As I’ve been thinking about TED and storytelling recently, I got a couple of serendipitous nudges yesterday that put librarians into that mix. First, I got a comment from Roy Kenagy on my Controlled Serendipity & Storytelling article, in which he talked of his long experience in public libraries, and his idea that stories and serendipity are a good metaphor for what goes on in public libraries:

I’ve been following your controlled serendipity thread attentively, and I’m much taken with the way you’re now weaving story into the flow. One of the themes that I’ve been exploring over the past few years is that of the public library as fundamentally a “story” resource (and a democratic story itself) rather than an “information” resource – and the further thought that the public library’s primary “information” function is not directed search, but serendipitous browsing. All of this based not on theory but on my 33-year experience of what actually happens in public libraries.

Then a bit later I came across a tweet and web page about TEDx Librarians — A TED spinoff by and for Librarians, which is planned to have its first conference in Ontario in Summer 2010. So of course, it occurs … how about having someone talk about Roy’s idea of “The Storytelling Model of the Public Library”? What do you think, Roy? …

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

The mobile version of MedlinePlus that was released by the National Library of Medicine last week is an elegant example of what I’ve been talking about in recents posts on libraries making their sites mobile-friendly. Mobile is a great opportunity for libraries because the overriding consideration in creating a mobile-friendly site is SIMPLE Design — Eliminate everything but the bare essentials of the information being communicated — I think NLM has done an excellent job of this with Mobile MedlinePlus. What I especially like is the efficient use of screen space, as shown in the screenshots below — In going from portrait to landscape view, the text and picture grow larger to fit the screen (and the transition between views is very smooth, which can only be appreciated using a real device). … Simple mobile-friendly design like this comes naturally, I think, to librarians. So what are we waiting for?

Malaria – Top with Picture

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Malaria – Text

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Fifth Disease – Top with Picture

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Fifth Disease – Text

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Piercing & Tattoos -  Top with Picture

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

In Michelle Kraft‘s article yesterday, Stop the App Madness, she says librarians should resist the temptation to jump on the “App bandwagon.” We don’t have the resources to create apps for all mobile platforms, she says. Good point, especially in medical libraries, where iPhone, Blackberry, and Palm are all used. But note that Michelle is NOT saying that we should resist the trend to mobile. On the contrary — Here are her words:

The most effective way to reach ALL of your mobile users is to create a mobile friendly website.  If your website is mobile friendly then you don’t have to worry how many of your users have iPhones, Blackberrys, Androids, Pixis, or whatever the next trendy sparkly new device, THEY ALL CAN USE YOUR CONTENT if your website is mobile friendly. Creating a mobile friendly website is the biggest bang for your buck [boldface by me].  It doesn’t require as much programming knowledge as an app and you are able to target way more people more effectively rather than constantly creating different apps.

I’m getting the feeling I’m on a roll … Two days ago in my article One iPod Touch per Librarian (OITPL), I suggest that libraries need to become more involved in the world of mobile devices. Early yesterday, I found one article that I thought related closely to this idea, and wrote about it. And then a few hours later, I discovered Michelle’s Biggest Bang article that also resonates with my OITPL article. …

I think Michelle is right on target — The world is going mobile, and we need to learn how to serve it. As I say in the OITPL article, we should see this as a great opportunity to help the world to discover the best way to design information on a small device, and in the process, win over the next generation of potential library users. (Note that, although I suggest in the previous article that libraries consider providing each staff member with an iPod Touch, I’m open to considering other devices if/when they become as practical as the iTouch — The underlying point is that we need to get mobile devices.

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

Yesterday, Dan D’Agostino published The strange case of academic libraries and e-books nobody reads. He questions the investment by academic libraries in eBook packages from publishers that can be read only on computer screens. This is unwise, he says, because studies show that people much prefer to read eBooks on eReaders and smart mobile devices (especially iPhones). I’m including a sizable excerpt because it’s so well-written and because it’s close to the bottom of the lengthy article, and might be missed by many readers:

Just as studies were beginning to show that readers will not read extended pieces of text on computer screens and would use these e-book collections simply for searching, not reading, the Kindle and the iPhone arrived. These devices have shown that dedicated e-readers and smart phones are e-book platforms par excellence; they make e-books work. But unfortunately for academic libraries they don’t work with the huge e-book collections they’ve amassed in HTML and PDF (at least not very well). The result being that as the ownership of e-readers and mobiles begins to increase across campuses, the library’s e-book collection is in danger of becoming a very expensive white elephant, underused at best and perhaps already obsolete.

Dan’s article especially caught my attention because two days ago in my article One iPod Touch per Librarian (OITPL), I suggest that libraries would do well to become more involved in the exploding world of reading on mobile devices. I see Dan’s article as a good example of this — In order for us to put pressure on publishers to provide eBooks on mobile platforms, as Dan suggests, we need to be experienced in using those platforms. And the iPhone/iPod Touch is clearly the reader’s choice now.

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

In a discussion of how to label the just-finished decade, some people, most notably Mike Cane, have suggested that it be called “The iPod Decade.” Brian Chen echoes this sentiment, calling the iPod the Gadget of the Decade because it “opened the doors to the always-connected, always-online, all-in-one-device world that we live in today.”

Tim Spalding, on the other hand, says this: “Resolved: The Os were the ‘Lost Decade’ for library tech—libraries made incremental advances, while others flew past them.” Having gotten an iPod Touch (aka iTouch) myself recently, I get the strong sense that much of what Spalding is talking about is the explosion in mobile, especially iPhone/iTouch, use, especially by young people, in the last few years — which has made few inroads in the library world.

So what about the next decade in libraries? How can we catch up to Spalding’s world that’s flying past us? My suggestion is that we get on the mobile wagon as quickly as we can. And the most practical way to do that right now is the iPod Touch (most of the capabilities of an iPhone without the phone and its high monthly AT&T costs).

Mobile Friendly Design: A Great Opportunity for Libraries

The premium in designing information for mobile displays is Simplicity — Dotcom sites are feeling very pinched because small mobile device screens don’t leave much room for ads and Bells&Whistles –  Popular mobile news sites, for example, have mostly the text of news stories on their pages. Likewise, blogs that are well-optimized for mobile (WordPress Rocks!) have just the essential text and accompanying pictures.

A simple, streamlined screen-environment fits us in libraries very well — We don’t have to worry about squeezing ads on our pages, and we’ve never tried to compete with dotcom Bells&Whistles. So mobile seems like a natural for us.

So why haven’t more libraries adopted mobile tools? There certainly are libraries that have developed mobile interfaces for some of their services. But a big barrier to more general of embracing of mobile in libraries is that the information that we have in the “library silo” — most notably the online catalog — is generally not in mobile format (**see below). I suspect that many users, when they see that our “mobile sites” don’t include the catalog, are going to lose interest quickly.

The cost of an iTouch is in the $150-$200 range, making it practical for most libraries to consider providing each staff member with one. The real investment, I think, is going to be learning how to integrate library services with them. It’s going to take an adventurous, visionary administration to accomodate staff time to “play around on the new toy” to learn how to use it.

In many ways, I’m finding the mobile interface on the iTouch to be “uncharted waters.” The standards for what makes a good mobile site are yet-to-be-written — Bloggers, journalists, publishers, web developers — are all hard at work looking for the best approach, competing for the users’ attention. Whoever gets it first will be the winner in the next decade — Hopefully libraries will do better than in the last one.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the inspiration for the cute title of this article –  One Laptop per Child (OLPC) of course — And just in case anybody’s paying attention, I’ll the first to apply the new acronym — OITPL ;-)

**Library Catalogs in mobile format – The only ones I’ve been able to find that have what I would call a truly optimized interface, to make them readable on an iTouch, are North Carolina State Univ, Iowa City Public Library, and Univ North Carolina — Please tell me if you know of others!

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

If you know of others, please send email or post comment.

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

Many possible takes on this picture. What comes to my mind first is the idea of the Attention Economy –The idea that in the days of the traditional library, before the Internet, information was a limited resource. Libraries could afford to work under the assumption that “we’ve got the good stuff, and our users have to to come to us to get it.” There was little motivation to improve overly-complicated search interfaces like the picture on the right above, because users had no choice. In the new environment of the Internet, however, the limiting factor is not information, but attention. The problem of users now is not finding information, but being flooded by too much information. In this environment, users naturally gravitate to the easiest information to find, which, of course, Apple, Google et al are glad to provide.

Another take on this is the high cost of Simplicity –The simple interfaces of Apple and Google are just the tip of the iceberg, built upon the costly labor of armies of engineers. Libraries just can’t afford to compete with this sort of juggernaut. Personally, I consider myself lucky, as a librarian, to be working in a medical library — Medical libraries have a long history of generous federal support, in the interests of the country’s health, which has enabled the creation of tools to streamline access to medical information, from Index Medicus to PubMed. For libraries generally, however, it’s still hard to compete with the resources of dotcom information providers. To end on a hopeful note — It’s encouraging to see that libraries are increasingly realizing the importance of providing Google-like interfaces for their catalogs, to gain back the attention from users that they’ve lost in recent few years.

The picture above, and the title of this post, are adapted from an article by Scott Monty — Thanks!

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

Mark Rabnett, in his article Five ways to improve PubMed says what many medical librarians are no doubt thinking. The Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) system, used by the National Library of Medicine to index articles in PubMed/Medline, is certainly one of the best indexing systems in the world. Unfortunately the way it’s implemented in PubMed makes it difficult for users to appreciate its elegant features. Rabnett reports on a brainstorming session on improving PubMed at the recent annual Canadian Health Libraries Association conference. One of the five suggestions was to Improve the MeSH database:

Where to start. The MeSH database is stiff and laboured, with occasional outbreaks of tumid extravagance. My group all agreed that we need clearer, more intuitive visual displays of the thesaurus and subheadings. The creation of a search statement using MeSH headings needs a complete rethink. … Even searching for MeSH headings is difficult and unpredictable. But worse, no one really understands it.  When I teach MeSH, my students glaze over as if I were lecturing on 12-tone music. The way PubMed presents MeSH is fussy and needlessly complex. We need a MeSH mashup.

Hey medical librarians — Let’s help our users discover the buried treasure of MeSH!