A touch interface for library use

Of the many things I want to fix in this world the library digital services interface is among the top five. The interface for searching that works on a computer screen where you can use a mouse or trackpad to navigate is really awful on a tablet or smartphone. You have to zoom in and out, scroll long lists of hits and the functionality that you want, like sharing or saving is buried deep down in the system.

I have pondered this issue ever since the iPad came along and turned the way we interact with information upside down. Until lately I have not hit upon what felt like the right approach for me. But since the norwegian browser company Opera published their new browser for iPad, called Coast, I felt that something suddenly fell into place.

Here is my first attempt at putting my thoughts down in print:

What you see in the image is a screen as it would be when you access your library search interface from a tablet or smartphone.

In the top middle is the search box (søk in norwegian). If you flick down from the search box you will get a list of available databases that you can choose from individually. If you flick up from the search box you will get a list of previous searches.
Library-CoastThe search results will display as rectangles with either a cover image or the title and author and other metadata displayed. The individual items can be clicked on and you will get either a full record or full text depending on the nature of the item.

The circles denote functionality. The circle in the top left hand corner  (del means share in norwegian) is the share function. You can either flick an item from your search results in that direction and it will automatically go to the share service (Facebook, twitter etc.) you desire or you can choose from a list. If you click on the share icon without selecting an item you will share the search and search result.

In the top right hand corner is the borrow function. This is an context sensitive function where the nature of the item you flick or select before you click on the icon will determine what function you initiate. A library record will be placed on hold for you, an ebook will be sent to your account and displayed in your preferred reader app.

In the left bottom corner I have placed an IFTTT button. This you can program to do anything you want with your items or search results. Since IFTTT is totally customizable you should be able to get any desirable result from this.

The last button in the bottom right hand corner is a save function. This will save a record, or full text if available, directly to a citation manager. You can set up EndNote, RefWorks, Mendeley or any other service you choose. Of course you can set up other services like Dropbox or Evernote as well.

The idea behind all this is to have a touch friendly interface that also have functionality that is useful for readers, students and other library members. It should improve ease of use on both tablets and smartphones and hopefully make searching and using library services a better experience than today.

Posted in Interface

A crowdfunded library?

I´m an enthusiastic supporter of crowdfunding and use Kickstarter.com as much as I can. Just yesterday a new crowdfunding proposal appeared on my radar. LIBRII is an attempt to make a template for a new type of library suitable for Africa. The idea is to follow the spread of broadband in Africa and set up small networked libraries based on a simple but fairly comprehensive formula. A self contained digital library in what looks like a large container, a building with books, staff and meeting rooms and a sun-roof bridging the space between the buildings. The library idea itself is not new, but how the concept is set up and funded is new. Hopefully this can herald a new way of creating libraries in a part of the world where there now is a greater need for libraries than ever before.

To me this looks like a brilliant idea. I especially love that the project emphasises that the libraries will be staffed by librarians (although they do not mention where these librarians will come from, library education if Africa is not producing great numbers) and that the digital and analog media will have equal attention. The libraries are supposed to be self-funded by offering premium services for pay. I´m not sure if this model will work, but since it is far better than the alternative, nothing, I think it is important that this is tried out to get information and experience. The countries and people of Africa should get a chance to  try out and find out what works for them. I support this project on Kickstarter, and encourage you to do so too!

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Posted in Future

Coding in libraries – a new service?

There are so many things happening around in libraries these days. I love how some libraries are becoming makerspaces, and other libraries are connecting to their communities in new and creative ways. 

At the same time there is a drive for more coding in education. The world needs more computer coders and everybody needs to understand a little more about code. It is rapidly becoming a skill on the same level as literacy and the ability to do simple math. 

This impacts libraries on several levels. First, how can libraries support the spread of coding knowledge in the community? I can think of a few things that even a small library like my own can do without too much effort:

1. Give access to coding literature – buy books, DVDs and other relevant material that people can use in the library or borrow.

2. Have a computer set aside for coding. Install coding software and maybe some equipment that makes coding fun. LEGO Mindstorms comes to mind :-)

3. Learn to code! For librarians to offer a quality service they must have knowledge of the service. It does not have to be deep knowledge, but at least an understanding of the core concepts and skills that is required for coding.

I attended library school in Oslo in 1987 and 1988 when the school offered computer program as an option. I scoffed the thought of needing to understand code. I remember saying in several discussions: “Librarians don’t need to understand code. We need to use software, not write it ourselves.” And, yes, the assumption that librarians should write their own software was probably wrong, but I was wrong too. Librarians need to understand coding to be able to offer the service and support of people interested in learning to code. I admit my mistake (I was young!!) and will now enroll in Code Academy to try to correct this mistake. I will also try to upgrade the collection in my library with coding literature and support. 

What do you think libraries should do to support coding knowledge in your community?

Posted in Library 2.0

The future of the book, and libraries

It is really hard to think about the future of the book and not link it to the future of libraries. But increasingly it seems that this is something we must do. The nature of the book will change in many ways in the future, so will libraries, but I believe that the changes may not be exactly the same or connected.

Ebooks are of course at the the root of these thoughts. Ebooks seems such a transformative technology, but is in many ways an extremely conservative way of handeling digital literature.

Two years ago I was lucky enough to be involved in the creation of a Digital Literature project at the University of Bergen. The ELMCIP project opened my eyes to the extreme diversity that is possible for literature in digital form. Ebooks are basically just the paper book in a digital straight-jacket. Not that that is a problem as such, there is much to be said for a familiar image to make the transition more comfortable, but in reality it is the equivalent of the “horseless carriage” that eventually became the car.

So the future of the book looks to be one of many parts. Ebooks may dissapear as concept, replaced by digital texts, digital stories and digital literature. Of course the word digital will dissapear as well, and we will be left with… texts, stories, literature, just where we are today. The format you can access these texts, stories and literature will be multiple. As a digital file read on your screen of choice, ereader, tablet, mobile phone, PC-screen or as an overlay inside your glasses, or if you are a radical, a subsection of these texts, stories and literature will be avaliable to be printed on paper bound together in a sequence and inside a cover (probably printed on a POD-machine in a cafe, library or supermarket)

Where does libraries enter into this development? First, libraries have already moved away from paper books as the only supplier of texts, stories and literature. Some more than others, academic libraries are at the forefront, small rural public libraries are at the back of this development. But that might change in the near future.

Today libraries are trying out new formats in an abundance of creativity. Not just digital, but also physical formats are experimented with. Some libraries go for an expansion of the physical realm with collection of fishing rods, toys, power tools or computer equipment.

Some libraries experiment with digital formats, installing Microsoft surface tables for members to browse picture collections, or using QR codes to give access to digital content.

We need these experiments today, we need to push de boundaries of what it is possible for a library to do. For it is by doing this that we will know what works and what does not. What is possible and what is not. I applaud all my creative colleagues around the world for their courage and determination in this grand exploration of what the library can be.

What has changed for the book has not changed for the library. The core mission for libraries is still there, just with some twists. Collecting does not seem to be such a big thing any more (it’s all in the Cloud), describing is done better by others (google does it better?), delivery is a major commercial industry these days (Why don’t libraris do as netflix or Amazon?)

But the twists are still there. Collecting is done at the academic libraris more than ever. Today it is all about open archives and scholarly communication. Libraries are at the forefront in the conflict with the academic publishers.

I believe that this will also happen in the public library world. Not because there is a great monopolistic publisher cabal to fight, but because of the “great amnesia.”

There is so much content that are produced today that have a very limited (in numbers and time) audience, but that deserve to be collected, preserved and distributed to an future audience. Public libraries are ideally suited to this purpose. Most public libraries have great local networks and commnicate well with local content creators.

In the future the death of the local historian will no longer mean that most of his research and written material will dissapear when his unknowing relatives erase his harddisk and sell his PC. In the future a disc crash will no longer disable the genealogical research of the next door grandfather.

Because both will have stored their material in the “library cloud” in agreement with the local library who will curate and see that formats are kept up to date.

This is a part of the future of the library. The curator of nonpublished material. There are other roles as well emerging, like social integration of immigrants or school work support. All of which are equally important. But at the core it is about knowledge, as David R. Lankes writes in the Atlas of New Librarianship:

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, E-books, Future

What, me worry? Or the Amazon “Library”

I am about as worried about the Amazon Kindle Lending Library  as I would be if a guy set up a box of worn paperbacks outside the library entrance and offered to lend them to people for $ 1 as they where passing by. Sure, some would probably take him up on the offer. But as a threat to the librarian, nah. The Kindle lending library is a way for amazon to try to sweeten an already bad tasting deal. For most americans I think that the Amazon Prime is just a bit too much. Sure, you get free transport of anything you buy, and access to special stuff. But it is a lock-in that in my opinion costs more than it tastes for most people. It is a niche product for already heavy Amazon users. The so called Kindle Library is NOT a library service in any way.

The public library offers something completely different to its community. Something Amazon never can match. Local knowledge, a way longer tail that Amazon, and a commitment to the community.

Posted in Library 2.0

iPad in my library

I’m lucky enough to be working in a great library.  Last June the library director, Marit Gro Berge, approved a project to give an iPad to all librarians working the reference desk. I was given the task of setting up and instructing the staff in how to use the iPads.

Here is an edited google-translation of a norwegian language blogpost I did on this project:

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Lindås library is a very exciting place to work nowadays. Library director  Marit Gro Berge is heading the project “the desk free library” and focus on readers advisory and a library that meets the users in a new and more inclusive way.  I got the job of finding technological solutions that can support the project.

We decided to give everyone who worked at the public library, librarians and others, an iPad. Our main goal was that the employees should be online and available anywhere in the library space.

- Free range librarians
The main idea to give everyone who works out of the library iPad was that we wanted to be more “free range” and avoid being locked to the desk and to have access to our most important tools, search the catalog and online in general. Unlike laptops  a tabletPC, e.g.  iPad, allows the user to hold and use without being bulky and difficult. Thanks to the wireless network throughout the library space, we always have access no matter where we are. We also wanted to prepare the ground for the reading of ebooks among staff in the library. (note: Norwegian language ebooks published in Norway are still not available through public libraries due to restrictions from publishers) We wanted experience both with reading and the technical installation and downloading. iPad is the most widely used platform for e-books among the multi-function tablet machines.

- Choice of technical solution – iPad2
We chose iPad2 after a series of considerations. The first was simply the type of hardware that is best suited to carry around in the library. Laptop PCs with keyboards, including netbooks, was dropped due to the limited extent it is possible to use without having to sit down and have a surface to put it on. When we had first arrived at desicion that tabletPCs was the solution we had the choice between iPad,  Android based Tablet PCs like the  GalaxyTab, and windows based machines. As I have tried all three types in my previous job I could advise on the pros and cons of all three. We eliminated the Windows machines first. Windows is too complex in relation to our needs  and they are less suitable as ebook reader platforms.  So the choise  were between iPad2 and GalaxyTab.  We wanted an operating system that was safe and provided staff with less experience with technology the opportunity to try out for themselves without any demands for technical knowledge. I believe that Apple’s iOS deliver this. For people with a desire for higher technical control Android may be a better choice. The highest threshold was that each employee had to install iTunes on their personal computer, and create the account and enter personal and credit card information. We discussed this in advance and there was no opposition to this. In other institutions, you can either find other solutions, or choose  Android. We also have chosen to keep the iPads completely outside the local municipal network. These machines are logged in to the open wireless network at the library.

- Installation and training
We got the machines first week in August and have spent time in training the staff in the use and selection of applications (apps) that we believe is best for our use. Initially, we concentrated on finding web sites we need to have quick access to and add them as icons on the home screen. We have also begun to look at ebook apps and have added free PDF-based ebooks in the iBooks app to gain experience with it. We started with “the reader-friendly library service ” that has been translated and published by the Norwegian national library.

- Practical experience so far
I have used my iPad on three reference shifts now. It has worked beyond all expectations.  Surprisingly for some of library users who come into the library, it goes without saying that the librarian has information ready on his arm wherever he is in the library, while others (especially young adults) think it’s interesting and commented positively that this was cool. It has been liberating to wander around to find literature and always have the OPAC available, and be able to follow leads and adjust the course along the way, and not at least find information on topics not covered in our own collection.  Many of the staff are still on the trial stage when it comes to using the iPad while they are out in the library room, but all are positive and work with training and testing. I have been surprised by how well suited the iPad has been in relation to the needs I see in reference work.

- The way forward
Next step is to find useful applications. Already we have discovered that Google Maps is great to show the way when tourists and others come in to ask about directions to sights adresses in the vicinity.
I see too that we can use iPads actively when we promote ebooks. Then we can at least show off the books to the curious.
We will replace our integrated library system in October, from Aleph to Mikromarc 3.  We see this as an opportunity to customize the system to a tablet-friendly format. Hope we get a good dialogue with our vendor about this.

The conclusion after two weeks is entirely positive. The only objections we may well have to iPad is that each machine is linked to an employee if you cannot establish institutional accounts on iTunes. I think this may be a good thing because it promotes a stronger ownership of the machines.

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Sorry about the crappy language, but at least now you can read about what we have done:-)
Posted in E-books, Future
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