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.

Real Questions from Real People: part 5

question markContinuing in our series of questions our librarians and staff have asked about the upcoming website migration! This was a particularly good question, and one that has a lot of different possible answers – so we thought we’d each take a stab at answering it from our varied perspectives.

 

Q: What do you see as the greatest benefit resulting from the switch?

Courtney: I suspect there may be many among us who, while we celebrate the achievement that is Content Manager, also look forward to the time when we can view it in retrospect as “our previous system.” More seriously, I think the move to Drupal will put us in a position to be better able to be nimble in responding to user needs and in implementing ongoing improvements in functionality as a matter of course. Drupal has a large development community which includes a number of libraries so I believe we will reap benefits from being part of that larger effort. Not to put too fine a point on it: won’t it be fantastic to be able to say, ‘Hey we’d like to do X. Great, someone has a module for that already. Let’s implement it’ or ‘Hey we’re interested in Y. Looks like those libraries are too. Let’s talk with them and get something shared going we can all use.’ I think so.

It will also be great to have a site that is better integrated in terms of how it presents our services, collections and resources. I believe our users see us as a single entity – the IU Libraries – and it is my hope the new site will be a more unified Web presence that mirrors that understanding of us, rather than the tendency of the current site to reflect our administrative organization in a way I’m not sure always best serves our users.

Mary:  I think that one of the most important tasks accomplished by the new library web site will be its ability to broaden the definition of “resources” to go beyond electronic databases, books and journals to encompass the subject librarian’s expertise, important free resources on the Internet, images and other non-print materials, and current news in the field.  This broader approach will help users identify the resources to use to complete their research or answer their questions.  I think that the ability to provide one area for all of the information that applies to a discipline or subject is going to be the most profound change that we make.  It builds on work started in the development of the current web site, but takes users beyond just purchased online materials by highlighting the subject librarian and his or her expertise.

Anne: As the go-to person for “help how do I fix this page” problems, I have to say that making it easier for us to create and update content on our site is a huge benefit! I think this will lead to a better-structured, better-organized site that is more up-to-date, more usable, and more useful. My recent blog post about working with page owners covers some of this (see my first and third bullet points in particular), and Courtney makes some related points in her section of this post you’re reading right now.

We will also be in a better position to make good use of images on the new site, as the design is much more image-heavy (perhaps “image-conscious” is a better term) and the way Drupal handles and organizes images on the admin side will be an improvement too. Today’s Web users expect – and find it easier to process – a multimedia experience rather than just screens full of text, and between the new design and Drupal’s image management capabilities, we’ll be able to satisfy these expectations a little better.

Real Questions from Real People: part 4

Drupal logo
The “Druplicon” – Drupal’s official logo

At today’s DUX brown-bag, we had a few questions about Drupal from folks who are curious about how it works “under the hood.” I’d like to offer a few resources that might be helpful for those who have that level of curiosity – with the reassurance that you do NOT have to understand much about Drupal in order to create and edit content on the new website, any more than you really have to understand how spark plugs work in order to drive your car.

So for your basic “what is Drupal?” question, the Wikipedia entry on Drupal is not a bad place to start. It gets fairly geeky, but it’s a good overview.

Another site to investigate is Drupal.org, the official site of Drupal and the Drupal community. The “About Drupal” page in particular is a good place to start. There’s a ton of information on the site, and it gives you a good sense of the scope of the community and how many people are using this platform worldwide.

For information specific to the library world, you can start with Colorado State University’s  LibGuide – it has tons of resources and information related to the use of Drupal in libraries. Thanks, CSU!

The “Libraries” community on Drupal.org is fairly active though it is geared primarily for web developers and other geekish types rather than your average website content creator.

I have a copy of Ken Varnum’s book Drupal in Libraries on my desk, and if you’d like to borrow it for a few days, just let me know! The book has a companion website which is quite useful.

And finally, if you really want to get your geek on and take a class, UITS doesn’t currently offer anything on Drupal but you do have a couple of options. ALA offers an online course on “Using Drupal to Build Library Websites” which is currently closed but will be offered again in the future; I took this course some months ago and found it to be pretty well-organized and understandable. The Library Juice Academy is offering a similar “Introduction to Drupal for Libraries” class, which runs from June 1-28. Neither of these options is free, and both will probably give you way more than you really need to know in order to add content to our new site, but if you’re interested they are good learning opportunities. Lynda.com also has some Drupal modules; note that they offer training in both Drupal 6 and Drupal 7 – our site is being built using Drupal 7. One caveat for all of these learning options: our site is going to be customized for us, and the admin interface will probably look somewhat different from what you see in these courses and videos. But the basic concept of how a Drupal site works will still be there.

Questions? Please ask!

 

Real Questions from Real People: part 3

Continuing in our series of questions we’ve been asked about our impending website migration. This might be my favorite question yet.

Q: How are you going to stay on top of all the “page owners” to make sure we really do our part?

image of woman holding five kittens
Did someone say “like herding cats”?
(image credit: flickr/dugspr)

A: I’m so glad you asked! I have a few thoughts on that, and I’m also happy to hear from any of the aforementioned page owners if you have some ideas as well.

  • This one is important to me and drives much of my planning: By making it easier for the page owners to do what they need to do. The new content-management system will be more up-to-date than the old Content Manager, and should not cause some of the problems we’ve seen over the past few years (the recent incompatibility with IE10 being one of them). If we all get to spend less time troubleshooting and chasing down “bugs” we will have more time to do the actual work of updating and maintaining the content on our site. Since Drupal is an open-source system, we have a larger community (worldwide!) working to catch bugs and issues as they arise, and figure out how to fix them – no more relying on “Anne will try to figure it out and then go ask Garett” for every problem. 🙂
  • Relatedly, we hope to be able to provide better training and documentation than we have in the past. With a system that offers fewer functionality “surprises” we’ll be able to spend less time focusing on quirks and foibles, and more time working with page owners/content creators on best practices and potential efficiencies. I also hope to adopt more of a “train the trainer” model, create a helpful style guide, and offer better documentation/help files in general.
  • Drupal makes it easier to create structured content. This has two implications: it makes our content easier to maintain and reuse (e.g. writing a piece of content and then including it in two different locations on the site), and it makes content easier for our users – faculty and students – to find on the site. If your content is easier to maintain and you know it’s being found and used, it’s much easier to get your web work done!
  • On my end, I plan to implement a more structured editorial calendar. This will make it easier for me to help you make sure your content is reviewed on a regular basis and updated as appropriate. I’ll also be able to review things like site accounts and editing permissions, academic-calendar issues (perhaps dropping a note to those who’ve published orientation-related content in the past to remind them it’s time to post this year’s info, for example), and so on. I don’t anticipate or want a workflow model that requires every page to pass through my editorial hands before it’s published – at least not until cloning techniques are perfected so I can be on the job 24/7! (and frankly, not even then!) – but I will be able to keep a closer eye on things and be more proactive in offering help and guidance.
  • Finally, better communication with page owners is going to be important. Anyone with editing permissions on the new site will automatically be subscribed to the CM Users listserv (which will magically evolve into a Drupal Users listserv – ta-da!). This will remain a low-volume list that won’t overwhelm anybody’s inbox, and will enable DUX to stay connected with everyone creating content on the site with updates, tips & tricks, best practices, and other important information. I’m definitely interested in hearing from page owners as well, and would love to see this list become more of a community – with suggestions, observations, and questions from a wide range of content creators. I think we can do this and still keep the email volume low, but I’m also happy to entertain other ideas for how to communicate.

If you have questions, thoughts, or ideas about this topic, please leave a comment on this blog post – or get in touch with me directly via email, Lync, phone, or standing between me and the diet Coke machine and not letting me appease my addiction until I’ve heard what you have to say!

poster advertising a cat-herding service with headline "Git Along Lil' Kitties!"
image credit: flickr/RichardBowen

Real Questions from Real People: part 2

Today I answer three more queries in our continuing series of Real Questions from Real People about the coming library website migration.

If I can ask about the design … the search box says “Search All.” What’s it mean? Search website? IUCAT? OneSearch? etc

screen capture: new search box
Screen capture of the search box from the first visual design comps

I’ve added an illustration above from the first set of design comps (which we will be sharing at the April brown bag event) so that everyone can follow along. The new search box will work similarly to the current library search AND to the new IUCAT search; it will be similar to the current library search in that results will be returned from a variety of targets (site content, Serials Solutions e-journal info, OneSearch, etc) and it will be like the new IUCAT search box in that users will be able to search all or to opt to restrict their searches to a particular subset of results [see below].

new iucat search options
Screen capture of the new IUCAT search box with options visible

The search results page will allow users to view results organized by facets and facets may be determined either by type of information (resources) or by target (OneSearch@IU). That said, we are still working with the consultants’ UX and development teams on how exactly the search page will be laid out and what exact targets it will search, so I don’t have anything more detailed I can share … yet.

Are you incorporating Libguides into the Drupal design? Or will this be separate?

Eventually we would like to be able to move toward a tight integration between Drupal, LibGuides and our campus course management system (Michigan has a great pattern for this in place) but for the time being the systems will be fairly separate. We will link to LibGuides, of course, and we should be able to harvest data from LibGuides so they can be included in search. Until some decisions are made campus-wide about Sakai (aka Oncourse), we are going to hold tight on anything further, though.

Would the interaction between the new website and the new IUCAT be any different?

For starters, no, it will probably not be that different in that we will still link to IUCAT widely from across the site; but because the new IUCAT and the new website will each have more functionality we can work with, we are hopeful that the interaction will eventually be different and better. One thing that will be hugely better right away will be the ease of finding and using permalinks for the new IUCAT anywhere, not just in the new website.

 

Have questions? Want answers? Attend one of our brown bag events to discuss the migration with us (details) or drop us a line.

Real Questions from Real People: part 1

In our first brown-bag conversation (March 28), we collected questions from the audience and promised to answer them on our blog. We’ll be posting them a few at a time for your enjoyment and edification. Here are two questions and some answers to get the ball rolling:

When I need to create a page, will it be in something nicer than Content Manager? What does that look like?

The answer to the first part is an emphatic YES! While the Content Manager was pretty amazing when it was first developed – remember this was back in the day before Drupal, WordPress, and similar systems were widely available, so respect is due to the programmers who designed and created the CM for us – its day has come and gone and we are moving on up to something more current. The system we will be using is called Drupal; it’s an open-source content management system, which means that lots and lots of people all over the world are using it and developing for it. So if we come up with something special we need, or if something needs to be fixed or improved, there’s a large community of developers creating and sharing code that we can use. Along with Drupal we will be using a standard WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) text editor, which will look pretty familiar to anyone who’s used WordPress or even Microsoft Word.

We don’t yet have the system up and running so I can’t provide screenshots or anything, but DUX was given a preview of what some of the screens may look like the other day. There will be a bit of a learning curve and a little bit of new terminology to get used to, but for creating and editing web pages and subject guides, I think the new interface will be a lot easier to use and not too difficult to learn. If you’ve created posts in a WordPress blog, it won’t be exactly like that, but it won’t be shockingly different either.

We have our first training sessions tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, May 14 (1:00-2:00) and Wednesday, May 15 (10:30-11:30) – exact location is TBA but will be in the Wells Library. If all goes well, you will not only see what the new content management system looks like, but you’ll also be able to get your hands on it and start playing!

Approximately how much time will we have to fix things after they are moved over – before people actually see it?

Great question. I think this is going to depend in part on how much fixing needs to be done once we’ve done our initial content migration! We may not know until we actually start moving things; once we migrate the content we’ll review the site thoroughly to make sure things are in order. And we will definitely allow some time for everyone to clean up their content and make it ready for prime-time before we add a shiny “check out our new beta site” button to the existing Libraries website.

One thing we’ve learned from our colleagues at Bluespark (the company with whom we’ve contracted for this migration process) is that they can actually migrate the content, then roll it back and re-migrate. So we can move everything over, fix the big things that need fixing and perhaps delete a bunch of content that doesn’t make sense anymore, then re-migrate the cleaned-up content.

And, we have three very smart and helpful SLIS students working part-time with us, so we’ll have three extra pairs of hands ready to help you with the “fixing” part of it. For more about this, be sure to stop by our brown-bag discussion on Thursday, April 25 (12:00-1:00 in Wells 043)!

Stay tuned for more questions and answers here on the blog over the next few weeks. And please join us for future brown-bags (here’s the schedule and all the details – note that there are treats and prizes involved!) or contact any of us in DUX with your questions. We will try to get you all the answers you need!