Real Questions from Real People: part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking About A New Website: a series of DUX Brown Bag Conversations

Image of brown lunch bagYou asked, we listened: DUX is excited to announce that we will soon have a brand new Library website.  Next to the catalog, the website is probably our most used staff tool – not to mention its public-facing functions: providing access to our collections and resources, informing users about our services, and generally assisting us in supporting research and teaching needs of our campus.

With a project this large and complex, there are lots of questions. So, in order to help us better inform you about the upcoming conversion of the Libraries’ website to a shiny new Drupal environment, and to ensure that all library staff have plenty of chances to ask us questions, DUX will be hosting a series of brown-bag conversations. These will take place from noon-1 pm on the last Thursday of each month in Wells 043, and all IUB Libraries staff (including hourly) and librarians are welcome to attend. Please join us – we promise to make it fun as well as informative. There might even be treats and prizes involved! Bring your lunch, your questions, and your colleagues.

Dates and topics are as follows:

March 28: Timeline
What’s the plan? When is this all happening? What do we need to do? We will address these kinds of nuts and bolts questions to help everyone get comfortable with the project timeline.

April 25: Training
How will the new site work? What support is there for migrating and updating pages? Who’s going to do it all? …

May 30: Transition
At some point we have to flip the big switch in the sky and go from the old site to the new site. We’ll talk about that and about all the details that go along with it – what about all those bookmarks? …

June 20*: Trends and Testing Postponed
We’ll have something new to show off and we’ll all be curious how people are taking to it right away. We’ll present information about initial user reactions we’ve collected and outline a plan for ongoing user testing for the new site.

*Note: a week early this month due to ALA

July 25: Teaching Postponed
So we have this new website! How are we going to help our students and faculty understand the best ways to use it for their research needs? We’ll talk about using the site in “traditional” library instruction and at the reference desk, as well as other ways to communicate with our constituents about the new site.

August 22*: Tips and Tricks
The summer’s over, so here they come. This session will focus on gearing up for the new semester with a new site.

*Note: a week early this month due to classes beginning


brown bag photo credit: axmai on flickr

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!