Friday, July 26, 2013

Article Note: On LibGuides and Usability Testing

Citation for the article:

Sonsteby, Alec, and Jennifer DeJonghe, "Usability Testing, User-Centered Design, and LibGuides Subject Guides: A Case Study." Journal of Web Librarianship 7 (2013): 83-94.

 Read via: (my boss sent me a copy. She got it via ILL).

The article looks at work done at Metropolitan State University's work in testing usability on their library LibGuides. LibGuides have become a very popular option for libraries to do a range of things from putting up research guides to running or managing parts of their websites. As a disclosure note, we do use LibGuides here in my library. In fact, a reason I read this article is that my boss sent it over to the instruction team to spark discussion as we work to update our own LibGuides. When testing their website, the folks at MSU observed that students often struggled finding articles on a topic. They attributed the failures to LibGuides, thus their usability testing.

LibGuides are not perfect. The literature review does summarize some common issues with LibGuides such as too many pages, boxes, links, inconsistent labels, etc. However, other usability tests have been contradictory: what works well in one place turns out to be terrible in another. I think for us here we'll have to test things out and just learn as we go. MSU tested five participants. They felt that they had enough information from that early round of testing. The article then goes on to describe the testing process.

As I make notes, I will be commenting on some of the things we are doing here with our LibGuides, mostly a way for me to reflect on the process.

Some of the issues the authors identified include:

  • The visibility of a search box and being confused about the search box. They found that users often want a search box, and they want it to, in essence act like a discovery tool (or, let us be blunt, to act like Google). This is where the built-in box in LibGuides comes in. It can be confusing to students who expect it to do "everything," only to find frustration when it does not. That is certainly an issue we have identified here. I understand that we can customize what the search box does somewhat, but it may never be close to perfect, and for different subjects you may want a box that does different things. We are leaning towards removing the built-in box, and instead adding other search options within our LibGuides, say a customized EBSCO widget for a specific database or other tools. 
  • Language is always an issue it seems. We have discussed language, and we are working to make things a bit more consistent in that regard. This document on "Library Terms That Users Understand," which the authors cite, has proven helpful in some of our discussions as well. 
  • Inconsistencies in terms of tab names. We are solving this by making our subject guides have a standard. Now, for class-specific guides, the development could be more flexible in order to tailor the guide to the class' needs. This goes to one of the lessons that the authors mention: making the guides focused on meeting user's information needs.
  Some lessons they learned (and that we may apply or expand upon here):

  • Focusing on meeting the user's information needs and building on that. As I mentioned, we are making a standard template for our subject guides. However, for class-specific guides, we are leaving things a bit more open so we can tailor them to classes. On the subject guides, part of the idea is to focus on what students need, yet we also have an interest in making them into true starting points for research on a topic. For me at least, they should also be good enough and clear enough for "someone off the street"to be able to use them as well. 
  • The authors suggest having table of contents pages. We went back and forth on this, and we decided to have a basic TOC that can also serve as a navigation tool on the left side of our subject guides. Basically, for us, our landing page on a guide would serve as a sort of "quick start" space to get students quickly and efficiently to what they may want, then use other tabs (or pages as LibGuides calls them) to provide additional resources. As of this writing, this is a work in progress. 
  • They suggest focusing on electronic resources, since after all, LibGuides are an online tool. This was subject to some debate as some of us think that we should at least list some print sources as well. There are some reasons for that. For one, we are a residential campus, and while a lot of students do work at their residences, many will still come to the library. Two, our reference print collection does get a good amount of  use, and we wish to continue promoting that alongside our electronic reference offerings and other resources. Also, the LibGuides are as much for us and for our reference student workers as they are for the rest of the college students. Therefore, if a reference worker needs to find some basics on, say, biology, and goes to our Biology LibGuide, he or she should be able to find a few reference sources be they in print or electronic. 
The article is not the "be all, end all" when it comes to the topic of LibGuides, but it does provide material for discussions in libraries about how to best use LibGuides in libraries. The references list includes various resources, such as other usability test articles and other reports that may be of interest and that people may want to read side by side with this article as they work on their own LibGuides as well. I know I will be keeping this article handy for a while as we continue our work here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Article Note: On Information Literacy, Campus, and QEPs

Citation for the article:

Harris, Benjamin R., "Subversive Infusions: Strategies for the Integration of Information Literacy Across the Curriculum." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39.2 (March 2013): 175-180. 

To be honest, the title of this article seemed promising. However, this is basically just a short summary of ways in which some academic libraries have managed to get information literacy integrated into their campuses' QEP's (Quality Enhancement Plan). To be precise, it is a study of a set of QEP plans looking for where information literacy is integrated into the plans and what terms are used in the plan related to information literacy. There is nothing subversive or major here. The QEP is part of the requirements for accreditation (or reaffirmation as they call it now) for SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). When I was at my previous workplace, I had to do some SACS work. My current workplace is also accredited by SACS, so I was hoping I would find something useful or of interest here. I did not find much other than some basic things.

  • The author states that little has been written on the "impact of information literacy in plans that blend information literacy with other curricular goals..." (176). In other words, this article tries to look at QEPs that are not about information literacy but may integrate elements of information literacy as part of the larger QEP. 
  • The study presented looked at 127 QEP proposals. Out of those 127, the author selected 106 to continue. It then sorted these into three categories: IL-focused (the QEP is an IL QEP), IL-integrated (the QEP includes information literacy goals, outcomes, or elements, but it is not the primary element of the plan. Information literacy is there to help other goals of the university to meet its QEP), and IL-optional (information literacy is not listed within the QEP. In other words, if some information literacy gets in, that's nice). 
  • "Critical thinking" was found to be the topic most often related to information literacy in a QEP. In other words, if the campus wanted to enhance student learning, they identified working on critical thinking as their goal. In this process, then information literacy came in. As the author states, this should not be surprising given there are connections between information literacy and critical thinking. As far as I am concerned, they go hand in hand. 
  • "The ability to locate and navigate online interfaces and make selections regarding keywords and phrases, the ability to evaluate sources for authority, reliability, timeliness, accuracy, and relevance, and the ability to use sources in an effective and ethical manner are all signs of a critical thinker's behavior" (178). Those are things we teach our students when it comes to information literacy. 
  • Improving students' writing ability was another popular QEP topic, and naturally, good writing, especially good argumentative writing, does need and draw upon information literacy. They may not always call it information literacy. Harris states that terms such as "research skills," "research methods." or "inquiry" were more common (179). This illustrates that language can vary in terms of identifying and integrating information literacy into a QEP. 
  • A nice sentiment from the article: "Taking opportunities when available and creating them where none exist will continue to be necessary strategies for librarians as they integrate information literacy into their local curricula, culture, and institution" (180). Kind of a statement of the obvious for academic librarians who work in instruction and information literacy. This leads to the next obvious statement. 
  • "Looking forward, the vitality of information literacy instruction and programming will depend in large part on its adaptability" (180). In other words, we cannot afford to be complacent or just wait until the rest of the campus let's us in. We have to be the ones who build the trail for others to follow. We have to take leadership roles and teach others.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Further thoughts on GoodReads, plus some other things (or making a clean break ain't easy)

"Just when I thought I was out. . . they pull me back in." -- Michael Corleone, from the film The Godfather, Part III.

When I decided to wean myself out of GoodReads (see here for those details), I figured it would be a clean break. It did take me a bit of time to discover an alternative, but I did find one in BookLikes. However, it seems that some breaks are not as easy to carry out as others. This is going to be a bit of a ride, so I am warning my four readers now.

I recently registered with NetGalley and became one of their reviewers. It seemed like a good thing for a librarian and avid reader like me to do. It is an interesting experience as it has allowed me to discover and read new books and to share what I read with others. Publishers do like, and expect (to varying degrees), for you to provide them with feedback. Blogging is one way to do that. But they also prefer (again, to varying degrees, some more vociferously than others) that you share in social media and places like Amazon and GoodReads, which is now an Amazon subsidiary. This has not been really an issue in Netgalley, but it has been for others I have worked with. Allow me a moment to look over those two: Amazon and GoodReads.

Amazon reviews, to publishers and a lot of authors, are big currency. Let's be blunt: a book is not that great, but if an author can get enough friends, fans, friends of friends, friends of fans, etc., to write a favorable review with three stars and up, that not so great book will go up in rankings and (presumably) in sales. Reviews don't have to be terribly substantial or thoughtful. A few words describing how you liked the book is enough. In many cases, you don't even have to have read the review in order to "review" it. There is a caveat to all this. You do have to be a paying Amazon customer to be able to review in Amazon. I learned that lesson when I was invited to review a title, and when ready to review (at the inviter's request) on Amazon, I could not because I am not an Amazon customer (nor do I have plans to be one any time soon). However, the inviter was mollified when I mentioned that I had at the time a very active GoodReads account. Interestingly enough, this was a few days before the site dropped its bomb of an announcement. At any rate, I did post the review there in addition to posting in my blog and disseminating on social media. I do know that I will probably not review for that inviter or a few others any time soon. It's not out of spite or other ill sentiment from either party. Inability to play the Amazon game is an automatic disqualifier in many book reviewer circles.

On a side note, I will say that, as a professional academic librarian, I don't pay attention to Amazon reviews when it comes to collection development. There is a reason that librarians with standards look to reputable and/or professional review sources to help with collection development. Some of those reasons I have mentioned above.

This leads me back to GoodReads. Many publishers and authors do like GoodReads and encourage folks like me to share their reviews there. While it has lost some luster for some folks due to their selling out, it remains a popular place for book discussions, reviews, so on. A question I have is how long before Amazon starts gaming the reviews there. After all, they have to monetize their purchase somehow, but that answer is one for another day. The point is this is something I can easily do when I have to review something for someone, i.e. not stuff I read personally, say from the library or my own purchase. You know, the leisure and lifelong learning stuff. Not that reading to review for others is not fun. I try to be selective about what I share in reviews (that may be another post for another time). So, in a spirit of compromise, I am partially going back to using GoodReads.

Yet there is another reason to check into GoodReads now and then: friends. Apparently, a few of them recently joined GoodReads, and apparently they find my book shelves, so they send me a request to be their friend over there. If it was some other social platform, or as it happens on Facebook, some spammy game, I'd ignore them. Since they are readers, they are a bit harder to ignore for me. Readers tug at my heartstrings, what can I say? So they do pull me back in.

So, I figure I may try something out. BookLikes recently implemented a feature to let you synchronize with GoodReads. In other words, I can pus stuff from BookLikes to GoodReads so I don't have to post twice. We'll see how it works. I can say I am pretty happy with BookLikes so far (I may write a small review of the site later). In the end, this is also illustrative of how some social media, once it gets embedded into your life and routines, it's harder to break off. I did build a pretty good reputation on GoodReads as a reader and librarian (yes, I even have "librarian" status there). So, it's been a learning experience for me.

Now, don't get me started on Facebook. That's a whole other can of worms.