Travelling Without Moving


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.

Updates to E-Journal Portal & IU-Link

Earlier this week, we released an update for our Serials Solutions E-Journal Portal and IU-Link services. In addition to refreshing and rebranding the interface to reflect updated IU brand standards & the library website design, you’ll notice that both these platforms are now responsive and mobile friendly.

New look for E-Journal Portal home, showing Medical Subject browse options.

Other improvements include:

  • Search by DOI/PubMed ID
  • Journal browse now includes Medical Subjects
  • Results listings note peer-reviewed and open access titles, include cover images (where available)
E-Journal Portal Results Screen showing peer-review designator.
E-Journal Portal Results Screen showing peer-review designator.

The IU-Link citation pages share the newly updated header and footer.

IU-Link: Citation page, full text not found
IU-Link: Citation page when full-text not found

You can check out the changes via our Online Full Text Journals page, linked from the Libraries’ home page and elsewhere.

Many thanks to the team that made this possible: Lori Duggan, Ruth Light, Rachael Cohen, Matt Fitzwater and Anne Haines.

Back to School: A Week in Numbers

Fall semester began last Monday August 22, so I thought I’d share some numbers from the website.

Eight days a week – if it’s good enough for the Fab Four, it’s good enough for me.

Monday August 22 – Monday August 29

Overall: 79, 836 pageviews

Google Analytics dashboard data - Aug 2016

That dip you see? Saturday. And, you might be able to just make out the top browser: Chrome.

Top 10 pages
  1. Homepage – 16,909 hits (21% traffic)
  2. Fall 2016 Ensemble Information – 4091 (5%)
  3. Music Library – 3210 (4%)
  4. PED (Performing Ensembles Division, Music) – 3066 (3.8%)
  5. A-Z List of Resources – 1710 (2%)
  6. Student Jobs at the Libraries – 1631 (2%)
  7. Herman B Wells Library – 1313 (1.6%)
  8. Hours – 990 (1.2%)
  9. Education Library – 942 (1%)
  10. Business/SPEA Information Commons – 841 (1%)

No other page logged more than one percent of overall hits for the site in that time frame – that’s pretty typical behavior for us. What does that mean? Well, we have a lot of pages, and we have a lot of people entering somewhere other than the home page.

What was our most used resource? Google Scholar, with 330 hits, followed by the New York Times with 316.

About 5000 sessions were via smartphones – that’s 15% of our overall traffic, which is up 150% from our previous average of about 10%. Only 2% of our users reached us via a tablet.

Where did the desktop users click? Have a look!

Heatmap: Indiana University Libraries - Desktop August 2016

On Positive User Experiences

There are many definitions of user experience.  A previous reDUX blog post sought to clarify the differences between user experience and usability, two terms that, while related, are not synonymous.  I like the definition of UX posited in that post and taken from the UX experts Nielsen-Norman Group: “[User experience includes] all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother.”  This definition gets at the core of user experience: providing a positive experience at every point of service.

The other day, while working at the reference desk, I had the opportunity to assist an older gentleman, an Indiana resident using a guest access account, in tracking down and requesting some books.  This patron, who appeared to be in his late 70s, demonstrated beautifully the intersection of the old-school library patron and modern library technology.  The man was clearly a library user from way back, and he came to the desk excited to find some books of regional history, whose titles he had scrawled out in a fine hand on yellow legal pad paper.  I searched a title in the new IUCAT and found it available at the ALF.   “Let’s request it for you,” I said helpfully, and the man was overjoyed, amazed, really, that the IU Libraries had this rather obscure annotated bibliography among its vast collections.  “You have it?” he asked, incredulous but beaming.  “You have everything!”  “I know,” I replied, caught up in his wonderment, “We have almost eight million items in our collections!  It’s awesome!”

To many people, libraries are a magical place, overflowing founts of wisdom.  This older patron reminded me why I have wanted to be a librarian for so long, why I am in library school: I love libraries—they contain multitudes.  But libraries (both their physical and electronic manifestations) can also be overwhelming places.  I see the quiet looks of confusion on the faces of incoming freshmen, on the faces of those users who confess to me at the desk: “I’ve never been in here before.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.”  Libraries have the information and they have the users to disseminate the information to—and this is great.  However, the technology that is used to disseminate this information moves at what sometimes feels like lightning speed, and this can stymie some users.  Libraries have been around for centuries and centuries, for instance, while the conversion from card catalog to OPAC has taken place in just a few short decades.  The older gentleman I assisted wanted his books, and he hoped with the hope of all library lovers that we would have them and be able to find them for him.  Where he hit a roadblock was with the new technology, so easy for me who has grown up with it and assimilated its changes in real time, but not so easy for him, who was brought up with a totally different system.

Here are some key terms derived from questions oft-posed by patrons at the reference desk.
Here are some key terms derived from questions oft-posed by patrons at the reference desk.

I walked him through registering for a library login so he could use the computer workstations in Wells.  I helped him navigate to the catalog—and with the recent transition from IUCAT Classic to New IUCAT, there was even some discussion between me and the circulation staff about which version of the catalog would be easier for him to use, demonstrating, again, the ever-changing nature of library technology. I next helped the older gentleman find the bibliographic record for his book and request its delivery from the ALF.  Later, I helped him access an ebook edition of another title he was delightfully surprised we had access to.  He thanked me profusely while I helped him, and then again later when he came to the desk to say goodbye.  He said he now felt empowered to find and access his own items, and wouldn’t “torture” me with so many questions the next time he popped in.  “Haha,” I smiled.  “It’s no torture at all.  It’s my pleasure.”

While this story might seem like nothing more than a cozy anecdote, I think my interaction with this user has very real, if basic UX implications.  Users come to the library with a variety of backgrounds, skill sets, and needs, but what they all share is the desire for a positive user experience.  That experience might seem relatively simple, small, especially to the library professional, but it can make a world of difference to the user.  A positive experience is one that either will help to further foster a user’s love of libraries or will demystify the library and its many systems so that he or she comes back the next time feeling a little more intrepid.

By the way: You can learn all about Library Guest Accounts here and Requesting ALF Items here.

The Pew Internet & American Life project and New IUCAT Beta

The Pew Internet & American Life project has released a new report entitled: Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits

You can find it here

You can see a summary here and/or download the full report.

This report covers the reading habits of 16 – 29 year olds, including the primary demographic for IU students.  The report mainly focuses on reading and how these demographics use e-books at a public library, but it also offers guidance about how discovery tools can be used. With IU about to launch a new discover library catalog interface I thought I would point out how New IUCAT Beta will address some of these suggestions.

Book covers – Many readers like to see what the book looks like as it inspires them to read it. New IUCAT Beta will contain Book covers supplied by Google Books. Eventually we hope to expand into DVD and CD covers as well.

Ease of finding books – New IUCAT Beta has easy to use facets to help users limit to just ebooks, or just print books, whatever the user prefers.

Ease of accessing e-materials – The New IUCAT Beta will allow users to have a one-step access to e-materials available to them. When they find an item they want, all they have to do is click on the URL. From there a login screen will pop up, the user logs in, and they now have access to their materials. There will no longer be a laborious login users have to get through.

List of new books – with the New IUCAT Beta users can RSS searches, allowing them to be notified when new books are added.

These are just some of the features the New IUCAT Beta has to offer users. Its an exciting and important change for IU, students, staff, and researchers.

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.

Blacklight and Stemming

With the coming transition of the IUCAT public interface from the existing SIRSIDynix OPAC to the new Blacklight discovery layer there are a lot of exciting new features coming our way. Some examples include faceted searching, better results, an easier to use interface. Along with the change in the interface, we will see changes in how search works. One of these changes relates to truncation and word stemming.

Truncation is the ability to expand a keyword search to retrieve multiple forms of a word by using a specified symbol to replace a character or set of characters. The truncation symbol can typically be used anywhere within a word: at the end, beginning, or within a term. For example in the current IUCat a search for comput$ would find words such as:  computer, computers, computing, and computation. Truncation is a handy tool that can help bring back a lot of different results and it is a common search feature in most traditional OPACs and in many vendor databases. Blacklight, like other discovery layer interfaces such as VuFind, relies on a technique called word stemming rather than on truncation.

Word Stemming is when the catalog searches for the “root” of a word and displays all words with that stem. Rather than relying on the searcher to place a specific character to expand the search as in truncation, the use of word stemming initiates an automatic search for the “root” of a search term, then returns results with all words associated with that stem. This is similar to how Google searches, so users who use Google a lot won’t notice much of a difference.

Because this is an automatic process, oftentimes it is difficult or impossible to know or predict the “stem” terms for any particular word. For example, knees has a stem of knee, but kneel has a stem of kneel not knee. Another example of stemming is when you type the word “searching” or “search” or “searches” you’ll find they all stem to “search”. But “searcher” does not; it stems to “searcher”.

For searchers who are accustomed to truncation, there may be similar terms that would have been retrieved using truncation, but which will not be retrieved using word stemming because they do not share the same stem.

For many of our users, this change will not be apparent, but we hope this is a helpful explanation of this change for expert searchers accustomed to relying on truncation.

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

IM help using LibraryH3lp

For several years, the IUB Libraries have offered reference service using instant messaging and text messaging – staff at reference desks provide the great service and DUX manages the care and feeding of Libraryh3lp, the system we use to provide the service. Libraryh3lp is an awesome product, and an awesome project – started by Pam and Eric Sessoms four years ago, it has grown so successful that they’re now doing it full time (Pam previously worked as a librarian at UNC-Chapel Hill) and they recently hired a third full-time person to provide support. You can read more about the history of the project at their blog.

We get all sorts of questions, from ‘are you open?’ to ‘how do I do X in Y database?’ to very in-depth subject related questions … and there are lots of them, too – in the fall semester we averaged about 775 instant message transactions per month, peaking in November with 925 interactions. We have IM widgets in several places throughout our web site, including the Ask A Librarian page and the 404 (error) page. You can see an example widget below.

IUB Libraries IM reference widget

So how does it work for us? Well, library staff log into a web-based chat application, and the questions pop up in little windows, as illustrated below. We sort the questions out in three ways, based on where they initiate:

  • Our website: questions from the Ask A Librarian page, or any other web-based widget. In the webchat interface, we see a red ‘REF’ icon.
  • Text message questions: In the webchat interface, we see an image in the corner that looks like a phone for these.
  • Ebsco databases:  We added a chat widget that appears along the side of the search results in nearly all of our Ebsco databases, and in OneSearch@IU. In the webchat interface, we see an EBSCO image for questions from these locations.

Libraryh3lp adminstrative viewWhy do we bother to sort them? To make it easier to identify the point of initiation for each question, whether that’s a specific page in our website or a results page in one of our databases. The reference desks can get a bit hectic, with staff balancing in-person traffic, telephone calls, and the IM questions. The more we know about the context of the question, the better the answer we can provide – for IM, it’s easiest to do this with visual cues in the chat application.

We are also working with the Business/SPEA IC so that they can place a widget on resource pages they create to support the research in specific courses, and those questions can be funneled directly to those staff.

These changes have had very little practical impact on staff (that is – no disruptions!) and instead seem to be pretty popular with our users. We’ve already had several contacts from within the Ebsco interface in which people just wanted to tell us how happy they were that we were there to answer questions!

If you’re interested in knowing more about the partnership between reference and DUX to support virtual reference services, contact us, or check out the slides and other supporting materials from a talk I gave on the topic, titled UX + VR FTW, at last weekend’s ALA Midwinter meeting at

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.