Sunday, May 27, 2012

"My god, it's filled with lists!"

I gave a couple talks at last week's code4lib north festivities. These are my slides with some post-delivery notes from my "five minute" contribution.

Last year at code4lib north, I presented Art Rhyno's work on Jamun: the $100 Discovery Layer.  This year, I gave a sneak peak of the Leddy Library's new website (which is frantically being built in Drupal 7 for a looming summer deadline) that will hopefully integrate his work eventually. But my talk wasn't a tour of the site; it was the examination of one particular design problem that our site was trying to solve.

At this point I mentioned that I wasn't picking on the University of Michigan because I think they do bad work - I was using them as an example because I think they do great library web work.

I then introduced this slide: a screen capture of what appears if the user types in "psychology" from the search box on the library's front page:

Then I asked the audience to compare this with the "Recommended Resources" page for Psychology:

And then I asked my audience to look and compare that page with the "Psychology Subject Guide" which is a LibGuide put together by a liaison librarian:

I asked the question again, "Which one of these is the University of Michigan's Libraries Psychology page?"

Instead of answering the question, I barrelled straight to my recommendation: libraries should merge library subject guides into library subject pages so there are only two primary ways to explore subjects: by searching and by browsing.

Then I put a slide up of one of our existing library subject pages that are hand-coded and maintained manually in Lotus Notes, links and texts and all.

That slide was quickly followed by a sneak peak at a portion of our English  subject page which is still in development:

Unlike our existing site, our new subject pages will have shorter lists (that can be integrated into a Jamun interface if need be) with links to get to everything associated with that discipline if, indeed, the user wants to browse everything in that subject or for a particular facet:

[From this slide on, I'm going to do some revisionist history and present the what I should have said at this point because I know that I skipped over some important ideas that I intended to get across. This really should have been a ten minute talk. Or at least a seven minute one.]

[Also some Drupalspeak: the slide above has a title of "46" because I haven't figured out how to turn a taxonomy ID to a taxonomy term in the title field of a contextual filter view.... without bringing in the context of taxonomy terms because when I do so, it that causes the view to bring in duplicate items: ones that match the taxonomy ID of 46 and the same items again because they matches the taxonomy term of "English". If you know how to get around this, I'd very much appreciate if you could please let me know!

(time passes)

Figured it out! All you have to do is add 'validation criteria' that says Term ID' so only those show.  I'm finally getting a better grip on Contextual Filters. Yay me]

Our web design seeks to merge 'LibGuide-like' customization with one centrally maintained e-resource database. Our set-up allows us to create many smaller lists of e-resources from our existing master list of over 300 e-resources.

We can do this because of nodesqueue module which allows, for example, the English liaison librarian to make a top five list of Victorian literature resources while also the History liaison librarian to make a similar but differently sorted list of Victorian historical sources, using similar list elements (this five minute screencast I created some months ago illustrates exactly how).

It took a long time to do. In fact, I have invested at least three weeks creating over one hundred nodequeue lists and the necessary Drupal views that go with them. Only time will tell whether this investment was worth the time. (I hope so!)

Regardless of how your library website is structured, I think we can all agree that our librarians can provide much better research resources than re-creating existing lists of e-resources and merely adding one-line annotations.

One of the benefits of the how the University of Michigan, NCSU Libraries, and Jamun structure their search results is that librarian's work can appear front and centre as long as care is given to what words are used to describe the work. (If you were a student, would you be more likely to click on "Economics Research Guide or "Where can I find economic indicators and forecasts?")

The title of my talk is an allusion to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, specifically at the end of the movie in which we learn that the monolith is filled with stars and a gateway to elsewhere.

If we want our library websites to transcend being a dark, foreboding mass, we need to fill them stars. Barring that, we should fill them with lists.

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