Lists 4 u.

I’m home sick with an intermittent fever, which is leaving me both unconscious and contagious. I’m trying to get some work done, but the cold meds are leaving my motivation low. So, I’ve been catching up on RSS feeds and click-trancing.

Here are some highlights:
Geek Love: Wonderful NYT Obit for the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dad Labs video: Man tries breast pump.

Go Josh Go! A $100 Million Donation to the N.Y. Public Library

Preparing For “The Colbert Report – Jennifer 8. Lee writes about her stint as an author-guest.

NPR Unapologetically Harriet, the Misfit Spy

Sesame Street on information visualization – This reminds me of my research recently on Learning styles in new Second Life users. It’s a real design challenge try and accommodate both the square and the musician.

I’ve been reading the webcomic Questionable Content in between naps.

Library Tourism

bernallib.pngI visited my local Bernal Heights library branch this afternoon, in search of a place to sit and read. It turned out to be one of the last weeks the building is open before it closes for an extensive renovation. On a kid-filled sunny spring Saturday, the current building gives the impression of being a community center rather than a library, with more conversations, computers, and chaos than visible books.

I’m looking forward to the new design. The neighborhood obviously is drawn to the location, which swirls with families out walking dogs and babies.

— — — —

Things I’m currently researching…

  • Wedding venues in the Detroit area that are:
    • Non-religious
    • Interesting-looking or unusual
    • Cheap, cheap, cheap!
  • Things to do in Brighton, UK
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Cat grooming (did you know you can use baby powder to make your cat less itchy?)
  • Better WordPress plugins (I’m playing with a new Twitter sidebar)
  • Management jobs in SF for my sweetie Chuck this summer

Introducing a 7-year-old to the concept of “library”

Modern Day Prometheus or why my boyfriend is the greatest guy ever. Can you believe I get to kiss this man?

My first question was a slightly judgmental “where were his parents during all of this?”

adobe-orange-yellow.jpgI’m remembering week after week of library visits when I was a kid. We didn’t have any money, but we had all the books we wanted. My first library card was at age, what? four?

Apparently the parents were there checking out videos. Hopefully they will return.

Teenagers at the Library

Even nature sanctuary libraries have problems with unruly teenagers hanging around in the parking lot. These geese are at the awkward stage between being yellow fuzzy poofballs and tall feathery adults. As a result, they listen to emo music and wear heavy eyeliner. Someday they will grow up to be bankers. In the meantime they cause trouble and occasionally mess up cars.

The Worst Librarian Ever

It’s time to tell the story of The Worst Librarian Ever.

Once upon a time, I was a new employee at Cornell University’s Olin Library. One of my first assignments was to tour the campus libraries and get a sense of the place. As you can imagine, campus library tours are not as popular as say, bong hits at the Tri Delts. Often the tour consisted of three or four people. One ill-fated day, the Olin Library tour consisted of one person: me.

Two of the library’s head muckeymucks guided the tour. One of them, a stern grey-haired woman, will heretofore be known as the Worst Librarian Ever.

The tour proceeded, and the three of us wandered through various rooms. I feigned interest in an array of statistics. Finally we reached a popular section of the library nicknamed The Cocktail Lounge, a white 1970’s style reading room filled with comfy chairs and tables arranged for group work. Students sat reading, listening to music, and talking.

I was relieved. Here at last was a comfortable space where the real life of the library took place, away from the fluorescent back-rooms of library administration. I wondered what people were reading. A buzz of conversation filled the room.

My tour guide kept up her spiel about circulation and holdings, until The Worst Librarian Ever suddenly cut her short. “Excuse me” she said, striding away from our small group. A lone student lay across two of the comfy chairs with a book on his chest. The comfy chairs, which I suspect were chosen for the express purpose of being comfy, had put him to sleep.

The Worst Librarian Ever leaned over the student and poked him awake. I watched in horror as he woke with a start to stare into her blazing eyes. The Worst Librarian Ever, pausing for effect, raised her finger, pointed and said in a voice so terrible its echo caused students in surrounding states to drop out of Library School:

“Take your feet off that chair RIGHT NOW young man!”

I winced. The entire room winced. The student took his feet down and put on his headphones. Conversation started up again. The earth continued to turn.

Five years in the future, three of the students in the room find themselves voting down a library millage but can’t quite explain why. Ten years in the future, the young man will be arrested for soliciting a dominatrix to flog him with rubber stamps. Five minutes in the future, I place an emergency call to my friend the Excellent Cornell Librarian.

She explains that the Olin library is open 24 hours. She mentions that The Worst Librarian Ever works an average of 8 hours per day, leaving 16 hours for students to stomp around on the furniture in whatever manner they wish. She confides that in addition to damaging the reputation of librarians to a roomful of future-influential ivy leaguers by loudly eviscerating a fellow student for a trivial infraction, The Worst Librarian Ever didn’t even work in that library.

She was just, you know, helping out.

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.

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.

Primates and their tools.

Fellow library workers, let me engage you in a thought experiment.

Say you are changing the oxygen sensor in your aged vehicle with your friend Brian, and it is getting dark and has started raining and in spite of your best efforts you can’t get the old part off. As a librarian would you know enough NOT to stand in the rain and scrape your knuckles trying to remove the heat shield from your exhaust manifold?

As research professionals, I’m sure you would quickly wash your hands, search the web, and discover that the auto parts store sells a tool clearly labeled “Oxygen Sensor Socket Wrench” which will remove the old part posthaste.

At least this is what you would do if you were not me.