Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Choosing Where To Be Simple Or Complex

I’ve ranted in the past about my annoyance with those who spout platitudes about library web sites needing to be more like Google or Amazon – although those two sites couldn’t be more different. Why do we need to be more like those web sites? Well if people like those web sites, goes the rationale, then people will like our web site better if it’s more like those sites. Part of the rationale of developing a library web site that is more like Google or Amazon gets back to the simplicity factor. If it’s simple people are more likely to use it – and find what they need quickly. But it may not be as cut and dry as choosing between simple and complex. That’s why I liked what Gerry McGovern had to say about this issue. He says that not everything on a web site can be simple, so it’s up to the web managers to decide what basic items to make simple, one-click resources, and which may take some additional clicks. Like Don Norman, McGovern points out that Google is simple for searching ordinary web pages, but not so simple if you want other features or types of information they offer. McGovern concludes that making a web site simple is not easy work because not everything can be simple. Decisions need to be made about what will require more complexity. Rather than being fixated on coming up with academic library web sites that mimic Google, Amazon, or any other commercial site, consider a library web site that is a reflection of local needs. Where does your community need simplicity, and where can they cope with more complexity? Figure that out and let it serve as a guide to your web site’s development.

Educating The Creativity Right Out Of Students

Education is our business, so it behooves us to pay attention to what experts have to say about the education industry at any level. Higher education and K-12 are inextricably woven together. I recently came across this video of an education visionary giving a talk that I thought was worth sharing. In this 18 minute presentation, Sir Ken Robinson, author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources, focuses on how education stifles creativity. The presentation was made at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, which is an annual event where leading thinkers and doers gather for inspiration. Here are a few of the things he had to say:

“Creativity is as important as literacy.”
“If you are not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original.”
“We are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
“Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years, yet we’re trying to educate people for that world.”

Since we don’t know what that world will be like, perhaps the best we can do is foster creativity and innovation that will enable today’s students to adapt to and succeed in a new environment. I’m going to make more of a personal commitment to encourage students to be creative in my library instruction sessions. It won’t change their overall college experience and it will mean taking more risks in the classroom for me, but I’ll feel like I’m making a small contribution to their future.

Dark Days Of Education

When it comes to education visionaries, Chris Dede is certainly no slacker. The learning technologies expert at the Harvard Graduate School of Education takes on what he sees as some current failures of the United States education system in this 8-minute video interview(scroll down and click on Dede’s photo). It’s quite a contrast to Robinson’s presentation. Dede acknowledges that education has to be more than preparation for the workplace, but he discusses the strong links between business and education in those countries that are developing high quality education systems. His main problem with the current education climate, which he refers to as “the dark ages in education”, is that unlike other professions higher education has failed to educate the public about what teaching and learning methods will work best to prepare students for a 21st century global economy. He believes that most citizens are stuck in the 1950s when it comes to visualizing what should be happening in classrooms. Dede’s commentary reminds me of a course in which the instructor asked “What is the purpose of education?” It was clear that for most societies the answer is to build a stronger economy than competitor countries. We might like to think that education has more noble goals, such as liberating individual creativity, but Dede makes the point that most parents want an education system that gives their children more economic opportunity than they had for themselves. Dede’s concern is that in these dark days the US government is moving away from the investment needed to create schools that will give students the necessary skills to achieve economic success in a flattened global economy. Given the ongoing funding challenges faced by the vast majority of higher education institutions (just read about what’s happening in New Jersey right now) it may be quite some time before we emerge from the current dark age of education.

Gotten Any Complaints About Your OPAC Lately?

The discussions about the OPAC and all that ails it go on unabated. I will acknowledge that the tone of the conversation has shifted from mere complaining to a greater focus on ways to improve the OPAC. For example, see Eric Morgan’s discussion of the next generation catalog posted at LITABlog. Given all the discussion about why the OPAC needs to improve you would think that academic libraries are besieged with complaints about the library catalog. Somehow I doubt that this profession’s concerns about the OPAC are shared by library users. As evidence of that I turn to the recent OCLC “College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources” report. When the respondents were asked “If you could provide one piece of advice to your library what would it be?” a mere 2% of the respondents suggested improvements to the local library online catalog (see page 4-6). They were much more focused on improving collections and computing facilities in the library. So if 98% of library patrons (Ok, I know it’s statistically inappropriate to extrapolate this finding from a small sample to all academic libraries) have no real concerns about the OPAC, why is there such a fuss being made about fixing something that the users don’t even think is broken? On a day-to-day basis in your library do you see patrons having massive search failures with the OPAC? Are they demanding enhancements? I recall that when I worked at the University of Pennsylvania the greatest patron reaction to the debut of our then new web-based Voyager OPAC was a mass call for the return of the telnet-based catalog. The new OPAC was simpler by far, but patrons perceived no problems with the telnet system which did just what they needed. I agree that we should always be working to improve our systems and make research a more satisfying experience for our user communities. We shouldn’t only give attention to problems when users get vocal about them, but should work proactively to consistently improve our libraries. But reports like the OCLC study suggest that our patrons are more concerned about “quality of life” factors such as having working photocopiers, good customer service and up-to-date book collections than they are about their library’s catalog system. Are we focusing our priorities in the right places? I think I’ll remain content to wait for my ILS vendor to tweak our OPAC while we direct our attention to getting students to use the library’s resources and services.

See You At the Baltimore Acquarium

I recently learned that the Baltimore National Acquarium will be the venue for the Saturday night social event held at the ACRL 13th National Conference in Baltimore. The conference goers will have the whole Acquarium to themselves that night, and it should be a great opportunity to see the exhibits without needing to fight the crowds. I love Acquariums and Baltimore’s is certainly one of the best you’ll find anywhere. I hope to see you there.

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