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.


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.

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.

Been Busy

I wanted to write at least two blog posts a week when I started this.  I thought that it was a realistic goal.  It turns out that between working full time and finishing a graduate degree that even once a week has turned out to be difficult.  I am hoping to keep this going and I will hopefully have more time to put thought and time into this blog after I finish my degree.

I have had 3 major assignments due in the last week, and went to the Netspeed conference in Calgary.  Those things have kept me pretty busy.  I’ll come up with something interesting to post soon.  I promise.


I recently taught an information literacy instruction session using Prezi rather than MS PowerPoint.  PowerPoint is like an old friend.  No matter how long we spend apart, we are still close friends, and i still feel comfortable by him.  PowerPoint is an easy crutch, and though it’s ease of use could be debated, I am used to using it.  But in a world of new and emerging cloud based media tools, I figured it was time to step into the future and try Prezi for instruction. I found it fun, and at least a little bit more visually appealing than PowerPoint.  But like many tools there are a few advantages and disadvantages of Prezi that I would like to discuss. 

Positive (why use prezi)

  • Prezi is cloud-based (no more USB keys or emailed ppt files)
  • Prezi is free
  • Prezi is cool. This may seem like a tiny point, but in a world where students are constanly on social media and/or on their iphones and their professors are often in the dark ages, librarians need every tiny advantage we can get to show students that the should listen, even if that is a subtle message that we are up to date on modern technologies.
  • The element of surprise. This is related to the above point on getting that advantage or “wow” factor.  Give the students something different and they may pay attention (maybe).
  • Prezi is fun to use.  There are lots of cool features to play with including zooming and spinning effects.

Negative (why stick with PowerPoint)

  • You can’t send the file to student (how big of a disadvantage is a link just as good)
  • Students aren’t able to conveniently print slides
  • too many spinning effects have caused complaints of motion sickness in the past
  • a bit more difficult to use for images
  • The learning curve (yes it takes a while to learn how to properly build a “path” and connect elements)
  • More difficult to edit than a powerpoint.  Once you have built your path it takes a little effort to add a new element in the middle.  It isn’t as easy as clicking “new slide.”

Conclusion: Is Prezi right for you?

This depends on you, your audience, and the content of your presentation. If your presentation is image heavy or if you know your audience is more comfortable with slides and/or wants to print them out then there is nothing wrong with powerpoint.  I am still using PowerPoint for a session tomorrow.  If your audience is a bit younger and/or a bit more tech savvy then I would highly recommend trying out prezi.  It just might make preparing your next presentation a bit more fun. 

You can view my prezi here: http://prezi.com/1pd2fc9rjify/ps-301/

Feel free to let me know what you think.

The Myth of the Digital Native

Today’s episode of Spark on CBC had an interesting segment called the myth of the digital native (skip  to 40:00).

Basically, it explains what academic librarians and library and information science researchers have known for years.  Society has a myth that young people are “tech savvy” and know how to search because they are conformable using google. Yet students show a complete inability to think critically about search results, or ability to search effectively and efficiently.  Students do not understand subject terms or controlled vocabulary.  As a general rule students enter the first keyword or keyphrase that they think of and then click on the first few links.  Without understanding how search algorithms work.

This fact is sad, however, just as sad was the fact that this segment never once mentioned librarians.  Librarians have known about this for years.  We are the ones who help students search, and teach search skills.  This phenomenon has been researched (look up Gross & Latham).  Gros and Latham found that students have a false confidence in their search skills. For decades now, librarians have known about the lack of search skills (and just generally information literacy skills), and have been working to fix this.  Librarians (and LIS researchers) are the ones developing courses, one-off instruction sessions, and online tutorials/screencasts/webinars, and many other methods of teaching students information literacy skills (including search skills, as well as critical evaluation skills).

We need to be careful about the assumptions we make about college students and young people.  We assume they are tech savvy because they have an smartphone and an ipad or say that they know how to search.  Research shows that students almost only use google, and cannot critically evaluate information found online.  Students do not know how to find good credible resources for their assignments, and in their everyday lives.  Not only librarians, but also high school teachers and university instructors (and administrators) need to prioritize information literacy as a critical skill that young people need to develop, and do not have.

Unfortunately, these are not intuitive skills and must be learned, and learning requires a teacher, and quality teachers cost money.  It isn’t enough to prioritize with our mouths, administrators and government (education) officials need to prioritize information literacy/search skills with their budgets.

First Post

I just randomly decided to start a blog.  I don’t know if I will constantly (i.e. daily) update the blog.  But from time to time I have thoughts that I want to get out and a blog is a way for me to at least get things out of my head and off my chest.

Just a warning my thoughts are relatively random, as are my interests. As I mention in my about me page.  I have the privilege of being a science librarian and a religious studies librarian, and I have many opinions with science and of biblical studies.  I am also interested in the more technical side of librarianship, and have done usability testing, as well as both qualitative and quantitative research to help optimize library websites and subject guides to better meet student’s needs.  And well to be honest I may make the occasional about cycling, beer, music.

But if you have somehow found this blog, please feel free to look around.  I’m glad you are here.

Thank you