Using Tech to Learn About Tech.

I know that the title is a bit of an oxymoronic statement, but it’s none the less true.  In this day and age of online education (and in some cases ridiculous amounts of college debt…thankfully not my case) there are tons of options out there for folks to learn just about anything from some amazing sources.  Many educational institutions are offering free online resources to teach people all sorts of interesting things.

In my line of work (librarian) I get asked all the time where some affordable places are to go learn about technology.  In this post, I’m going to list some amazingly affordable options for you to check out, and by amazingly affordable I mean FREE!

Totally Free!

Free…but you’ll want to avoid the ads…(don’t we always want to avoid ads.)

  • Mooc List: Massive Online Open Course: Free online courses (note: skip the ads)

“Mostly Free” options:

  • Edx: Pay & Free online courses (note: Verified courses are free, but certifications & professional education courses cost $).
  • Udacity: Pay & free online courses on many subjects (note: Be sure to click the “free” checkbox).
  • Udemy: Pay & Free online courses. (note: Once you search for a course you can easily sort out the free courses by using the “price” menu and checking the free box).

Now I’m sure you noticed some big-name universities in the list above… Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Yale…that’s not by accident.  Many large universities are working on open course initiatives where they help not just their students and staff but the general public as well by providing free learning resources for everyone.

So go forth and learn something new and exciting, and don’t forget if you need help with getting to this kind of information feel free to ask your friendly neighborhood librarian.


A Bit About Library Websites

I’ve taken this recent (self imposed) quite time in my employment to do a bit of re-education and reading on various subjects related to libraries, usability (uxd), and graphic novels in libraries (planning something).  I’ve recently finished reading “Usability Testing: a practical guide for librarians”, by Rebecca Blakiston.  It is an interesting read, and you can see my review of it on Goodreads (widget over there on the right).  But there was a great paragraph in the book that I thought I’d share with everyone.

“…Historically, institutions have put significant funding into website redesign projects, but haven’t built the infrastructure to then maintain and iterate on those new websites. All too often, especially for libraries that have small if any web design and development staff to join in,redesign efforts are contracted out to web design firms.  These expert design teams can conduct usability testing as part of their process, perhaps inviting library staff to join in,  and can create great websites that provide an excellent user experience.  Yet, once the website is launched, the library staff doesn’t have the tools, people, or workflows in place to keep it going.  Websites being what they are, they eventually become problematic.  Perhaps content becomes outdated and inconsistent, design elements don’t beet the new brand, and the site isn’t accessible on new types of mobile devices.  needless to day , a few years later, library staff and administrators find themselves again talking about the need for a redesign.  So the redesign is then repeated again and again, every few years.  This model of focusing effort on your website just once every few years is clearly unsustainable.  it doesn’t treat websites as the ever-evolving entities that they are, and doesn’t give them the attention that they deserve.” (page 109)

Basically all that says that (some) libraries don’t put nearly enough planning into on going maintenance and updates of their websites.  Having worked in different libraries where this pattern (redesign-wait-broken website-redesign-repeat) was the norm I can say that it doesn’t work in our modern WiFi enabled, mobile downloading, streaming world…at all.  The author goes on to say that usability testing should be involved in every step of the redesign (and in my opinion maintenance) process…and she’s right.

A libraries website, in my opinion, should not be considered a digital duplicate of the library.  It should be its own digital entity that happens to inform users about not only its offerings but the real world libraries offerings too.  Being a digital entity it also needs constant maintenance and updates to keep functioning properly.  I know it will probably never happen but I would love to see libraries have dedicated web designers on staff to keep their digital doors open…and opening properly.  Usability testing staff or user experience design staff would also be nice but maybe I’m a bit biased on that point.

So to any library out there planning a website redesign please have some usability people involved in the process, and please please make a plan (and stick to it) for constant website updating and maintenance.

Blakiston, R. (2015). Usability Testing: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Freelance Librarian(ing)?

(not sure if Librarianing is a word…but with the rules of English it probably can be.)

Either way due to some personal decisions (and a currently tight job market) I’m spreading my wings a bit and becoming a self employed Freelance Librarian.  Now I know what your thinking how can you be a librarian with no library to work at.  Answer = Librarians have a lot of strange, interesting, and marketable skills.

Skills I possess:
Typing, basic web design (HTML5 & CSS – nothing fancy), customer service, research, writing, computer tutor, computer repair (minor), information organization and retrieval, Survey creation & analysis, Statistics gathering and analysis, room layout planning (computer labs), AV equipment usage, readers advisory.

Knowledge I possess:
MS-Office 95 – Office 10, MS-Dos – Windows 10, Dewey Decimal System, Library of Congress System, Open Office, Library Management Systems (III – Millennium & Sierra), 3D modeling software (Bryce 7, Learning tinker-cad), popular fiction, non-fiction, movies, comic books (graphic novels), video games, local history (Maine & Lewiston / Auburn), User experience design, and a half dozen or so (rusty) computer programming languages.

And that is just a small list of my skills and knowledge’s.

I’ve met librarians who are (or were) professional artists, actors, musicians, teachers, editors, authors, news paper columnists, lawyers, EMT’s, nurses, and even a roller derby racer.  As librarians we do a bit of everything and we draw in people from many other professions.  And because we are librarians we talk, trade knowledge, teach each other new skills, and learn to network like no one else (because we need to know how to get information on any topic imaginable).

So the next time you talk to your local librarian maybe you should stop and ask them what they learned about – besides libraries – being a librarian.  I’m willing to be the answer may surprise you.

Wish me luck – I’m off to learn how to make a business plan…because I know whom to ask for help. *smiles*


A Bit about E-Books

A bit about E-Books, Ownership & Issues

The legal gray area around e-books is changing again, and some of the less than positive changes have come home for my local libraries in Maine.  Maine has a download library consortium and we’ve recently decided to switch providers for a number of reasons both good and bad.  With this switch (from Overdrive to Bibliotheca), comes a bunch of new legality and transfer nightmares.  One of which is the focus of this post.

How much of the current Download Library collection will transfer to the new platform?

Our current Download Library Collection will be transferred to the new platform with a few exceptions. The vast majority of our collection will be able to be moved to new licenses within the cloud Library system. The exceptions are primarily items that were purchased previously, but are no longer available for licensing due to publisher restrictions on availability. The more recently the titles were purchased the more likely they will transfer.”

OK so for those that will read this and don’t know this already…Technically when you buy and e-book you don’t own it.  You’re leasing rights to use it from the publisher. (There are a few publishers who don’t follow this *cheers*.)  So when you change platforms, devices, or software and try to move your e-book collection over you may find that some of the items won’t transfer because the licensing they were released under doesn’t allow it.  So basically you’ve purchased an e-book and now you can no longer read it because the publishers says they don’t want to update, migrate, allow you to do so…or whatever other reason they decide to toss in.   This is all because e-books are treated as software and not as books under copyright law.

The most famous instance of this so far was Amazon (ironically) pulling the title 1984 from its devices. This was due to the distributing publisher not actually having the rights to distribute the e-books. Amazon was sued over this and did give refunds and a settlement to the suing parties, but this only highlights the fact that e-books are currently different animals from normal books.

Now I get it this is the publishers’ way of preventing mass hacking, copying, and distribution of their intellectual property.  I’d be angry if someone was stealing from me too, but if I legally bought something from them I’d expect to be able to use that item for as long as I want and on any device I want.

The good news is that this is starting to change.  EU (European Union) court just ruled that e-books should be treated as normal books not software when it comes to libraries lending items.  This is a big shift for our fellow librarians in Europe who now have a lot less gray in their legality governing e-books.  I can only hope that this ruling with push a similar ruling through here in the US.

American libraries had a great article about the future of e-books, libraries, and bookstores too.

So I’m crossing my fingers that the law will eventually catch up to the technology and allow libraries, and individual people, to do what they want with e-books after they’ve purchased them.

Tech with interesting potential for libraries.

This post is sort of an expansion on a post from Jason Griffey’s blog Pattern Recognition (original post: Estonia E-Residency).  So you may want to start by reading it.

In Mr. Griffey’s article he shows how the government of Estonia is allowing for digital citizenship to their country, and as part of the process each digital citizen is issued an electronic identity card.  This card interacts with a portable USB device to allow access to government services such as starting a business in Estonia.

My brain took one look at this tech and it’s potential and said “Whoa…imagine what libraries could do with that!”.

If you stop and think about it a library card, with a digital smart chip (like the ones being added rapidly to credit cards here in the US), could allow access to all of a libraries e-resources remotely from anywhere in the world.  Yes I know your going to be sitting there saying “But Jim many libraries already do that with someones library card number.”  which is absolutely true.  However have you ever tried to remember your (in my libraries case) 14 digit library card number an hour before bed when you just want a new e-book to read not to mention your username password and or pin number?…I can tell you it’s not easy.

Not to mention in the case of the Estonian citizenship card imagine if it allowed access to not only the digital resources of your local library but to your national library as well. The National Library Estonia for example who’s starting home page lists wondrous amounts of e-resources.  This would eliminate the need for usernames and passwords, (which frankly don’t we have to many to keep track of already) and it would allow for anyone whom is a citizen / library member to have a simple means of accessing their libraries resources from anywhere in the world.

That’s some serious potential in my opinion.

Needless to say I’ll be keeping an eye on this tech and it’s further developments.

I’m now officially a librarian!

Hello everyone.  🙂

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog, but that’s because my last semester of graduate school was packed, and life afterward got very busy.  But now it’s official I’ve graduated and I can now say I’m a real librarian.  Personally I’ve thought of myself as a librarian for years as I’ve been doing the job for 15 years or so.  Now however I can point to my degree(s) and say I did that and if I could do that I can do anything with some dedication and hard work.

Now (as any college grad knows) comes the real challenge of finding a job.  Not the easiest of things to do in the world and quite a bit trickier here in Maine due to the limited job market.  Since I don’t give up easily I am putting my all into moving forward and landing a job that I will enjoy and that will challenge me.

If your curious about what I was up to in time between posts feel free to check out my e-portfolio.  Who knows maybe you’ll get some good ideas.

The UX version of connect the dots.

Last week and this week I learned a lot (whole lots) on eye-tracking and how to read the results from such equipment.  I even learned how eyes focus and move which helps understand reading the “gaze plots” the eye-tracking software generates.  But if I must say putting it a bit more basically than my text-book did; It’s sort of a productive version of connect the dots.  Each time you stop and look at a point on the screen you are generating a dot (a fixation point if you want to use the jargon) on the map the software generates.  Each dot is numbered in order of creation, and is often (not always) sized based on how long you looked at that point (bigger = more time spent).  Each dot is connection by lines and the entire mess of dots and lines forms a pattern which when overlaid on an image of the website / app screen shows the reader exactly where the test participant was looking, when, and for how long.  That just screams useful information to me; not to mention being a bit techno creepy mind reading-ish…then again mind reading would certainly help to develop usable designs wouldn’t it.

Heat maps, fixation cluster charts, opacity plots, gaze point plots / maps, participant video & audio recordings, moderator comments & tasks.  No matter how you look at it eye-tracking studies generate mountains of data to go through.  These mountains are useful in so many ways to your usability study…just don’t get caught in a land slide. Develop a good file naming & organizational system, and then stick to it no matter what.  You don’t want to realize half way through you study that you’ve mixed up the videos from one participant with the gaze point maps from another…or worse yet have nothing match up.

Either way if you get the chance to preview or better yet use a eye-tracking system for anything jump at it.  Even just seeing one in action may give you ideas on how to improve your next usability study.

Have fun connecting the dots between participant data and usable design.

Eyes are windows into our choices?

This week we are learning more about eye tracking studies, and how they can give insights into how usable a website (or app) is.  Even our teachers lecture was given via a video recording of him using an eye-tracking system.  Getting to see a live video of how this system works was enlightening.  You can actually see everywhere a person is looking at, follow their view path, and in the end see a map of where their highest points of focus were.  If that alone can’t sell you on the benefits of eye-tracking I don’t know what could. (Mind you the equipment price is still a bit steep….so that’s a drawback.)

To put it another way if you are a website / app developer and you could get inside your customers head as they worked their way through your product…wouldn’t you want to?  That is exactly the ability eye-tracking systems give you.  Mind that you have to interpret the results which can I’m sure takes a bit of practice, but the potential benefits make it worth it (at least in my opinion). All that being said I think I’ve got my work cut out for me in learning more about how to understand the results from such studies. Then again there is always something new to learn. 🙂

Intertwining parts of my reality.

For those that read my last post you know that I was weighing options for mobile usability testing.  (if you didn’t read last weeks post..well now you know. *smile*)  My assignment is now complete and to say I gained some astounding insight into the world of mobile UX (usability experience … in case you didn’t know the acronym) testing would be a total exaggeration.  What I learned was simply this … usability testing is a relatively new idea and the tools are still changing.  Toss in mobile devices, which are just under a decade (ish) old and you are mixing two things together that most people weren’t ready to see mixed.  Oops we did, we aren’t alone, and we want better results!  I’m in total agreement with Jennifer Aldrichs’ assessment of the current state of usability testing tools. Check her “Mobile Usability Testing Tools” post to see what I mean.  Jennifer’s last paragraph certainly describes what I would love to see in a UX testing tool.

To add an interesting twist to my reality this week my library hosted a “Technology Petting Zoo” from the state library.  We have tablets of various makes and sizes, e-readers (both kindle & nooks), and we even got to see a 3D printer in action.  So here I am trying to study about testing mobile devices for usability while at the same time helping folks play with some for the first time.  Usability testing meet usability issue discovery!

I can truly say that at least it was an educational week.

PS.  3D printers are a bit slow but really cool. 🙂

Well thats an option….

This week we are evaluating different usability testing options for to be used on … dum dum dum…mobile devices.  To say that this poses some unique challenges would be a colossal understatement.  Usability test designing is tough enough between the options of in a usability lab (yes there are still such places), and or remote usability testing via software of some sort. Now we are throwing in devices that are by their nature (and name) mobile…the complications and various options are enough to make your head spin (or if your the nervous sort your stomach churn).

After about the fifth website / how to guide I looked at this week I discovered some vitally important facts…that are obvious in retrospect.  Mobile devices are in a constant state of change (as with most tech toys).  What this means to usability testers is that your testing design that you come up with this week may not work next week…or even later this week on a different device.  So cross your fingers that no “critical updates” come out between your test design and your test date.

Also from every site, source, UX expert a similar trouble causing phrase was uttered (or written) … There is no existing usability testing platform for mobile devices that is equal to what exists for desktop / laptops…. Well as it turns out there are a few that exist, but they don’t quite do everything we need them to do yet, and they cost a lot ($$$$).  So In designing this mobile usability test I feel like I’m choosing the least of many evils.  Not a good starting place in my opinion.

Hopefully by next weeks post / completed test design assignment I’ll have better news and some new insights into how to go about doing this.