Archives For technology

It’s 2017 and the website of every single library in the country suffers from the same old, cruel, schizophrenic, UX nightmare dichotomy: the website and the catalog, the website versus the catalog. Two products, two experiences, two silos, two staff members behind them. Both are wannabees. The website is almost a catalog, and the catalog is almost a website. And together they are redundant, cluttered, confusing, and pointless to patrons.

The first library to figure out a true single user experience – that is to say, a real website – gets Library of the Year.

Scratch that.
Library of the Decade.

I truly believe that. We have come a long way, but we need to jump this hurdle. Our online presence – specifically the home page – is now more important than ever, more important than our physical space. With eBooks and eAudiobooks integrating into Search (sort of), with various providers like Overdrive, Hoopla, 3M, and Zinio – all of which are confusing to patrons; with online articles (if you can find them), online registration, online room booking, and online programs (and don’t get me started on online library cards which still don’t exist)….

Yeah, the website matters.

So who will be the first library to stop using the word ‘catalog’ – to eliminate the concept from our consciousness? I know the obstacles are huge, but who will be the first library to make the commitment and priority to fully integrate the search experience into the home page. Like this:

search_1

Who will be the first library to figure out a seamless “my account” feature of the website, where a patron doesn’t have to log in twice, where a patron is automatically logged in (like Facebook), and where a patron can see all their checkouts simply by hovering over the My Account icon, like this:

My account_1

Recently our library did a UX Study on our website and catalog. My interpretation is this: people go to the website to find books, place holds, check their account. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Let’s embrace that. Who will be the first library to transform the homepage into an Amazon experience? With gigantic book covers, curated lists, staff picks. Browse, click, hold – as few clicks as possible. Like this:

Home Page_1

How Do We Get There?

  1. Open Source ILS
    Currently, none of the ILS products, catalogs, or so called discovery layers allow for a real website. I’ve seen impressive library sites, but nothing close to modern. The ILS – the soul of the library – is probably the fundamental roadblock. We cannot make a product do something it can’t. Therefore, an open source ILS like Evergreen might be the only option – although I’ve heard very promising rumors and mockups at my library that we can do it with Sirsi’s ILS. Or, even more radically, I wonder if a library could build a completely original ILS from the ground up, designed specifically by a library for a library? Yikes: is that naive of me?
  2. Library Consortium or Collaborative Design
    Clearly building an ILS or Catalog from the ground up is a giant project, requiring several years and millions of dollars. One way to mitigate that is by joining up with other libraries, or state-wide collaboratives, or getting grants from the government. The best example of this is the amazing discovery layer created by a Colorado team called Pica, which looks similar to an Amazon experience (but it’s still just a catalog, not a website). Our library almost got it. The downfall with collaboration is that technology designed for many libraries tends to get watered down. They want to be everything for everyone and thereby become clunky to everyone.
  3. Budgets Reflect Priorities
    We’ve heard that phrase before, but it’s true. If libraries really want to do something, they will find a way. If libraries need to hire a team of web developers and designers, they will find a way to fund it. How important is this? That’s the question. And with all the other priorities we are committed to, it’s a healthy debate to have.
  4. We need Web Developers on Staff
    The number of third-party technology products that we buy is mind blowing. Most of them are crappy, a few years behind, and some don’t play nice with others, although there are exceptions. Wouldn’t that money be better spent by simply hiring one or two web developers, really smart in-house people that can build products to meet our specific needs? For example, our library has recently hired a very smart IT professional. In his first few weeks, as if by magic, he had already created a brilliant internal website for staff – on WordPress, for free. I think the time is past to have more IT professionals work at libraries. Maybe I’m being naive here (I probably am).

Could Kalamazoo Public Library have the first real website?
I wrote this article probably a year ago and I’m happy to say that Kalamazoo Public Library might be forging a new and innovative path to the age-old website/catalog conundrum. I won’t go into the details, but it involves bypassing the catalog altogether, grabbing the data from the catalog and displaying it exactly how we want on the….wait for it….on the website. The team – composed of the web guys, the ILS guy, and a design guy – is making incredibly promising progress so far.

You are in a meeting and you feel the sweet vibration of your phone. What do you do? Do you slowly slide it out to take a peak? Do you wait until the meeting is over? If you do check, how many times is it just a notification reminding you that your favorite sportsball team scored or that you can once again play a game? Also, do you really think the people in the meeting don’t notice you are checking your phone?

In a recent article in Wired, author David Pierce writes:

PUSH NOTIFICATIONS ARE ruining my life. Yours too, I bet. Download more than a few apps and the notifications become a non-stop, cacophonous waterfall of nonsense.

He goes on to write that the solution is simple:

Kill your notifications. Yes, really. Turn them all off. (You can leave on phone calls and text messages, if you must, but nothing else.) You’ll discover that you don’t miss the stream of cards filling your lockscreen, because they never existed for your benefit. They’re for brands and developers, methods by which thirsty growth hackers can grab your attention anytime they want. Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want. Time to turn it off.

It’s time to be a leader in meetings and kill the notifications. This will help you focus on the ideas being introduced in the meetings. In the end, your team will appreciate that your attention is above the table.

notifications

Interpol-biometric-1The plastic library card is a dinosaur. It needs to go. It’s an embarrassing relic of what-we’ve-always-done. Nostalgia aside (that took me a second), I look forward to the day when libraries join the rest of the world, get rid of the card, and move towards a username/password system (or something better).

Let me go out on a limb here: nobody wants another plastic card in their wallet or purse or hanging from their keys: another thing to remember, another thing to lose, another thing to clutter our end tables. From a customer service perspective, the library card has no benefits whatsoever. But it does have an array of annoying features. First, it’s not important enough to remember. Let’s drink a tall glass of humility on this. People care about their Driver License, their credit cards, and that’s about it. I’ll speak for myself: all I want in my perfect minimalist wallet is one credit card, one debit card, a driver license, and some money. Even for someone on the inside, a librarian who goes to the library every single day, having a library card is not a priority that deserves real estate in my wallet (I memorized my number).

Working at a library, I see this all the time. People don’t remember their library card. When helping people over the phone, people don’t have their library card on hand (“Can I have your library card number please?” “Oh, shoot, let me go find it,” they say). Hint, hint: they don’t care. Second, it comes with a stupid, outdated, lengthy number on it – a 13 digit library card number. Mine is 120242015…oh, never mind. The number is so long it gets printed with spaces between it, so it’s easier to read!

But it gets worse. Not only is a 13-digit number holding us back from accessing our account, but a 4-digit “PIN” too. What? Are you serious? As in… “personal identification number?” Is this an ATM machine (pun intended)? Not surprising, we have to explain to grown adult people every single day what “PIN” means (turns out, it actually means ‘the last 4 digits of your phone number’….what? OMG. LOL).

Hypothesis: a lot of people use libraries when they need to, at certain points in their life, in stages, not all the time, like the local grocery store. Not everyone is a lifelong power user. The library card, therefore, is dispensable, disposable, and short lived. John needs to print something. He thinks: the library has computers! He goes to the library. The library puts him through the ceremony that is getting a library card (proof of address? ID? email? phone number? preferred way to contact you?). He’s getting annoyed. He prints his resume and visits the library in 5 years. Yet even if people consistently used the library for several years (which they might), the library card still has no place or relevance.

One Problem with My Argument – the Barcode

When I said the library card has “no benefits whatsoever,” I lied. It has one. Libraries like mine have self-checkout machines, which are tied to barcode scanners, which allows you to enter the 13 digit number by scanning the card itself. That saves time, assuming you have your stupid card with you to begin with. In fact, different library technologies are in bed with the barcode (we have a mobile app that saves your barcode, for example). With a username or email, on the other hand, we would need a different solution.

Finger Scan to Check Out Library Books? Yes, Please.

Call me naive, but I think biometric technology should seriously considered for checking out materials (and getting on a public computer). Scan your finger, check out, and go – fast, easy, convenient. The technology is here, cheap, and….creepy? Maybe.

Maybe not. A word about privacy. For some this brings to mind dystopian sci fi movies. Calm down. First, biometic technology doesn’t really scan your finger print, like the police would do. It’s not a scan. It takes certain measurements of your fingerprint and converts them into numbers, which distinguish you from another library member. Second, and most importantly, the library protects your privacy more than anyone. We are not some greedy corporation. Not only do libraries actually care about your privacy, we have to. According to the Library Privacy Act, we cannot give out patron information unless the police has a warrant for it (and I wonder if that ever happens). Third, this would be an optional service, patrons could opt-in. Do you want to check out items faster? Yes? Then give us your finger. No? Okay fine, use the old way weirdo.

photo credit: Sweet. via photopin (license)

photo credit: Sweet. via photopin (license)

Two of the most interesting things that happen in the tech world in January are the predictions of technology trends for the new year and CES (the Consumer Electronics Show). As a techie nerd and former Systems Librarian, I wanted to give you some brief (*cough*not-so-brief*cough*) words about each as well as some resources to learn more (I am a librarian, after all).

Technology Predictions:

I do not love the new year for the resolutions or the singing of Auld Lang Syne. I love the new year because of technology predictions. My top choices from last year were the Internet of Things (IoT) and the importance of social technology in driving application development. I hung my hat on IoT. But, since this article is about 2015 predictions, I’ll leave you with this article from American Libraries about the Internet of Things.

2015 Predictions: Here are some examples (with commentary):

  • PC Mag’s Predictions: Kind of lame. Wearables? Health and Fitness trackers? What is this, 2014? You can do better, PC Mag.
  • Fox Business: In general, do I recommend that you get your tech news from Fox Business? No. But, I think that they are least tried to predict. Mobile payments expanding? Yes. Google being evil? Kind of yes. Net Neutrality failing? Yes. Making lobbying illegal in government? Only in my wildest dreams.
  • IDC Predictions (via Software Development Times): First off, I’m biased because the reporter made it far easier to understand than a traditional IDC press release. 3rd platform is just a confusing term. I agree with IDC on a lot though, IoT will continue to affect you. Wireless data growth will be huge. Security will be a big thing.

There are a lot of others predictions. Use Google. Read them. Think about them. Maybe post a comment about how wrong I am in a year. I’m ok with it. Plus, I’ll probably just respond to your concerns by using made up acronyms until you give up.

CES:

Why do we, as librarians, talk so rarely about CES. It’s a huge thing. To get you started, some online coverage.

Will all of the products at CES develop into something marketable? No. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t alert the world to tech trends that are worth considering. For example:

  • Sling TV: Cable TV is going to have more problems. With already developed trends of people cutting cable and using Hulu, Netflix, and other content providers, another nail has been placed in Cable TV’s grave with Sling TV from Dish Network. Offering channels previously unavailable from not-to-be-named content providers (like ESPN and CNN), Sling TV is giving more access to content without your local megacorp.
  • Internet of Things: I wasn’t so off in my favorite 2014 predictions, and CES proved me right. Apple HomeKit and Google’s Nest are just two examples of improving your life with connected “things”
  • USB 3.1: Ok, this isn’t a “trend” per se, just something that I’m excited for. Imagine, a day when you don’t have to try your USB 3 times before it plugs in. And why is it always 3 times? It only has two sides! If you’ve already tried the first side, why didn’t it work? </rant> Will USB 3.1 ever become the standard? I can only dream of the 30 seconds that it would save me in flipping USBs over the course of my lifetime.

I know what you’re thinking. Library service vendors are not the best about getting us the latest and greatest tech. Somehow the latest and greatest is always 3 years past before similar tech is ever debuted. But that is a rant for another day. In the meantime, take a trip down the road of the technologically ideal, library-based thoughts conjectured from CES trends:

  • Libraries rent Rokus and AmazonTVs from the desk. Some libraries do. And I love them. What better way to help your patrons evaluate their new viewing options on their ridiculously-thin TV, then with the help of the Library. They’re going to be paying off that TV for a while, so they don’t have any money to waste.
  • Where could you use IoT at the Library? What if your displays told you when someone took an item off, so that you could refill it? Or, better yet, what if those displays offered suggestions of similar books to the person taking the book off the display? What if your automatic sorter could tell you when there was a back-up of books now being caught in the conveyor? Or what about telling you when the return bin was full?

Tends in consumer electronics mean changes for libraries, both in how libraries use their own technology and in how they serve their patrons.

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

photo credit: zen via photopin cc

Sprint triathlons are shorter than the Olympic race and seem like a blink of an eye in comparison to an Ironman event.  Upgrades are a sprint triathlon of sorts, you don’t need to plan and train as long as a new Integrated Library System (ILS) implementation, but you do need to be prepared. As there are three legs to a triathlon: swim, bike and run, there are three phases to an ILS upgrade: planning, testing and upgrade.   There is a bonus fourth phase if all went well – euphoria.

Planning
As a project manager for an ILS upgrade, this is not the time to be seen flailing.  You need to be strong with a clear message and plan; communicate the reason for the upgrade.  Is your library a beta tester?  Will the upgrade eliminate a problem or two?  Is there a new feature that you are excited to implement? Anytime there is an inevitable or upcoming change, you can expect a little  dissent and fear from your colleagues, patrons or funders.   Look at your annual library use statistics and find a time when the library has lower door counts and circulation.  You can’t predict blizzards and other natural disasters, but holidays, baseball season and other community events do effect your library.  Use data from your ILS , not your intuition and decide the best day and time to upgrade.  Once a date is set add to the project calendar multiple training dates and times for staff.  If your library is fortunate enough to have a training server to load and test the new software before “Go Live” let staff know when the software is going to be available to them.  Communicate any changes to the plan.

Testing
This phase in not only a test of your patience, but also your workflow, homegrown scripts and customizations. If you don’t already have a dedicated testing server then take advantage of any training that the ILS vendor provides.  If the upgrade has significant changes to workflow give all staff the opportunity and compensation to attend training sessions. If you do have a training server, issues that are revealed and dealt with before the go live date minimize frantic phone calls on day one. If your ILS has an offline mode, have planned fire drills practicing the procedures of circulation and patron  registration without the luxury of confirmation and verification, just in case the upgrade takes longer than expected. The  last thing you want to do is be blindsided or ill-prepared to handle everyday library business.  Keep track of questions that arise during this phase.  You might need to log these with the ILS support staff or  find “workarounds” to obstacles in workflow before the upgrade.

Upgrade
The big day has arrived, the upgrade went as planned and the phones are quiet. Unrealistic? No. If you planned,  tested and trained in the weeks leading up to this moment then show stoppers,obstacles and workflow kinks have already been worked  out.  Be relieved when the first complaint of the day is “How come my notices print in landscape instead of portrait?  It is wasting paper.”  Euphoria!