Building on the phenomenal popularity of the iPad, David Rothman recently proposed in a guest article in TheAtlantic what he calls a National Information Stimulus Plan (Here’s the whole long article & Rothman’s shorter summary) — Using tax breaks to encourage citizens to buy iPads to build up peoples’ skills at using information tools. Of course, the iPad part of Rothman’s idea has gotten most of the attention. But he also focuses a lot on libraries and healthcare, two of the themes of this blog. So I’m excerpting some of his comments on those subjects below.

With the iPad being so popular for reading books, Rothman broadens his appeal for the stimulus plan to the idea of a national digital library:

Might iPad-style technology in fact be a godsend for millions of schoolchildren with obsolete textbooks? And could e-books benefit the elderly, the disabled, and other library users, too, including U.S. workers eager to upgrade job skills? If nothing else, the iPad and similar machines could drive down library costs per book. That could help keep reading alive in places like Hood River County, Oregon, where the 98-year-old library system plans to close for financial reasons –just one of many cash-strapped U.S. libraries.

Along the way, as the technology’s price declined, the mass automation potential of the tablets could justify the cost of a national digital library system. Such potential might count even more than the library initiative itself. Call it a national information stimulus plan or NISP. The stimulus would be in the form of more and better information, as well as greater efficiencies in both the public and private sectors.

Neighborhood libraries serve as community gathering places and for many other reasons are preferable to digital collections alone. But a national digital library system able to serve library-bereft neighborhoods–and places like Hood River County–would be better than no library service at all. Local librarians could still help choose books to be offered.

Taking off from his own recent experience as a patient, he argues that the information stimulus plan could benefit the nation’s healthcare system:

But how to cost-justify a well-stocked national digital library system? Multibillion-dollar savings and other benefits could result from iPad-style technology in a number of ways, beyond the library world, if the United States had a better information strategy. Simpler e-commerce and tax forms–at local, state and national levels–are just a start. Healthcare is the real paper dragon to slay, and the Americans might even live longer if we acted. The National Institutes of Health and other leading institutions could more effectively distribute medical information to doctors and patients alike, and the sick could use the same machines to monitor treatments and juggle around pills, not just track the financial details.

Let’s look, close up, at the paper dragon. When a Northern Virginia man suffered a heart attack in September 2008, this AARP member felt as if the healthcare industry had bullied him into becoming an accountant–caught as he was between the hospital, the doctors and the insurance company.  … I know first-hand of the horrors here. You see, I’m the cardiac patient from Northern Virginia, and remember mine is a best-case scenario or at least somewhat close to it. The hospital itself was theoretically within the insurance company’s network for almost full coverage. But oh, the loopholes!

So why not use iPad-type machines and easy-to-use software closely tied in with the devices? Then, for example, I could instantly show why an insurance company rejected problematic items that the doctors’ offices or hospitals were now trying to get me to pay for.

Forget about just paper-based information or facts from separate corporate Web sites with password hassles and other joys. Give me instead a simple iPad-style application or a centralized Web-based “dashboard” or maybe a choice, so I can more easily try to reconcile information from different sources … Case by case, let patients themselves play more of a role in policing our health system … The same dashboard could also help me retrieve drug information–I gulp down five pills a day, a small number compared to some patients’–and alert me to relevant medical news. …

And he extends the “iPad Stimulus” beyond healthcare:

Healthcare is just one example of how a coherent and comprehensive strategy for iPad-style machines and others could empower individual Americans in new ways and improve life in areas besides literacy, education, and training. Furthermore, the right information policy could help build a constituency for the library initiative far beyond teachers, librarians, and book-lovers.

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

When I saw Sarah Kessler’s recent Mashable article Five Things the Library of Congress is Archiving Online, it struck me as being a disconnect — Mashable talking about libraries?! — Mashable is one of the largest blogs on the Web, covering especially social media and tech subjects. I watch it fairly regularly, enough to know that they rarely mention anything having to do faintly with libraries.

When I looked at the Mashable/LC article I wasn’t surprised to see that the first on Kessler’s list of five things archived* at LC is Twitter feeds–all of them. The surprising announcement of the LC Twitter archiving certainly did get unprecedented attention for the Library of Congress when it was announced in April. Many eyeballs that normally don’t pay any attention to libraries sat up and took notice — Mashable did, and it looks like they’re continuing to pay attention. Great! …

I’d suggest that we in the library world watch closely how the world’s view of libraries may be changing to our benefit with the LC-Twitter alliance. When I first came across the Kessler article on Twitter, a few days after it was written, it had, of course, been heavily retweeted. But I was surprised that few of the RT’s were by people I recognized in the library Twitterverse. And of the few library Twitterites who did pick it up, almost none of them mentioned that it was in Mashable — Missing the element of Context, I’d say! Context is a critical on Twitter — It’s not just WHAT is being said on Twitter, but how it’s connected in the Twittersphere — WHO is saying it and WHO IS READING IT — Exactly the sorts of things that future historians will be able to study on the LC Twitter archive!

So, Librarians — Get on Twitter and learn how to use it! The eyes of the world are watching!

*The other four things mentioned as being archived at LC (none of which would have drawn the attention of Mashable without the Twitter archive, I’d guess): election websites, a few Facebook pages, historical events, and news sites.

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

When Google first came out its ability to find thousands of links and to put the best of them at the top of the list was considered downright spooky, in the words of one doctor. We’d never had anything like that — Before Google, the choice was a human-generated list — either a relatively short list of subjective “best links” or a long, boring alphabetical/classified list — or, even worse, a search-engine list, that often seemed to be totally random.

And then there were Tor Ahlenius’ elegant lists of Diseases and Disorders at the Karolinska Institute Library in Sweden. Tor had  the uncanny ability to make relatively lengthy lists with the best  links at the top. There  was never any indication about the criteria used to choose the “best,” but it was clear that the  top links  were, in some sense, “high quality.” Often, these were links that I had come across on other peoples’ link lists, but sometimes there would be gems that I had never seen linked anywhere else.

When Google revolutionized searching with its PageRank technology, I had the uncanny feeling that I had gotten a pre-taste of Google in Tor’s lists — His simple, understated lists were just like Google’s — “Give me all the sites on the subject, and put the best ones at the top.” And, of course, it was all out of his head. Tor’s pages resonated with Google not only in the quality of their links but also in their simple design — just the links on a spare white page.

Another part of the appeal of Tor’s link lists for me was that he tended to put sites with good pictures toward the top. Although I’ve never seen this written about, I think Google has a similar tendency. And, as I’ve learned from Hardin MD stats, pictures are indeed popular.

At the recent Medical Library Association annual meeting in Washington DC, I learned from Tor’s friend Arne Jakobsson, who was attending from Norway, the sad news that Tor died in early May, after having retired a few years ago.

Tor had the mind of a scientist – He had a PhD in Quantum Chemistry and had done computer programming earlier in his career. As someone has said, if there were enough really smart people, computers wouldn’t be necessary — People could do it all. Of course that’s not possible in the real world. But Tor was a shining example of how its not so unimaginable. In the height of his list-keeping, I’d take the lists generated by his brain over Google anytime.

Tor’s lists are still available — I suspect he continued to work on them until the end.

Thank you to Tor’s family and Ylva Gavel at the Karolinska library for the picture of Tor.

Tor was part of the inspiration for a series of articles I wrote soon after his passing, on the superior Web work of people around the world:

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

In a previous article, I cited librarian Michelle Kraft’s article, Stop the App Madness, in which she cautioned librarians against the temptation to create mobile-device apps for library sources — As she said, libraries just don’t have the staff or resources to go down that road. I thought about Michelle’s good advice as I wrote in the just-published article iPad App Fatigue & “The Boring Old Web”. As I write there, people are finding that the Safari browser is so good on the iPad that it’s not necessary to create separate apps. And that’s good news for libraries. It means we can focus attention on our websites instead of diverting attention to make separate apps for the iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices.

Because the iPad may not need separate apps for optimal use doesn’t mean that we can go on making web pages just like always — In the long term, I think the significance of the iPad will be that it has broadened the use of the multitouch interface, that first came into common usage on the iPhone and iPod Touch. With the iPad, it comes closer to being used on laptops and desktops. Dan Frakes has a good description of importance of multitouch:

As those who’ve used Safari on an iPhone or iPod touch can attest, there’s something deeply intuitive about touchscreen browsing: tapping links and buttons with your fingertip, sliding your finger up and down the screen to scroll, pinching or tapping to zoom…it just feels so much more natural than using a mouse or a trackpad to interact indirectly with a Web page

For us in libraries, then, I think we need to be learning to use the multitouch interface, so that we can optimize our websites to make them touch-friendly. And, of course, we’re not alone in this — Everyone else is recognizing that we’re on the verge of the touch revolution, so we’ll have plenty of help.

I’m not suggesting that librarians go out and buy an iPad right now. But I would suggest, as I have before, that librarians consider getting an iPod Touch — It’s a good, economical, way to learn to use a mobile interface, and it’s also a good introduction to the multitouch interface. And with the lavish media attention that the iPad has gotten, I suspect that the demand for iTouch may weaken, and it might be just the time to find a bargain!

Related articles:

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

I’ve been following discussions in two different worlds this week. The first of these is based on an article by Brian Mathews, in which he discusses the effect of mobile cloud computing on libraries. His ideas especially drew attention when the Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog pulled ideas from Mathews’ speculations in an article with the provocative title If Libraries Remove Computers, Will Anyone Come? This was such a good title ;-) that the LISNews blog also ran a follow-up article with the same title. My thoughts on the discussion are well-summarized in the title of my comments on the LISNews article – Removing Computers is Moot: Mobile, Cloud & iPad are Coming! My point (and I think Mathews’ point) is that mobile cloud computing is coming, and when it does, there will be little need to have computers in libraries because students won’t be using them.

The other discussion I’ve been following is based on a talk given by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley (AKA “Queen of the Internet”) — Mobile Internet Will Soon Overtake Fixed Internet. Her talk was much-discussed and her slide below was much shared on blogs — It’s relevance to the Libraries Removing Computers discussion is apparent — Mobile is going to overtake Desktop by 2014. What will libraries be like by then?

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

In a presentation at the recent Emerging Technologies in Academic Libraries (#emtacl10) conference in Norway, Ida Aalen challenged librarians with her talk I’ve got Google, why do I need you? – A student’s expectations of academic libraries (SlideShare | PDF). Aalen is a media & communications graduate student at the Norwegian University of Sci&Tech, the site of the conference. Several of her slides were good, but the one I liked most is the one at left “I gave up this …,” a screenshot of an overly complicated library catalog interface that she contrasts with Google.

Aalen’s slide especially caught my attention because it resonates so strongly with my recent article and graphic that makes the same contrast between the simple interfaces of Apple and Google and the busy interfaces of library catalogs.

Seeing the similarity of Aalen’s ideas and my article, I’ve changed the second slide in the sequence at left, to highlight the contrast between the simple Google interface and complicated library interfaces. The top part of the graphic (I gave up this) is pretty much the same as Aalen’s. But in the slide following (For Google), she had an advanced Google Scholar search screen. I think substituting the simple Google search home screen as I’ve done captures the spirit of her presentation (and certainly its title!).

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

Holly Hibner’s tweet about John Blyberg‘s talk at the recent Computers in Libraries (#CIL2010) was one of the mostly highly retweeted posts of the conference. Blyberg’s metaphor captures the thought that I’ve had swimming around in my head for long — What’s the use of making an elegant, user-friendly library web site when the centerpiece of the whole library info-ecosystem — the catalog — is hopelessly difficult to navigate? I blogged about this in October when I found a great graphic (part of which is below left) that points to the striking contrast between the simple, inviting user interfaces of dotcoms like Google and Apple, and the much more complicated interfaces of libraries.

With the small screen of mobile devices the trimmed-down, mobilized library website makes the old, non-mobilized library catalog seem even more ghetto-like, using Blyberg’s phrase, so that it’s questionable to even link to the catalog from the mobile library site. With the constraints of mobile design, we have no choice but to take up the opportunity and simplify. Several libraries have now mobilized their catalogs, among them the clean, simple design from UNC below. Scroll down for links to a series of articles I’ve written on mobile design and libraries.

Flickr set has graphic above & the full version in other article, that shows the context of the library catalog caricature.

Articles on mobile design and libraries:

Holly Hibner’s tweet:

hhibner: Your web site is great, but when people click on the catalog link, “Boom! They’re in the ghetto!” John Blyberg #cil2010

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

Here’s a quick on-the-fly way to optimize Safari web browser pages that are not created with mobile optimization in mind — A quick “tap-tap” with a finger on a column of text (often the middle of three columns) will zoom the text in that column to fit the iPhone screen. This is especially useful on news and blog sites, as in the first example below. In the library realm, it works nicely on LibGuides pages, in the second example. It works in landscape as well as portrait view, and with pictures, as shown in the third example (Hardin MD) below.

The first example is from the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Dermatology LibGuide page from Hardin Library, University of Iowa:

A page from the Hardin MD Gallery, showing the utility of double-tapping for pictures. Note that the size of the picture decreases to fit on the screen, instead of expanding, as in the text columns in the previous examples.

A good 1-min video demo of double-tapping at Todd Ogasawara’s MobileViews blog is here.

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

In December 2006, Luke Wroblewski blogged a good discussion about The Complexity of Simplicity in user-interface design. Interestingly (in light of his recent articles discussed below), in the 2006 article he doesn’t mention MOBILE design. What makes this especially interesting is that the iPhone, with its game-changing elegant mobile interface, exploded on the scene just a month after Wroblewski’s article, in Jan, 2007. So … Jump forward to an excerpt from Wroblewski’s Nov 2009 article Mobile First, in which he first proposed the idea that all web pages should be designed first for a small screen, before considering their appearance on a large screen:

Mobile forces you to focus – Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn’t room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize. So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today’s desktop-accessed Web sites.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

The link in the quote above goes to Wroblewski’s Aug 2009 article Mobile App User Experience, which has the image at left, a great “picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words” view of the words in the quote — Cut the crap and give the user the important part, what they’re looking for! Taken together, I think, the quote and the picture tell the story of what’s been happening in the world of interface design since the introduction of the iPhone –Though I’m sure this is something of an oversimplification, I think that the simple user interface that seemed so hard to attain on a large screen has now become easier with the forced constraint of the small screen.

Wroblewski’s ideas resonate with what I’ve been writing about simple mobile design for library sites. Although he’s not talking specifically about libraries, his ideas are certainly right on-target for us in libraries. The AP News example he chooses for the picture especially catches my attention, as I’ve been watching news sites to see how they’re adjusting to the mobile upheaval — I think they carry lessons for libraries, as we go through the same thing.

Note in the picture here that we in libraries have an advantage over news sources and other dotcom sites — We don’t have the extra baggage of advertising — This in itself would seem to make mobile friendly design a Great Opportunity for Libraries. The obstacle for libraries seems to be the longstanding culture of overly complicated design for our resources, especially OPACs. The good news here is that with mobile design there really is no alternative to simple design — As Wroblewski says, the size of the screen just doesn’t allow extra fluff. The constraints of mobile design, I think, level the field — This makes it easier for us in libraries to create sites as simple and easy to use as the big dotcoms. As I’ve written, there are encouraging signs that we’re doing this.

Less is more …

I better wrap this article up — It’s turning into a classic case of controlled serendipity … Just as I thought I was about finished, the “less is more” thought came into my mind, as a pithy epigram of mobile user design. Alas, I Googled, and found this, another striking quote, from Darja Isaksson (www.inuse.se), maybe I’ll expand more later, but for now, a good way to end:

So … Does the iPhone live up to its hype? [article title] … boldface added by me …
The results? Stunning. The iPhone has introduced a new interaction paradigm to the world, in an uncompromising way that proves that “less is more” when it comes to true user experience.

Related articles:

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

Sarah Houghton-Jan reports in an article a few days ago that a new PEW report shows the growing tendency of people to get news from the Web. She suggests that librarians should jump on this, and offer our skills in filtering, teaching finding-skills, and creating tutorials. I like Sarah’s idea, and take it a step further — As Sarah mentions, one of the findings of the PEW report is that mobile devices are providing a growing portion of online news, so I suggest that an area of news curation that especially needs librarians’ skills is mobile news — I’ve been watching for news sources that have mobile apps or mobile-friendly sites, and I find that they vary a lot in coverage and quality — They’re in great need of the curatorial skills of librarians!

Sites that I like (with screenshots below) are: New York TimesAP-News, The Guardian, The (London) Times, and Reuters. I especially look for good pictures. The best of the sites listed here for pictures is AP-News — Note that the bottom left screenshot below is a report of the recent earthquake in Chile, with an AP-News gallery.

For news-related pictures, I’ve found that the best sites are not traditional news sites, like the ones listed here, but other, blog-like sites — As I discussed in an earlier article on Haiti earthquake coverage, great pictures for that (and for the Chile earthquake as well as other news subjects) are at The Big Picture/Boston.com and the Hyderabad News WordPress site.

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