Friday, July 29, 2011

Next Summon Upgrade August 2

Andrew Nagy from Serials Solutions advises that the next fortnightly Summon upgrade is due August 2 (US Pacific Time I imagine) so we should see it next Wednesday. As usual there should be no interruption to service availability.

  • Improved Search Results Design – Availability message will now be more accurate for non textual items including print materials. Subject terms are now links to a new search for records with the subject term. Record display has been streamlined to allow for more records to be displayed on the screen.
  • Summon Mobile – The Library Catalog filter will now be available if you have enabled it in the Administration Console. ISBN numbers will no longer be converted into a phone number for iPhone and Android devices. Availability message for catalog records now links to the OPAC. Entire record is now clickable, rather than just the title – enhancing usability.
Newly Indexed Content
  • Cambridge Histories Online – This collection includes over 280 volumes from historical subject areas.
  • Cambridge Collections Online - The Complete Cambridge Companions is a complete collection and as two sub-collections comprising the Cambridge Companions in Literature and Classics and the Cambridge Companions in Philosophy, Religion and Culture.
  • British History Online - A digital library containing some of the core printed primary and secondary sources for the medieval and modern history of the British Isles. Created by the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust.
  • The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) - the largest professional society in the world for professionals in the field of operations research (O.R.), management science, and business analytics.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cary Gordon on Library Web Site Design and Management

In a response to a question posted to Web4lib on Library Web Site design and management by Michael Schofield, Cary Gordon from The Cherry Hill Company offered the following observations from his experiences. Reproduced with permission (Thanks Cary!).

I have been building websites and web based applications for libraries since 1994 (yipes), and I have some opinions, none of which should shock anyone. Here are a few:

1) Most library home pages are much too dense. I have worked on a few sites that started as elegant designs, then became unusable as more committees got involved.

1a) Lesson from 1: Committees are fine, but it helps to have a single person at the top who will guard the flame.

2) Landing pages should address a specific set of user needs. If you have users with conflicting or disparate needs, create separate landing pages for them.

3) There is some confusion between usability and user experience (UX).

You can have a fabulously usability standard compliant site and still deliver a terrible user experience.

4) Build your site for the users you have, not the user you would build, if you could. You know what they want. Really, you do.

4a) This is not to say that you shouldn't highlight great resources at your library, just that you should not let them get in the way of someone trying to find out when you are open.

5) Building a site that is friendlier to different kinds of devices than you think you need is probably a really good idea.

In an ideal world, we would be able to figure out what we need from logs and analytics. Unfortunately, these tools can't usually tell  us about what we don't have. Likewise, if you don't have a mobile friendly site, the user agent count isn't going to reflect the amount of traffic your site would get, were it friendlier to those clients.

I think that it is a good idea, albeit sometimes disappointing, to limit the scope of a new site to what you can maintain. To me, it is better to not have a feature than to have a feature that is disused or out of date. It doesn't bode well to go to an event calendar on a library website and see that the last entry was two years ago.

I think that these items can help:

1) Commit a specific amount of dedicated staff time to maintaining your website.

2) If possible, use a content management system that is set up in such a way that contributors and editors can concentrate on content rather than code. In other words, Ruby on Rails, which is great, is probably not a viable choice unless you have strong RoR resources on staff.

3) Unless you have staff with nothing else to do, if you do not have dedicated IT staff, have your website hosted by a reliable company.

There are reliable hosting companies starting at about $10/mo, and fully managed hosting available from about $75/mo.

4) If you use a CMS or other software, invest staff time, and money, if necessary, in training, and make sure that the training is appropriate to what you are trying to accomplish.

5) Don't lock in to any more dedicated workflow than you really need or can support in practice.

I started coding sites by hand, moved to external content management systems (like Fusion), server side includes, bespoke CMS in ColdFusion and Java, and eventually to Drupal. I think that Drupal is a great solution, because it is built by its community and the strong peer support from its library user community.

Drupal is not, of course, the only solution, there being over 1,000 competing systems. As I asserted earlier, I think that most libraries should use a content management system. That would include Drupal, WordPress, SilverStripe and many others. I personally prefer free and open-source solutions to commercial products and products that have broad adoption to those that get little play. I like to look at the ratio of sales staff to programmers and support. Of course by those standards, the big ILS products look scary.

Virtual servers are an interesting topic, but I think that it is more important to broach the question of whether you plan to do your own system administration or not. We run our own data center in downtown Los Angeles (with a small branch in San Francisco), and will probably continue to do so for a while, but it seems pretty clear that eventually, it will be more economical to move this to "the cloud."

For us, this will really be a bottom line focused change, since we will still need a system administrator on staff, and we only spend a tiny amount of time on-site, with most of that devoted to equipment upgrades and replacement that we wouldn't need in the cloud.



Report back on latest round of usability testing

At the end of June I ran another set of Usability tests with students.  The main goal was to compare the student experience six months after the first round,  now that we've addressed some of the issues highlighted back then.

The full report (and the videos, session reports and other associated materials) are on the JCU Library Intranet.

What did we learn?
  • That the changes we made almost all led to improvements in the site's usability.
  • On the issues where we had not yet made changes there was no significant change in performance with one exception (see The Exception below)
  • Summon/One Search on the home page was used by all the testees (one used it to track down a libguide), as opposed to the previous catalogue search that was all but ignored in the first round.
  • Terminology remains an issue, without successful information literacy training students don't make the mental connection between 'articles' and 'databases' and are far more likely to click on 'ejournals' to find articles on a subject. Reserve Online is still meaningless to them.
  • Contacts still needs some work - task was performed with more success, but by paths not affected by our changes. Unlike the first round these testees went to the service to find the contact, unlike the first round who generally went to the generic contacts and tried to find those related to the service.
  • Libguides seems to be accepted and utilised by students
  • Remote access is still initiated by students as a separate process
  • The form task (make a suggestion for purchase) once again displayed a 100% fail rate.
  • That the DIY usability testing methodology has been validated as a method for identifying problems and measuring the effectiveness of our solutions.
The Exception
All the students knew how to change their passwords, almost certainly because the email changeover to Live@EDU at the start of the year required them to go to that page to test and/or change their passwords.

Now What?
Now I press on with developing a draft Information Architecture to resolve the issues identified that could not be fixed with page and link label edits. Using what we've learned from this testing, user surveys, feedback, usage stats and the Card Sorting Exercise.

My first card sort

I carried out my first Card Sorting Exercise ever!  The full report describes the process and lists what we learned and more issues we should consider in light of that. All the related documentation is available on the JCU Library Intranet.

The main points are:
  • We should seriously consider landing pages for specific groups of users e.g Academic staff, post grad researchers, undergrads etc
  • Grouping pages on organisational lines is fraught with error
  • The language used in link labeling can discourage parts of the audience from clicking
  • Assignment and Study seem to be the best words to substitute for what librarians would call 'Information Literacy'
  • Terminology is still an issue e.g. isn't a 'Reference Work' something you use to help you format your references?
The card sort took a little longer than I thought, next time I might schedule an hour and a half to allow for introduction and form filling, so I can still get people out 15 minutes early.
I was struck too by the quantity of services we are providing and that many had no real relevance to the 'sortees', so I found myself explaining what ERA was. Will have to broaden my volunteer-catching net.
I'd like to do another round of card sorting to see if the patterns I see emerging are real or mere coincidence.

Monday, July 11, 2011

More Summon Tweaks coming

Andrew Nagy from Serials Solutions has previewed some changes to the summary results information to aid users in selecting articles without having to click on preview. These include some text from the abstract and any available subject headings.
In addition the text of the format icon's fulltext overlay will say 'online' in stead of 'full text' to hopefully resolving the issue of 'Full text' being an inappropriate label for streaming media for example.
You can preview upcoming changes at any time using

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summon Format Icons part 2

Suzy followed up with a key:

Column 1
.icon-journalarticle, .icon-journal
.icon-newspaperarticle, .icon-newspaper
.icon-patent, .icon-patents
.icon-report, .icon-reports

Column 2
.icon-researchguide, .icon-webresource
.icon-musicmanuscript, .icon-musicscore

Column 3
.icon-videodvd, .icon-dvd

Summon Format Icons

The lovely Suzy Shepherd from Griffith passed on a link gleaned from the Summon style sheets that shows the format icons used in Summon:

Summon usually overlays (via CSS) a 'Full text' icon: on the chosen format icon to indicate the items immediate availability online.  But sometimes the phrase 'full text' doesn't cut it for some formats, for example Naxos audio streams.

Does it confuse patrons? Do they understand what the little sun is telling them?  Is there a better wording? Like say 'Click to view' or 'Available Now'?

What do you think? Are 'full text' and 'online' libraryspeak?

The other issue Suzy highlighted was that  Summon isn't consistent and from the user perspective uses three different icons for effectively the same thing:
  1. Book 'full text'
  2. eBook 'full text'
  3. eBook
So the Summonclients list is back on the format vs delivery topic I blogged about this time last year.