the array of applications and programs students had open on their devices that aided them in task-completion.

The researchers found that students largely engaged in a kind of restrained multi-tasking.  They would switch tasks frequently, but would have only a few devices or applications running simultaneously.   85% of students interviewed were classified by the researchers as “light” technology users.  In other words, they were using two or fewer devices and engaged in two or fewer primary activities. The students seemed to take a very focused approach to technology, conscientiously winnowing down the devices they used to match their information needs.

Only a small percentage of the students interviewed were using the library for its scholarly resources – such as print or e-books, online databases, or reference services.  Many students indicated that, more than anything, it was the communal scholarly atmosphere that drew them to the library during the final weeks of the semester.  The library offered these students a unique environment in which they could escape into their work, while still sharing in the collective experience of the finals crunch.

students studying in library

This study provides some surprising insights into how these digital natives manage technology during times of stress.  Rather than hopping distractedly from device to device, or website to website, they purposefully limited their technology use to support their current task.  Even though a large majority of students had “time-wasting” sites like Facebook or gossip sites up on their devices, they often used these to incentivize learning.  These sites provided a way for students to hit the mental refresh button.  They would use the “Facebook break” as a way of rewarding themselves for a job well done or refocusing their attention on studying.  Although the most common task students were engaged in was communication (via email, texting, Facebook, etc.), these students were not engaged only in communication.  It was seamlessly interspersed with their other activities.  They often used social networking sites or other means of communication as part of their coursework to schedule meetings or discuss issues with their instructors and peers.

In this study, students managed their learning spaces, both physical and digital, in a very similar manner.  They allowed themselves a taste of the outside world, while choosing technologies and spaces that would ultimately focus their attention back on scholarly pursuits.  This is something that resource and website developers ought to be mindful of when designing materials for college students.  They do not want to be inundated with information (at least not during times of high stress).  Rather, they want focused materials that have a clear connection to the task at hand.  On the other hand, the results of the PIL study also indicate that students want their resources to be integrated.  The students interviewed had little issue using the same technology for personal communication one moment and research the next.  Although it is best to use this kind of integration with caution (i.e. ask yourself if it appropriate for your resource to be linked to Facebook), the multi-purposing of technologies is clearly something that current college undergraduates are comfortable with.

For more information, see the full report, Balancing Act: How College Students Manage Technology While in the Library during Crunch Time, or watch this brief video highlighting the major findings.

Visual browsing in a virtual world

Searching books online cannot compare to the experience of getting lost in the stacks of your local library or bookstore. Browsing is one of the primary pleasures of all book-lovers. Finding that precise book you were looking for is great, but discovering something unexpected is often better. Whether for pleasure or research, browsing is one of the best methods by which to find new reading material. As books are moved out of sight in favor of computer stations and as users become more and more reliant upon online searching, it becomes increasingly necessary to recreate this real world experience of browsing in digital land. Libraries are moving progressively toward visual searches and virtual shelf browsing in the ongoing crusade of bringing readers and books together.

Virtual shelf browsing is by no means a new concept. Library Thing, launched in 2005, is an online service that helps users to catalog and browse their (and their friends’) books. The visual interface is intended to replicate the experience of browsing around for favorites or new finds. It presents items as a collection of book covers, much like the user would see if searching through her own personal library at home. Users can even upload different covers to enhance the experience of physicality.

Hobbit covers

In 2008 Amazon Web Services launched Zoomii, an online book browsing tool that allowed users to scroll through books by genre and zoom in or out on a particular section of the “bookshelf.” This recreated the process that many people go through when in a bookstore – zooming in on a favorite author, then zooming out to see what else might be of interest, then zooming in again when something catches their eye.

It might seem that with larger collections numbering in the millions, such a virtual browsing experience runs the risk of becoming taxing for those maintaining the system and overwhelming for those attempting to use it. In 2010 North Carolina State University (NCSU), boasting a collection of 4 million volumes, proved that theory wrong. It released Virtual Shelf Browse, open source software that allows library patrons to search the shelves around a selected book or call number. Try it out yourself in the NCSU library catalog.  Search for a book, select a record, then click on the “Browse Shelf” button on the right hand side of the record to scroll through their collection by call number.

NCSU book browse

Strict call number browsing is not the only way to give patrons that same experience of discovery. OneSearch@IU presents materials found in IUCAT in a more approachable way. Each record displays a book cover, when available, to draw the user in visually. At the bottom of the record are the “Similar Books” and “Other Books by this Author” options with user-friendly scroll bars that offer patrons another way to explore the collection and unearth new reads.

Browse IUCAT