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

The list below has all the mobile library catalogs that I’m able to find now. The link for each library goes to the mobile version of the catalog, if it’s linkable — Some (e.g. NCSU) apparently don’t have a direct link, in which case the link is to a more general page that has a link. I’ve taken screenshots on my iPod Touch of the search, list of retrievals, and complete record screens, for all catalogs on the list, that I’ve put in a Flickr set (tag for each library linked on the list). Pictures for five representative samples are below the list (indicated by an asterisk*). The combined screen Flickr pictures for all libraries, in the same format as the samples below, are here. (Catalogs added after this article first published, as labelled, have No Flickr pictures, for now.)

Boulder [Flickr]
Brig Young [Flickr]
California St Univ [No Flickr]
Curtin U (AU) [No Flickr]
Duke Univ [Flickr]
Iowa City* [Flickr]
Jönköping U (SE) [No Flickr]
LINCCweb [Flickr]
Miami Univ [Flickr]
MS State [Flickr]
NCSU* [Flickr]
Orange Co [Flickr]
Oreg State [Flickr]
Oxford [Flickr]
Stark Co [Flickr]
Texas Chr U* [Flickr]
Tri-College* [Flickr]
U Amsterdam [No Flickr]
U Brit Col [Flickr]
U Gent (BE) [No Flickr]
U Minnesota [No Flickr]
U No Carol [Flickr]
U Rochester [Flickr]
U Virginia* [Flickr]
UCoL (NZ) [No Flickr]

The screenshots for each catalog are color coded — Red is the beginning search screen, yellow is the list of retrievals, and green is the complete record. The Flickr set has separate, larger screenshots for each screen, and the color is maintained in those to make it easier to pick out different screen types.

Iowa City Publ Lib [Flickr] is one of four AIRPAC mobile catalogs from Innovative Interfaces (Boulder, ICPL, Orange Co, & Stark Co tagged together in Flickr set), all of which have similar look & feel.

NCSU [Flickr] is one of the first mobile catalogs, and still an excellent design.

Texas Christian (TCU) [Flickr] is notable because it has only a list of brief records for retrievals, with no links to a more complete record for each one.

Tri-College [Flickr] is interesting because it has a brief “drop down” complete record, that opens while keeping the context of the list of other retrieved items.

I chose Univ Virginia [Flickr] because I like its pleasing, simple design.

If you know of other mobile catalogs, send them in, via comment or email.

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

The slide below (from a recent webinar on the NCSU mobile library site) does a great job of conveying what I’ve been saying recently about the importance of keeping mobile sites simple. It also brings to mind the bottom sketch from a recent post. Taken together, these two graphics give me hope that, with the advent of mobile tech, libraries are catching on to simple design. Traditionally, the design of library interfaces (especially OPACs) has tended to take the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach, with way more information than users attend to (as shown in the bottom sketch). With the restrictions of small screen mobile-devices, though, I suspect the appeal of simple design will become more apparent, as shown nicely in the NCSU mobile catalog search.

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Sketch from: Why Apple & Google Win – And Libraries Don’t

whyapple3_601

Related articles:

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!

Related articles:

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!

Related articles:

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