Conference

I’m liveblogging from the WDIL web conference, conveniently held where I work. I got shanghaied into this. I just wanted to meet the Wikipedia guy, but somehow I ended up going to the entire thing.

I’m no huge fan of conferences, as a rule. Usually the signal-to-noise ratio is insanely low, and I’ve got the attention span of a gnat when it comes to listening to ill-prepared speakers. Mercifully, coworker Rafe loaned me the office laptop, which is running Ubuntu, a very cool flavor of Linux, so I’ll be talking to you guys all day.

Roundup

image from the Million Book ProjectTwo baby librarians were born to my wonderful friends from the Cornell library. Laih and Anika are both nine and a half pounds, super-smart, and will be entering the University of Michigan’s Information program in 2028. Congratulations Kim and Brian, and Clay and Mike!

I attended a seminar on the Million Book Project last night. There were a buncha computer science folks there, and the usual gang of library folks. I was horrified by the scale of the project, which involves sending hundreds of shipping crates of books to India and China for scanning, and wrangling terabytes of information that takes a week to even copy. Yow. One thing I found curious was their decision to do bitonal scanning instead of grayscale. I’m told that this results in “no real information loss” but many of their pages are really hard to read because of the lost grayscale info. In many cases the entire nature of the page is lost, and the resulting image looks like a rubber stamp of the Mona Lisa. Does anyone with more experience in these matters have thoughts on the subject? They scan at 600 DPI, so it can’t just be a matter of storage space.

In other news, there was a duck in one of our trees this morning, female mallard who was driven to extremes by an ardent male duck. She was up there for about five minutes, wobbling around until she finally fell into the pond.

Index This

Did you know that there is an American Society of Indexers? How meta is that?

In a similar vein, our fearless leaders here at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds recently spearheaded the creation of an animal behavior ontology. I was browsing through the list of behaviors and have concluded that librarians are predisposed to aid-giving behavior, and perhaps homeostatic postures.

Counterweight to snark

I’m typing with my face today due to a stupidity-induced thumb injury from, I think, painting my basement. Homeowners beware.

In the meantime, just to show that I’m not all thorns and lemons, here are some good websites. Good in that attainable way. You will notice that these are mostly not library sites, but I hope you will enjoy the parallels between, say, a really clean weblog about t-shirts, and a really clean list of community activities.

Decent design example #1

The New York Public Library’s Main Page

Good things:

  • A nod to the principles of graphic design – a grid is established, everything is on one page, so no scrolling. A bit font-y, but not too bad. Clean and reasonable.
  • Respect for web traditions. Contact link, search, hours up top, copyright statement at the bottom.
  • There are tons of links, but they are separated by negative space and grouped to reduce clutter. There are only links to things the public might care about. If you want info about their current grants or whatever you have to dig down a bit, because fewer people care. I sure don’t.
  • User-friendly labeling. “Pictures, Photos, & Maps Online” rather than “The Boogaboo Collection” Thank you. As a user, I like pictures. I don’t know Mr. Boogaboo and I don’t want to.
  • Visually consistent (at least within this main page). The logo matches the icons which match the features. Don’t click on “Teens” or it will all go to hell.

Decent Design example #2

Preshrunk (hipster t-shirt weblog)

Good things:

  • This is negative space, my friends. As a user, it calms you, soothes you. Makes you feel a bit less like you are being attacked by dozens of people who all want your attention. Feel the negative space? Ohm…
  • Look! A clear focal point for each easily-distinguished item. It’s an image! A high-quality image! Not clip art! A visually consistent size and presentation for each image! Don’t you feel safe and warm?

Decent Design example #3

Planet Dog

Good things:

  • Great info architecture. What section are you in? It’s obvious! Your location is the only highlighted thing on the page. These guys aren’t out there trying to get you to “Find Databases” or click on “Interlibrary services”. Do you want a leash? Click on leashes. Do you want to know how the company works out contracts with various wholesalers? Of course you don’t. Click on leashes.
  • Here is a really full website that still seems calm and peaceful. It’s that negative space and consistent design thing again.
  • Notice all of the images? Aren’t they nice? Nobody downloaded those from Microsoft. Notice how they have their backgrounds dropped out? This gives them a consistent look and reduces visual clutter. If you can’t make, attain, or afford images that look this good than don’t use images. Use a clean CSS based layout instead…

Decent Design example #3

A List Apart (the other ALA)

Good things:

  • Look ma! A simple clean layout, and only one image up top. No need to keep a Photoshop maven on staff. Like it? There’s more.
  • This site changes its look every day. Why? Because they use CSS and it’s easy. Still, each design is minimalist, standards-compliant, and simple to navigate.

Finally, here are some books if you’re into that kind of thing…

Usability for the web [link]

Information Architecture [link]

Don’t make me think! [link]

Designing websites for every audience [link]

More on lousy digital library design

Thanks for all of the kind comments on the previous post. They really helped balance the freaking out I had to do when a kind well-meaning soul posted this link as an example of a REALLY GOOD children’s website.

Ok. Let’s go through this again. Slowly. This time I’m going to spell it out.

Anyone can make a website. The web is the most democratic publishing forum ever conceived. But, unfortunately, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you are the best person to do it. It is an unpleasant fact that most library websites, most digital libraries, most catalogs and electronic collections are badly designed.

And by badly designed, I mean this. Ugly. Ill-conceived. Verbose. Inaccessible. Acronym rich. Confusing. Lofty. Unnecessarily complex. Deprecated. Self-absorbed. Low-quality. Pointless. Patronizing.

Are you still with me? Remember, I’m being a bitch so that you don’t have to.

There is a tendency in the library community to blow sunshine up each other’s asses, as though our intent to do good were enough. As though our good works shouldn’t be held to the same standards as commercial products because we are Nice. People don’t seem to criticize each other’s work in this profession. Which makes for a perfectly lovely working environment where you can find yourself producing piles of junk because all you have heard is happytalk from supportive colleagues. And that’s not Nice. Nope. Not at all. That’s painful and embarrassing and rather cruel.

You would tell a friend if she had toilet paper on her shoe, right? Gentle criticism (not my specialty, obviously) has a place in any relationship, especially when the stakes are high. When your TP-shoed friend is about to go up on stage in front of a bunch of elementary school kids, they probably aren’t going to listen to her charming and educational speech. They are going to see the toilet paper and turn into a pack of hyenas.

And it’s a shame, because the Internet Children’s Digital Library (and the gajillion sites like it with smaller budgets) have the potential to become popular resources if they will only make the connection between quality of content and quality of interface. Like so many digital collections, they have great ideas, like sorting books by color, but they don’t have the skill or the perspective to realize these ideas. And they don’t have the humility to hire someone who does. So up they go in front of the auditorium with a big wad of TP dragging behind them.

Blogging for the library crowd

Sorry I haven’t updated in a few weeks. I’ve been busy downloading music from this quasi-legal Russian mp3 site. But not at work (hi library colleagues). And there was some vacation involved. And dog-sitting. And basement wall dry-locking.

Speaking of the theft of intellectual property, at work recently I’ve been looking at online digital collections and identifying nifty interface elements we can borrow for the cataloging/digital library software we’ve been making. There’s some pretty rad stuff out there.

I’ve been liking the NYPL’s Picture Collection Online, in spite of it’s bass-akwards name. (Adjective Adjective NOUN, people. We don’t call you the Public Library New York, do we?) Plus, it’s the only library search interface I’ve seen to contain the word “bollicky” in the source code.

You all might know about this already, but coolperson Marguerita clued me in to the new TNT movie “The Librarian“. Unless April fools came early this year. Or USA Today isn’t a legitimate news source…

Moving, changing, constant rearranging

It’s official now, and I can finally talk about it here. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, yes, yes, yes, I’m buying a house. Well, it’s a theoretical house at this point, just a glimmer in the mortgage-lender’s eye, but someday soon, around the end of June hopefully, I will be an actual homeowner. It’s a big deal, but I think I’m handling it well. I’ve limited my panic attacks to one a day, and am reading this very helpful book called The 106 common mistakes homebuyers make, which is totally helping my anxiety.

decorative giraffes

Oh, and I’m changing jobs.

Starting February 23, I’ll be a web developer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Yup. Leaving librarianship for I.T. Not a huge surprise to those who know me, but possibly controversial considering I run a website called Librarian Avengers. The good news is, I’ll still be working in a library. The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds holds the largest collection of bird recordings in the world. As their web developer, I get to create an interface for the stadium-sized database holding their digitized collection. It’s a big fat moose of a challenge, and I’m looking forward to getting started. Among other things, it means that this weblog is getting archived along with the one I wrote in grad school, and will be replaced with something new and appropriate.

I was kind of nervous about announcing this job change here, because I didn’t want to deal with any “say it ain’t so, Joe” emails in my spam-riddled inbox from hardcore librarians who think I’ve betrayed the profession by jumping ship for a mostly interface design position. To you, I say: Buck up. There are still plenty of good, stylish librarians out there. I may not be a librarian in real life, but I’ll continue to play one on the web. And, hey, there’s more than one way to serve an information need, buddy.