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.

Worth Your Time: Harper Reed’s StatewideIT Keynote

Last week I was happy to have the opportunity to take in this energetic, insightful keynote by Harper Reed, currently Senior Director of Software Development at PayPal and sometime CTO for Obama for America and Threadless.com (best T-Shirts ever!). It’s MSFW (mostly-safe-for-work)  [F-bomb alert], but hey! our CIO invited him so I think IU employees at least are A-OK.

Enjoy this talk on Big Data, Product Design, UX & Being Only A Little Creepy. I’m pretty confident the hour will zip by.

Curious? More on IU StatewideIT Conference

Conference roundup: Electronic Resources & Libraries + Designing for Digital

Earlier this month, I attended a pair of conferences – Electronic Resources & Libraries (ER&L) + Designing for Digital (D4D) – in Austin TX.

ER&L is in its 11th year, and over that time has drawn an increasingly wide range of library attendees, from public, academic and special libraries, and from an array of job roles: electronic resources acquisitions & management folks, certainly, but also other technical services staff as well as public services librarians of all sorts including reference, collections, technology and user experience.

Designing for Digital started as a response to the growing interest in user experience programming at the ER&L conference and has now been an event in its own right for three years.

These are great conferences, with an excellent balance between focused programming and just enough new/different stuff to let you expand and explore a little bit; and the numbers are much more manageable than the larger conferences like ALA, so it allows for great connection-making with other like-minded folks. They also do some scholarship programs, so if this is something of interest put it on your radar for next year. Can I also mention the amazing wifi, coffee and snacks … just sayin’.

One very cool thing I’d like to highlight is that all of the keynote sessions for both conferences were livestreamed and are now archived and freely available at the conference schedule sites (or you can find the links in my posts below). All of the keynote talks were by industry leaders and each was really worthwhile for some new info and inspiration: Dawna Ballard, S. Craig Watkins, Jesse James Garrett (!), Michelle Ha Tucker (formerly of IDEO). Have a look!

My big three takeaways from these conferences:

  • Content matters, a lot. People read or don’t read our web sites based on how we structure and present the content. Let’s write so they read it.
  • “If you build it they will come” only works for ball fields in the movies. General rejection of this approach to library service or application development – go to the users, talk with them, build to bridge gaps and enhance strengths.
  • Productive collaborations across libraries are going to be key in building the kind of services and tools our users need in the future, at the scale at which they’ll need them.

I wrote up some observations on the content of each conference on my own blog, so feel free to have a look at those posts for more info:

WeaveUX, issue 1: it’s here!

We’ve (weave? sorry…) been eagerly awaiting the first issue of WeaveUX: The Journal of Library User Experience around these parts, so we were pretty pumped to see it drop this morning.

What’s it all about? Well, to quote from their About page:

As the importance of digital services begins to rival that of collections, library user experience is taking a more central role than ever. While new jobs are being created for User Experience librarians and some departments are being renamed “User Experience” teams, there is still no comprehensive, rigorous publication for library UX professionals to share with and learn from their colleagues. Weave is intended to fill that gap. Weave helps practitioners and theorists come together to make libraries better.

Good deal. In this first issue, there are peer reviewed articles, there are essays and how-tos, an interview (um, with me …) and there’s even a ‘tweetposium’ generated using Storify. Check it out!

I’m honored to serve on the editorial board for this new venture and I’m grateful to be part of the first issue, but even more, I’m excited to see what insights and ideas will be shared via this fantastic new publication, now and in future.

Cheers to editors Matthew Reidsma, Kyle Felker and Pete Coco on launching the first issue.

This Cubicle Goes To Eleven*

Here in the newly rechristened Discovery & Research Services Department, we spend much of our day (when we’re not in meetings or helping patrons at the reference desk) working in what we affectionately call the Land of Beige. Now, we’re not complaining about our cubicles – they’re actually quite nice, and pretty spacious to boot – but as in any office environment, we sometimes encounter challenges that make it more difficult to get work done. Sometimes, it’s just too quiet up here. You start to wonder whether the outside world still exists, and before you know it, you’re wandering around the Internet trying to feel a little less isolated. And sometimes it’s noisy; sometimes our neighbors have to make phone calls, or have impromptu meetings in their cubes, or bang about with the printer trying to unjam it yet again.

group of cubicles with a man looking down at them
Cubeville is weird.

In either case, too noisy or too quiet, it can be hard to focus on work. Here in DRS, our work can take a lot of different shapes; sometimes we’re composing emails, or writing a web style guide (that’s me!), or troubleshooting an e-resource access problem, or tinkering away at some code in the process of trying to clean up a problematic web page. We all have different ways of trying to get ourselves to focus on our work. I find that, much of the time, I work best with headphones on – sometimes with music playing, sometimes not – just to muffle the distractions around me a bit. But that can be problematic too, and if you ever catch me fist-pumping and singing along with “Born to Run,” please feel free to tap me on the shoulder and remind me that other people can hear me. 🙂

So when I came across an article about the effect of ambient noise on creative work, my ears perked up (figuratively speaking). According to researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, people doing creative work performed significantly better when their environment included ambient noise at about a 70-decibel level. Very interesting! The article offers links to several websites that provide different sorts of music and ambient noise you can use to create the aural environment that works best for you. I’m especially intrigued by Coffeetivity, which provides the sounds of a moderately busy coffee shop along with the ability to control the volume of that background noise separately from the volume of your own music – replicating the “headphones in a coffee shop” experience. Pretty nifty, actually. Although now I really want a latté…

Cat with headphones around its neck, next to a computer monitor
Headphones Cat isn’t entirely certain about this.

If you work in cubeville, what is your favorite strategy for focusing? Does your strategy vary depending on the type of project you are working on? (And don’t forget to get up and walk around every so often, no matter how focused you get – your life may depend on it!)

I found the link to the ambient-noise article in OCLC‘s weekly “Above the Fold” newsletter, incidentally; they compile a few news items of interest to folks working in libraries, archives, and museums, and it’s usually interesting stuff. You can subscribe if you want.

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*For anyone who might not recognize the reference in the title of this post: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088258/quotes?item=qt0261726

 

A Little Bit of UX Fun

Do you like a good inside-joke meme?  Do you live your life according to famous people’s inspirational words?  Do you enjoy playing devil’s advocate when conversing with others? Do you occasionally . . . ahem . . . imbibe competitively with friends?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I have some fun UX-related tidbits from the Internet that might be right up your alley.  Enjoy!

UX Meme, a tumblr of user-experience memes.

from UX Meme: http://uxmeme.tumblr.com/
from UX Meme: http://uxmeme.tumblr.com/

UX Quotes offers “Useful quotes on User Experience.”

from UX Quotes: http://www.uxquotes.com/
from UX Quotes: http://www.uxquotes.com/

UX Myths tries to debunk widely-accepted tenets of usability.

from UX Myths: http://uxmyths.com/
from UX Myths: http://uxmyths.com

UX Drinking Game — Don’t drink at work, people.  But feel free to substitute cookies and cakes for alcohol!

from UX Drinking Game: http://www.uxdrinkinggame.com/
from UX Drinking Game: http://www.uxdrinkinggame.com/

Blogging lessons from Bruce

I stumbled across a fun article today which proves two things:

  1. It’s good to think outside the box a bit when looking for ways to build your social media presence and make it successful, and
  2. I am not the only person in the world who can take any topic and find some way to relate it to Bruce Springsteen. 🙂

(It’s actually kind of a nice article that may get you thinking about your own social media content and how you frame it. Worth a glance anyway.)

12 Most Gnarly Blogging Lessons I Learned from Bruce Springsteen” by Jenny Kay Pollock

Bruce Springsteen sharing the mic with Stevie Van Zandt
Bruce Springsteen & Stevie Van Zandt,
Louisville, 2012
photo by Anne Haines

 

Icons Add Interest to Your Web Design

If you didn’t notice it, there’s a new OPAC (that’s a snazzy library acronym for Online Public Access Catalog), or catalog, for the IU Libraries.  It’s called New IUCAT, and it can be accessed here.  I hope you’ll use it, as it’s decidedly more user-friendly than the classic IUCAT, and it’s got lots of nifty graphics.  Actually, that’s what this post is about.  One of my minor, though unexpectedly overwhelming, tasks regarding this migration to a new catalog is to try to find some icons to represent the various media formats available in the Libraries’ collections.  When you search New IUCAT, you have the ability to limit your search to certain formats.  There’s certainly a lot of stuff in these here libraries!  See:

format icons

“What the heck,” you might ask, “is ‘realia’?”  Well, it’s games, mostly.  If, for instance, an IU library circulates Bananagrams (a game I killed at back home over winter break, by the way), they are cataloged as realia, and are represented by a little icon of . . . um . . . something.   Other icons are clearer, though, and reveal to the youngest of IU Libraries users what, for instance, the ancient artifact called a videocassette looks like.

At this time, I’m still looking high and low for icons for streaming video and floppy disks. It’s, as I said, overwhelming trying to find just the right icon.  I’ve been scouring the Internet for open-source, royalty-free icon sets to fill in the format gaps.  There are plenty available for purchase, too, but with so many creative people offering the use of their (oftentimes pretty incredibly awesome) designs for free, there’s not much need to cough up cash if you’re after something cool.

For instance, I came across several sites that aggregate these widely and freely available designs, often with lists compiling the most “amazing” and “excellent” sets one can find on the Web.  If you’re interested, here’s a particularly good collection, rounded up by Naldz Graphics.

Icons are a great way for web designers to add character to their content, to establish a tone, to craft a personality for their site that just might set it apart from the competition.  They’re also a nice way to add some flair to your desktop if, say, the Indiana winter’s gotten you down and you’ve been spending more time staring at your computer screen than you’d like.  Take a look at these familiar icons, with a twist:

web20rigami
http://blog.iampaddy.com/2008/11/12/web-20rigami/
http://7ur.deviantart.com/art/iConPack-now-with-psd-53066224
http://7ur.deviantart.com/art/iConPack-now-with-psd-53066224

Of course, you must be careful when downloading any files to your computer.  Make sure you are downloading from a reputable site, scanning for viruses, etc.  And always read the fine print.  Just because an icon set is ostensibly free doesn’t necessarily mean its creator does not require some sort of attribution for its use.  Be careful and courteous out there, and have fun.  And also let me know if you find a really neato icon for a floppy disk!

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.

Content Strategy: It’s what librarians already do.

"This Is Very Important" is painted on a bench.I have very little to add to this article but wanted to link it here because it is so, so good. As my colleagues know I have been on the content strategy soapbox of late, especially in light of our imminent website re-architecting/redesign. I’ve also been known to quote Ranganathan at unexpected moments, because his Five Laws of Library Science are still incredibly relevant to everything that we do to serve our users (and frankly, also because it’s nice that something I learned about in library school is still relevant – as opposed to, say, the pre-CSS HTML I spent hours hammering away upon!).

So when I came across this article on the (always excellent) Brain Traffic blog by content strategist (and former academic librarian) Claire Rasmussen, in which she looks at the Five Laws and applies them to the work of content strategy, I found myself bouncing in my chair with excitement. (Yes, I am a huge nerd. This is firmly established. Can we move on?) Librarians who create content for the web should read this and consider how the principles of content strategy can help us to achieve the basic goals and principles for which librarianship was developed in the first place. It’s what we already do, and content strategy will help us do it on our website too.

So read this, please, and if you have comments I’d love to hear them!

Do It Like a Librarian: Ranganathan for Content Strategists

 

 [image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/valeriebb/290711738/]