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]

Designing for hyper-attentive cyborg children

cyhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.spell.gifborg childI got this in my email today:

What children can teach us: Lessons learned from the trenches of digital libraries“…developing digital libraries that support young people in querying, browsing, and reading scanned materials.”

It all sounds very impressive until you click the link. Look at that thing! It’s like getting stabbed in the eyeballs with suck! How can these people sleep at night?

This is a perfectly good children’s resource that is absolutely hidden from children. What is the focal point of the page? The word “Advanced” forgodsake. Why are there four search options? Do they actually think children care enough to distinguish between different search criteria? Who are these children? Can I have one?

I can’t even begin to list the mistakes they are making in this interface. Where is the content? I see three books. Why is there so much text? I don’t want to read that badly-formatted crap, and I’m a grown-up. Why is 98% of the navigation dedicated to links that are of absolutely no interest to children? Executive Summary? Yeah, my kid’s gonna click on that one. Why didn’t they hire a professional web designer? They make a huge deal about how kids “designed” the site, but they didn’t bother to honor those kids’ contributions by hiring a decent web developer. They’ve got more than 5 million dollars, they can afford it. In the time it took to write their complete curatorial policy (conveniently linked on the FRONT PAGE) they could have at least changed the default link color.

Once you actually find the content (just click “Simple Search” and chase the badly-written JavaScript pop-up around the screen until it works! It’s obvious! Cyborg children love to search!) the interface settles down a bit. The links related to the grant go away, and the library experiments with some innovative ways to find books, by color, length, etc. Good stuff. Except except except the graphics are so shitty and the labels are so poorly thought-out (“Real Animal Characters” rather than “Animals”, “Imaginary Animal Characters” rather than “Pretend Animals”) that it just all falls apart.

This site was designed for librarians, not for children.

another oneHumor me and compare it to nick.com (a favorite among the kids we researched in grad school). The big difference between the two is, on this site you can click absolutely anywhere and find something satisfying. You don’t even need to click. Information is conveyed by rollover sounds and animations. I’ve personally witnessed kids fight with each other over headphones in order to hear these sounds.

Look, I know I’m being an ass, and this is a great resource and these are good people and I’m going to get hate mail, but somebody has to say it.

It’s not enough that we are lovely librarians who care sooooo much about children. It’s not enough that we put all of this great content up on the interweb. It’s not enough that we are overworked researchers who will have to write tedious papers about the project to justify our tenure.

We need to run everything we do through a filter that asks: “If I click on this without a Master’s degree in Library Science, will it piss me off?” We need to acknowledge that design matters. We need to remove ourselves from our collections. We need to design websites that don’t mock the resources they contain. We need to do these things because otherwise all of our efforts are worthless. We need to design websites that don’t suck, because otherwise the kids that we care so much about are going to wander off and smoke crack. And it’s going to be our fault.

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.

True Romance!

I popped in to the Tompkins County Public Library yesterday to take advantage of the few hours that they are open after recent budget cuts. I believe I represent many library workers in my inability to return library materials on time. My friend Mark worked at circulation when I was in college, and I got kind of spoiled as a result.

Anyway, I paid my $13 fine, and received a wonderful reference interview from one of the librarians. And I found this: Truer Than True Romance: Classic Love Comics Retold! a parody of all of those hideous True Romance comics of the 40’s and 50’s. The comic art archive where I used to work collected many of the originals, and shelving them was always a swoopy-swoony blast. Afterward, I took to biting my knuckle in times of stress.

That Reference Compulsion

So my friend Clay (of reference desk fame) and I have just gotten out of our dance class, and we are talking about books. A woman overhears us and starts talking about a book she is reading on the subject of Jack the Ripper.

“What was that book?” she asks, “The one they made a movie out of?”

At this point I should pause and remind you that neither of us were in any way identifiable as librarians, nor were we at work, where we might have had a contractual obligation to answer this woman’s question. Yet answer it we did, with alacrity.

We pipe up, “Oh! you must mean the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore,” and our cover is blown. We have been exposed as professional know-it-alls. Any chance we might have had to pose as members of another, sexier profession has been lost.

We couldn’t just say “huh” like normal people. Nope, had to jump in there with the full bibliographic citation.

How librarians talk when they think no one is looking

This is how librarians talk when they think no one’s looking. The following excerpts are from actual email conversations:

Me: Good news! The ALA now has a Library Worker’s Day! ALA loves library assistants! What I like most about this day is how close the phrase ‘library worker’ is to ‘sex worker.’ “Hi, I’m Erica and I’m a library worker! I started out as a library dancer, but now I just do some phone reference and a few library tricks on the side.”

My Librarian Friend: Some day I will be Madam at a whole Library of Ill Repute. Really naughty boys will be sent to Technical Services!!!

Me: Good news! The ALA now has a Library Worker’s Day! ALA loves paraprofessionals!

My Other Librarian Friend: Show me the money.

Chess with the President, Bake Sales

We were playing chess at the co-op picnic this weekend, when I got the chance to do a nice rant to locally-famous Green party presidential candidate Paul Glover on the subject of librarianship, digital preservation, and last-ditch measures for funding our local library.

Millages seem to be kind of a Michigan thing. Perhaps a bake sale is in order?

Brownies, only $500 each! Anybody up for mom’s million-dollar cheesecake? Only a million dollars!

Libraries and the people who work in them

Hey, big news! Why you should fall to your knees and worship a librarian is now online in a nice temporary format. In other news, this blog has been discovered by people at work, so now I have to be extra careful not to mention how frightening I find the break room.

Here’s an interesting factoid about libraries and the people who work in them: Many of us have absolutely no contact with patrons or customers or whatever you call them. Mmm hmm. It’s true. Most of the straight-up academic librarians around here can be found hidden in back rooms, far from the maddeningly crowded cybercafe, trying to wrap their poor heads around grant applications and articles on digital preservation. Which, among other things, means I get to wear Birkenstocks to work.

Revolting Librarians Redux

The section of the library dedicated to books on librarianship is located outside my office door. I thumbed through a few of them this morning. I was curious what a book on librarianship looked like, since I never really saw that many at “library school”.

Most were from the 70s and 80s, and were dedicated to some pretty abstract stuff, but nestled among the monographs on school librarianship, I found the 1972 classic Revolting Librarians. I’m amazed by the number of librarians and libraryworkers who aren’t familiar with what is the most radical, most groundbreaking, and most hilarious book ever written on the subject of librarianship. Fortunately, it’s in the public domain (because librarians rule), and also fortunately, there’s a sequel due out this fall, edited by the indelible Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West.

I contributed a piece of doggerel whose rhyme scheme should make English majors wince worldwide. Hopefully my library will buy the thing so I can walk by it in the stacks every day and feel all smug.