24 October 2009

i saw this as a scene in a real novel recently, too

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 11:20 am by Andromeda

“A headstrong young protagonist in way over her head visited the microfilm room of the New Haven Public Library Tuesday night in order to delve deeper into a riveting plotline that could put her career—and maybe even her life—on the line….”

Thanks, Onion!

Having dealt with microfilm myself recently (for the first time in, probably, decades), I admit the suspense potential is pretty high. But findability? Not what I’m used to.

19 October 2009

notes from the grounds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:24 pm by Andromeda

Sweet use of wireless devices today at the DeCordova Museum’s sculpture park — many of the sculptures have an extra plaque that has a phone number you can call and various extensions you can dial to learn different things about the sculpture. Loved how this was simple, unobtrusive, and took advantage of technology people already have right where they are — no need to borrow an audio tour from the museum (which is closed on Mondays anyway).

One of the installations is a slope between the parking lot and the museum which is all stone archways and paths and water. Apparently it used to be poison ivy (thanks, cell phone audio tour!) but they wanted to “turn an obstacle into an opportunity” or words to that effect, so now it is a lovely space which knits together two important areas while providing a wonderful view of autumn leaves downhill.

Got me thinking that — aren’t all obstacles opportunities? Obstacles are things users encounter when they’re looking for routes to something. If they don’t care about access, it doesn’t matter how much might be in the way; barriers are only obstacles if you wanted to go there. And if someone wants to go there, there’s an opportunity for accessibility. Would that all strategies were so lovely…

17 October 2009

a false dichotomy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:32 pm by Andromeda

I really can’t decide if technologies like this are awesome or creepy. (There’s a video if you want the shinier, visual version. Plus which CEOs with quirky hair add something to any product.)

14 October 2009

why it’s important to be flexible with your fines policy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 10:15 am by Andromeda

Remember Captain Sullenberger, who successfully crashed that plane into the Hudson a while back? Well, it turns out he had four library books with him. And he called his local library to apologize for not returning them.

Under the circumstances, they waived the fines. But it also turns out that, after they fish your luggage out of the river, it gets sent to a reclamation company, which does the best it can and sends it back to you. So a few months later, Captain Sullenberger got four dried-out library books back. And they were still readable. Not lendable, but readable.

So he returned them. And the library has them on display now. I’d say they got more than the value of the fines out of that.

13 October 2009

libraries in everything

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 4:48 pm by Andromeda

There is a reference library of booze opening near me. No, really. OK, it is also a store that sells cocktail stuff. (And that is…also acceptable.)

I feel like this should have my “user needs” tag applied, except that’s not really what I meant that for…

12 October 2009

discovery interfaces in the Chronicle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 8:16 pm by Andromeda

Chronicle of Higher Ed article on discovery layers in library catalogs. Doesn’t say much I haven’t already seen (although if you have no idea what I mean by “discovery layers” do read it; it’s a good overview). I did like this bit, though:

“It’s sort of our answer to, Why it is you need a library when you have Google?” said Ms. Gibbons [vice provost and dean of the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries]. “What this is going to do is show how much you’ve been missing.”

Positioning libraries to stay relevant is, of course, a major obsession these days, and I liked how she phrased it — not exactly as “let’s present ourselves in ways that are familiar to the users” (although I do think that matters), but “by presenting ourselves in ways that are familiar to the users, we can better showcase ways that we are already awesome.”

Comments section is kind of disheartening. I shouldn’t be surprised that the demographic that reads the Chronicle is the demographic that is conversant with old-school catalog searching ;), but so many of the comments read as “fix the user, not the catalog” and…that just never works. Even if the user is uneducated about, e.g., subject headings (and let me tell you, one semester of library school showed me it is amazing how undereducated you can be about catalogs after even a humanities MA), even if the existing technology works really well once you put in the time to learn it — fixing users just never works.

It would make me sad if discovery layers made it impossible to do the sort of precise, controlled searching library nerds get good at, but another of the lessons of Google (or, for that matter, of any number of intimidating databases) is that your clean searchbox doesn’t mean you can’t have that functionality. But if you say to users “you can’t even play until you’ve spent a couple hours learning how” — well, just like my last post — that means there will be a lot of users you never get at all.

Make it easy. Or, at least: make the first hit free.

9 October 2009

help me, o readership!

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:06 pm by Andromeda

OK, why do I have twitter.com in my referrer logs? I mean, that’s awesome :), but I can’t figure it out.

NISO Forum 2009: Annette Bailey, and women in CS

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 7:40 am by Andromeda

I was at the NISO forum with my Library Automation class yesterday. Couple of interesting talks, particularly Annette Bailey‘s, and my notes have all these “blog this!” memos, none of which I’m blogging about right now because it turns out what I’ve been thinking about overnight is how her presentation reminded me of a chat I had with Jon Herzog once about women (or, more particularly, the lack of them) in CS.

One of the things that struck me about Bailey’s talk is that she’s made geniunely interesting and useful widgets, but she characterized her programming knowledge in very modest terms — not much above what I would use to characterize mine. And it was eye-opening to me that you can actually do something worthwhile without being some kind of a ninja.

Because my experience of programming in high school and college was that you could learn a little bit of code, and then make something that didn’t do anything useful, assuming it even worked, which, if it was one of those BASIC things out of a magazine, it usually didn’t. (“Hello, World” is charming, but not fulfilling.) And all the people who were actually doing interesting things with code knew multiple programming languages, and OSes, and had knock-down drag-out arguments about which commands were better in which situations and why. And, indeed, the ability to have those sorts of arguments seemed like the marker for membership in the club. And I didn’t want to be in the club, because arguments like that don’t play to my strengths, and anyway it seemed a bunch of obnoxious posturing. And if the bar for being in the club was that high, I was so far behind I might as well give up and do something else. So I did.

(Oddly enough, this hasn’t been my experience of post-collegiate code. I taught myself enough perl one summer to limp along making something partway functional. And I was able to do something actually useful and comprehensive for my databases class with shockingly little SQL and PHP. But mentally, I’m still in the “not a coder” camp.)

“Make it easy,” Bailey said. She can figure out enough stuff to do what she wants to do in a world without standards or APIs or any kind of handholding. She’s not dumb. But she just wants to make a damn widget to extend user experience in the midst of a busy job that doesn’t pay her to be a full-time programmer. She doesn’t, it seems, want to have to be in the club to make something meaningful.

And neither do I. And I don’t think I realized before last night that being in the club, and being able to do something worthwhile with electrons, aren’t the same thing.

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