Daily Archives: November 3, 2005

I Should Have Sent My Opac And Database Suppliers A Card

Did you know that today is the first World Usability Day? It was established by the Usability Professionals’ Association to promote “user-centered design and every user’s responsibility to ask for things that work better.” I discovered this from an article about World Usability Day in USA Today. The focus of this special day is to draw attention to the need to make electronic gadgets more user friendly. You shouldn’t need a manual, goes the logic, to figure out how to program frequently called numbers into your cell phone or to use any of the many features on your digital camera that you’ll never get to work. World Usability Day resonates with me because we have our own little usability challenge in academic libraryland.

Our OPACs and aggregator databases offer some great features. I always enjoy showing students how they can format a citation in ProQuest databases or create a personalized booklist in our library catalog. Students can quickly realize the value of these features, and they are important in helping us to differentiate our resources from those offered freely on the Internet. The challenge is in helping our users to discover these added-value tools because, like the too complicated cell phone or digital camera, the usability needs improvement. I’ve gone on the record in the past claiming that our OPACs and databases are not overly complex – and I still maintain that. Students come to our institutions to learn, and learning to use these resources is a part of the process. Having discovered these features a student is ususally able to figure it out the next time. But I would like to see library products that make it easier for the end user to discover the useful features embedded in the product without needing a librarian to divulge its availability. Perhaps the products need to be designed more like website homepages that clearly layout the features and navigation. But whatever we do let’s not just dumb everything down so there are fewer options all together. I think we can do better than that.

Well, today is only the first World Usability Day. The world’s environmental problems were not solved on the first Earth Day. But if it gets us to start thinking more seriously about our responsibility, as a profession, to “ask for things that work better” that’s a start.

My In-box Overfloweth

Amazing all the interesting stuff that can wash up in one’s in-box in a single day. The Chronicle reports that some of the first books scanned in the Google Library project are now online. Google’s blog shows some of the texts. I notice that some are missing the “find in a library” link to WorldCat that the library project is supposed to include (a link that is absent on the digital books supplied by publishers; the idea was to include it on the library-scanned books). Still no memo describing how Google plans to take over the world. We’ll just have to either take their word for it that they’re good guys – or use our imaginations. And wait to see what the courts decide.

If you want paranoia with that, here’s a scary item from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: your printer may be watching you. Remember how detectives used to match documents to the typewriter they were written on by noticing the top of the letter T was a little chipped? Well – that’s sort of the idea. Embed a secret code that can match a page to a specific printer. And how handy when industry does the advance work for you! It strikes me as a tad bizarre that we live in a country in which the idea of making a record of the unique grooves and lands in any handgun as it goes from the manufacturer to the marketplace is totally untenable. Nope. No way. Threatens our civil liberties. Fuggetaboutit. But ideas? Speech? Expression? Hey, those things are dangerous, dude! We need to be able to track back and see where they came from. The Feebs, of course, say it’s just to apprehend counterfeiters, but that’s about as comforting as being told I shouldn’t worry about the PATRIOT Act unless I’m a terrorist.

The EFF tidbit (not the rant) came from the wonderful folks at LII - which has a spiffy new look. Between their weekly update and the one from the Scout Report I usually find plenty of interesting academic sites to share with faculty or to add to our subject guides. Or just to make me think.

Now if Steven would just find a way to add a button to his Kept-Up Librarian that would automatically download all the news fit to feed directly to my brain, I would truly feel kept up. But I would definitely need a memory upgrade.