Who Moved My Facebook?

I must be the exception to the norm.  I have yet to be phased by any of the changes that Facebook has made to their site.  That’s not to say that I think all their changes have been needed or even warranted.  It is the one site where I seem to just go with the flow.

There are enough people, however, each time change comes that get upset when someone moves their cheese.  They create pages, groups, applications to announce their displeasure.  Is this such a bad thing?  At first I would have said yes but then I got to thinking.  What better way to get feedback from your users?!  Most web sites are lucky if someone takes the time to fill out a contact us form.  Facebook fans take full advantage of Web 2.0.  Maybe the rest of the web could take a page from Facebook and think of more ways to allow our users to express pleasure or displeasure.

I hardly see Facebook changing back (but you never know enough of an uproar might make a difference).  It will be interesting to monitor this.  I am one for change and don’t mind just going with the flow.  All I ask is just don’t expect me to comment, start a group or create an application – unless it is “I Went With the Flow – Facebook Changes Don’t Phase Me” flair.  🙂

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Behold, the Power of Email

Well I am absolutely squealing with joy.  I got a response from the webmaster of the Baltimore County Government web site that I was upset about just the other day.  They took my suggestion to make their site not only for Internet Explorer.   It is now accessible to those using Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera.  I am absolutely thrilled to see them make this change and include more than just Firefox.   My hat is off to Baltimore County Government’s webmaster.

If

Many have speculated that the rise of superbook stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders heralded the end of the library.  So far that hasn’t happened.  Both have managed to survive and in some cases even foster a partnership or symbiotic relationship.  Then Google and the Internet in general was surely going to bring down the grand ol’ library of yesteryear.  Made a dent but has it totally demolished libraries, I’d say no.

But what if people found what they were searching for – would they still use your library’s web site?  catalog?  come into the building?  ask the staff?  During a meeting today that was discussing usability, I commented that I really want to know what the remote user is doing on our web site or catalog.  Because we don’t hear from them.  Someone else piped up and said “we only hear from them [meaning the customer] when they can’t find something”.

The main goal for me in usability is to find what isn’t working, what isn’t intuitive, what isn’t user friendly and then fix it.  So if we that, made everything easy to find, would we only see our customers for their reserves (barring going the way of Netflix and mailing everything) or our programs/classes/events?  Sure our die-hard fans would still come in.  But if the goal is to make everything easier to find (discovery and delivery again) would we see an increase of web usage but a decrease in door counts?

I’m not suggesting that we make our web sites or catalogs harder to use to keep customers calling in or asking at the information desks.  I’m just pondering the day when we can actually give the customer everything he is searching for (assuming he is coming in via the web) without having to step foot into a physical building.  I don’t see it as a demise of libraries but just another chapter (pardon the pun) that will require library staff to rethink what it means to not only be a librarian but a library.

Discovery and Delivery

This phrase has been bantered about a lot over the last several months at MPOW (always thought that should be MPOE – employment- but far be it from me to break from Internet tradition).  It got me thinking – is that what we really do at the library?  It certainly isn’t the only thing we do (our classes [or programs] as well as outreach via our booktalks, etc are very important) but it is a great deal of what we do.

Does it matter whether we discover an answer from a reference book, database, or web site?   Does it matter whether we deliver that “must watch now” DVD into the hands of an anixous customer, recommend a great fiction book, or find the last copy of “Romeo and Juliet” for a last minute high school student?  More importantly should it?

If the job of a library boils down to discovering things for customers and delivering it to them why should it matter how we discover it or what we deliver?  To me it shouldn’t.  So if we say that it doesn’t matter where we get the answer (assuming that whatever the source is it is reliable) and it doesn’t matter what type of material we delivery to the customer – should it matter how the request for discovery or delivery reaches us?

For some staff it does seem to matter.  In this day and age why would a phone call be seen as having more value than an IM or a hold request through the catalog?  A request is a request no matter what form it takes.  Are they not all ways our customers are asking us to discover and deliver something to them?  What makes you busier – 20 phone calls or a pull list of 150-200 items?  If you have a holds pull lists that ranges 150-200 items why can’t you see that as 150-200 customers asking for help?  If I IM you is that better or worse than a phone call?

What if I walk into your library and ask for “Of Mice and Men” is my request of more value (therefore given more attention) than a request for “Dumb and Dumber” on DVD?  If you asked some staff they might not admit it but they certainly give weight to book type requests vs. audio-visual type requests.  Content is content – it shouldn’t matter what the packaging looks like.  Remember the old adage don’t judge a book by it’s cover….. well it’s about time it’s been updated.   Don’t judge content by it’s packaging.

More than skin, skin, skin, skin deep

Title is a nod to Crack the Sky‘s “Skin Deep”.

Ah, beauty is a thing to behold. Beauty, they say, is only skin deep. Well “they” are wrong. In this case the real beauty is more than skin deep.

On May 28th at 5:30 am, Howard County Library launched their brand spanking new web site.

A much cleaner style, easier navigation than our previous site, quick easy pop-up contact forms as well as integration of Amazon and Google maps makes this something to behold. But what most people don’t get to see is it’s inner beauty. Danny Bouman our web programmer/architect/code monkey extraordinaire wrote the whole backend that we use to actually add the content to the web site.

Deep down this baby really rocks. He wrote the admin side to make it easier for our Marketing/Public Relations and Human Resources departments to add information. These folks are wizards at their jobs but most of them have no html, css, or php experience. Now they can add pages, put up front page blurbs (that highlight our classes & events), and add job openings with ease.

As someone who brought over content from the old site to this one I can attest to how easy and beautiful the backend is. I am extremely proud of what our web programmer has done. Many can’t see the real beauty but that doesn’t take away from the skin deep beauty of the site. WordPress has a quote “Code is poetry” so I’ll borrow that and add “Code is beautiful poetry”.

Note: And for those who want to know, yes – it is open source. We hope to have it out and available to the open source community sometime soon. If you can’t wait and want the source contact me and I’ll put you in touch with Danny.

Web Come a Long Way, Baby!

I guess helping out a bit with our new web site and watching John Sanders’ Web Trends report on WBAL TV this morning put me in a nostalgic mood. He talked about The Wayback Machine where you can access web 85 billion pages from the past. They archive web pages from 1996 to 2007.

So I decided to take walk down memory lane with our library’s web site. First archived page I came upon was Dec 17, 2001.

Howard County Library\'s web site 2001

I had almost forgotten what it had looked like and how ugly it was. *shudder* Knowing what I know now about html, php, css and more this just makes me twitch to look at it. Mind you I am no expert in any those but even a novice such as myself can see what we did wrong (by today’s standards) with this site.

Then I skipped ahead to 2004 when we first rolled out our current web site.

Howard County Library\'s web site 2004

A bit of progress but still by today’s standards it lacks. Of course this was before Web 2.0 among other things (e.g. viewing web sites on mobile devices).

Here’s the most current snap shot of our web site (better than it was but still lacking)

Howard County Library\'s web site 2007

But I predict the future will be cleaner, prettier and easier to navigate. We will solicit input from our customers, we will include such Web 2.0 features as podcasting, blogs, and eventually tagging and customer comments allowed in our up and coming catalog (which will seamlessly blend with out new web site).

Howard County Library\'s web site 2008

Keep in mind we aren’t live yet and a screen shot doesn’t do a live web site justice….but this is leaps and bounds ahead of our past.

But as in all things in life we must learn from our past and apply it to our future. I know we will continue to grow and learn but I think our new web site (thanks to our talented web programmer) is fresh, new and clean. Can’t wait for it to be finished and to go live!