19 October 2009
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…
12 October 2009
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.
3 October 2009
This cartoon doesn’t realize that it’s making the same claim as discovery interfaces and other current OPAC design thinking, but it is.