Monday, 13 March 2017

User Experience - what is it & why is it important to libraries?

I’m writing this fairly long post to lay the foundations for work that PLS and libraries are currently doing & plan to do lots more about in the areas of improving the library users’ experience – particularly in the online world.  I’ll be following up this general post with some specific information in coming posts.  These future posts will discuss our library network’s digital strategy and how this needs to be directly connected to the library users’ experiences of our online services.

It’s interesting how the computer industry has used everyday language and given it a very specific meaning, or is using simple English words in totally new ways.  So a cache which in everyday use has always meant a “a collection of items of the same type stored in a hidden or inaccessible place” is in computing terms, a part of a computer that “…stores recently used information so that it can be quickly accessed at a later time.”  So the original meaning was a hidden and perhaps inaccessible store, while computing thinks of a cache as a way of making information more readily available.  Likewise, we all know what a cloud is, but what does the term cloud computing mean?

So it is with how the computing / digital industry is using the term User Experience.  They have even given it its own slightly quirky acronym UX (rather than UE – but that’s another story.)

So back to our title: for many of us, using an every day expression like User Experience would have an everyday standard definition, but in the online world User Experience - UX - has a different meaning.  In fact it has a contested meaning, depending on who you’re reading or listening to.  Perhaps the best article I have found on UX says this:  Well, I think it’s important to start by saying there’s no commonly accepted definition.  User experience design is a concept that has many dimensions, and it includes a bunch of different disciplines—such as interaction design, information architecture, visual design, usability, and human-computer interaction.”  The article goes on to give the perspectives of 15 different people who work in design and user experience.

For the purposes of this post I want to steer clear of the physical realm of user experience – that is, what happens when a person uses their local public library, and focus more on the online / digital world and think about the public library user’s online experience of their public library. (See my footnote below about Andy Priestner who is a genius re UX for the library’s physical space.)  I should also mention that the work we’ve been doing on “People Places” – the audit of library buildings will provide a base of evidence for libraries to look at their physical UX.

I want to focus on the library user’s online UX because it is the area that is still relatively new to us all & it is also an area that is constantly changing.  We know that the future will be more and more online, but we’re not really confident in this space.

In the early days of online resources, they were things that librarians had to be trained to use because they were so complex and expensive.  Their user interfaces were a nightmare, and you only used them because there was no alternative.  I even remember databases that charged by the minute that you were online, so you had to construct a search query offline, dial up (does anyone remember that?) run you query and log off as soon as the results came in.

But things have changed – well some things have.  Information is the sea in which most of us swim every day.  We barely think about how easy it is to get answers online, from a range of sources, most of them not provided by a library.  And these information sources seem to work so well.  They’re usually elegant, simple to use and provide the answers that we’re looking for quite quickly.

But is this the User Experience when a library customer tries to use our online resources?  I’d say a resounding NO!  We’ve got clunky, fragmented systems that are still quite difficult to use & are a mystery to most library customers.

I would argue that many times we’re stuck with systems designed (or thrown together) by others, and it is difficult for us to fix some of these issues.  However I think that there is scope for libraries to be involved in fixing quite a few of the bugs in our current systems that create negative user experiences.  I think it takes focus, expertise and some resourcing (good people and $$) to pick off the low hanging fruit.  It also takes a view that there is no such thing as perfection & that we need to be constantly working towards the best possible outcomes, not letting perfection stop us from getting there.

And once we’ve picked the low hanging fruit it will take other skills to work with our software vendors to fix the deeper more complex inadequacies in their systems, or maybe be brave enough to co-design & co-develop new systems that embed the user at the centre.  This is longer term work that takes commitment, persistence and a willingness to partner with others.  I’ll say more about this later.

I think this post is quite long enough, so I’ll leave it there & promise to get into some specifics in coming posts.


As a footnote to this post re online UX I do want to pay tribute and respect to Andy Priestner, who recently ran some Library UX workshops in Adelaide.  We want to get Andy back to do more work with libraries.  Andy is using the UX principles of online design and has taken them back to the physical library realm, where he applies UX principles and techniques to help libraries truly understand how customers experience their physical spaces.  He’s also excellent at the online US world too!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Improving user experience - Bib database clean up results

Back in May last year I wrote a fairly technical post about database clean up.  This post is a follow-up providing some stats about the ongoing results of the work that people have done to improve the quality of our database.  We've been looking at the "health" of our bibliographic database & I thought I'd provide you with a few of the stats from this work & also provide some context for the stats.

We started building our consortium in May 2012, with the last library joining the consortium in September 2014.  During this period we merged the bib records of 80 different LMS databases into the OneCard database.  While we tried to do a "match and merge" when importing the records from each separate LMS, inevitably different local cataloguing conventions and other issues prevented us from having a "clean" database with perfect matches of all bib records.  In fact the process resulted in a significant issue where we generated multiple records for the same title.

Over the last few years there have been several "blitzes" where staff from many libraries have contributed to merging records for the same title into a single bib record. These blitzes have tackled areas of the database where any automated procedures cannot merge records.  However we have also worked with SirsiDynix to run various automated scripts which have had a significant impact on reducing the number of duplicate records.

The result of all of this work is really very positive - even if there is more work to do.  Below are some statistics from 2014 until now:

We started with 1,154,576 bib records, and these have been reduced to 960,989 - a reduction of 193,587 - or approximately a 16.8% reduction.  And it needs to be noted that during this period we kept adding new bib records for all of the new titles we purchased.  This is reflected in the number of items in the database.  We started 3,909,921 items, and this has reduced ever so slightly to 3,887,175.  So we're got about the same number of items, but considerably fewer bib records.

This change is reflected in another stat that the team uses to measure change - which is the average number of items attached to each bib record. this figure has increased from 3.39 to 4.04.  This mayn't seem like a large increase, but over a database of our size this is a considerable achievement.

And finally - we've had an internal KPI of reducing and sustaining the number of duplicate bib records to below 5%.  This figure was set as a target when we identified that there were 13.7% of records that were duplicates. All the work across the network has got us to almost reaching this first target.  It currently sits at 5.4% - so a huge improvement over a relatively short period of time.

All of these stats are great in measuring how improved our database has become, but in reality they're a means to several ends - the customer experience and efficient service provision. Reducing the number of bib records the customer has to wade through is important.  It is also important that when a customer places a hold on a bib record that they have access to all of the items in the network as they're all attached to a single bib record.  And likewise, from libraries' point of view we want to be shipping the 1st available copy, rather than choosing from an incomplete list of items attached to one of several bib records.

There is obviously more work to do in this area & PLS will work with libraries to continue to improve the user experience as well as the efficiency of the system.  We will keep you posted as we continue to progress these changes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Reviewing our Library Buildings

Today saw the "Connected Community Places" project move from planning and piloting to workshops with library managers.  This project is one of 37 projects in our "Tomorrow's Libraries" strategic plan.  

The consultants ran their first workshop at Mawson Lakes & will repeat the process at Hallett Cove on Thursday, before running workshops in Berri, Naracoorte and Port Pirie in coming weeks.  Today's Mawson Lakes session saw staff from 15 different libraries working through the online data capture template.  While most staff were from metro Adelaide  & northern country councils - we also saw people from as far & wide as Port Lincoln & Waikerie.

The outcome of this project will be that each council will have a report benchmarking their current library buildings against the quasi-national standards for libraries that were developed by the State Library of New South Wales. The report will also provide some comparisons to other libraries, as well as looking at not just "size," but libraries being fit for purpose and effective community space. We'll also be looking at the library location, its furniture etc. 

The other outcome is that the Libraries Board of South Australia will have an aggregated report for all public libraries in the State.  (This project doesn't cover our School Community Libraries - which are joint use facilities based in schools.  Their "joint use" nature, along with them not being owned by local councils means that at this stage they are excluded from assessment.  This may happen at a later stage, using different metrics.)

We expect that this project will provide councils with a good foundation for longer term planning for the future of their libraries - everything to the location and size of new libraries, through to furniture or signage upgrades.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Interesting library "stuff"

A combination of attending the ALIA National conference in Adelaide the week before last, coupled with emails & books that have come across my desk & some travel means that I've seen so much interesting stuff around libraries & want to share some of it.  I am deliberately making this post rich with links so you can follow up anything that is of interest in the quickest possible way.

The ALIA conference was great.  We were treated to a whole range of interesting, stimulating presentations, particularly the keynote addresses from Lorcan Dempsey, chief strategist from OCLC, Barbara Schack from Libraries Without Borders,  Dr Neil Carrington the CEO of Act for Kids, and Kate Torney, the CEO of the State Library of Victoria. It is my understanding that many of the sessions were filmed & will be made available at some stage.  If any of these become available I'd recommend taking a look.

I was fortunate enough to attend the all day Monday workshop before the conference, called Library Stars - where a series of 30 minute vignettes provided glimpses of a whole range of activities across public libraries in Australia. These ranged from exploring new libraries such as Double Bay (that increased its visitation rate by 640% when their new library opened), to engaging, simple science workshops for young people at Corio & how to build change management teams.  I've already made some recommendations to Public Libraries SA about some of these people as speakers for quarterly meetings.

Other interesting information that has come my way of late includes someone just mentioning in passing a program called "Reach out and read".  You may know about this program, but it was new to me. It is an amazing program in the US where the health sector engages in literacy programs.  The best way to explain it is using their own words, "Reach Out and Read's thousands of doctors and nurses promote early literacy and school readiness to young children and their families in all 50 states. Each year, medical providers at the nearly 5,000 Reach Out and Read program sites nationwide distribute 6.5 million books to children and invaluable literacy advice to parents."  They indicate that they reach approximately 4.6M children a year.  They have also provided support and technical assistance to 12 other countries where the program now runs.  And of course the American Library Association is a partner.  Is there the possibility of such a program here?  I think it would be great.  

And then there are the programs in other Australian States that end up in reports - which are all very useful and interesting. The most recent one to catch my eye comes from Queensland, where they've produced a report called, The impact of libraries as creative spaces. As this is something that many libraries are working on some will find the User Guide & Assessment Templates particularly interesting.

In South Australia we've been using the ALIA Standards & Guidelines to help us begin to benchmark our libraries.  While the standards aren't a complete reflection of what libraries do, they're a starting point.  And with this in mind, ALIA is working with APLA and NSLA (sorry - too many acronyms) to review and update the 2012 standards.  There is a draft copy of the new standards & guidelines & most exciting is the addition of a section on Outcome Measures.  For ages we're always said that we need to be measuring more than transactional data & this draft looks like it is the start of that process.  The document outlines a group of six broad possible Outcome Measures:
  1. Literacy & lifelong learning measures 
  2. Informed & connected citizens
  3. Digital inclusion
  4. Personal development & wellbeing
  5. Stronger & more creative communities
  6. Economic & workforce development
As these are new measures it will take the profession some time to develop some standardised ways of measuring them.  However they'll be useful local measures that libraries may want to begin looking at.

I follow a number of interesting people on Twitter, one of whom is Liz McGettigan, a former library manager in Scotland & now director at an interesting company Solus.  Liz regularly posts some interesting info re libraries, literacy & related topics globally.  I just want to pass on the info from a couple of her recent tweets. One was a link to a great article about International Literacy Day (8 September), which contained 10 great quotes about literacy & reading.  I think they would all make great posters placed up in libraries and other locations.  Liz's other tweet was a link to a media release from the Scottish Government about additional funds & focus on their public libraries.  While the money isn't all that much - just under $800K in a country of 5M people, it is interesting to see a few of the projects they're going to fund, including:
  • Ongoing support for an existing "Read Write Count" program
  • A pilot to try out a new single library card
  • The "Every Child a Library Member" program, which kicked off in 2015
I could add to this list, but figure that this is enough to provide a range of  opportunities to explore some interesting projects.  I'll post another list like this as I come across various articles & other sources of interesting "stuff".

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Big Data - What we're finding out about a State-wide collection

Now that the SA public library network has all of its library branches using a shared Library Management System we can begin to do some analysis on both the composition of the State's public library holdings, and customer use of this collection.

We have started running some reports which show us which communities are making the most use of the collections of other libraries, and which libraries are supplying the items to fulfil that demand. We're also looking at collection sizes & how they compare to the size of the communities they're meant to be serving.

We have also shared the dataset of our collection, to be used by students and others who're interested in analysing our collections and also in finding new ways to represent the data using interesting tools.

A university student, Keren Sutcliffe was interested in looking at our Non-Fiction holdings & also in using some visualisation tools to show the data. While I haven't had time to dig deeply into the data the ways in which it is presented here is fascinating. 

Rather than looking at standard columns & rows in spreadsheets, or even the standard graphs produced by Excel, these representations are really engaging.  They're also interactive.  You can hold your cursor over a part of the display to get more data.  While this isn't new in itself, it is interesting to use on these data representations.  For example, while it is easy to see that items with the Dewey number 641 is the largest single collection libraries hold, hovering over this square tells you that 641 is the Dewey number for food & drink, and that we hold 15,880 titles and 54,733 items with that Dewey number.  And at the other end of the scale I can find that for the Dewey number 497 (North American native languages) we hold 3 titles and 4 items.

There is also a good, simple bar graph which shows how many titles and copies we have in each Dewey hundred group.  This one shows us at a glance that our largest collection in this area is the 600's - Technology & Applied Sciences, where libraries hold 77,586 titles and 236,651 copies, at a ratio of almost exactly 3 copies per title.  While out 800's - Literature & Rhetoric, while not the smallest group at 19,293 titles and 45,507 copies has a title to copy ratio of 2.36.

This is all very interesting, but not overly useful at this stage.  However we were talking in the office about this yesterday & we're thinking that the next couple of datasets we could look at would be the lending patterns of the NF collection & then see whether our collecting patterns reflect demand.  We could then use these visualization tools to show the "hardest working" parts of our collection. 

However it is always difficult to draw firm conclusions from such information.  Are people borrowing items because they're there & on the shelf, or do they have demand for more content in some subject areas, but libraries don't have sufficient stock in these areas?  We can't see unfulfilled demand. 

The good news is that we have the data & the tools, as well as access to people with the skills to provide us with these sorts of representations.  The more complex bit will be both the analysis of the data, and then trying to see patterns and causes. 

So, if you're interested in some high level collection overviews and you want to see the "ground floor" of our collection analysis journey then this is really worth looking at.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Database cleanup work (Technical)

Alert – this post contains some very important information about improved user experience – but also some technical stuff that not all of us will fully understand.  (Much of it has been written by Di Cranwell our cataloguing guru!)

PLS has engaged the services of the Database experts at SirsiDynix to complete a different to usual Database clean-up  This process will be followed by a load of Library of Congress Subject, Author and Series headings. These processes were originally scheduled for May, but given our recent network instability we have postponed this until the next available “window” in the LMS schedule to undertake this work.  It has therefore been rescheduled for August.

All Database clean up activity has a primary objective of improving the user experience in using the system – whether the users are library staff or customers. So this is something that is uppermost in the minds of many who use the system. We are aware that the database continues to contain records from various pre-One Card local cataloguing conventions, some of which impact on the user experience. For instance different libraries had their own conventions for the use of GMDs (general media designators) in Titles. Some used [Music CD], while others used [music – cd], and other errors crept in such as [musci CD]. Because these diverse terms were in titles the same items with different GMDs could not be matched by our previous automated database de-duplication processes. However our new database experts have found a way to map and change all erroneous GMDs to standard ones. Oh – and BTW the standard for music CDs is [music CD]. As soon as we get correct GMDs in records we can merge those which are for the same work.

And this same logic can be applied to other AV materials where the Material Type in the record is clear. For example if the Material Type of the record is “DVD” and the existing GMD is [videorecording] this will be updated to [DVD]. GMDs that are no longer used e.g. [book] and [text], will be stripped from the title. Once this work has been completed, we will reissue the list of One Card approved GMDs by updating the LMS Ops Guide.  There will be an expectation that libraries use these in new Bib records ensuring consistency in the future.

A clean-up of the MARC Tags in the Bibliographic records will also take place.  Tags that are considered “junk” Tags that have been unintentionally loaded into the database will be removed along with obsolete Tags.  This part of the clean up will strip over 300,000 lines of data from our records; leading to a cleaner and faster database. 

Some Tags will be updated to the latest standard, for example obsolete series fields 400, 410, 411, and 440 will be upgraded to field 490/8XX pairs. There are also many local Tags which were used during data loads, either with the One Card implementation or as used by previous Library Management Systems, that will be deleted. RDA tags will be added where possible and as RDA Cataloguing rules prohibit the use of abbreviations (unless they form part of an actual word in a Title/Author) these will be updated to the full version of the word if identifiable e.g. Dept. becomes Department.  SirsiDynix has also offered to add a 007 Tag using the Item Type of the item as the source of information. Therefore if the Item Type is AB [audio book CD], the 007 Tag will be added and this will update the icon on Enterprise from a “book” icon to an “audio disc” icon.

All of this will mean much tidier Bibliographic records, reducing the indexing reports duration and increasing search speed for library staff and search results appearance for our Enterprise customers.

The second part of the Authority Processing Service will be a load of Library of Congress Subject, Author and Series headings including the Children’s headings.  These will be added in addition to the existing Libraries Australia headings loaded in 2014 so that no local headings will be lost.  A report will then run to match the Tags in the Bibliographic records to the correct form of the heading and update the Tag.  Again, this will clean up and enrich our records.

There has been much discussion with SirsiDynix regarding our local headings for SCISS, Torrens Toy Library and Local History.  All of these headings will be retained.  Where the Bib record indicates the Audience level to be “Juvenile”, a subdivision “v” of “Juvenile literature” or “Juvenile fiction” will be added.  If the Form subdivision is incorrect, e.g. Fiction in an “x” subfield instead of the correct “v”, these will be updated as well.

The LMS Collection & Cataloguing Group have been eagerly awaiting the Authority Processing Service since it was first presented at a meeting in August 2015 and the results will be appreciated by all Network staff and customers.

I would like to thank the LMS User Group members for their support, along with Jo Cooper as the Chair of the Collections & Cataloguing Group and the members of the sub-group who have been working through the finer details to make this all happen; Alice Mariano (Holdfast), Chris Kennedy (PLS & Holdfast), Angela Jones (Salisbury), Peter Thomas (Mitcham), Cathy O’Brien (Campbelltown), Jane Murphy (PLS) and Di Cranwell (PLS).

And I should add that once all of this work is complete I believe that our database will be sufficiently clean to add all of our holdings to Libraries Australia.  But what that means will be the subject of another post some time in the future.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

TROVE: "over 374,419,217 books, articles, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives, datasets and more"*: the library community's greatest contribution at risk

*The quote in the title comes from a great article here.

I need to start by declaring an almost obsessive fascination with Trove - the National Library of Australia's magnificent contribution to librarianship, scholarship and research for our nation.  My view is that it is the single greatest contribution to cultural heritage produced in Australia in the last decade.  It utilises inputs from many different sources and makes them available to the serious researcher and the general community in a simple to use, engaging way.

This resource is transforming both the work of serious academics, wishing to study Australian history and culture and the curious amateur who wants to know more about their family's history somewhere in Australia.  Don't take my word for it; look at these testimonies: Internationally and locally . There are heaps of other articles I could point to that speak eloquently about how Trove has changed the face of Australian research.

Personally I have curiously looked up family members from previous generations, who I've heard about but want to know more details of their lives.  It is a truly addictive, fun place to find out so much!!

I'd recommend you search by your family surname and various towns you know families have lived in & see what you can discover!!  As an Australian of German descent, it is interesting/disturbing to see how my forebears dealt with wars and prejudice in Australia.   While some family members were fighting for Australia, at the same time others were having their haystacks burnt & their cattle poisoned because they had a German surname.  Interesting & perhaps slightly relevant in our current race charged debates!!

Why am I talking about Trove?  Well sadly the continual ingest of new content into Trove is under threat because of ongoing cuts to the budget of the National Library of Australia (NLA). These annual cuts have been in place for a number of years, but have now gone beyond "trimming the fat" to hacking at the bone of what is one of our national treasures!

The NLA built Trove using its existing, recurrent grant funding - by scrimping and saving to deliver on a magnificent vision.  The NLA management - both past and present - are to be congratulated for their vision and persistence to deliver this nationally significant research tool.  It is truly sensational & has something for everyone.

I am aware that for a number of years there have been annual cuts to the real value of the NLA budget.  These cuts have largely been absorbed internally, impacting on various levels of service quality, but largely hidden from view to the average library user.  However, these ongoing annual cuts have finally reached a point where they are directly impacting on the capacity of the NLA to support the legitimate role of Trove to continue to ingest and make available new and interesting content without direct additional funding support. 

The issues for Trove and the library & research communities are more eloquently explained by various people herehere, here or here.  

While I am not advocating any particular course of action, you may wish to consider the call of the #fundTrove campaign on Twitter and consider how you can contribute to the ongoing national, public campaign regarding the value of what I consider to be a wonderful national treasure.