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.

Fonts and User Experience

While editing pages on our current library website, I’ve encountered numerous pages with inconsistent font type, size, and style. We hope to fix many of these issues when the website is migrated to Drupal, but what are best practices regarding fonts and user experience?

There are no definite “best” practices concerning font and usability, but there are a few main areas that a user experience professional should take into consideration:

1. Font size

While the normal font size for most printed material is about 12px, most people sit farther from their screen than a book. The general consensus among web designers is to keep the font between 12-16px, or about .9em. Oliver Reichenstein has a blog post titled “The 100% Easy-2 Read Standard”, where he defends the use of a 16px font size because it is the size browsers were intended to display and the difficult of creating a good website with such a large font will force the web professional to make a simpler, cleaner design.

2. Font

Fonts are broken down into two categories: serif (fonts with small lines that extend from the ends of letters) or sans-serif (fonts without lines that extend from the ends of letters). Serif fonts are usually recommended for headings, or materials that are intended to be printed out on paper. Sans-serif fonts are easier to read on screens and recommended for large bodies of text. Today, most websites usually include Arial, Times New Roman, Helevetica, Georgia, or Verdana. It’s recommended to stay away from most alternative fonts because they might be difficult to read on a screen or the user will not have that particular font on their computer. In a lighter note, Google recently poked fun at the at the Comic Sans font because it is a known font to avoid in web design.

3. Line Height

Web design experts suggest paying close attention to the line height in blocks of text. If the line height is too narrow or too wide, it makes it difficult for the user to read the text. Most designers suggest increasing the default HTML line height between 110-150%.

4. Font Style

Use font styles sparingly and only to emphasize certain words or main ideas. Too many font styles look cluttered and can confuse the user. Underlining text should only be used for headings or URL’s.

5. Font Color

The color of the text should complement the color scheme of the website. Avoid using multiple font colors, which can be difficult to read. As with font styles, font color should be used to emphasize certain words.

Overall, there is no “correct” font type or style. The most important rule a developer should follow is design consistency.

Usability or User Experience?

We throw around a lot of jargon as libraries and information professionals. Much of our professional vocabulary is specific to our profession, and can be used without doubt that it will be misunderstood. For example, we know what is meant when a colleague talks about an OPAC or a bib record. I’ve noticed an increasing level of ambiguity when it comes to how we talk about usability and user experience. While we might use them as such, these terms are not interchangeable.

User experience (UX) entails all aspects of the user’s experience when interacting with the product, service, environment or facility. For example, the DUX department of IU Libraries is concerned with all aspects of the library user’s experiences with library interfaces, such as the library website and the library catalog, IUCAT. User experience goals are generally adjectives that describe the overall experience, for example:

  • Satisfying
  • Enjoyable
  • Fun
  • Entertaining
  • Motivating
  • Rewarding
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Emotionally fulfilling

These adjectives describe the user’s experience as he or she interacts with the system or interface.

Usability falls under the umbrella of user experience. It’s the tactical part of user experience concerned with the effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction with which specific users achieve specific goals in specific environments. For example, as we build the new IUCAT Beta interface, we conduct usability testing to measure aspects such as:

1. Effectiveness
How well does the system or interface is doing its job?

2. Efficiency
How efficient and easy it is to use?

3. Safety
How well does it protect users from hazards and mistakes? How well does it help users recover from hazards or mistakes?

4. Utility
How many suitable functions does it support?

5. Learnability
How easy is it to use?

6. Memorability
How easy is it to remember to use?

Usability refers to the ease in which a user can accomplish a particular goal.

I like to think about the difference between usability and user experience when I examine my shoe collection.

Usability         userexperience

Usability vs. User Experience

Crocs (left image, source: amazon.com) are functional shoes that help me easily, safely and effectively weed my muddy garden in early spring.  The high heels sandals (right image, source: nordstrom.com) do not help me accomplish any usability goals; they are impractical and not utilitarian.  But, I love high heels.  I love the way I look and feel when I wear them,  thus providing me with a satisfying user experience.

Think about the last time you talked about usability and user experience.  A general rule of thumb when discerning the difference between user experience is to think about the question you’re asking:

Did the user have as satisfying an experience as possible? That’s user experience.

Can the user accomplish their goal?  That’s usability.

Your Machine Should Not Make You Feel Stupid

At a recent DUX staff meeting, we spent some time talking about how to explain to laypeople (e.g., our moms) what it is we do in this department.  Someone offered this helpful metaphor: Ask them, “Do you ever use your computer or the Internet and feel stupid because you can’t understand how to do something—something you think should be easy to figure out?  Well,” she said, “DUX people make your machine or the website you interact with work better for you.  Your machine or a website should never make you feel stupid.”  I think that’s a smart way to look at web design and the user experience: Don’t forget you are not the user, that the tasks the user performs, while routine—perhaps even mundane to you—might truly be unfamiliar or confusing to the novice.  Therefore, design without assumptions.

When thinking about the user experience in web design, sometimes some of the simplest things slip our minds.  It’s always good to be reminded, those of us immersed in techy jargon and details, that we are probably not the target user of whatever it is we’re creating or trying to make better.  The target user might have little to no tech savvy, or might see the things on his/her computer screen in ways quite different from the average designer or usability tester.  Net Magazine, a really great tech magazine with lots of UX-related content, recently published a list of “10 UX Things We Remembered in 2012” for its year-end review.  Again, the entries on this list might seem like no-brainers, but they are easy to overlook the more one becomes assimilated to the back-end culture of web design.  I’ll let you read all ten for yourself, but I’ll highlight those entries that stood out to me most, made me utter a little “hmm” and nod my head in recognition.

#1: “You are not your customer.”  While the article is aimed primarily at commercial web design, most points are applicable to all design, including the sort of stuff we do in DUX (think: reconfiguring IUCAT and the IU Libraries website).  Authors Stuart Pill and Gavin Wye write: “It’s very easy to forget that your customers do not behave in the way that you would like them to . . . Even if you are working in a consultative role it’s easy to become accustomed to the way things are, and take for granted that people outside of your bubble will understand what you are trying to communicate.  Your customers have much less contact with your company and its products; therefore, they may need assistance with things that appear obvious to you.”

Which leads us to points two and three.  #2: “Navigating home.” Many users do not know how to navigate home, do not understand that clicking the site’s logo will typically take them to its home page; instead, they rely on their browser’s back button (assuming they landed first on the home page before moving on to specific content).  It’s strange to think of users not understanding what, to techie types at least, probably seems pretty obvious, but I can certainly see this in relation to IUCAT Classic, which doesn’t allow for a very user-friendly browser-button navigation experience.  One has to use the interface’s built-in navigation buttons or the “IUCAT Home” tab at the top of the page to get back home.  Thankfully, New IUCAT has remedied this, and it makes my heart happy to think there will be fewer confused and/or frustrated back-button clickers interacting with the catalog.

#3: “Country selection with a drop-down list.”  Here’s another supposedly obvious user task that really isn’t so easy.  The article explains: “We tested the checkout for a global retail site and found many users don’t use keyboard shortcuts to access drop-down lists.  Few people we observed knew that they could type a letter on their keyboard, use the arrow keys or hit enter to select the option.  Users still use their mouse to navigate and hence found long drop-down lists frustrating.”  Proposed, instead, is a “country selector,” wherein a user types into a traditional-looking search box the country he/she is looking for, and the box auto-completes with each letter she types.  From there, he/she can select from a much shorter, much more manageable list of countries.  However, to say, immediately, that this is the holy-grail alternative to the drop-down list is probably short-sighted, and defeats the purpose of point number one above.

Finally, #7: “The bar is still relatively low.”  “It’s easy, when you are surrounded by and immersed in the internet, to forget how hard some people find it to do things online,” caution Pill and Wye.  “The web is still a confusing place to some people.  Making tasks familiar by using established design patterns increases the chances of users completing these tasks, and so leaving your site with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.”  As a former teacher, Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” was de rigueur in my education courses.  Maslow counts physiological needs (e.g., food, water, sleep) as paramount to a student’s success—that is, one cannot fulfill higher-order needs, such as self-esteem, achievement, and creativity, without first meeting those basic needs.  I think we can apply the same thinking to users of websites—a user cannot use and appreciate fancy-schmancy interactive features if the supposedly small things aren’t working for him/her.

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

As we prepare to evaluate our web content in connection with our migration to a Drupal platform, it’s astonishing to realize how much the landscape has changed in just the past few years. When our current site was designed and implemented, we thought of the website as more or less an adjunct to the library’s physical facility; of course people used the website when they were not in the library, and were able to get a good deal of research done without visiting the library, but we assumed that when students and faculty thought of “the library” they had a brick-and-mortar (well, limestone) building in mind. Also, we thought of the library website as the place where our subscription resources “lived,” along with some locally-created content such as pathfinders and research guides. If students and faculty wanted to access this information, we assumed they would find it easiest to come to the library website and start there.

But things have changed, and continue to change. The Wells Library building is, as it has been for years, a hub of activity for students; stroll through the Information Commons at 9 pm on a Monday night and you’ll find that it is very lively, full of students working in groups and individually. But the impending loss of most of our on-site parking  may make it more difficult for some of our patrons to visit us. I know that when I have a late shift on the reference desk and leave shortly after 9 pm, there is usually someone anxiously waiting to take my parking place as I pull out and several cars circling the lot in hopes of an opening. Will people be less likely to visit the library if they cannot park nearby? We can’t say for certain, but it seems likely. How does this affect the library website? Some thoughts:

  • Our “Ask a Librarian” services may become even more important. Sometimes, it’s true, nothing can replace an in-person reference interview. But chat reference, along with email and phone-call options, can go a long way towards helping researchers find the resources and information that they need and, perhaps most importantly, helping them feel that they are not stranded and alone in the midst of their work. (How else can we help our website users connect with their research community? Definitely something I’d like to explore going forward.)
  • “Save the time of the Reader” is one of Ranganathan’s principles of librarianship, and it’s as true as ever; people don’t want to go through the hassle of getting here if they’re afraid their time might be wasted. It will be even more important for us to offer easily findable, clear, correct, and up-to-date information about the on-site services we offer. “Do you have a public fax machine?” and “What time does the cafe close?” are common questions at the reference desk. Because some of our services are not actually managed by the Libraries but by our partners, such as UITS and RPS, it may be challenging to keep this information up-to-date. But library users shouldn’t need to know whether something is managed by the Libraries or by somebody else. If it happens inside the library, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to look for information about it on the library website. Currently, some of this information is difficult to find or unavailable on our site. It would be good to change this.
  • Information on library hours also needs to be clear, up-to-date, and prominent on the site. Nobody wants to come to the library only to find out that it’s not open, or that the particular services they’re looking for (e.g. reference assistance) aren’t available at that time. The University of Houston libraries have a nice hours module on their site which accommodates a variety of locations and exceptions; we plan to implement something similar.
  • And of course, our information on parking  – offered within the “Visitors” section of our website, targeted primarily to non-IUB-affiliated library users – should probably be updated. Sigh.
Image of badly parked car
We may need to “think outside the box” with regards to our parking woes…
(image credit: shawnmichael on flickr)

Another big landscape change is students’ increasing reliance on e-texts and Oncourse,  IU’s course management system. The Libraries are about to get out of the e-reserves business; when students access their class readings via Oncourse, will they have any kind of context for understanding these readings within the information landscape of their discipline, as they might if they encountered them via the library website?  Will they have the perspective to understand the difference between a journal article and, say, a random blog post about the topic of their paper? Of course, if students are using Oncourse regularly, our goal of making services and information available at the point of need means that we need to have a presence there. Currently, there is a “Library Resources” tool  available to instructors, which can lead either to a general subject guide  or a more specific class page. We need to understand how students use Oncourse in order to know how we can best offer help in this environment. We also need to stay abreast of changes to Oncourse and related developments on campus.

When we talk about reaching our users “where they are,” we don’t just mean getting library links included on the websites and apps that they use (Oncourse, social media, etc.). The mobile revolution has taken place since the last time we redesigned our site and we need to stay very aware of trends in this area. Our site needs to be usable on smartphones, tablets, touchscreens – whatever people are using when they are looking for the information we provide, and wherever they are located.

Speaking of location, increasing use of laptops and other personal devices on campus has led to an explosion of new and reassigned IP address ranges, which can make authentication to subscription resources tricky at times; most of these resources are IP-authenticated and our vendors cannot always keep up with the changes. User authentication can also become an issue when someone is affiliated with multiple campuses, which will happen more often as online courses become more common. Most of our subscription resources – databases and e-journals – are purchased by one or several IU campuses, but not all. Providing access to those who should have it while still abiding by the authentication requirements of our vendor licenses is a much greater challenge than it was just a few years ago.

And finally, classroom technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Check out this article about the new high-tech classrooms in the IU Southeast Graduate Center  for example. What does this tell us about how students – and faculty – are learning and researching nowadays? What implications might this have for how the Libraries offer information and services? Should our “class pages” be more interactive, serving as portals that can be used for in-class activities rather than static lists of relevant resources? Should we expect this sort of class to use the chat reference service to enhance in-class research and discussion, and if so, does that have implications for how we manage the service?

No, I don’t have a lot of answers here – but the important part is finding the right questions to ask, and designing a web presence flexible enough to embrace answers as we find them. Those of us responsible for the Libraries’ website need to maintain awareness of developments all over campus, everything from changes in parking to changes in teaching methods and research needs. The only thing we know for sure is that things will continue to change!

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:


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.

Two Quick Rules for Readability

I’ve been frequenting a website recently for purposes of obtaining a particular certification.  The site (which will remain nameless) is broken up into learning modules, each with foundational information a user must read in order to complete a series of quizzes and move on through the certification process.  I have found, sadly, that the longer I engage with this site, the worse I am doing on the quizzes.  Now, I could chalk this up to my becoming increasingly dumber as the hours necessary to go through each module sluggishly go by, or I could look for a scapegoat for my poor performance.  I choose the latter.  My scapegoat, then, entrenched as I am in all things usability, is the site’s absolutely user-unfriendly design and its mind-numbing effects on me, the user.

I was reading this article on Mashable.com, and I think it is so on point with its outline of how to make your Website usable.  The offending site I mentioned above is failing on all points, especially when it comes to readability.  Two salient and simple suggestions for improving readability are:

  1. Keep Content as Concise as Possible
  2. Help Readers Scan Your Webpages Quickly

The article’s author, Jacob Gube, states that content should be “easy and pleasant to read, easy to understand, and skimmable.”  The pages on the site I’ve been visiting include extremely long lines of text, filled to the brim with information (including much technical jargon), and tons of embedded links within the text.  I feel constantly disrupted and distracted, having to click on links that navigate away from the main content in order to give me yet more huge pieces of information. Ugh.

Tech blogger Philip Webb stresses the importance of what he calls “chunking up” content for greater usability.  “That’s technical talk,” he says, “for make your page more scan-friendly.  Large blocks of dense text intimidate the reader and causes ‘information overload.’”  With web content, conciseness is a virtue—especially within instructional websites.  Dale’s Cone of Experience, which is an instructional-design model and not the name of a totally awesome PBS Kids science series, shows that people tend to retain only 10% of the information they read.   And studies show that in the hyperlinked world of online reading, attending to wordy text and remembering its content is even more limited.

Here’s where a cool tool can help.  The Readability Test Tool analyzes the readability of your website’s text—whether that be an entire page or a specified section—using several key readability indicators, the most popular of which are probably the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease and Grade Level tests.  Just paste in your URL or directly input the text you’d like to analyze, and the RTT will tell you how it scores.


So, for instance, I cut and pasted the text of this very blog post, and it returned a reading level of about the 11th-grade, which is pretty good, considering much of IU’s blog readership consists of young adults—undergraduates and graduate students in their late teens and early twenties.  However, that website that has me in a shame spiral due to my lackluster quiz scores? It has a grade level of about 17, which means more easily understood by 22 to 23 year olds.  A recent report by Nielsen Norman Group stresses the importance of writing web content that is quick to scan and includes easily digestible chunks of information: “If your site targets a broad audience, aim to write at a 6th-grade reading level (or lower). Writing at this level will help audiences of all ages—young and old—quickly understand your content.”

When you aim, especially, to have your audience engage with your site at length, as with the site I’ve been visiting regularly for certification purposes, you need to be economical with words—cutting clutter, enhancing white space, and emphasizing ease of use.  Keep these two simple rules in mind: Be concise and support scanning.


Gube, J. (2011). 7 best practices for improving your website’s usability. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/09/12/website-usability-tips/

Nielsen, J. (2013). Teenage usability: designing teen-targeted websites. Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved from http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-of-websites-for-teenagers/

Webb, P. (2013). Improve the readability of your web page. Webcredible. Retrieved from http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-usability/web-page-readability.shtml

The Library Website as Place

Unexplored Map, Greenland
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the relationship between the Libraries’ website and our physical presence. Much has been written about “the library as place” – a quick Google Scholar search brings up plenty of interesting material – and I am in strong agreement with those who suggest that library-as-place remains an important and useful thing for scholars, students, and citizens of all sorts, even in this digital age. But our website serves as our front door for a rapidly increasing percentage of users, and it needs to be at least as welcoming, as professional, and as helpful as our physical entry points are.

The metaphor of a website as “a place” dates back to the early days of the Internet. I still remember talking to a friend who was a very early adopter of AOL, around 1990 – this was before AOL was technically part of the Internet, but bear with me – and  being both confused and intrigued by her description of meeting someone via AOL and “following him from one room into another” online. (They eventually got married and have been together ever since, so stop laughing!)  Chat “rooms” were one of the earliest forms of social media; even the term “website” suggests a physical site or location; we still talk about “going to” a web page as if we were physically moving from one place to another; we refer to a website’s menu structure as “navigation.” We also talk about web “pages,” but overall, the most common metaphors for online presence are geographic rather than bibliographic.

So it seems to me that it’s not unreasonable to think of our website as a place, and to present it to our users as such. Some writers have discussed this concept specifically in regard to library websites, including Pomerantz and Marchionini and Gerke and Maness. The latter pair, in particular, note that “cross-channel experience consistency” between a library’s physical and electronic spaces can affect the user’s satisfaction (as measured via LibQUAL). This is the direction in which I’ve been thinking.

It means small things, like: if you have a big sign over the reference desk that says “ASK QUESTIONS HERE” but no sign that says “REFERENCE,” your website should probably direct people to the Ask Questions Here desk rather than the Reference desk. (Kind of like the gas station I frequent that says to “push the START button” but then there’s no button labeled START… just one that says PUSH HERE. You’d have to be a little dense not to be able to figure that one out, but for most people, using the library is more complicated than pumping gas!) And maybe, in that case, it makes more sense to label your chat-reference service as “Ask Us” rather than “Virtual Reference” – so that users recognize it as the same sort of service they access in person.

Consistency also means something bigger than labeling; for example, consistency of service. If you expect professional, knowledgeable answers from librarians at the reference desk, you should also expect the same level of service from whoever staffs your chat-reference system. While nobody expects polished, perfectly minted sentence structure in the context of chat reference, responses that are completely riddled with typos and misspellings can make the patron wonder whether the content of the answer is equally questionable – just as a friendly, business-casual librarian saying “How can I help you?” at the reference desk is more confidence-inspiring than someone wearing a ripped t-shirt and flip-flops, chomping gum and greeting patrons with “Yeah, whassup?” A library’s website, likewise, needs to be confidence-inspiring in the same way that the library itself is. A public library may find it most important to be welcoming and to present itself as a comfortable, fun place to spend time; an academic library may place more importance on the extent of its scholarly collections and its understanding of the research process. In either case, the website should probably reflect a similar attitude.

I could go on, talking about branding and other considerations, and noting that it can be useful to think of the library website as a digital branch library of sorts. But most of that is fairly common-sense; your website and your physical facility represent the same organization, so of course there should be a certain degree of consistency between the two. Though I don’t have data to support this (yet) I would venture to say that, at least in the case of the IUB Libraries, most of our patrons use both the website and the physical facility at some point. (For the purpose of this statement, by “website” I mean the Libraries’ website, IUCAT, and to a lesser extent our subscription electronic resources, though we have far less control over the user experience offered by our subscription resources.) Most patrons’ needs are not completely satisfied with one or the other; most need both at some point.

While there are commonalities in the reasons users visit both physical site and website – they’re usually looking for information to support their research – there are also differences in the reasons they visit and in their expectations of what they will be able to do once they arrive. While the website and the physical facility should be consistent with one another, they should also complement one another. This is both more complex and, honestly, more interesting. What does the conversation between the website and the building look like? How do users go back and forth between the two experiences? People definitely still want physical books for many purposes; my experience at the reference desk is that, when someone is looking for a book, they often tell me that the e-book is less desirable to them. (Is this equally true of website visitors? I don’t know.) How do researchers navigate – oh, those geographical metaphors again! – between the Libraries’ physical facilities and resources, and our website and its resources? And how does the way in which these resources are presented to them influence the shape and course of their research?

Interesting questions, which I’m just beginning to ask myself. I hope to do some further reading and perhaps eventually some research and maybe begin to formulate some answers. Meanwhile, I’ve just read an article about “The Library as a Map” that has me thinking about the dialogue between digital and analog materials, and wondering how a library website can best support that dialogue – or perhaps it’s better viewed as a travelogue. Traditionally, online search is easiest when users are seeking a known item, but discovery systems like OneSearch@IU (see Courtney Greene’s blog post introducing it) are beginning to expand our capabilities. Even with a discovery tool, though, many users – in my experience, particularly those in the humanities – prefer the physical browsing experience because it offers the possibility of discovery via serendipity. How can we improve the online experience for these users – not to replace the physical library, but to complement it? I’m intrigued by Megan Shaw Prelinger’s suggestions:

What I really see being needed is a way for query-based search to mimic the kinds of associative links that are formed by shelving different kinds of literature next to one another on a shelf. What if, when you typed in a search term, your result was a color-coded cloud of virtual book covers.

In the cloud, covers highlighted in one color would represent the straight response to your search query. Jackets highlighted in other colors, floating behind them, could follow any of hundreds of other associations. Perhaps you could select a half-dozen supplemental associative searches from a list before you begin your search. Then you see a layer behind your straight result that’s composed of satires, or other works by the same author, or public records that relate to your search term—or every work that’s cited within a given book’s bibliography! Features like those would inject intense excitement into digital search.

Search features like the one described here might work best for collections more limited than those offered by a major research library like ours; our collections are just so vast that it would not always be easy to make useful suggestions. But for browsing within a particular subject area or collection, it would be pretty interesting. I love the idea of fostering a useful dialogue between analog and digital resources, something more complex and more supportive of discovery via serendipity than a simple catalog or finding aid. Including pointers to analog resources within digital discovery tools, like the inclusion of IUCAT records in OneSearch@IU, is a good start. I’m interested in exploring how geographical metaphors, like “library as map,” can help us understand how to encourage and improve this analog-digital dialogue. If you have thoughts, please leave a comment on this post!


Gerke, Jennifer and Jack M. Maness. “The Physical and the Virtual: The Relationship between Library as Place and Electronic Collections.” College & Research Libraries, Vol. 71 No. 1 (2010): 20-31. http://crl.acrl.org/content/71/1/20.short

King, David Lee. “Chapter 1: What Is a Digital Branch, Anyway?” Library Technology Reports, Vol. 45 No. 6 (2009): 5-9. http://alatechsource.metapress.com/content/l13h33g605334t1g/

Pomerantz, Jeffrey and Gary Marchionini. “The Digital Library as Place.” Journal of Documentation, Vol. 63 No. 4 (2007): 505-533. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00220410710758995

Prelinger, Rick and Megan Shaw Prelinger. “The Library as a Map.” Contents Magazine, Issue 5 (2013). http://contentsmagazine.com/articles/the-library-as-a-map/


My Favorite App: Experience Matters

I recently come across a great new app called Experience Matters.  The app was developed by Joseph Dickerson, a UX architect.

Experience Matters features a simple, easy-to-navigate interface that details excerpts from Dickerson’s book by the same title, links to recent UX articles, a Twitter list that summarizes “This Week in UX”, and a Twitter summary of the user-generated UX hashtag, #UX.  My favorite thing about the app is that is streamlines my UX reading into an easy-to-digest mobile environment.

Experience Matters Main Interface
Experience Matters Main Interface
This Week In UX Interface
This Week In UX Interface

Experience Matters is free and available for the iPhone and the iPod Touch here and for the Android platform here.

Wireframing with Mockflow

Recently I needed to make mockups and wireframes for a redesign of a website. After using some other cumbersome software, I stumbled upon Mockflow. This website contains an application for the creation of mockups and wireframes. Mockflow can be used for free for up to four pages, or through a paid $59 yearly subscription with unlimited mockups.

I only used the free version of Mockflow, but I liked this application most for its intuitive interface and ease of use. From the beginning I was able to use my Gmail account to log in instead of making another separate account. There are numerous different components and styles to add to the wireframe. These elements can be resized and edited down to the color and line size.

Mockflow Interface

All of the components are drag and drop, making it easy and fast to rearrange the page design. The application also had a handy auto-save feature in case the page is accidentally closed. After a design is complete, it can be exported or saved to access at a later time. With the free version, there is also an option to collaborate with another user. The paid version allows for unlimited collaborators.

The following is an example of a completed mockup. This particular example took me less than fifteen minutes to create. I’d highly recommend this application for wireframing or mockup projects.

Example Mockup