Ingrid Parent – Fast Forward: 21st Century Libraries in a Global Context

The university librarian at UBC presented today at the SLAIS colloquia. There were a number of interesting and salient points that she made, so I thought I’d summarize them here.

Fast Forward: 21st Century Libraries in a Global Context by Ingrid Parent

Information is worldwide and information seeking behaviour is rapidly changing along with technology. So do libraries change user behaviours or do user behaviours change libraries? Really, it’s both. “In the face of seismic shifts in technology and social organizations, librarians and library staff face changing roles” (2010, Gutsche), but this need not be a seismic change, but rather, a wave of adaptation. The sharing of knowledge and networking allow for collaboration and can ease this adaptation. Not a lot has changed in what the library is so much as changes are happening in how information is delivered.

“information overload triggered a crisis in the way people saw their lives. It sped up the way we locate, cross-reference, and focus the questions that define our essence, our roles – our stories…” (Douglas Coupland, Player One) Libraries and librarians are still needed to help our users even if they have direct access to resources.  Librarians’ skills in organizing information are needed more than ever whether in libraries or in other organizations.  More creative positions are being created in response, and employers are looking for skills including in areas of communications and marketing.

“If there is a future for libraries this is where that future will be made – in the digital realm.” (Allan Bell, Director of Digital Initiatives, UBC Library) A large part of the strategic plan is focused on digital projects and initiatives.

Assessment has also become critical, but the shift in focus is on the library’s impact by trying to measure the influence and success the library has with its users.

Convergence & Collaboration
An example of a radical convergence is the Library and Archives Canada. Convergence needs to happen in more areas, mostly in the form of collaboration. It begins with contact and may end in convergence.  The way to do this is through digital technology in order to converge the knowledge and information. Users don’t care who the information “belongs” to, but simply that they can use and find it. Collaboration not only serves our users, but allow us to do more. Even technologies are converging, such as cloud computing.  Digital libraries and collections are quickly growing.

Examples of Collaboration Projects

Still the perception is that libraries are only associated with books. Libraries have the challenge to change that perception to include management of information, accessible from home, and really, a “living lab.” This is important as “information consumers are shifting into ‘prosumers.’ These hybrid users are producing, classifying, and distributing content as well as consuming content from others.” (Tom Evens, University of Ghent)

We are up to the challenge of meting these challenges. Digitization is a key factor, collaboration and converging, and come to an understanding on how to best deal with all the information. We need to move forward together in a global world where information is available to so many and in so many ways.

Q & A

What academic librarians need to do in moving forward? More consistent messaging and communications because things are done inconsistently as well. Need to talk to students more. Need more community engagement, which Irving K. Barber is a good example. Train staff to go out to the community.

What are you looking for in new hires? What kind of skills and knowledge set? Understanding and willingness to understand the information community out there. Going out to find the skills. Teamwork. Not hired for one job for whole life. Looking for possibilities working in different ways, innovation, and creativity. Can we do something better even if done the same for many years before. Need to be open-minded on sharing ideas and knowledge.

How is the library helping with research? One of the major objectives is to accelerate research. Need to work with faculty more, but life sciences more open than some others. Librarians sometimes to help with grant proposal. [Okay, I didn’t quite get the complete question/answer here.]

Transition between high school to university is a hot topic. How is the university helping with that? Learning commons to support writing skills and other skill sets, which is well used. Online tools on how to write essay, manage projects, etc. Anyone who is interested can come. No dedicated approach in the high school community. Will bring the topic to advisory committee in order to discuss how best to help support students to have skills before they leave high school.

What are your ideas for initiatives and if you see any changes when your presidency of IFLA? Have yet to choose theme that cuts across libraries. Libraries drive you to knowledge, but what do you do with that knowledge? Trying to look from user’s perspective, so looking at how libraries impact people including looking at inclusiveness, multiculturalism, collaboration. One initiative/event that want to do: Indigenous knowledge and how do we approach expressions of traditional knowledge.

Going out to the community requires support of institution. What do you find works for advocating within an institution? It’s not really common in part because of funding. Part of it is setting up advisory group in order to be in touch with people. Becoming involved in associations, but it all comes down to resources and priorities, but see it growing.

A Brief Look at Summon

Summon is Serials Solutions’ web scale discovery tool. I think so far, it looks pretty good. It has all the things you’d want these days in your searches including:

  • sidebar with different options to refine search
  • clean, easy to use interface
  • save citations to folder and export
  • advance search, including ISBN for books

Currently, all records in the catalogue, institutional repository, and journal articles have been included.  There’s also a locations refinement category to refine to a specific branch for catalogue materials.

It’ll be interesting to see what our users (including staff) think.

Quick Edit/Add-on: Seems like the major criticism I’ve heard is that it does not do known-item (that is you know what you’re looking for) searches well, but as my supervisor has explained, that’s not the purpose of a discovery tool. If you want to looking for something you know in a library, you use the source that will help you look for that. Some people might say “but look at google, it can do both well”, but even google scholar is unlikely to give you a book if you only enter a couple of words when you’re looking for a book (obviously that’s not true in all cases).

PDF Batch Automation (PDF to Image and PDF Merge)

EDIT: I’ve been reminded/informed that this only works in Windows (or MS-DOS anyway) since it uses .bat files. The suggestion if you’re using other OSs is to use php (but really you can use anything) to automate the command.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with Adobe Acrobat (even if they haven’t actually used it).  It’s a nice GUI if you want to edit PDFs, but at least as far as I know, it does not do any batch or automation work.  For a digital images project, there’s a lot of automation work that needs to be done and for image to image conversion, I was using Photoshop, but then I started dealing with PDFs. Thus, it was only natural to turn to GhostScript.

PDF to Image
So, I don’t really get any credit for this, because it’s already out there and the variables are well explained.  So if you want to turn all the pages of your PDF into images, check out this Danzels Internets post. My case was a little different because I only wanted the first page turned into an image as a thumbnail for an entire file and then for an entire folder. I also prefer to do any image modification (even batch) in an image program.

@echo off
FOR %%Z IN (*.pdf) DO gswin32 -sDEVICE=jpeg -dJPEGQ=95 -dGraphicsAlphaBits=4 -dTextAlphaBits=4 -dDOINTERPOLATE -dFirstPage=1 -dLastPage=1 -sOUTPUTFILE=%%Z.jpg -dSAFER -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE %%Z

So, here the major changes are “gswin32” because I use the Windows version, and the “-dFirstPage=1 -dLastPage=1” so that the first and last page it processes is page 1. You can change the output file name too, so I changed it in such a way that it takes the original file name and adds the .jpg extension.

PDF Merge
This is kind of a side note, because I didn’t need this for my project, but I recently downloaded some articles that for some reason had each section in a separate PDF.  So, I get no credit for this one either as I got this one from Real’s How-to on Merging PDFs. I put this in here only for possible improvements of what’s presented on that site.

For the merging of PDFs in a directory, for the [merge.bat], you’re supposed to have this code:

@echo off
gswin32 -dNOPAUSE -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOUTPUTFILE=merged.pdf -dBATCH 1.pdf
FOR %%Z IN (*.pdf) DO IF NOT %%Z==1.pdf IF NOT %%Z==merged.pdf IF NOT %%Z==merged2.pdf call merge2.bat %%Z

Maybe it’s clear to other people, but the “1.pdf” is the name of the first pdf. I found that the subsequent ones will be added in alphanumeric order.  Also, if you happen not to change the code, it will throw an error and insert a blank page at the beginning.

Update on New Web Portals

Apologies for the lack of updates, but although I’ve been fairly busy, there hasn’t been much to report on.  I’ve mostly been busy migrating old pages, consulting with others, providing wiki workshops, and preparing for the new portals.

So far, I’ve done a content analysis, much like before, by doing an inventory and looking at what to keep, consulting with various people to see what we might add, and developed an IA for the two based on the inventory and consultation. Things have been a little slow to develop because my co-worker is on vacation, but it’s coming!

We will not be doing pre-design usability testing as we did before (i.e. no card sorts), because we just don’t feel that the two portals in development warrant it.  Instead, we’ll be focusing on usability testing after the prototypes are completed.  Most likely, it will be a focus group, since they’re not very suitable for task oriented usability testing.

That’s it for now I think, will post some more updates later!

Evergreen 2.0!

I don’t normally post news items, but I was really excited to hear about the new version of evergreen (here’s the list of new features).  I have been taking a library automation course, so I have been learning more about ILS, particularly OpenSource (OS) ones.  I didn’t know how many OS systems were available, so I was interested in reading and hearing more. I was a bit disappointed when I heard there was no OS ILS suitable for large libraries, but even if the new version of Evergreen doesn’t quite meet those needs, I’m happy to hear that it’s moving in that direction.

When Basic Tutorials Go Defunct?

Documentation, tutorials, and user guides must evolve and be updated as technology and software move ahead, but when so many web-based applications use the same basic WYSIWYG, are basic tutorials even needed anymore?

This issue was brought up recently with our wiki’s update to the newest version of MediaWiki.  If you use wikipedia at all, you’ve probably been using the new version for quite some time now.  One of the greatest improvements for the end-user is the new toolbar.

MediaWiki 1.16 Toolbar
MediaWiki 1.16 Toolbar

It covers all your basic formatting needs including tables (which is not the easiest for new users to figure out).  The help section is really nice too (since MediaWiki is not a WYSIWYG) showing the user how something will display (of course there’s always the preview button).

After this update, I realized that users will unlikely need as much guidance in editing their wiki pages and the basic tutorials that I created don’t really seem to be needed anymore, or do they? I haven’t exactly polled my users on this issue or anything.  For the moment, I have kept it live and updated as it’s being used as a general help article as well.  Maybe some users need a bit more structure via a linear method of creating pages, but it would be interesting to know…

Usability Testing

Last week (was it really just last week?), I did my first usability test and I thought it went well enough, but there are of course improvements needed.  I looked up some resources (which I will put up on a later date), but while there is a general outline, no resource can give you specifics on how to conduct a usability test for a particular site.

Methodology

  • 5 participants, 1-2 from each user group
  • Each participant was given the choice of using a PC or MAC.
  • Each participant was given a scenario of working on assignments by themselves without facilitators to help with the task itself.
  • Participants were given 5 tasks to do, presented one at a time.
  • Participants were asked to voice their thoughts and were asked questions about their process during a task, after a task, and/or after all tasks were completed.
  • Each session was recorded using video, audio, and screencapture programs.

Results Analysis
Results were compiled for completion rate, but no other metrics were found useful. For example, time completion did not work in this case since users were asked to voice their thoughts and some did so very thoroughly, while others did very little.

Most of the analysis then was drawing conclusions based on behavioural trends and repeated comments made by users.

Results
The results might have been as expected. Users tended to be either novice or expert users, which may seem fairly obvious, and 1 of 2 types:

  • selective user: tends to look over things carefully, choosing that which seems to best fit what he/she wants. Unlikely to click on unfamiliar things.
  • explorative user: tends to click on the first link that looks like it might be what they are looking for. Does not mind making mistakes. More likely to click on unfamiliar things.

Recommendations were made about the site in an attempt to make the site user-friendly to both types of users, and to ensure both types navigate the site as it was designed.

A number of recommendations were also made revolving around content, as there were numerous content issues and content is not taken care of by the developers (which includes me).

Reflections & Improvements
Overall, I thought the sessions went fairly well. There were a couple of improvements that we implemented in the middle of the study. Although in a more academic-based research study, this might be considered taboo, we thought it would produce more useful results.

Some improvements we made:

  • printed copy of tasks
  • added to script that task completion is user determined (not determined by facilitator)
  • made sure to clear browser cache for every session (browsers can be set to do so automatically of course)
  • minor rewording of tasks to make examples as unambiguous as possible

For the next usability test, further improvements can be made:

  • more context for scenario to give participants appropriate perspective

I think it is also very valuable to have a second facilitator since each facilitator tends to catch/see and focus on different aspects of the user experience, so each will contribute to the questioning of the participant.

Conclusion
The usability test was very valuable in seeing whether the design and organization worked for our users.  It also helped to identify various problems and what’s better, how we might improve them (as some tasks were purposefully chosen because they might be problematic elements on the site).  Some improvements of the site will depend on others, but hopefully, the results of the study will convince them that the improvements need to be made.

What’s your Purpose?

So one of the things we’ve been asking a lot lately is:

What is your purpose?

In asking others that, we have also been asking ourselves that. Not necessarily why are we using a tool, but for what purpose are our users supposed to be using the tool. We effectively have no policy surrounding the usage of any of our tools or any guidelines for how staff on creating content in these tools.

I have recently been asked by a number of staff members about whether our department has any guidelines on how things should look on the website, and I can’t answer anything except “no, not as far as I am aware.” It’s one thing if people refuse to use it, it’s another not to have any sort of documentation when people are looking for it. Staff members are not web designers, and may know little about designing content for the web. Most of them will do a handout version of something and simply put that online. That does not always “translate” well.

So, a recommendation for all:

  • have a document that presents guidelines on how to present content on the web
  • include a template
  • and CSS style stuff so that users don’t have to think (or can’t mess up) the little details

I’m sure those seem obviously for most people, but I am amazed sometimes at how little the first one is done.  The last one is normally implemented, but what’s a pretty page if people don’t want to read what’s on it?