Customizing the User Experience

17 06 2007

Newspapers have been struggling to redefine themselves as successful business ventures in the electronic age. Most of them fail miserably…the content is ugly, difficult to read, not scannable, just poor quality. This morning, Duct Tape Marketing pointed me to a newspaper that’s doing something rather remarkable: The New York Times. Their new TimesReader service looks really sharp (see the demo) and like something I might actually (gasp!) pay money for. The content is more accessible than a webpage and builds off the layout that’s been popular with newspapers for ages…but now it’s all connected and hyperlinked, no flipping a dozen oversized pages trying to find the continuation of that story you read on the cover, beautiful images…and there’s no inky-fingers when you’re done reading it. I’m pretty impressed.

It feels very different from Google News, because the articles that are linked to from the main page are displayed in column format with a lovely font and embedded images. And you can save articles you read, sync your copy with the latest stories and read them all offline. I love this kind of creativity. NYT has utilized all the lovely things about physical newspapers (columns, easy to scan, embedded images) but made them available to those who’d like to enjoy them digitally. This gets me thinking…what “old skool” library elements could we recapture and bring into a digital format?  I know I’m still nostalgic for the library of my imagination, with the tile floors, gleaming carved dark wood, green barrister lamps on every table and leather, rolling clerk’s chairs for those at the tables.

Many libraries already offer online reference…but maybe we should pay more attention to the delivery method. The content available in the TimesReader is all available online, but it’s so much prettier and inviting in the Reader format than in the traditional webpage layout. Not every library visitor wants to use the library for the same thing, so perhaps libraries would benefit from creating different portals (with totally customized style and feel for each) depending on which section of library resources a patron was there for? This would help patrons visualize themselves in the library. Researchers might appreciate a dignified and scholarly styled webpage with dark, sophisticated elements…. tweens might prefer an interface based on graphic novels… and teens with a pop culture feel.  Genealogists might feel more comfortable with a history themed background… and do it yourselfers with a handyman layout.  On and on…crafters with a crafty layout (a great way to get some of those elusive college-age and under 30 demographics), gardeners with a plant based theme, craftsmen and artists with artistic themes…

This would take time and consideration (and resources)…but it would help patrons visualize themselves as participants in the library.  It would be much easier than renovating the library and could easily be implemented with CSS and just a little time taken to collect the resources of each major demographic into one convenient place. I don’t have much experience with this, but I know it’s possible.  Any thoughts on this?

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5 responses

17 06 2007
Jeff

I think we are just struggling with making great databases appealing. Wouldn’t want free access to consumer reports through your library. Well it’s easy, just click here, then here, then here, enter your library card number, then here, then type that in here, then search here, then voila, wasn’t that easy?

Database vendors need to make their content easier to get to. It’s one thing to have a standard library portal page, another to use the resources the library provides online.

17 06 2007
librarynation

Agreed… some of them are notoriously hard to get to, and even harder to use. Although a single interface would be nice (and reassuring/easy to learn for patrons), it might eliminate some of the resources available on some sites but not on others (like EBSCO’s Grokker Visual Search). I know that it’s possible to have a single log on for all databases…my university has it, as does my public library… and the son of one of my fellow students created such a system (Biblionix) for small to medium-sized libraries, but even with single-logon access, it’s still not possible to do aggregated searching across resources. In Texas, we have the Library of Texas database which allows searching across multiple Texas Libraries and even some of the databases. I love this tool and wonder how we could expand it to include more of the TexShare databases (and also get more use!)

17 06 2007
librarynation

Sorry, I meant to link to Library of Texas. Unfortunately you can’t use it without a Texas library card (naturally), but you can see some screenshots of how it works at the Tutorial site… and there’s also a flash overview that’s interesting as well.

18 06 2007
Jeff

Webfeat is trying to accomplish federated searching. The problem is that these interfaces are equally clunky and the results scattered. My state library and the county have webfeat. I wanted to promote it as the google of databases, but it takes so long to get the results, and then not sorted very well. People preferred to go to the ones they already used then try it.

One stop shopping and getting the exact results the patron wants. It’s not so much the look.

18 06 2007
librarynation

One stop shopping would be great if the interface permitted the perusal of varying offerings in each database being searched… images, other media, and other non-searchable tools (like the teacher guides available in many of the K-12 databases) included.

Library of Texas is also quite slow, and I’m sure this is a result of the inability to effectively index the offerings of each database. As I’ve said before, I’m only a three-semesters-in student, so I still don’t have a firm grasp on the workings of database subscriptions, but I imagine that the database companies are resisting having their material indexed because it places their content in direct “competition” with other databases offering similar content, and their distinctive branding will also be lost. Ultimately, I hope they’ll give up control of the medium that their real product – information – travels through and just allow subscribers to access the content more directly…either through a third party closed search engine or through their own OPAC’s with an integrated article search. I can dream, can’t I?

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