404 Pages

404 pages are the worst. As a user, you don’t know why you can’t find what you need; as a designer, you hate that users can’t find what they need. On the IU Libraries website, there is a chat box on all 404 pages, providing the user the opportunity to immediately connect with a librarian, who can then point them in the right direction and provide further research help. However, not all 404 pages are the same-check out a collection of some of the best 404 pages (some of which include cats and Storm Troopers!).

Get your IUB Libraries news on the go…

I think being mobile-optimized is one of the niftier features of our new blog service. Using a plugin (WPMS Mobile Edition), we are able to simply flip a switch and … pow! automagically enable mobile-friendly blogs.

Curious what this looks like? Here are a couple screenshots of the reDUX blog taken on my iPhone.

mobile friendly blog (screenshot)mobile friendly blog post

Shiny! If you are running your own WordPress site (just a single site, rather than a multi-site installation like ours), you might want to try something like WordPress Mobile Pack.

Blah-gs No More: Newer, Faster, Better, Shinier

Join Anne Haines & Courtney Greene of DUX for an overview of the new IUB Libraries Blog service (http://blogs.libraries.iub.edu), launched earlier this month. In this session, they will discuss the new features and functionality of the blog service, give a peek into the day-to-day of maintaining a blog by demonstrating the staff interface, and present an overview of how to get started blogging for a department, unit, or Libraries group for interested parties.

When: Thursday, June 30th, 1-2p

Where: Wells 043

Some highlights of the new blog service:

  • a combined RSS feed, allowing people to easily subscribe to all content from all IUB Libraries blog service blogs
  • a set of themes that are customized for the IUB Libraries (fully branded & in conformance with IU identity standards)
    • plus, all blogs are now mobile-ready!
  • blog content will now be returned as part of the library site search, making it easier to find
  • statistics tracking using Google Analytics
  • a more robust server and an updated WordPress platform
  • support with setup and blog maintenance from DUX

A policy statement for the IUB Libraries Blogs can be found on the intranet.

Thanks to everyone who helped launch this project, and special thanks to Keith Welch and Brian Wheeler for their technical support.

Happy blogging, & we hope to see you at the DRET workshop!

Mobile Redesign Project Needs Assessment

DUX recently completed a needs assessment as part of our mobile web site redesign project. We surveyed 52 students at several IUB Libraries and asked them to comment on how they use the IU libraries, how they conduct research, and which mobile devices and applications they use. Participants also provided feedback on the current  IU Libraries Mobile Site. A summary of our findings is listed below.

Key Findings

  • 60% of respondents own a smartphone.
  • Undergraduate students appear more likely than Graduate students to own a smartphone.

Respondents' ownership of smartphones

  • Smartphone operating system usage is divided: 57% use Apple iOS, 37% use Android, and 6% use Blackberry OS.
  • 96% of respondents do not own a tablet computer, 76% have no intention of purchasing one, and those that will purchase will do so at least 6 months in the future.
  • 75% of respondents indicated that they visit an IUB Library daily.

Respondents' visits to IUB libraries

  • Library Web Site usage is more divided: Daily 39%, Weekly 24%, Occasionally (every couple of weeks) 24%, Seldom (once or twice a semester) 13%.
  • Respondents reported their most heavily utilized services on the Library Web Site are IUCat and Research Databases.
  • The most requested additions to the IU Libraries Mobile Site are access to IUCat and Research Databases.
  • Facebook, Google, and e-mail were cited as the most frequently used web sites, followed by OnCourse and OneStart.

Respondents' most used websites

Brave new catalogs

Last week our department attended a NISO webinar titled, The Future of Integrated Library Systems (pt 2): User Interaction.

In it, three next-generation library systems were discussed. As we are looking at Blacklight & VuFind for our next generation catalog discovery layer here at IU, I’ll focus not so much on each system’s technology, but more on the other information covered:

  • Jennifer Bowen from the University of Rochester presented on the eXtensible catalog. Many of the design & functionality decisions were driven by the ongoing ethnographic research being conducted on that campus (see Studying Students: The Undergraduate Research Project at the University of Rochester [PDF]).

    They approached the project with the perspective of thinking of the catalog in terms of “what do our users need to do.” They also have a new book, Scholarly practice, participatory design and the extensible catalog, just released by ACRL. Two examples of what they learned:

    • Users want to be able to choose between versions/formats
      Their users definitely had preferences when searching (limit to online only – avoid microforms – etc), and preferred when the catalog results showed search terms in context. They started with MARC and did a lot of transformation of the data, working with FRBR (works, expressions, manifestations, etc)
    • Researchers value scholarly networks
      One way they accomodate this in their community is by defining local metadata: for example, noting the advisor on the record for a thesis.
  •  

  • SOPAC 2, a catalog primarily aimed at public libraries, was presented by John Blyberg of the Darien Public Library. Many of the items from this part of the webinar would be of more interest to public librarians and were perhaps not quite as transferrable to our situation, but I did think their robust and creative use of tagging was quite intriguing. They used tags to create “virtual displays” or easy ways to collect items around a concept (“Staff favorites”) or even a theme (“Movies Better than the Book”). As you can see from the previous example, they were also quite open to subjective metadata, and found that it added a lot of value for users.
  • and WorldCat Local, presented by Anya N. Arnold of the Orbis Cascade Alliance (Pacific Northwest) and Allie Flanary of Portland (OR) Community College. As we are generally more familiar with this system, there were fewer lightning bolts for me in this portion, but it was easy to appreciate their emphasis on user testing and on collaborating amongst the user community to identify and implement improvements for a better user experience. One quote in particular caught my ear (I’m paraphrasing): “Saying ‘Because Google & Amazon can do it’ is a reasonable expectation for our users.”

You can see info about the webinar here: http://www.niso.org/news/events/2011/nisowebinars/userinteraction/

If you’re interested in viewing the recording, drop us a note in the comments or contact me directly!

Context and the mobile web

You can’t miss the chatter about mobile these days, and the realization that we may need to provide content in different ways to serve users in a mobile context. As DUX begins to take a renewed good look at our strategy (and armed with our spiffy new mission statement), we are re-evaluating what it means to provide services “where the users are” – for example, it no longer makes sense to build one website for desktop workstations, a completely different one for mobile devices, and yet another separately maintained application to provide services within Oncourse. Instead, we need to have a mobile strategy to repurpose our content and create – as Lorcan Dempsey says in this blog postdistributed experiences for multiple connection points. And it makes more sense now to think about the contexts within which our users are working, rather than to focus on the specific device or technology they may be using.

Dempsey’s post linked above is worth a read, as he nicely summarizes a lot of the issues around the current state of mobile information environments. In particular, do take a few minutes to view the slideshare presentation on “Beyond the Mobile Web” that’s embedded within the post; it nicely describes how the context (important keyword there) in which we use the Web has changed because of new mobile technologies.

Has the context of information seeking changed for our users, and is that due at least in part to the proliferation of the mobile web? If you have one or more mobile devices, have you changed your information-seeking habits? (I know I have! Even at home, I often grab my smartphone first – if I’m just checking email, looking up a dictionary definition, tweeting, or even reading a newspaper article, the phone is faster, more convenient, and let’s face it, more fun than firing up my aging, creaky old laptop.) What do you think?

Just what is this “discovery” business, anyway?

(Reposted from the April DUX Newsletter.)

You’ve been hearing a lot about the EBSCO Discovery Service, which we’ve just recently implemented here (http://bit.ly/dK2noS). You may even have tried it out yourself for some searches, or given it a whirl at the reference desk. But you may still be struggling to explain (to faculty, students, or just to yourself) exactly what it is, how it’s different from federated search, what it’s good for, and why we have it anyway.

Look no further – Library Journal has published a very good overview that covers the problems we’re trying to solve, the history of how we’ve tried to solve them, evaluation criteria used in selecting discovery tools, how people are using them, and implications for the future. Check it out at http://bit.ly/libdiscovery and let us know what you think!

Barcodes & QR … a quick scan

One of the nifty things about having a tiny computer (that is, your smartphone) on your person all the time? You have a whole new way to interact with the objects around you. The buzz on QR codes (sometimes called 2-D codes) has steadily grown for the last couple of years — after all, once something’s featured on primetime television, you know it’s catching on.

Libraries and higher education have been busy building services with these technologies as well – here are just a few examples.

Ryerson University Libraries put QR codes in their catalog records to provide another quick way for users to access bibliographic (title, author, etc.) information and location information about the item using their mobile device. Then they took it one step further, and developed their own mobile application for scanning the QR codes, as well as barcodes. Read the write-up in a recent issue of the Code4Lib Journal.

At the University of Waterloo, some students developed a mobile app called QuickCite, which produces formatted citations (MLA, APA, Chicago) from scanning a barcode … and they’re selling it for the low, low price of ninety-nine cents.

The action isn’t all in Canada, though – at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio, computer science professor Bo Brinkmann [together with the Miami University Augmented Reality Research Group (MU ARRG!)] has been working on a prototype for a shelf-reading system powered by QR codes. The Android app leverages augmented reality to scan the shelf, identify out-of-order items by their spine codes, and even goes so far as to calculate the fewest number of steps to order them properly. Awesome! Together with two librarians, he gave a presentation at ACRL in Philadelphia last month, and I was really impressed at what I saw (read a write-up of the session).

Have you seen any cool library applications for QR codes or barcode scanners? Feel free to share in the comments.

Smartphones: The Numbers Game

Hardly a day goes by when my social media feeds don’t bring me a story about how Android is taking over Apple’s mobile market share (or conversely how no other platform will ever overtake iOS), or how iPads are revolutionizing mobile technology, or how 82% of people who are 19 years and 3 months old and live in an apartment with three roommates and a dog are coming to school with fourteen mobile devices in each of their pockets. (Okay, I made up that last one.)

So what’s the truth here?  How can we find out what is really going on with mobile tech? You can find all kinds of numbers, but it’s not difficult to lie with statistics, so how can we find statistics that will be meaningful? (As a side note, my father – a psychology professor – gave me a copy of “How to Lie with Statistics” when I was in high school and it changed my life. For real.)

The Cloud Four Blog published an excellent post a couple of months ago that addresses exactly this issue: “A ‘Comprehensive’ Guide to Mobile Statistics.” It includes excellent information on available sources, types of statistics available, what each type is good for, and what to watch for with each. There is also a good discussion of which stats you should care about, depending on your role and what you are doing with mobile. There is some additional good information in the comments as well, so make sure to read those.

What do you think? Are any of the sources linked in the Cloud Four post interesting to you? Let us know in the comments!

Searching for answers

And now for the exciting conclusion … this post is a continuation of last week’s post on search behaviors, inspired by Jakob Nielsen’s recent article.

The problem, simply stated: For early adult users in particular, lots of things to search, too many results, how to choose rightly?!

There is a long, distinguished list of brighter minds than mine who have addressed this problem. Nevertheless, here are some of my thoughts on how to make progress:

Information literacy (or fluency, if you prefer). As an academic library, does not nearly everything we do begin and end with teaching? It’s so easy to agree with Nielsen about teaching the people to fish: we know that so many of them are figuratively standing in the middle of the creek making a grab, and they’re getting hungry. Thank you, and keep fighting the good fight, instruction librarians everywhere. [Here’s a special shout out to the good folks of our Teaching & Learning department.]

Specifically, it’s a high priority for DUX to enhance our current class pages so that they better meet the needs of our teaching librarians and our teaching faculty as they work together to support and facilitate student learning at all levels. For other ideas related to this, see point three below.

Better discovery. First, if we want civilians to use library search interfaces – voluntarily and joyfully, anyway – they need to be much, much more like Google or Amazon. Rest assured, I too have a deep and abiding love for the power of peer review, scholarly content, controlled vocabularies, indexing, and their noble brethren. (Please don’t run me out of town on a rail!) But, really – who wouldn’t prefer a friendlier, more responsive IUCAT, for example? In a world where quality content and fantastic interfaces co-exist happily, even experts will love being able to do what they need to do more efficiently and more easily. There’s a lot of power in leveraging our end-users’ existing mental models, particularly as a starting point for novices. Once we hook that unsophisticated user with some positive experiences, she’ll be more ready for us when we roll out the specialized resources and advanced functionality that information professionals know and love.

Second, if as Nielsen said, people are treating search engines like ‘answer engines,’ then we are uniquely positioned in our ability to load our discovery resources with good answers … in a ‘chocolate is good for you’ way, not in a ‘here’s a bran muffin for Halloween because it’s healthy, nevermind that kid over there with the king size candy bar’ way. Up to now, I’m guessing the complex trajectory from identified information need (AKA assignment?) to PDF-in-hand feels more like the latter than the former.

Bringing this back to IUB: EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) is one obvious way to reach the “early adult” population Project Information Literacy talks about, and we at DUX have been working towards implementing this resource, checking and double-checking how catalog records display in the interface, which features to enable and which to switch off, and thinking a lot about how best to integrate its results into the Resource Gateway. Look for big action on this front very soon – like, this summer.

EDS isn’t the only thing, though – the integration of a discovery layer as the public interface for IUCAT is going to be a huge step forward in this area, and a system-wide task force is working away to evaluate the two candidate applications, VuFind (example: Mirlyn [Michigan]) and Blacklight (example: Searchworks [Stanford]). If all goes to plan, we should all be basking in a new OPAC as soon as next June.

Contextualizing information. The world isn’t simple. Neither are library websites – and across our profession, we are engaging with the hard work of eliminating unnecessary institutional complication from the inherent complexity of scholarly information and the research process.

Let’s frame the user’s experience in a way that helps them process what they see … and let’s do it invisibly and automagically, whenever possible. In some cases this is going to mean beginning by presenting fewer choices, and trusting our users to dig deeper to more comprehensive listings when they are ready. This idea can be hard for us to accept – but careful curation is everything. Imagine a huge empty wall in a museum: first, fill it with paintings; then, picture it with only three. What does this say about focus of attention?

In other cases, it’s going to mean finding ways to dynamically deliver relevant help – a project near and dear to my heart, and one that has a high profile on the DUX radar, is the development of a system that will allow us to do just this across our website and within IUCAT, too. We do a good job of embedding mechanisms for feedback (IM, email) and we can continue to seek opportunities to expand as vendors enable this functionality within their interfaces, and as we update and redesign our mobile presence.

Rendering the intricacies of our many-faceted collections, services and resources into something that’s simple enough for a novice, but powerful enough for an expert, might be the one of the very hardest – and most worthwhile— things we could ever do. Now, I’m going to wrap up this post so I can flee the building before everyone reads what I said about Google …

More food for thought
A great article from A List Apart: You Can Get There From Here: Websites for Learners
Some comments on mental models from Nielsen
A nice brief excerpt from an interview with usability expert Don Norman
Steve Krug on How We Use the Web from Don’t Make Me Think
Again, Project Information Literacy