Why Libguides suck, and where do we go from here

I hesitate to go into too much detail about libguides because many people have heard my talk and/or read my recent paper or talked to me. But in academic conversations I find the need to hold back and not always tell it like it is.

The reality is this: Libguides are awful. They really suck for the students. They aren’t well designed, they aren’t fun to use, and they send students to another website assuring that they will get lost and not know how to get back to the main library website if/when they realize the libguide isn’t where they want to be or thought they would be.

And tab navigation. Seriously? Is this amazon 2004?

I think if we are completely honest with ourselves librarians love libguides because it solves a need for us, not because it is a well designed tool that provides an intuitive interface for students. I’m not even sure libguides are a service that students need.

If students don’t like libguides, and if they aren’t intuitive, why do we as librarians love them so much? We use them because they are easy to use for us. It appeals to the one of the worst character flaws deep down in every librarian’s soul. We love information. Lots of information. And I mean long lists of every single database that might have the possibility of ever helping a student (“oh ya and I’d better throw in a long list of relevant e-books from that expensive eBook package we just licenced while I’m in here).”

Furthermore, Libguides lets us off the hook. It’s a lazy solution to a complex problem. Obviously students are faced with information overload. So obviously we need to help “guide” them to the best resources in their discipline. The easy way to do this is to provide long lists of places they can find that information (psss.. this is not the solution students are looking for). Students don’t want it and we end up creating information overload to solve the problem of information overload.

Ok so Libguides suck and now you know why I hope the program is not still being used in a few years (or at least that springshare develops something that doesn’t suck I don’t really want anyone to lose their job). So what now? Where do we go from here?

Unsurprisingly, I think the answer is to build better websites. I know not everyone has the time to find the detailed solution (heck I don’t have the time to come up with the solution), and I don’t have the perfect answer. But I do firmly believe that we should not be sending students off to 3rd party web platforms that they do not want to use. I have been seconded (for lack of a better term) to help build the college’s new website, but starting next month I will be embarking on building a new website for the library, and I would love to hear suggestions on how one builds and intuitive and usable information architecture that makes libguides obsolete?

That is the goal I am setting for myself (one i must achieve because we canceled our license), and I’d sure love to hear feedback from anyone if they have it.


I’m back

I really am terrible blogger.  I have essentially forgotten about my blog for several months.  Where have I been?  Well my excuse is i’ve been busy.  I had surgery and after my recovery I was asked to help with the college’s new website redesign.  I did some work on the Information Architecture, as well as training and support for our new content management system. I may do some usability testing of the new site in the future, but hopefully I am almost done with this project.  It is been a real learning experience, and had many challenges.

I must say though that I am looking forward to being a librarian again. I feel like I have been IT staff for the past few months.
You can see some of the work we’ve done at Concordia’s new website. There are sitll some ongoing usability issues, and some areas are not as developed with content as they should be (we’re getting there), but i think it’s a huge improvement over the old site.


Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was one of those rare geniuses on a level with Einstein and Newton, and he is my academic hero.  Even in spite of the fact that he had nothing but contempt for the social sciences, he was a man with integrity, who someone found time to enjoy life while revolutionizing the entire way view the world.

Just watch.  it’s worth the 1.5 hours.

Corporate Sponsorship: is it the future of libraries?

While I was conducting yesterday’s survey of academic library websites I came across something rather odd when looking at Kwantlen Polytechnic University library’s website.  They are sponsored.  Kwantlen’s library is called the “Coast Capital Savings Library.”

(Image from Kwantlen Polytechnic University Library’s website: http://www.kwantlen.bc.ca/library.html)

I was shocked.  And yet I’m not sure why I was shocked.  I am not condoning corporate sponsorship, but I understand why a library would do so.  Why not?  Many libraries are named after personal donors.  So why not corporate donors.

So while I was shocked, I am not judging the librarians at Kwantlen.  I bet that money went into providing amazing services for their students.  I don’t want to judge, but at the same time I don’t want to someday find myself working in Concordia Univesity College Library presented by Budweiser.

Library Website Design: What labels do you use?

I debated even making this blog post because it is about Information Architecture (IA), and in my experience most people in the world today either (A) don’t know what information architecture is OR (B) don’t care what information architecture is.

Well I care, and I’m going to tell you why more librarians should care about IA. The answer is quiet simple: Librarians should care about information architecture because librarians suck at making websites.

It seems almost counter intuitive that librarians, who are probably the best people in the world at organizing information, cannot organize a website in an intuitive way to save their lives.  But go look at any library website (or look at 33 library websites in one sitting), and you will be blown away by how difficult it is to find what you are looking for.  Librarians may be great at categorizing and organizing large collections of millions of articles and books, but are we great at organizing them in an intuitive way.  I think the answer is a resounding HELL NO!!!!!  Seriously ask someone to figure out Dewey or LC classification systems intuitively without a lot of thought.  Better yet show your non-librarian friend a MARC record and see if they can intuitively make sense of it.  You get my point.  We are used to dealing with complex information the requires complex solutions and sadly we  bring that complexity into the websites we design.

I want to tell you about a bit of mini-study that I conducted this morning.  I looked at 33 western Canadian Academic Library websites to see what label they use within their websites navigation to direct users to the place that they might search for articles (generally an A-Z list of databases or list of databases by subject).

So basically I found that out of 33 academic libraries they use 11 different terms for the same part of their website.  In addition, keeners might notice that the total number of labels used adds up to 51 different labels.  This is because 16 (48%) libraries use 2 different labels, while 16 more use only 1 label and 1 (3%) uses 3 different labels.

What is obviously aparent from the above chart is that librarians love the technical term “databases,” so much so that 53% (27 out of 51) of all labels contain the word “database. ”  In addition E-resources as the 3rd largest label accounts for another 12% of all labels used by websites.

But what do our users think of those terms? They are important because a comprehensive review of 51 usability studies from academic library websites has found that the WORST terms  you can use are “database” and “e-resource.” Library users find those terms confusing

This obviously begs the question: why do librarians continually create poorly designed websites which use terminology that we know confuses our users? Is it an innocent mistake?  Do we just not know any better?  If so then why are we not doing usability testing to find out what our users want?

p.s. please don’t despair if you work at a library with a poorly designed webpage.  The truth is my library’s website, which I am responsible for uses one of the above mentioned “worst” terms, and I am trying to figure out a method for finding the “best” terms in order to create intuitive navigation for our students.

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Check out the above comic created by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Comics have often been thought to be made for kids, and thus they have been subjected to much heavier censorship than traditional novels.  Everyone seems to know that novels can and do contain adult themes, and we are fine with that, but society is for some odd reason not as accepting of adult themes in comics.

It is for this reason important that those of us who are anti-censorship (even if you are not a comic fan) remain vigilant to assure that freedom of speech applies to all.

4 Opinions on E-books

I keep hearing that E-books are the future, and I believe it to be true.  Many libraries, included the one I work at, are working hard to keep on top of e-book technologies to provide users with options for their various e-book readers and/or mobile devices.

Yet at least at my library we have found the usage of our e-books surprisingly low.  But an article that I read recently seemed to shed some light on the low uptake of e-books. Shrimplin, Revelle, Hurst, and Messner discover that there are 4 types of opinions regarding Ebooks in their article: “ Contradictions and Consensus: Clusters of Opinions on E-books” (Shrimplin, A. K., Revelle, A., Hurst, S., & Messner, K. (2011). Contradictions and Consensus — Clusters of Opinions on E-books. College & Research Libraries72(2), 181-190).

  • Book Lovers – have an emotional attachment to print books and do not use e-books unless the have too.
  • Technophiles – are the other end of the spectrum and have a strong emotional attachment to technology and prefer E-books on their brand new tablet.
  • Printers – Sometimes print e-books. Unlike “book lovers” they would use e-books if usability were improved.
  • Pragmatists – are comfortable with print or e-books and use whatever they can to get information.

I haven’t seen the actual data but it certainly rings true, having helped students who only want E-books, and other students who absolutely refuse to use an e-book even if it is the best book available.

Do schools kill creativity.

Do Schools kill creativity? Of course they do.

I know this video is pretty old by now and many people have seen it.  But i just rediscovered it and realize how true it is.  Even as someone who has benefited from this education system, and works in the education system, I know it is true and find it sad.

I have seen how true it is in my own family.  School always came easy for me.  I got excellent marks without really trying that hard.  My younger brother, who is a professional musician, barely graduated high-school.  Yet when he got to college and was able to study his passion (music) he was on the dean’s list and graduated with honors.  Unfortunately, the high school system does not regard artistic, or musical genius, and in fact squashes the talents of creative people who don’t see the point in regurgitating historical dates and mathematical formulas.

First Sole Author Publication: Subject Guides in Academic Libraries: A User-Centred Study of Uses and Perceptions

My first Sole author publication just came out in the December issue of the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Science 35(4).

Unfortunately, my institution does not have access to this particularl journal.  But if you are a student or staff at an institution that does you can find it here: Subject Guides in Academic Libraries: A User-Centred Study of Uses and Perceptions.

P.S. I am finally finished the class I was taking at the U of A. So I should have more time to blog in the next few months.

An Unplugged Space???

A colleague recently posted a link to an American Libraries column titled “An Unplugged Space.” The authors explore the idea of creating spaces in libraries which would not only be quiet spaces, but technology free spaces.

I think this is an important debate, but I do have a few disagreements with this piece.  First of all, the authors are proposing that libraries should offer their users a physical space for quiet contemplation free from noise and also free from any form of communication. But I wonder if students are really so incompetent that they are incapable of being able to decide for themselves if they wish to study with their phone on or with it off?

Do libraries want to be perceived this way? In an age where libraries are already seriously behind the times in providing users with high-quality content customized for their mobile devices, I don’t think this is something libraries can afford.

I would argue quite the opposite. Libraries should be creating spaces that are more friendly for mobile devices.  In addition, libraries should be at the forefront of creating mobile sites, making apps, and utilizing qr codes, and other mobile content as it arises to provide content/information/help to users right on their smartphone or tablet.

The author points out that a policy of asking students to “turn off communication devices when they enter the classroom” is quite common, and suggests maybe libraries could or should do the same. But I also disagree with professors asking their students to turn their cellphones or mobile devices off at the door. Teachers should be embracing mobile technology into their instruction. It isn’t only libraries, but also professors who are falling behind the times in their pedagogy.

I think libraries are so far behind on mobile technologies, we should be investing more energy on catching up, not investing energy to get us further behind.  Just my thoughts on the matter.  Feel free to comment if you disagree.