Friday, August 26, 2011

My Ideal Library

A thought experiment. Few people would really want to use this library, I imagine.
  • No printing allowed. Saves librarians hundreds of hours troubleshooting printers (I worked at a library where that was the primary use of reference desk hours), saves the networking gurus innumerable headaches, forces patrons into more reasonable and organized modes of storage (to the clouds!), environmentally-friendly. I hate printers.
  • Only open access e-resources. No proprietary vendor databases, let's see if we can make a legitimate research collection out of DOAJ, Bielefeld, PLoS, arXiv, et al. There are tons of resources out there for free, but can faculty live with that limitation?
  • Hours suited to patrons and not employees. I have this hunch—and I can't confirm it because I don't have access to everyone's circulation, reference, and traffic stats—that being closed on the weekends is more motivated by staff's desire for time off than actual usage at many libraries. Not my commuter college, as it so happens, but at many others. My local public library is closed on Sunday, when few people works, but open at 10am on a Tuesday, when most people are at their jobs. That does not make sense to me.
  • Computer & Internet literacy is taken seriously as a subset of information literacy. Too many librarians complain about teaching students to use a word processor or browser. These things are vital now! This is perhaps the element closest to realization in most libraries: many public libraries already provide computer training. Internet literacy (avoiding phishing, the best services to use, how to modify your browser) is still pretty under-taught.
  • The website would more closely resemble Google's home page than Libraries fulfill lots of roles and it's tough deciding what content deserves space on the home page. But tough choices need to be made because currently we're flooding our users with links, obscuring the useful ones amidst piles of drivel. Tabbed interfaces and aggressive use of analytics to pare down rarely used links are called for.
So am I just a curmudgeon? Or do any of these actually make sense?


I can't believe I left this off the list: only open source software on the public computers. We can run Ubuntu with Firefox, Chromium, Libre Office, GIMP, Inkscape, etc. installed. There is practically nothing that cannot be done with free software these days (certainly nothing that MS Office can do) and little reason to force our patrons into Microsoft dependency. MS dominates sheerly by default; the minute a professor accepts .odt for an assignment and tells people that there's a free alternative, the advantage is gone. What's more, with the rise of web apps, everything can be done online in an OS-agnostic environment anyways.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Painful Procedures

I love First Monday. Along with Code4Lib, it is probably my favorite open access—nay, favorite journal, period. But it also epitomizes one thing that's wrong with the web today: almost everything is unreadable. This post is going to piggyback off my How I Read post about Readability and InstaPaper, which really shouldn't be necessary services but totally are.
In First Monday's instance, here is the process I go through every time I encounter an article I'd like to read in full:
  1. Navigate to the article. In an ideal world, this would be the only step.
  2. The goal is to get this article into InstaPaper, where font size will be increased and dynamic so I can read it on my iPod Touch. But InstaPaper cannot handle frames so I can't work with the typical HTML article. I click "Print version" over in the right-hand column of Open Journal Systems.
  3. Cancel the unwanted print dialog that pops up. Now, normally I would click my InstaPaper bookmarklet and be done, but because this is one of those weird functionless pop-ups my bookmark bar is nowhere to be seen.
  4. Copy the URL, paste into the main browser window.
  5. Cancel the second unwanted print dialog that pops up.
  6. Click the InstaPaper bookmarklet. Now I'm ready to read.
Now, this isn't entirely First Monday's fault, and I don't want to blame Open Journal Systems either. OJS is a great and has aided the spread of open access greatly. But they should know better than to expect people to read their lengthy articles in only one place. No one—well maybe not no one, but very few people read entire articles in one place. PDF would be a substitute except PDFs suck - the have a fixed width so if you have a small screen, like my iPod, you have to zoom in and scroll horizontally to read each line. They're also super annoying for people who don't use Chrome, with it's built-in PDF reader, or who use Windows and thus are forced to download Adobe Reader.
It's a frustrating situation and really very few websites are readable as is. Part of the reason I picked Blogger over Wordpress or another service is that I have more control over page width, font size, and mobile display. But that's a topic for another post.
For a related and better treatment, check out Orbital Content over on A List Apart. Cameron Koczon explores InstaPaper, Readability, and what happens in general when content is freed from its context and starts to revolve around its consumers, not its original site. I think this is a trend that will only continue to increase as more social sites, types of aggregators, and great cross-platform services show up.