The library responsive design (RWD) websites presented here are the library sites from my the previous article listing higher education and library RWD sites. The screenshots (from iPhone/iPod-Touch & iPad) give an idea of how website content changes with a small screen size. You can see the same thing on a larger screen by going to the site and changing the window size to see how the page responds.

Click the library name to go the library site; click the screenshot to see it in larger size.

Grand Valley State Univ (Michigan)

Canton Public Library (Michigan)

Regent College (Vancouver, BC, Canada)

Hendrix College (Arkansas)

George Mason Univ Law College (Virginia)

Univ Iowa

The two library sites below are strongly integrated with their institutional websites, and the first screen on the iPhone is completely taken up by institutional information. So for the iPhone screenshot, I’ve added the second screen, that has library information.

Dakota State Univ (South Dakota)

Durham Univ (UK)

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Before Google, search engine builders thought that the way to organize the Internet was like an index, or, to use the term that was popular at the time, a directory — A giant list of every link on the Internet. Librarians saw a place on this wave also, as Steve Coffman wrote recently:

Remember those heady early days when we thought we were going to catalog the web? …  Almost every library felt the responsibility to stuff its website with long and often elaborately annotated lists of web resources for just about everything.

As Matthew Reidsma says, the list-making urge is still much in evidence on library websites:

Libraries love links so much that most [library websites] look like spam link farms, designed to trick Google. Every other successful website on the planet gave that up in the late ’90s, but not libraries. We librarians like to see a big list of resources because it makes us seem more relevant.

As Reidsma has discussed in other works, the problem with the prevalence of link lists on library websites is that users ignore them, and don’t find the really important things on the website … or they just go to Google.

Why do users find library lists so unappealing? Neither of the commentators quoted above, nor anyone else that I’ve seen, has written about it, but the obvious answer, I think, may be … Alphabetical Order — Invariably lists of links on library sites are alphabetical — In the days of PageRank, how boring!

The “I’m Feeling Lucky” PageRank Revolution

Before Google, the only rational way to organize a long list of links on the same subject was alphabetical order. It’s almost hard to imagine back to those days, and to realize what a revolution Google’s PageRank was. It seemed like magic that Google gave us automatic lists of links, with the best ones at the top of the list. James Gleick wrote about this recently, in a retrospective look at the Age of Google [boldface added]:

PageRank is one of those ideas that seem obvious after the fact. But the business of Internet search, young as it was, had fallen into some rigid orthodoxies. … People naturally thought of existing technologies for organizing the world’s information, and these were found in encyclopedias and dictionaries. They could see that alphabetical order was about to become less important, but they were slow to appreciate how dynamic and ungraspable their target, the Internet, really was.

With this great new invention of PageRank, people soon came to assume that any list of resources worth looking at would, of course, have the best links at the top of the list. If they encountered an alphabetical list, their eyes would glass over. So, with most long link-lists on library sites being in alphabetic order, is it any wonder that they’re not very popular with users?

So what can libraries do? As Reidsma has been saying recently, we need to look at our websites like our users do, and change them to fit users’ needs — He says from his work with users surveys that this means greatly simplifying library websites. Link lists should be short, with someone’s idea of the “best” links at the top. As I’ve learned with my work on Hardin MD, no matter how long the list of links is, only the top 2-3 will get many clicks.

The emphasis on simplifying our websites, of course, fits very well with the mobile revolution. The small screens of mobile devices beg for small, simple web pages, and trimming our lists is a great place to start.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Matthew Reidsma gave a presentation recently with the provocative title Your Library Website Stinks and it’s Your Fault [abstract]. In combination with that, he also wrote an article on the same theme, Bad Library Websites are just a Symptom. I’ll mention briefly some of the points that he made, but the main idea I want to stress here is that Reidsma has an answer to the problems he details with library websites, namely Responsive Design.

Reidsma’s predominant theme is that the way to build good websites, including library websites, is to listen to our users. Users think differently from us, so we need to spend a lot of time doing usability studies of our web pages. From usability studies at his library, Reidsma says that the overriding lesson he’s learned is that users want simple web pages — A big, fat, Google-like search box, with just a few good links.

Responsive Design

Serendipitously, about the same time I came across Reidsma’s ideas on library websites, I was reading about Responsive Web Design (RWD), a recently innovated way to make web pages so that they look good on any size screen, from smartphone to desktop. This requires that the basic page contents be fairly simple, and goes along with the “mobile first” idea that pages should be designed first for small-screen viewing.

I was becoming interested in RWD especially because our library is working on implementing it. So I was looking around to see if any other libraries were doing it, and, low and behold, the only other one I found was Reidsma’s library (actually a sub-section of it).

Interestingly (and surprisingly), Reidsma has not written anything about RWD, but he will talking about it at a work shop on it at ALA-LITA this summer. It fits in well with his ideas about library website design, and it will be interesting to see how he combines the ideas in his session in Anaheim.

Reidsma’s push for simple design on library websites goes along with the current mobile-first-RWD emphasis of modern less is more web design, that’s come with the Mobile Revolution. This is captured well in an article about designer Luke Wroblewski:

Wroblewski thinks the hard choices required to prune all but the most important features make for stronger sites. And, indeed, after they go through the mobile development process, companies often find that their desktop site looks busy, clunky and old by comparison.

What works for the dotcom companies of Wroblewski’s world can also work to the benefit of libraries. Actually, libraries have the great advantage over dotcoms that we don’t have to worry about where to put the ads squeezed out by mobile-minimalist design!

Matthew Reidsma’s Twitter – @mreidsma

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The Twitterverse has been abuzz with chatter about Steve Kolowich’s recent article, What students don’t know. This reports on a study of Illinois college libraries showing students ignorance of library resources, and their love of Google — Nothing new, but the report states the issue so clearly that it’s drawn much attention.

In reaction to this, Paige Jaeger has a good article suggesting that we in libraries should not dwell on the problems, but instead work on the solutions — Students are going to use Google — We should live with it,  and go from there:

Teach students to search Google, even if you don’t like it. …. If students are swimming in Google, we have to throw them a life preserver.

Jaeger cites articles that have specific ideas on how to leverage students’ Google proclivities to teach them about library resources. One by Paul Barron especially catches my attention — Teach students how to do the best possible job in Google, and then show them how much better they can do with library resources:

Using Google to Hook Students

Educators know that libraries provide access to more relevant information sources and that there are specialists in libraries who enjoy helping students with their research projects. The challenge is influencing the students to use the resources.

Students’ preference to begin their research with Google provides opportunities for educators to integrate the databases hosted in the school library into their research. After teaching a student to use the advanced search features in Google, educators can show how, with minimal modifications, Google’s advanced search syntaxes are similar to the features provided by the library’s proprietary databases. After teaching students to search using Google’s advanced search options, an effective leading question is to ask the student, “Would you like me to teach you a search method that saves you time, provides more relevant resources, and that will improve the quality of your research and earn you a higher grade?”

This approach works! Lori Donovan, a teacher-librarian at Thomas Dale High School from Chester, Va., noted: “I revised my lesson plan for teaching students how to search the Web and library databases. Students were frustrated using the Web; when we got to Gale and ABC-CLIO, their amazement in the difference of the quality of information was priceless. One student researching working women of the 1930s said, ‘Google is aggravating; I found much more in Student Resource Center.’”

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

As I’ve discussed previously, much of the strangeness of the PubMed Health-NLM-Google affair arises because NLM doesn’t seem to have an appreciation of search engine optimization (SEO), and the value of being ranked in Google.

Another aspect of this misunderstanding that came out during the NLM presentation at the recent MLA annual meeting, is that NLM is frustrated (!) that PubMed Health pages are getting a top ranking in Google because they consider the new resource to be in an uncompleted, “pre-alpha” state. Bafflingly, they apparently didn’t anticipate that Google would find the PMH pages until they were “ready.”

To anyone in the dotcom world, getting a high ranking in Google is invaluable — The Ultimate Goal, The End of the Rainbow. To them, the idea that NLM would not be celebrating (!) a high Google ranking would be hard to fathom.

I realize that government websites like NLM don’t have the nimbleness of dotcom sites, so they have trouble adapting to unexpected happenings. But, still, it’s interesting, I think, to ask how a dotcom site would handle the current PubMed-Google situation …

What would a dotcom do if they had a new site that was under development, not ready to be used by the public, and it suddenly and unexpectedly started getting high rankings in Google? I think if this happened a dotcom would drop everything else and get the site in a finished state as quickly as possible. And while they were working on this, they would inform users about their progress in getting it finished.

NLM’s response to getting a top Google ranking has been very different — From all appearances, they have done nothing different at all because of the high ranking. They are working at a slow pace to implement the new site, on some pages, but they have done nothing to inform users about their progress, and when implementation will be completed.

Beyond NLM – Building Library Discoverability with Google & SEO

My point here is not to be hypercritical of NLM. It’s rather to use NLM as an example of a more general problem in libraries. As I’ve discussed before, I think libraries should be more aware of the effect of SEO and Google on how our users find our sites.

What’s unfortunate about NLM’s reaction to Google’s ranking of PMH is that it almost appears as if they really don’t care whether users find their PMH pages or not — The pages are certainly going to be found and used more if they get a high ranking in Google, so NLM should rejoice, instead of grousing about Google finding them.

So I say the same thing to libraries in general that I say to NLM — We have good stuff! Let’s help our users find it! Taking advantage of Google and the principles of SEO to help us do this doesn’t mean we’re “in it for the money” — It just means we want to make our resources more discoverable for our users!

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I participate in several Twitter communities, which sometimes overlap in surprising and interesting ways. A case of this happened recently, when I did a tweet in preparation for the Medical Library Association annual meeting next week, which is having a special emphasis on Twitter this year — I tweeted about a blog article I wrote last Fall that I thought might be of interest to MLA attenders — Academic Health Sciences Libraries on Twitter & Facebook.

The tweet was retweeted two times, by long-time Twitter co-followers who have no apparent connection to the medical library community — Michael Cairns (@Personanondata), who’s in publishing, and Yael K. Miller (@MillerMosaicLLC), who’s in social media marketing. As far as I could tell from Twitter search and Google Realtime search, my tweet was not retweeted by anyone in the medical library community.

The point of this little case study is — Don’t have tunnel vision in tweeting — You can never tell who might be interested in what you have to say! Write tweets with the idea in mind that they may be of interest to the general Twitterverse. A few more ideas on being open to the world:

  • When space allows, write tweets in a way that doesn’t restrict their interest to non-library people.
  • Avoid using language that won’t be understood by the general Twitterverse.
  • If someone is interested enough in your tweet to retweet it, reciprocate the interest — Look at their tweets and consider retweeting them.

Medical Librarians (and other librarians too) have some great ideas — Don’t be afraid to share them with the world!

Here’s the text of my tweet:

Academic Health Sciences Libraries on Twitter & Facebook #mlanet11 #Medical – http://bit.ly/hqe1GJ

And here’s the retweet by @MillerMosaicLLC (the retweet by @Personanondata isn’t linkable because he used Twitter’s retweet function).

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Yesterday’s Reuters headline below, with projected tablet sales through 2015, makes a good compliment to a graphic in an article I wrote last year, which also targets 2015 — Saying that’s about when mobile devices (including tablets) will overtake desktops. So I’m mostly just juxtaposing these two graphics below, followed by mention of a library connection. First, the Reuters headline:

… And the graphic from my earlier article on libraries and mobile:

The Library Connection

From my Twitter watching, there seems to be relatively little discussion of the iPad in library circles, compared to other fields. With the exploding use of them, we in libraries need to pick up the ball!

Text from Reuters article:

Tablet market seen surging to $49 billion by 2015 – The global tablet computer market, born last year with Apple’s iPad, will grow to a $49-billion business by 2015, research firm Strategy Analytics said.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I wrote recently on the kinship of Google and libraries. I got the idea for that especially from a long portrait of Google co-founder and new CEO Larry Page, which brings out several qualities of Google and Page that I think show commonality with libraries and librarians. In that portrait, Farhad Manjoo contrasts the Google/Page style with the Apple/Steve-Jobs style, and says it’s unlikely that Google will “tap its inner Apple” under Page’s leadership. …

That term “Tap its inner Apple” kept bouncing around in my mind — Larry Page may not help Google find its Inner Apple, I think, but how about adding another twist? — Combining the idea of Google-Librarian temperamental connections, from my previous article, with Google Books, which resonates strongly with librarianship, and was actually conceived by Page — How about Larry Page as Google’s Inner Librarian? …

At first this idea of Larry Page as Google’s “inner librarian” seemed almost too playful to suggest. It was only when I was able to substantiate Page’s central role in creating Google Books and his conception of it in library terms that the idea seemed more credible. The general idea of his involvement in the early years of the project is commonly mentioned, but Google co-founder Sergey Brin is the one who’s gotten more attention talking about it. So it took some digging to find details of Page’s role in the creation of Google Books, which did turn up some bits of solid evidence, discussed below.

The first is the story of Page telling Google CEO Eric Schmidt about his idea for Google Books. This is from Ken Auletta’s book on Google, ironically enough, right from Google Books — Surprisingly, as interesting as the story is, especially from a library point-of-view, googling the quote turns up only a handful of fairly obscure places where it’s cited. The telling here is notable for Page’s strong emphasis of the project’s library-librarian connections:

[boldface added] Schmidt remembers the day in 2002 he walked into Page’s office and Page surprised him by showing off a book scanner he had built. It had been inspired by the great library of Alexandria … “‘We’re going to scan all the books in the world,” Page said. For search to be truly comprehensive, he explained, it must include every book ever published. He wanted Google to “understand everything in the world and give it back to you.” Sort of “a super librarian,’” he said.

The second telling of the story is also little-cited, probably because it’s buried in the middle of a recent multi-paged Wired article. Written by master tech storyteller Steven Levy, it’s notable for the clear statement that the project was Page’s idea:

[boldface added] It was Page who dreamed of digitizing the world’s books. Many assumed the task was impossible, but Page refused to accept that. It might be expensive, but of course it was possible. To figure out just how much time it would take, Page and Marissa Mayer jury-rigged a book scanner in his office, coordinating Mayer’s page-turning to a metronome. Then he filled up spreadsheets with calculations … Eventually, he became convinced that the costs and timing were reasonable. What astounded him was that even his spreadsheets didn’t dissolve the skepticism of those with whom he shared his scheme. “I’d run through the numbers with people and they wouldn’t believe them,’” he later said. “So eventually I just did it.” Page was disappointed when critics … launched a series of legal challenges … “Do you really want the whole world not to have access to human knowledge as contained in books?” Page asks. “You’ve just got to think about that from a societal point of view.”

It’s ironic that Page is taking over as Google CEO just after the rejection of the Google Books Settlement. But I suspect the Google Books project will be seen by librarians of the future as a necessary first step in the evolution of a universal digital library — An idea that might still seem impossible if it hadn’t been for Google. In fact, this process of looking back on Google Books as “history” has already started — Harvard Library director (and historian) Robert Darnton, writing in a NY Times op-ed soon after the Settlement rejection, proposes the creation of A Digital Library better than Google’s. He concludes his piece by giving credit to Google for getting the idea started:

Through technological wizardry and sheer audacity, Google has shown how we can transform the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves. But only a digital public library will provide readers with what they require to face the challenges of the 21st century.

And it might not have happened if Larry Page hadn’t had the audacious dream of digitizing the world’s books and scanned the first one in his office with Marissa Mayer.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

When I wrote last Fall about iPad interest in different areas, libraries were far behind, and they still are, as shown in the chart at left. The blue columns are from Sept and red columns are from now, March 2011. The red numbers above the red columns are for March; for Sept numbers see the previous article.

The notable jump for “medical” in the chart since Sept is not surprising to anyone who has been following news and commentary — The iPad is proving to be very popular for doctors, hospitals and medical education.

The decline for “magazines” and “newspapers” is also not surprising — The highly-anticipated iPad boost for those media has not happened, and interest has sagged.

Whither libraries? — As I said in the Sept article, it continues to be surprising that libraries have not caught the iPad interest, since books and eBooks are so popular. With the great iPad interest in medicine, maybe medical libraries are just the ones to lead the pack in generating iPad interest in the library world.

The new data (red columns) is the average of counts done in Twitter searches on Feb 25 and March 31. The launch of the iPad 2 on March 2 had a notable effect on the these counts — The number of tweets was significantly higher on March 31 for most areas, except “libraries” and “newspapers,” for which it actually declined.

For more on methods used in this informal study, see the previous article.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In recent interviews about his new book The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry), I’ve been struck by Siva Vaidhyanathan’s deep ambivalence about Google — How profoundly he realizes, even with all his doubts about its motives, how much Google has become indispensable, for himself, for the world, and for librarians. I discussed this in a previous article, based on an interview with Vaidhyanathan in Publishers Weekly.

I recently came across another interview of Vaidhyanathan in Inside Higher Ed, where his conflicted Google-sense comes out maybe even more.  In the introduction, the author/interviewer, Steve Kolowich, I think does a good job of catching this sense:

As is often the case with cousins, the genetic differences between higher education and Google are more striking than their similarities. Beneath the interdependence and shared hereditary traits, tensions creep.

So, yes, the emphasis here is on “genetic differences” and “tensions.” But note the underlying context of these differences and tensions — That Google and academia are interdependent and closely related (“cousins” with “shared hereditary traits”). I want to repeat that the quote is not directly from Vaidhyanathan. But, as I said, I think it’s a good representation of his mixed views that come out in the interview.

Taking off from the idea of Google and academia being in a “cousin relationship,” in this article I’ll transfer the “cousin” idea from academia in general, more specifically to libraries. There are several things that bring this idea to mind — For one thing, Vaidhyanathan in the interview does make one notable mention of a library-Google connection, suggesting that colleges should consider hiring a librarian to be “Chief Google Officer,” to help faculty keep up with the stream of new Google tools. I’ll discuss a couple of other Google-Library connections in the conclusion, but the immediate thing that brought the idea to mind was reading an article on Larry Page, who will become the Google CEO on April 4, just after reading the Vaidhyanathan Inside Higher Ed interview.

7 Ways Larry Page is defining Google’s future, by Farhad Manjoo, is a long and penetrating portrait. As the title says, it does indeed center on Page. But with him being a Google co-founder, observations about the man and the company naturally intertwine. When I came across this article soon after reading the Vaidhyanathan Inside Higher Ed interview, the affinity between Google and libraries seemed natural.

The article is worth a read for many insightful passages, but here I’ll be looking at the parts of it that especially suggest to me the Google-Librarian relationship, mostly in a section called “Talk is Cheap” — The Google character discussed here, that I think fits librarians well also, is an understated modesty — Feeling uncomfortable shouting to the admiring bog about how great they (we) are:

Persuasion offends Google’s — and Page’s — meritocratic beliefs. The company became the biggest search engine in the world because it built a better product, not because it created better TV ads than Yahoo.

Google’s attitude (and librarians’ I think) is “We’ve got the good stuff, so why do we need to advertise it”:

Google’s build-it-and-they-will-come naïveté seems almost cute in the age of Apple. Many of Google’s advances go unnoticed by the public because nobody hears about them.

(An interesting aside in this quote is that Vaidhyanathan, in the Inside Higher Ed interview above suggests, as mentioned above, that librarians might be just the ones to help Google’s advances get noticed on college campuses.)

Manjoo mentions that Google PageRank is named for Larry Page, which brings up another little Page-Google-Library connection — As I’ve blogged before, PageRank has its origins in the mind of librarian Eugene Garfield, dubbed “Grandfather of Google” in my article — So, if Google’s grandfather is a librarian, doesn’t that make all of us librarians at least cousins? ;-)

On a personal level, Manjoo’s description of Page sounds like the stereotypical librarian: “reserved, unabashedly geeky, and said to be introverted.” He contrasts Page’s Google with Apple and Steve Jobs (who would certainly never be mistaken for a librarian), suggesting that the Page style may be a good fit:

With its new CEO an introvert, perhaps Google will never tap its inner Apple. But maybe, in the bigger picture, that’s a trade-off worth making. According to some surprising forthcoming research … introverts can be more successful leaders – particularly in dynamic, uncertain, and fast-changing environments like the tech industry.

The comments here on Google and Apple segue into another Google-Library commonality that I see, which is that they both stand on the side of the Open Web — Google certainly differs from libraries in being a commercial company that needs to make money. But for its basic function — Search — to work, it depends upon the Web being an open, free environment, as libraries strive to be for their users. Apple (and Facebook), on the other hand, occupies a more closed, “walled garden” environment, with tightly controlled access to information. So, for the good of the open model of the Web and libraries, it will be a good thing if Google under Larry Page does indeed not “tap its inner Apple.”

In conclusion, circling back to an apt Google-Library remark by Vaidhyanathan — In the “many-virtues-of-Google” part of the Inside Higher Ed interview above, he says “Google made the Web usable” — A user-friendly place where people can actually find what they’re looking for — Just like libraries do for their users.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey