Archive for the ‘Web design’ Category

vuFind for UVM?

July 26, 2007

Last Thursday, Andrew Nagy introduced vuFind on the code4lib listserv. The more I look at vuFind the more I find to like; the display is attractive, easy to use, and fairly intuitive. There are great extras such as a “book bag” like feature; also, on item records you are given the option to cite the resource (and provided with the citation in two formats, MLA and APA), you can link to related items in a an easy and intuitive manner, and I find the tabbed layout for displaying item description, holdings, comments, review, and staff view, really attractive. Although still in beta, vuFind provides much of what I discussed in my talk on innovative interfaces (and since the announcement came out on Thursday I was able to talk briefly about it during my presentation). The really exciting part, to me, is that this is a tool I could see my library adopting. I think so many of the technical barriers are down that the logistics of getting it working with our existing system could be fairly simple. (I haven’t tried installing it myself, but I was impressed by Antonio’s experience. ) So all that really remains is swaying library opinion. ;-)

I’ve already started talking about vuFind here, and I will be revisiting my innovative interfaces presentation at a UVM library form, where I will get a chance to talk about it some more. What is interesting to me is some of the responses I have already gotten, particularly the interest in having vuFind as an additional (not replacement) option. I understand people, particularly those who have to deal with irate patrons who want to know why an interface has changed, would hesitate to adopt something new. But having an additional interface option for patrons already confused by the current set of options doesn’t really make any sense. Also, I firmly believe that if you pay enough attention to the design and functionality of your new interface, these complaints will be at a minimum. The whole point of the new interface is to provide users with something that is intuitive to use. We won’t have to “train” them on a new system, the interface will do most of that work for us. I think vuFind does this admirably well, Roy Tennant is right vuFind “rocks the house.”

Innovative Interfaces: making the most of the data we have

July 23, 2007

On Friday I presented at VLA‘s (Vermont Library Association) College and Special Libraries meeting. I had contacted Meredith before putting together the final version of my presentation, and I think we managed to complement each other rather than repeat each other. I ended up speaking quite a bit about library OPACs and the need for change in both the interface and the back-end technology. I did not talk much about what I see as a need for a change in cataloging practices, because I feel like I’m on shaky ground with that topic, although I did talk about LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) and how they could be made more useful by being able to use them as both pre and post-coordinated topics, which could allow users to “walk” back up the path of a pre-coordinated heading to steadily broaden their results. I also discussed at the end of the presentation, how libraries need to embrace a culture of change in order to stay relevant in today’s information society.

All-in-all I think the presentation was well received, and sparked some interesting discussions. I’ve posted my slides here. If you want to learn more, here are a few places you could get started:

Presentation woes

July 9, 2007

I have a presentation to put together for July 20th. Originally I was asked to present something about the changing face of the catalog (kind of like this post, where I pointed to some efforts to un-suck the OPAC by creating new interfaces, mash-ups and more). I demurred, because I don’t actually know a whole lot about the OPAC, my everyday activities rarely necessitate any interactions with the OPAC, and I think I have more of an end users view of the library website than a librarian’s.  I purposed the following presentation as an alternative, “Innovative Interfaces: making the most of the data we have.”

The presentation should be about 30 to 45 minutes long (gulp), and I will be following ALA mover and shaker Meredith Farkas, who is presenting “Social Software in Libraries.” I was just going to whip through a bunch of examples on libraries that are making the most of their data, such as NCSU, Penn Tags, Ann Arbor Public Library, Villanova’s myResearch Portal, BibbApps, LibraryThing, maybe Evergreen, etc. However, I went though some of Meredith’s slides from former presentations on social software in and I hate to say it but it looks like she covers quite a bit of what I was going to talk about, and much more.

I was actually asked to speak because the other presenter, who was going to talk about LibraryThing, was unable to make it and I work with the woman who is organizing the event. I wonder if I can manipulate my presentation to be about XForms instead? Or Solr, or anything else I actually deal with on a day-to-day basis. However, I was told I should probably keep my presentation non-technical, so I have my doubts that any of those topics would be a good match.

I suppose I could talk about the importance of interface design and information architecture. Although information architecture sounds almost anti library 2.0, I think a well designed interface, both graphic design and information architecture, is key to a successful interface. Here is an example I worked on recently:

This is the same information, but with a new layout that separates the information into task based groups and uses basic graphic design elements such as color, icons and lots of white space to make important information stand out. This information is very non library 2.0, but the same principles apply to most interfaces design issues, even for interfaces that can be manipulated by the users. This doesn’t exactly qualify as an “innovative interface” though.

So, I’m stuck for a topic. In the meantime, my to-do list is steadily growing.

Responding to users

December 15, 2006

My one-on-one focus groups were very productive. I chose this format to begin site evaluations because it is a handy way to assess user needs and was helpful in giving me a clearer picture of the types of tasks that users would bring to the website. I divided my results into three groups, suggestions, observations (that I made during the session), and bugs.


Citations – All of the users suggested that we provide some sort of citation or citation help. Suggestions included a citation on each item page, or a link to a “how to” guide on citing online resources.

I added this feature as soon as testing concluded. It is a dynamic citation created by pulling information from the descriptive metadata. We are using Chicago Style as our default citation style. It would probably be fairly easy to allow people to select a preferred citation (out three or so) and dynamically deliver the requested format, perhaps as a future feature.

Download/Save records – All of the users also wanted a way to print and save pages/items. Several people suggested that it would be nice to have the ability choose to print/save a single page, or the entire item, with citation information included.

I knew this was a feature that we wanted to add, but was unsure how people would want to download items and pages, so this feedback was pretty helpful in clarifying that. I’m still working out the format the items will be downloaded in (maybe PDF) and how the options will look in the interface.

Browse by people – Two users suggested that it would be useful to have someway of finding out who the people listed in the subject headings are. We don’t currently have this information. The names are from LCSH authority records, and I don’t know that we have the staff to create a solution to this, but it is an interesting idea that I would like to keep in mind, in case I can come up with a creative solution.

Full text – Users asked about full text searching and were disappointed when they were told we do not currently search full text. Users also expressed a desire for full text to help with reading some of the handwritten materials.

This is something we are currently working on. We are doing dirty OCR and using it for searching. The handwritten material is more difficult because we will need someone to transcribe them.

Search/browse results – Two users suggested that search and browse results should be returned by date and also add an limit by document type to search and search results. One user also requested adding checkboxes to the search results so that users could save and download selected results sets.

I’m holding off on these until I investigate Lucene, and have some idea how long it will take me to get it integrated with eXist. I don’t want to invest a lot of time into code that will be subsequently abandoned, but they are high on my list of improvements.

Faceted browsing – One user suggested taking the browsing options that I have provided a step further and provide some sort of faceted browsing.

I would like to investigate this idea, because I think it would not be too hard to do, and could be very useful. I also had several comments about how users would like to be able to “poke around” to find materials, for non-research projects and faceted browsing might be a step towards this kind of browsing.


All but one of the users used the browse boxes on the homepage, collection pages, and item level pages. However, some of the collections have pretty limited metadata making browsing difficult. When faced with these collections, most users ended up either searching or, if the collection was very big, scrolling through the list of items. I think the collection level pages would benefit from more metadata, either more data in the record, or aggregated metadata from the items in the collection. (I’m a little hesitant about aggregating the metadata every time someone calls the collection page, seems like this would be unnecessary and would slow things down the page.)

Also it might be useful to make the browsing options more prominent (provided we can commit to the necessary metadata to make this feasible). I’m also wondering if providing the results on the first page of the collection is too much information. Currently the page includes an introduction to the collection, browsing/searching options and then lists the items in the collection, with titles, authors, and descriptions (and thumbnails if available). I may try just having an introductory page that users have to click through, using either a search or a browse option to get to the items in the collection. I’m torn because it adds another click, but it might make the page more approachable.

In addition one of the users found it confusing that the search results returned both collection and item level pages. Although the results specify document type this distinction was not clear to the user. I think one way of handling this would be to allow users to limit the results by type, collection, image, text etc. I like the way this project uses tabs to accomplish this.


  • Search results display smooshed together terms. This was a xsl stylesheet issue is already fixed.
  • Search within this collection was broken (fixed after the first session).
  • Searches do not pay attention to stop words. Something is wrong with my set up in eXist, I haven’t solved this one yet.
  • If you put a # in keyword search, like a date, you will get no results (I think this is because of typing)

Next steps

Once these adjustments and additions are made I’ll be ready to do some more formal user testing including task based tests, and heuristic reviews of the site.


November 20, 2006

I think user centered design is really important and I normally enjoy doing user testing and working to make designs that focus on user needs and desires. In fact, if I were going to write a step-by-step guide to interface design “know your users” would be at the top of my list, followed closely by “define functional goals based on user needs.” However, in the last few weeks I have had the nagging feeling that I have been ignoring my users. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have this experience but I have realized a little late that I don’t really know what my potential users want, or how they will be using the content we are providing. This post on TechEssence was a good reminder for me.

So, I apologize to my (potential) users, and although I feel like I’m in a time crunch, I will be changing gears around here for a while to focus on a usability testing. First on the list: Heuristic evaluations and focus groups to facilitate conversations with potential users about the site as it is, and the kind of functionality they are looking for in an online research application.