Category Archives: design

Planning a Website Re-Vamp, Part I

Before I started working in the Sonoma State University Library, I knew re-designing the Library website was going to be a priority. Everyone made it clear to me during the interview process that they weren’t happy with the site and that it had historically been one of the bigger challenges in the Library. Fixing the website was one of the Library’s strategic directions for the coming year and was the first task they had in mind for me when I started in September 2013.

So how did I take on that task? What did we do and what are we planning to do? I’m going to share my answers to those questions here in a series of blog posts. I’m happy with the approach that we took and I hope that my experience might be useful to some of you, especially if you’re in the position of managing a website without a ton of web experience in your skill set. I’m going to share the steps I took, the documents and reports I put together, the tools I used, and my techniques for overcoming some of the bigger challenges, which, as I’m sure you know, are rarely technical and are more about building shared understanding and meeting people’s needs. I don’t pretend that I did this perfectly, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes as well as my successes. I hope I can learn from my mistakes, too; in fact, part of writing this is so that I can take a step back and see where I might have done things differently.

Creating a useful website for a Library is a different beast from creating a business website. We have unique goals and priorities that don’t center around “conversions,” “subscribers,” “sales,” and all the other business terms that are usually used in writing about the web. I want to write something that will help other people who aren’t in traditional for-profit institutions to translate some of the business-speak so that it works for them and their Library and education-centered needs.

We are by no means finished with our “website redesign,” and in truth we probably never will be. Creating a useful website is a process that involves a lot of trial and error, tweaking and changing things as we go to better meet the needs of our patrons. We called the first phase of the project a Website Re-Vamp rather than a Redesign because we didn’t touch on the design portion of the site in this phase. I wanted people to understand that it was a small, first-pass project, a spruce instead of a remodel.

People had two main issues with the site that were laid out in the strategic directions, after hiring a Web Services Librarian (a.k.a., me): they wanted to reduce the number of clicks and reduce the number of silos on the site. Reducing the number of clicks it takes to get to useful information is a common goal. People have come to think that the more “clicks” a user needs to make, the worse a site is. One of the things I wanted to help people understand is that it isn’t necessarily the number of clicks that are the problem, it’s whether those clicks are taking them closer to their goal or making them feel frustrated. It’s quality not quantity, man.

The silos issue is harder to deal with. If you’ve worked in a library, you know all about the silos problem. So much of our content comes from different places and is stored in different digital homes. We have databases and catalogs and digital collections, we have metadata that don’t play well together, and we’ve made only baby steps toward bringing our content together in one easily searchable place. It’s hard to manage and difficult for our users to understand. This problem isn’t one we could solve with a website redesign, but we can make an effort to help people better understand our content and how to find it.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to walk through phase I of our project, which started in October 2013 and wrapped up in August 2014, just in time for the Fall semester to start. Some of the things we did include user testing, surveying, and card sorting, implementing version control, redesigning our information architecture, and redesigning the homepage.

Next week I’ll share the Project Scope document I created for our faculty and staff, and talk about how we decided on the scope of the project and how we communicated about what we were planning.

The Library of the Future?

During the closing keynote speech at LITA National Forum this year, Sara Houghton encouraged us to engage in a little thought exercise. She wanted us to imagine the ideal library of the future, without the limitations of what we believe is possible or what we’re currently doing. We should, she suggested, set aside some time to think about what we would like a library to be 20 or 30 or 40 years from now.

There are many different kinds of libraries, and what they’re going to be in the future will be vastly different from each other. My experience has been in academic libraries almost exclusively since I entered college at 18 years old. I’ve worked in academic libraries since 2007, and yeah, I have a lot of ideas about what the ideal academic library of the future should be. I work in technical service (metadata and systems), so I do tend to think about how the background systems will enable public facing services. But here, I don’t want to be limited by what I think the technology can do, so I’m focusing more on what we collectively will do, in the big picture.

To begin, I do believe that the library of the future will still inhabit a physical space. Our libraries will be beautiful, welcoming, well-lit spaces where students will come to work independently and in collaboration with other students. Library spaces will be flexible, to accommodate groups working together and students quietly reading and studying. Our library spaces will still hold physical collections, and patrons will still come into the library to access those collections, though they won’t be as large, or used in exactly the same ways. Our physical collections will likely be historical collections, special collections, and archives. Print collections may or may not circulate, and librarians will be on hand to help students new to primary source and historical collections access and interpret the materials they are working with (for example, historical government documents and maps, which won’t be searchable and manipulable in the same ways students are used to working). Physical collections will more likely than not be unique to a library, and will likely also have been digitized (or be in the process of being digitized).

Reference and Research Librarians will be an important part of the library services, though traditional reference desks may not. Students and researchers will have a relationship with their department’s librarian from the moment they enter the institution, and their librarian will be available in a variety of ways (email, text, chat, or whatever new communication mechanisms pop up) to assist with research, data organization and management, and as a liaison to other key services like writing centers and tutors. Librarians will frequently meet with students and researchers in their offices and in other locations on campus (computer labs, cafes, faculty offices). Librarians will teach information literacy embedded in the curriculum, from introductory composition classes to senior year thesis seminars. Rather than offering one-shot classes and hoping for the best, the information literacy curriculum will be built into the overall learning curriculum, and will expand over the course of a student’s time at the university, teaching the skills needed in a layered and integrated way. Librarians will also offer faculty workshops on data management and data and information literacy. Where possible, librarians will work collaboratively with faculty to enable faculty to teach information literacy to students, in a train the trainer model.

Most current resources will be accessed digitally, including monographs, fiction titles, journals, data sets, current government documents, and reference resources. All members of the university community will read on the digital device of their choice, and digital titles will be available in many formats to accommodate the technology used by the community.

Nearly all academic resources, like University Press monographs, journals, data sets, government documents, and reference sources, will be open access. The digital files themselves will rarely be hosted in the library itself or “owned” by the library, unless the library itself has digitized or published the resource. Users will be able to freely download these resources, read them on their device of choice, and annotate them however they wish. The library will serve as a curator of open access resources. Librarians who are familiar with the school’s fields of study and the resources required for teaching and research will build the library “collections” by curating links to resources hosted elsewhere, and providing access to resources hosted locally.

For titles that are not open access (contemporary fiction and non-academic titles), libraries will purchase (not lease) access to digital files, as well as a copy to be archived locally for preservation. Costs will largely be based on size of institution and download statistics, but cost models will be transparent and consistent. This will not be the bulk of future academic library collection development.

Funds that have previously been spent licensing access to academic journals will be spent instead on funding open access publication. Researchers at a library’s institution will apply for library grants to pay their own open access fees for publication. Libraries will also act as publishers, either in conjunction with a University press or on their own, if their institution doesn’t have an existing press. Libraries will host open access journals that are managed and edited by faculty, and will have publishing departments that acquire, edit, and provide access to journal and monograph titles in an open access model.

Libraries will also be the homes of subject repositories where feasible. Rather than merely collecting research, libraries will become the publishers of research in a global network of open access research publications and repositories. Libraries will also house institutional repositories, although these will focus almost entirely on preserving the administrative records of the institution, rather than the research outputs.

In addition to the Research Services and Publishing departments, libraries will have a Collection and Curation department. These librarians will be responsible for maintaining the physical collections, but also for curating links to appropriate resources. They will be responsible for ensuring access to external servers and managing relationships with other libraries and publishers. Additionally, they’ll be responsible for creating the metadata for locally hosted and published resources, digitizing local resources, and ensuring that access to local servers and digital collections is stable.

The ILS of the future will be almost unrecognizable from its current incarnations. They will integrate resources and metadata from the web, serve local metadata and resources back to the web, and act as workflow managers and statistics gathering tools.

Cataloging will be a very different activity, and will again consist of curating and collecting metadata from around the web to provide access, as well as creating local metadata for digital and print resources, and making it available on the web. Discovery will happen through locally-aware search engines. Users will set a library preference in their browsers or with their preferred search site that will prioritize the resources that have been curated by your library. But most library resources will largely be available freely, so discovery doesn’t necessarily have to happen through the library, and users can decide to prioritize a library entirely separate from their campus.

In the future, academic libraries won’t be stand-alone institutions, providing collections solely to their own patrons. The Library, instead, will be a global network of information, publications, and research, each library contributing to the whole by publishing, digitizing, and creating metadata. Our roles won’t be as gatekeepers, but as creators of scholarly resources and facilitators of scholarly communication. Our local services will consist of assistance to researchers, helping them gather the information they need to do research, and then helping them find the right place to publish it. Libraries, not for-profit publishers and journal aggregators, will power the scholarly communication engine. Our role will be not only to provide access, but to ensure preservation of the scholarly record, in all formats.

Of course there are details that I haven’t covered here. This is, after all, just a thought exercise. But if I were to use this vision as a source for strategic planning, I’d probably think seriously about how the library could become involved in scholarly communication and publishing at my institution. I’d put a lot of energy into re-modeling Research services. And I’d be actively engaged with the library community in building new models for metadata discovery and cataloging that are not based on local systems and local records. I’d apply for digitization grants to start digitizing local special collections. And I’d be actively engaged in global work to change the tenure model and reform copyright.

What is your ideal future library? Are there things in this vision of mine that make you cringe? That you absolutely can’t imagine happening? What do you think we should do now to create the library vision of your dreams?

Kindle Library Books

The inability to check out books from my library using my Kindle irked me from the first moment I started using the Kindle. When Amazon and Overdrive announced that they were finally partnering to allow library lending on the Kindle, I was pretty excited. Sure, as a librarian I know it’s far from a perfect solution, and I don’t love the way Overdrive lending works for libraries, and I think we could do so much better, but as a patron? I was excited to be able to check out books without having to trek to the library. Anything to make acquiring reading materials easier and less expensive for me makes me happy.

Last week, when I read that lending was finally being released, I practically hovered over the Oakland Public Library’s Overdrive page, waiting for the Kindle links to appear. And when they did, whoo hoo, I was ready to start checking things out. Which is when I encountered the most annoying thing about library lending of ebooks: Holds. Seriously. I understand that Overdrive had to work with a business model that publishers would agree to, and that making these things act as much like paper copies as possible was probably a necessity for library lending of digital books to happen at all. But the fact that a library only has a certain number of “copies” of an ebook, and that I have to get in a nice long queue to borrow them? Ugh.

But that’s my whiny patron self speaking. The wait for a copy is just a fact of life of public library reading that one has to accept. It’s the cost of free books, right? It’s honestly the reason I don’t use the public library as much as I’d like to. But in the interest of experimentation, I put a few books on hold, and waited for my notification email. And I got the first one today.

Let me tell you, after several years of hearing how terrible the user experience is for library lending of ebooks, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy Kindle borrowing was. I clicked a few links, and badda bing, there was my book. The only part of the experience that wasn’t intuitive is that once you click your checkout link, the book is placed in a “cart” and you have to complete a few more steps within a particular time period before the book is actually checked out to you. This seemed kind of nonsensical to me, but I’m going to give Overdrive the benefit of the doubt and say there’s probably a good technical reason, involving how data is sent to the Amazon servers or something, for this particular step.

So, from my non-librarian, patron perspective, borrowing a library book on the Kindle was painless. The wait to read popular books from the library is the primary reason I don’t use libraries more often, so I wish there was some way we could solve this problem with digital books, but I can understand that that might be a hard sell for publishers. Frankly, from a non-librarian perspective, I want to get books wherever and however I can, preferably without having to spend a ton of money on them, because I’m a book junkie and I just don’t make that much money. I’ll take whatever lending options I have, and I love not having to schedule in a trip to the library (or even a trip to the bookstore), because I’m a busy lady.

Kindle lending from libraries makes my librarian self, though, kind anxious and nervous about the state of the ebook landscape for libraries, and whether we’re painting ourselves into a bad corner with the steps we’re taking now. I understand the potential problems and dangers, I wish we had better options, I wish we were in a better position to demand better options. That’s why I’m working with the NISO eBook Special Interest Group, to at least attempt in some way to give libraries better options. In the meantime, at least this is a step toward making library use easier for some of our patrons. And that’s not a bad thing.

New Amazon Search Feature?

I wish I had time to write a proper post, but these days, time is something I don’t seem to have much of. However, I wanted to mention something I just saw that I think is kind of awesome: Amazon seems to have created a new search feature that groups results based on which words were used to find them out of your longer search string.

I searched for “My baby loves a bunch of authors” with the intention of buying the MP3 of the Moxy Fruvous song. This is what I saw:

Images shows search results on Amazon grouping results based on which search terms were used to pull up those results.

I like it! I think that could be really helpful in library searching, because it is so often unclear why particular items appear in search results. Is this new, or have I just never seen it before? What do you think: Useful or confusing?

[Edited to note that the item I was actually looking for was listed first on the page, in multiple formats (single MP3 song and physical album that contains the song). These results showed when I scrolled down the page a bit.]

Building Better Websites

I’ve had an idea floating around in the back of my mind for a few weeks, to write about quick and easy ways libraries can create better websites. Then this morning I saw that Amanda Etches-Johnson and Aaron Schmidt presented on just this topic at Computers in Libraries this week, and I think they did a better job than I could have. Brian Herzog of Swiss Army Librarian did an excellent job writing up his notes on their Better Library Websites presentation. I highly recommend you check it out. The offer just a few simple tips that can go a long way to making a better site.

Big projects beginning

Yes, I have been missing in action here since I started my new job. The last six months gave me a great opportunity to settle in slowly and take things on bit by bit. I spent a lot of time getting to know our system, and starting to clean up some of what I’ve begun to call The Grand Mess. We implemented some more streamlined, sensible library Locations (the bits in the catalog that tell users where particular items can be found in the library), and I’ve started to clean up the data in our bloated bib records, taking out useless local call numbers and dated, unnecessary local notes. I’ve been down to our ILS vendor’s office twice for training, the most recent of which was last week. The funny thing about our ILS (we use Innovative’s Millennium) is that the more I learn about it, the more I realize I still don’t know. Seriously, the documentation is like a rabbit hole: You can just keep falling deeper and deeper into it without really getting any sense that you are finding complete answers. I can’t help but wonder if ILSes really need to be as complex as they are (or at least as complex as Millennium is).

So now that I’ve been deeply immersed in our system, and in the various things that my colleagues do using our system, it’s time to turn to the Really Big Project: redesigning our catalog and starting to redesign our website. Am I being foolish for taking on both of these things at once? Possibly. Have I given myself a ridiculously short deadline? Probably. Am I nervous? Definitely. I will be putting my web design and application programming skills to the test, without the training wheels that being a Library Assistant (and having a partner who is a programmer) provided in my previous job. I will be trying to figure out some complicated and confusing things pretty much on my own. Yeah, I’m nervous.

Some of the things we are looking at are fairly basic: The design itself needs a serious update, and the information architecture of the library website is a bit structurally unsound. Most of what I’m doing as far as the website goes is basic re-organization and some CSS magic. But the website lives on a ColdFusion server, so I’ll be trying to learn the basics of that to add some dynamic action (including a blog). I’m looking at implementing an open source federated search tool, which could be a real treat in the programming skills arena. We want to add book covers, the ability to send a call number to your cell phone via SMS, and some more robust linking to WorldCat, Summit (our consortial borrowing system), and possibly Amazon for unfound items. We have a nice, long laundry list of things to add, and I’m pretty much on my own for all of it. It is a little daunting, but I’m sure it’ll turn out a-ok in the end.

I’m hoping to document this process here, though of course, I always promise myself I’ll write more and rarely find the time to do so. However, if all goes well, you’ll soon be treated to many stories of me pulling my hair out over PHP and SQL statements! What a joy! Come back to find out more, if you dare.

Library Websites, redux

I read a great article this morning about the future of library websites, and thought it more than worth sharing. Steven Bell writes in Inside Higher Ed that we need to re-think the purpose and role of library web portals. He points out that most scholars (and students) are no longer using library web sites as an entry point to research materials, and talks about how we might (and whether we should) change that. He also makes some excellent points about the importance of faculty-librarian collaboration. Overall, this is a very thought-provoking and forward-looking article, one whose ideas I will certainly be bringing with me into whatever future role I might have in an academic library.

Some design thoughts I appreciated

Being on break and all, I don’t have too much to share in the library and information science realms. However, I did read a great article yesterday (with an equally interesting follow-up piece today) that I thought I’d share: Josh Porter talks about making the design process transparent and how that can benefit an organization, not just design-wise but in other ways as well. While I don’t have a lot of control over process in my current work situation, I am definitely gathering ideas and forming a general design and process philosophy to perhaps implement some day. Porter offers a lot of food for thought, and his site Bokardo, has become a must-read for me since one of my professors introduced it to me. If you’re intrigued by the idea of an open design process, the follow-up post is also worth checking out.

The Creative Library

The Urban Library Journal’s Spring 2008 issue is dedicated to creativity in the library. There are some really terrific articles in here, on library transformation, using technologies in new ways in the library, and promoting work and leisure in libraries. I’ve never read this journal before, but I want to sit down and read this cover to cover (or, uh, html tag to html tag?).

Urban Library Journal is an open access (free!) journal published by City University of New York. Well worth checking out.

You cannot escape the consumer culture

Not even at the library, apparently. At least not in certain counties in England anymore. What I don’t understand is why the plan seems to be so ill thought out. The Policy Director, Guy Daines, says they used to give advertising bookmarks, and he’s concerned about the work of putting ad inserts into all the books, or whether the ads will remain timely if someone doesn’t check out the book in awhile. Um…so why not just continue to give advertising book marks? They pretty much meet the same ends, and can be given at the circulation desk. And bookmarks are actually useful, and in a way, less offensive, even if they do have ads on them. Is there a particular reason to go with inserts instead of bookmarks?

And yeah, it rankles me that libraries have to resort to putting ads in books to stay afloat (granted that that is the situation). Is this already happening in libraries in the US?