Oops, We Did It Again: Enduring Web Design Mistakes from NN/g

Recently the Nielsen/Norman Group (NN/g) posted a piece on Top Ten Enduring Web-Design Mistakes. They’ve been identifying top mistakes in web design since 1996. This year’s report finds many of the same problems that have been persistent over time.

original image linked via URL
dribbble.com | 404 Page Not Found | Pinterest: Ducan Nguyen (link to original by clicking on image)

I’ve picked a few from the list to highlight in brief, but I recommend you take a few minutes & have a look at the full article. What’s interesting to me is that although this is a list about design problems, at its most basic level it’s a list of content problems: where is the content, what words do we use for labels, repetitive content, siloed content, circuitious content.

  • Unexpected Locations for Content

    “When the site structure doesn’t match the users’ mental models of how information should be organized, people are unable to locate what they need.”
    I think libraries have been having this conversation on and off for some time. Where does it make sense for us to integrate search or design elements that are commonly experienced in the commercial web? If we can’t, or don’t feel we should, how do we build bridges and provide the necessary information and context?

  • Competing Links and Categories

    “When users can’t clearly distinguish between similar navigational categories or links, they struggle to find the right path to content… If multiple sections or pages could address a specific information need, users must explore each or make their best guess.”
    This is why Anne & I send so many polite little notes about small tweaks we’ve made to page titles, and why we encourage you to search within our own site as you are creating new content to see what content already exists & to be able to write unique and informational page/news/event titles.

  • Islands of Information

    “Some sites offer small bits of information scattered around the site, with little or no connection between them. When users find one such island of information without links to other related information, they have no reason to think that another area of the site offers supplementary material… Consider why information is scattered throughout the site, consolidate it as appropriate, and pick the best spot for it.”
    We’ve made great strides toward this kind of positive consolidation since we migrated to Drupal in 2014 – we migrated approximately 8500 pages and right now we have about 900 basic pages (plus resources, news/exhibits/events items, subject posts, user profile pages, etc). Across all our content types I estimate that we have approximately 2500 ‘objects’ right now, so that means we’ve made good progress toward pruning and updating our site.

  • Repetitive Links

    “Even if users can determine the right site location for their information needs, they can still be stymied by unexpected or lengthy workflows. Users should get closer to the information goal as they click through pages. Teams sometimes build pages in isolation and do not consider the route to the content they’ve created.”
    The example used in the article was of the NYC.gov site: “Users were frustrated when they selected a link labeled Find a Firehouse only to have to select the differently spelled Find a fire house link on the next page.” Oof. Yes, we do this too, and we are ever on the lookout for this sort of thing. And let’s not even talk about how many clicks it can take to finally get to the full text.

That’s it for now, folks! TGIF and all that stuff. Until next time …

A tale of Powerpoint woe, or, the right tool for the right job

We here in DUX – and UX folks generally – think a lot about the tools that people use to do their work. As a content strategist, for example, if someone asks me to help them create an FAQ, I will take a step back and help them consider whether an FAQ is really the best tool for the job they are trying to do (in this case, generally leading users to the information they need). In the case of the Libraries’ website, we will ask whether a particular function or piece of content belongs on the public website or whether perhaps the staff Intranet is the best tool for that job.

To be a bit silly about it, just because an HTML tag exists that can make your text bright pink doesn’t mean you should actually USE that tool, right? Unless you have a really, really good reason for doing it.

Anyway, it was with that in mind that I came across this fantastic Powerpoint presentation (three words you won’t often hear right in a row, at least not from me) – “PowerPointless: Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education” by Rebecca Schuman. If, like me, you’ve spent more hours than you care to count sitting through Powerpoint presentations that involved huge blocks of text on the screen or the presenter’s outline, or sat there while somebody carefully read their entire presentation to you from the screen, you will read this and probably fist-pump and shout “hallelujah!” Okay, maybe you won’t do that, especially if you’re in the library. But you really should click on the link and take a look at this presentation before you create YOUR next presentation, whether you’re planning on using Powerpoint or Prezi or just a stack of notes you scribbled out on old napkins.

Looking Back, Moving Forward – New Website is Launched!

Today (July 7, 2014) marks the official launch date of the Libraries’ new Drupal-powered website and the decommissioning of our old site, along with the locally-developed content management system that powers it (the Content Manager, or CM). This is a pretty big milestone for us in a lot of ways. The new site will be easier for us to maintain; it will make it easier to manage our content strategically; and most importantly, we think it will be easier for our users to navigate and find the information that they need.

Libraries' home page in 2001
This was our home page in 2001, pre-Content Manager.

We initially launched our old site in 2002. At the time, having a database-driven website and a content management system was a HUGE step forward for us; our previous site had been simply a homepage which linked out to pages on a whole bunch of different accounts housed on IU’s central web server. On that old site, when we wanted to make a change to the site template (like when we added the two round buttons to the left-hand navigation in the image above), someone actually had to email everybody who managed library web pages, send them the HTML for the new template, and ask them to please change all their pages.

We’ve come a long way, baby!

Libraries' home page in Nov. 2002
Home page in Nov. 2002 (first iteration of the Content Manager site)

We made some improvements to the site over the years – including a couple of visual refreshes, implementation of the Google Search Appliance, replacement of the “Find Information” page with the “Resource Gateway,” and the launch of subject pages, which combined the old “Databases by Subject” with the collection pages. But the basic structure of the site, and the content management system behind it, remained pretty much the same.

Libraries' home page in 2007
Home page following the 2007 visual refresh & implementation of subject pages

By the way, I used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to come up with those screenshots. If you want to revisit our old site, that’s the place to go!

And, one last look at the final iteration of the Content Manager-powered site:

Libraries' home page in 2014, pre-migration
Farewell, old site!

Thinking back on the history of our site and how it’s changed since 2002, I decided to look at amazon.com and see what it looked like back then. Over the years, Amazon has changed its site quite a bit – but for the most part its changes have been incremental. You don’t generally go to Amazon and find a completely different site than the one you’re used to using, but they make small changes in design and functionality ALL THE TIME, and those changes add up! Here’s what Amazon’s home page looked like in 2002:

amazon.com home page in 2002
Compare this to the amazon.com of today.

We were playing Everquest and buying Monsters Inc. on VHS…

detail from amazon.com home page, 2002
Those were the days!

Check out the Toshiba Pocket PC. What incredible technology! 😉

Toshiba Pocket PC ad from amazon.com, 2002
Did anybody have one of these?

And of course your 2002 life would not have been complete without Chicken Dance Elmo…

ad for Chicken Dance Elmo toy, amazon.com 2002
CHICKEN DANCE ELMO!

The world has indeed changed since 2002. The Content Manager was a pretty big step forward then, but it’s time to move on! We’re happy to launch the new website and say goodbye to the old – we hope you will be, too.

The Future of Academic Libraries: Our Role

download

In a recent piece published on the Huffington Post College Blog, librarians Jane Carlin (University of Puget Sound) and Barb Macke (University of Cincinnati), tackled one of the biggest questions facing the future of academic libraries: Do they need to keep collecting books?

Although these two librarians admit their bias (as most of us in the library world foster) toward the physicality of actual books, they examine the situations that are consistently facing academic libraries in the 21st Century.  These center on the lack of usage for physical books by student patrons and the new demands for library spaces.  They also focus on the “Three C’s” of academic library services as dictated by student visitors.

These include Collaboration (creating collaborative spaces in academic libraries for students and faculty), Creation (making the academic library the center of knowledge creation on campus), and Contemplation (creating that “awe” moment in reading rooms or library facilities that enriches academic programs).  In addition to these three criteria, the authors encourage academic libraries to look to the future of academic models, shifting from collection-based experiences to engagement-based experiences with an emphasis on advanced technology, special collections and flexible environments.

This engagement-based path of academic libraries, in lieu of massive print collections, has also been under scrutiny due to unclear, and often unfair, copyright laws that govern the ways in which academic libraries can share and utilize subscriptions to ebooks.  A recent effort led by library directors from 66 small academic libraries, known as the “Oberlin Group,” has attempted to fight back against publisher restrictions on sharing ebooks between institutions.  The ability to utilize inter-library loan allows smaller academic libraries to build competitive collections without spending the same amounts of money as large research universities.

So what does this mean for DRS?  As students and academic libraries begin to shift away from collection-based attraction, online environments become much more important.  If the interactions that students and faculty are having with resources are increasingly online, then it is up to people like us to make sure that finding and using resources online is just as intuitive as taking something off of a shelf.  It is important for everyone involved in academic libraries to understand the foundational changes that are going on in our industry.  Here at IU, these changes are becoming more apparent with the creation of the Scholars’ Commons, which is currently undergoing construction.

Simplifying Technology: A View from DRS

tech-easy

On February 25, Tim Wu, in the New Yorker, published an article titled, “The Problem with Easy Technology.”  As I read the article, I struggled with its implications for the work we do here at Discovery and Research Services, especially with the ongoing migration of the IU libraries website.  Ease of use is our constant goal: to make the website so intuitive that users can easily locate information, navigate between useful pages, and quickly find what they are looking for.  Wu, however, brings up some very important questions about technology and the consequences of over-simplification.

Wu describes this danger in terms of what he calls “biological atrophy.”  That is, as humans strive to make technology easier and easier to use, we will lose critical skills that we have developed over thousands of years.  The development of these “convenience technologies” was supposed to make life easier and give us more time to focus on things like “thought, reflection, and leisure.”  There are many examples of these technologies that can only be seen as good – such as medical technology, photography, or even ski lifts (Wu’s example, not mine).

Wayyyy easier than walking!
Wayyyy easier than walking!

But it is also interesting to think about these challenges in terms of web design and content strategy.  Today, in the “Age of Google,” we consistently see that students, and even sometimes advanced researchers, struggle with any kind of database or webpage that requires them to do more than simply enter a search term.  Because of this expectation of finding information without much of an effort, students struggle more and more with the academic research process when it requires more than a basic search bar.  This also raises challenges for our web content strategy here in DRS.  We of course do not want to make the website difficult to use – quite the opposite, actually.  But I often wonder if student expectations for the site are impossible to keep up with.  It isn’t so much that we lack the talent or ingenuity of major internet companies; it is more about the fact that the nature of our resources and services do not always fit into this strict “Google-y” template.

As we continue with this migration, and with future projects, it will be interesting to see how user expectations continue to evolve.  Think of how much they have changed just in the past ten years!  But I guess that is one reason that we have our jobs: to ensure that our services keep up with user expectations.  I just wonder if, at some point, those expectations become too difficult to possibly keep up with.  As we continue to migrate and re-design the IU libraries website, it will be interesting to keep these challenges in mind.

If you are interested, you can read Wu’s article here.

Deep Thoughts from DUX: A challenge to change

This week, I had the pleasure of listening to Mary Popp, our Research and Discovery Services Librarian in DUX, give a talk to my Organizational Informatics class.  Mary talked about a number of things, such convenience and information seeking behavior, discovery services, and faceted searching.  The almost three hour class period flew by and before I knew it, Mary was wrapping up her talk with some sage words of advice I believe bear repeating, thinking about, and talking about.

Mary challenged my class of upcoming information professionals to be change agents.  As she explained, waiting for change to come to you isn’t what will promote a shift in how we work with information in ever-changing environments.  We, the new generation of information professionals, must put time and effort into changing the thinking of our profession.

Mary presented three ways to incite change:

Modularize

In terms of how we develop new tools and process that facility information seeking, Mary urged to us to consider separating functionality into independent, interchangeable modules.  This would mean that each part, or module, contains what’s necessary to execute one aspect of desired functionality; helping us move to a process where we can selectively implement existing and emerging technologies.

Focus on the customer

Too often we get caught thinking of what’s just ahead, rather than the real reason we embraced the information profession in the first place: the customer.  We can refer to them as the user or patron, but Mary suggested we subscribe to thinking of the customer as the recipient of information good, services and products or idea, which they obtain for a cost.  This cost could be a trade–off of time, resources, or money.  This prompts us to embrace a user-centered approach, where we not only identify user needs, but we anticipate them.

Reduce transaction cost

We must reduce the amount of resources we put into making information goods and services available to customers.  This is not to be understood as “cutting costs”, but rather analyzing, through a logical, layered methodology, and focusing on our customers using behavioral, descriptive, and proprietary user information.  This is the opportunity to flex our critical thinking skills and really hone in on what’s integral and what’s unessential.  It’s why we have to get that graduate degree, right?

The Takeaway

Look beyond the boxes, silos, and the processes.  Instead of focusing on thinking just outside the box, think about how you’re going to change the box.  Advances in technology continue to rock our information worlds.  This won’t stop.  How we access, share, use, discover, and explore our environments through information goes beyond our current definitions of information discovery, access and exploration.  It behooves us to investigate and develop modular, more agile ways of thinking and doing.

Undergrads and Information Tech: Part 3

During my time as an undergrad, majoring in secondary education, one classroom in the education department of my small liberal arts college was outfitted with a shiny new SMARTBoard.  Its functions were highlighted briefly in an introductory education-technology course, and never mentioned again.  Little surprise, then, that I never once witnessed that piece of technology being used in lectures by instructors or in assignments by students.  At that time, the SMARTBoard was the new thing everyone wanted.  How can we be training teachers and not have a SMARTBoard for them to use? was, I imagine, the talking point that helped influence its purchase.  But without adequate training for faculty and students, it just gathered dust, while more classic technologies, like the overhead projector, remained popular.  Sadly, I still don’t really know how to operate a SMARTBoard, except in the most rudimentary ways, and never used one in my lessons while teaching.  While we know that technology is an integral part of the academic experience, it is important to be aware of trends not only in students’ technology needs but also in their skills.

The third theme explored by the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology is students’ belief that the use of technology in education impacts their future success.  They “generally agree that technology helps them achieve their academic outcomes (75%), prepares them for future educational plans (74%), and prepares them for the workforce” (19).  But just because a student might, in his or her nonacademic life, covet, seek out, and consume the newest, coolest technologies, this does not mean he or she finds early adoption and proliferation of educational technologies all that useful.  Which leads us to Point 1: Students value skill development in regard to current technologies more than they value simply being exposed to the so-called newest and best technologies (19).

This is not to say old stuff is better.  Today’s students truly rely on technology.  ECAR respondents list flash drives (65%), laptops (85%), and printers (84%) as essential to their academic success (19-24).  As summarized in the second post in this series (https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/redux/ 2012/11/07/ undergrads-and-information-tech-part-2/), mobile devices are not going away, and it is a wise institution that works to fit them into the curriculum in engaging and pragmatic ways.  Yet students’ needs really aren’t so difficult to provide for when it comes to technology.  Interestingly, students said they want their instructors to employ “cutting-edge” technologies in the classroom, but when asked to define these technologies, those they listed “were neither new nor cutting edge by industry standards . . . such as smartboards, recorded lectures, and digital course materials” (24).

Point 2: “Students report that basic technologies have the greatest impact on their success . . . with technologies such as the institution’s library website and the course or learning management system being among the resources [they] use most” (19).  These are technologies students expect to use when they enter college, and they expect their instructors to make good use of them as well.  Increasingly, they also expect to use resources such as e-books and citation-management tools (e.g.,  OneNote and Zotero).  The use of e-books rose from 24% of respondents in 2010 to 70% in 2012, and the use of citation tools rose from 17% to 80 percent.  The biggest jump in technology use was seen in the use of e-portfolios, with 52% of respondents reporting using them—seven times the number (7%) using them in 2010 (21).  Looking at the rise in popularity of these types of resources, it is important to remember this point from the first post in this series (https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/ redux/2012/10/10/undergrads-and-information-tech-part-1/): the growing emphasis in educational technology should be not on individual devices (e.g., tablet vs. laptop) but on device-neutral applications.  If, for instance, every student finds e-books essential to academic success, such resources should be accessible to all, no matter the platforms or devices being used.

I appreciate that my undergraduate experience included at least a flirtation with what, at the time, were new instructional technologies.  But, the technologies that affected my day-to-day life as a student are many of those noted in the ECAR study.  I was instructed in the use of online databases and indexes and grew reliant on them.  A flash drive, printer, and laptop were certainly essential tools (they are still).  Had I received more instruction in the use of that SMARTBoard, I might have assimilated it, too, into my circle of necessary technology.  The study reveals students might desire newer, better tools in the classroom, but, when it comes down to it, they need support for those technologies they already use and that they believe will have the greatest impact on their success, both in school and after graduation.

Citation: Dahlstrom, E. (2012, September).  ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology.  Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/ERS1208.pdf

Undergrads and Information Tech: Part 2

Remember the olden days when families had a communal computer—a grayish behemoth perched in some corner of the living room—and a person really had to fight to get a chance to play a game of solitaire, practice some typing with Mavis Beacon, or dial up to do some web surfing with the help of AltaVista?  Okay, maybe that was just my adolescence.  I admit I am in no way a techie.  I’m not an early adopter.  But, since those early days, I’ve burned through several desktops and laptops, of various brands and with various attendant apps.  Just a few months ago, I convinced myself I couldn’t live without a Google Nexus 7.  Truly, though, this tablet often makes my grad-school experience just a little less trying.  As a perpetual college student since about 2003—with a couple years spent teaching high school—I understand intimately the intersection of technology and instruction.  When it comes to technology, students will always have something newer, something different, and they will be using it for academic purposes.

The second theme (you can read about the first theme here, in my previous blog post: https://blogs.libraries.iub.edu/redux/2012/10/10/undergrads-and-information-tech-part-1/) of the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology addresses this point: The technologies already used by students are diverse and prolific, especially in regard to mobile devices.  “Nearly all students own a laptop, and more students in 2012 than in previous years own handheld mobile device such as tablets, smartphones, and e-readers.  There is diversity in brands and operating systems among these devices, and consequently there is a growing need for device neutrality of apps designed for these mobile technologies” (12).  If there ever was a time that all students owned and used the same technologies, it has passed.  While I’m downloading my course readings to my Nexus, my classmates are downloading to Kindle Fires and iPads and everything else.  Educators must embrace and prepare for such technological diversity among users.

Here’s how the device ownership and use breaks down:

Point 1: Laptops are the most popular device, with 9 out of 10 students owning one.  Of these laptop owners, 76% use PCs and 21% use Macs.  Interestingly, younger students and those enrolled at 4-year colleges prefer Macs, and community-college students are less likely than their four-year counterparts to own any laptop (13).

Point 2: Tablet and e-reader ownership is on the rise.  Fifteen percent of respondents own a tablet and 12% own an e-reader.  Tablet users prefer iPads (57%) to Android devices (25%), and e-reader owners prefer Kindles (59%) to Nooks (24%).  But whether the student owns a tablet or an e-reader, make no mistake: she/he is most likely going to use the device for some academic purpose; 67% of tablet owners and 47% of e-reader owners responded they use their devices in this way (14).

Point 3: Smartphones are de rigeur when it comes to mobile devices.  Smartphone ownership grew from 55% in 2011 to 62% in 2012.  Along with the rise in ownership comes a rise in the number of these students who use their phones for things other than, say, texting or taking Instagram pics of their lunch.  “Nearly twice as many [respondents] in 2012 (67%) than in 2011 (37%) reported using their smartphone for academic purposes” (14).  This is a trend educators would be wise to keep in mind when considering how best to deliver content.

So, what do students do with all these mobile devices? 

Point 4: In this relatively early stage in the integration of education and mobile computing, emphasis is still very much on consumption rather than production.  That is, a student will readily and easily use her/his tablet to download course materials, read articles, search for content, check grades, and correspond with instructors and fellow students.  Fortunately, respondents seem satisfied with their learning institutions’ ability to deliver for consumptive purposes.  Seventy-three percent are happy with reportage of academic progress (i.e., grades); 70% with delivery of course content (17).

There remains, however, a vast and untouched frontier when it comes to mobile devices and production.  Writing papers and producing other academic work is still cumbersome, if not impossible, on some devices or with some platforms.  The study offers this important caveat: “Unless and until tablets become easier to use for producing required coursework, they will remain somewhat marginal in the academic world” (16).  While use of mobile devices for academic purposes will probably continue to grow, a question of further study might ask to what end?

Citation: Dahlstrom, E. (2012, September).  ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology.  Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/ERS1208.pdf

Undergrads and Information Tech: Part 1

The other day, on my way up to DUX, I shared the elevator with a couple undergrads who were heading to the 5th-floor group-study lab.  It’s impossible not to eavesdrop on others’ elevator conversations, even when I pretend to be deeply absorbed in some highly important text message I’m composing or in staring at my own, blurry, reflection in the elevator’s interior metal doors.  The young women were complaining about a class they’re taking whose instructor relies too heavily—in their estimation—on online, rather than traditional face-to-face, instruction.  The quizzes, tests, assignments, and lectures are conducted mostly online, they lamented, feeling this detrimental to both their engagement and success with the material.  This is just anecdotal, of course, but it speaks to a real concern: the ways in which technology is integrated into the learning environment impact all aspects of students’ academic performance.

Enter the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, an annual survey (conducted by EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, a nonprofit association of IT professionals interested in technology’s role in higher education) that seeks to “create a profile of undergraduate students’ ownership and use of technology for academics, to identify ways that technology helps them achieve their academic outcomes, and to assess their perceptions of how well institutions and instructors use technology to enhance the academic experience” (p. 4).  Because adopting new technologies and developing curriculum demands a major investment of time, energy, and money, the study’s secondary objective is to encourage institutions to use the collected data to make informed decisions when planning for technology.

The size of ECAR’s study sample is in no way slim; in 2012, it surveyed approximately 100,000 students from 195 academic institutions (including IUB), hoping both to identify trends in and discover topical and emerging issues related to students’ technology use.  The full report is worth reading; it delves into demographics data (e.g., users’ perceptions and behaviors broken down by sex, race, enrollment status, etc.) that space limitations won’t allow me to highlight here.  This post, though, will outline some of the more salient points, spread across what researchers identified as four recurrent themes.  I will cover the first theme here, and the other three in subsequent posts.

Theme 1: Students expect and value blended learning environments.

  • Point 1: It’s no surprise that today’s undergrads, seemingly born Internet-connected and with cell phone in hand, say educational environments that include both an online and a traditional classroom component best suit their learning styles and needs.  Seventy percent surveyed say it is in these mixed-modality settings that they can be most successful.  Three quarters of students surveyed have taken a course with some online component, and classes that combine both traditional and nontraditional modalities are especially attractive to nontraditional students; the study reveals that “more students age 25 or greater (older students) than younger students preferred classes with online components” (p. 7).
  • Point 2: The number of courses offered completely online is growing as well.  “In fact, twice as many students are taking online courses in 2012 (31%) than in 2008 (15%)” (p. 8).  With more online course offerings, students often have greater access to educational opportunities.  Many students surveyed take classes concurrently at more than one institution or take a combination of campus- and online-based classes.
  • Point 3: They expect their instructors to step up to the plate and use technology in a way that is engaging and academically supportive.  One particularly interesting statistic reveals students’ satisfaction regarding this concern: “More students than ever gave positive marks for their instructors’ use of technology.  Two years ago, less than half (47%) reported that most or almost all of their instructors effectively use technology to advance students’ academic success, whereas this year more than two-thirds (68%) said that is the case” (p. 9).
  • Point 4: Students’ expanding use of portable computing devices and social-networking leads to the assumption they should be able to connect with their learning institution and instructors via similar channels.  A majority of students (67%) use things like their school’s website, online tutoring sessions, and email to feel connected (p. 10).
  • Point 5: Students would like to see an increase in instructors using Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Game-Based Learning.  These numbers have rocketed in just a year.  Respondents desiring the inclusion of freely available content from OERs to support their learning grew from just 19% in 2011 to 57% in 2012.  Similarly, those wishing simulations and learning games would become a regular part of the classroom grew from 15% in 2011 to 55% in 2012 (p. 12).

Although students expect technology to be integrated into their learning environment, they also expect it to be used effectively.  The young students I encountered in the elevator, sighing exasperatedly as they commiserated over the unhelpful inclusion of technology in their class, are testament to this.  Further parts of the ECAR study, which I will discuss in upcoming posts, look at the varied technological devices, platforms, and tools students are using, as well as the ways in which they want to use them when it comes to education.

Citation: Dahlstrom, E. (2012, September).  ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology.  Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERS1208/ERS1208.pdf

Back to the Future

Those of us working in DUX make it our concern to understand the ever-expanding and changing technical needs of library users.  As we work through projects like a catalog update and website redesign, always in our minds are the questions:  Who are our patrons?  What are they already using technology for?  What do they need to be able to do?  And, how can we help them do these things?  There is so much those of us raised in the Internet age expect to be able to do—and to be able to do quickly.  It’s difficult to remember a time when technology didn’t inform every part of our lives, and harder still to imagine what it might still have to offer us.

One of my pet procrastinations is exploring the seemingly ceaseless number of cat videos populating the Web.  When I find a particularly delightful bit of kitteh kitsch, I gleefully pass it on via Facebook or email, doing my part to ensure the communicable status of those videos we call viral.  As a SLIS student, I really should be using the Internet for better purposes—and sometimes I do.  Obviously, as a future librarian, I understand, acutely, the necessity of the Internet in our daily lives.  The majority of our waking hours find us Internet connected in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons: searching and researching; educating and enlightening and entertaining ourselves; communicating with friends and family and colleagues—both near and far; and, yes, watching and sending videos.  For me, all of these things came together in a delightful way when I first saw, a couple weeks ago, this—now-viral—video:

The video gets at the heart of digital user experience.  Produced in the mid-1990s, the uses of the Internet espoused by the young cast reads like a prescient laundry list of all we now, some 15 years later, take for granted: shopping, watching TV, making phone calls, and doing our jobs via the Internet.  The video’s kids looked forward to this future, and it came right on schedule.  That I’m from Helena, Montana, the small town where this video was produced, and am roughly the same age as these kids, makes me even more mindful that technological progress is not some abstraction, is not relegated to some elite community of users, and isn’t years ahead of us in some nebulous haze.  It’s now and it’s everywhere, and we’re always going to have to learn how to make best use of it in our lives.  The uses we dream about today might seem farfetched, or even silly (“catfood cupcakes,” anyone?), but in 15 years, they’ll seem quaint.

The Atlantic Monthly featured a “Where Are They Now” article on the kids from the video.  Read it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/08/meet-the-kids-now-adults-behind-1995s-internet-prophecy-video/261251/