Feelin’ Alright

There are some days when you feel overwhelmed- yesterday was one of those days for myself. You can get overwhelmed by anything- children, work, technology and information and the effects of information overload.  A man by the name of Conrad Gessner felt that the modern world was overwhelming people with data and this was harming people’s minds. He died in 1565. His preoccupation with data and information was around the printing press.

Thankfully if you do happen to feel overwhelmed with data, or at least how to search for a needle in a haystack, the State Library of Victoria has developed 21 research guides on locating information on topics such as Adoption and Bushfires in Victoria, through to researching what things cost in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This section of the SLV website is part of the new website which will be launched soon. It reminded me of an article on Everyday Usability, which provided a 14 point checklist to ensure maximum usability. One of the aspects which struck me was

You can nurture your website every day by remembering that you are the host and everyone who arrives wants to know what you have and how it will benefit them.

Updating the website regularly with new links or highlighting resources is a great way of keeping your website fresh, but the constant updating and evaluation is also needed.

A relatively quiet day, just the usual gym, laundry and kinder merry go round. I’ve felt grateful for the lovely late summer day, as the kids are currently playing in the sandpit.

Miss and Master BG in the sandpit

You can’t always get what you want

To the kids, the PC is what Mum and Dad sit at, or where you can play games, see ‘Foxy’ (the Fantastic Mr Fox trailer) or Doctor Who (am a firm believer of getting ’em when they’re young- speaking as a happily lapsed Catholic).

They’re yet to grasp the myriad of information you can access and search for online, and have no clue about the internet (although Master BG knows the URL of the  ABC kids website off by heart).

It was no surprise then, when I read this article about how children use the Internet to search for information. Just because children grow up with technology unbeknownst to their parents at a similar age does not mean they are instant experts. People can and do spend years searching and refining search strategies and techniques- you may know them as librarians.

In my previous life working in public libraries, I was involved in teaching adults how to use the internet- the classes were always heavily booked. Users of our library still call upon library staff to assist in locating a tricky bit of info they know is out on the interweb, but can;t seem to locate. If adults still find it challenging to construct a search, children whose brains are still developing are even more ill-equipped.

Google does make it easy for children by designing their search interface with a large search box (so children can ask questions), and the use of the Arial font; I still think there is more search engines can do, by answering back with a do you mean…you know like what a librarian would do when asked a question!

As for internet filtering to make it safe for Stephen Conroy children, well that’s another story…

Back in the saddle

Amazing what a break from work, eating and drinking lots, and not going anywhere near a computer for a couple of days can do- put on a couple of pounds, missed the whole drama of the Detroit Bomber, the death of Roland S. Howard, and very nearly the surprise visit of Miss Jenelle!

On the plus side, I read three books, read dozens of kids books to the children, watched The Tudors on DVD and generally spent some quality time with Family Bookgrrl.

Did I get away with my no email, facebook, twitter and blog until today? Well…not exactly. I checked my email after a couple of days, when I got back from my Christmas road trip, my facebook was checked on the 29th, surreptitiously via my mobile, but twitter and my blog remained blissfully untouched!

So back in the blogging saddle…

I like looking at images of cold places on a hot day– it’s my ice cream for the mind. Be careful of the brain freeze though…

I may never become a web designer extraordinaire, but there are a couple of good usability resources listed that are inexpensive and applicable for web content managers here, there, and everywhere.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to clean up my clutter (not looking at anyone…well I wish Mr BG would take the hint) here are some tips on reducing your book collections from authors and a bookseller. Some are decidedly tongue in cheek, but the tip that resonates with me is if you live to be 100, will you read this book again? In our case, it’s not so much the books we have read, but the books we have never read- which are quite a few. Maybe my NY resolution is to read all the books I have brought into the house that I have yet to read- as well as do a book cull *rubs hands with glee*.

And finally 85 reasons to be thankful for librarians– with no 6. Girls with glasses can still rock the “sexy librarian” look 🙂

Santa Claus is coming to Town

After much discussion, it has been decided to leave out some gingerbread and a glass of apple juice for Santa, as this is what Master BG likes and some carrots for the reindeer. (Mental note: may sub the apple juice for some whiskey…)

As a Christmas present to my family and my overloaded brain, I am spending time away from the PC- no emails, facebook, twitter and definitely no blog until my return to work on the 4th January.

As a Christmas present to you my dear readers, (and I think I know every one of you by name), here is some holiday reading. I hope you all have a happy and safe Christmas, read lots, eat lots, drink lots and love lots- which is what I hope to be doing :). If anyone is still wondering what to get bookgrrl for Christmas, I would like David Tennant in my Christmas stocking. Failing that a kiss under the mistletoe is always welcome…

Much of the links involve looking back over the past decade and looking at what will be.

According to Mashable, Marketing in 2010 will be about Data-the article also mentions issues of privacy and the concept of metadata. Actually the world has been becoming about data for a while, especially if you consider a search engine company is about to enter the world of telecommunications, real estate and is sitting on mountains of data, not just the web, but our thoughts, dreams, desires and viewing habits. Speaking of viewing habits, also check out the top trends in Twitter, and Digg.

The 15 Biggest Internet Controversies of the decade– mainly social networking issues (MySpace, Twitter and Facebook), also issues of censorship (China and Amazon’s censorship of gay and lesbian literature), filesharing and net neutrality. I just remember in 2001-2 telling other librarians in a zine about Google when it first cam out. A lot has happened since then.

Another myth busted, namely the 3-clicks rule, which stipulates that any content on a website or intranet should only be three clicks away from a home page. Usability testing by Jared Spool has shown that users don’t mind how many clicks are involved, provided they know they’re on the right path. What is entailed then, is designing navigation that is intuitive and allows users to ‘scent’ the information.

More library blogs– Lisnews published every year a list of 10 library blogs to read each year, here is a retrospective list of the last four years. Some are good, some are not so good…

Herding Cats

I had been trying to write this post for 3 hours while being inundated with requests to get me dressed, I want a biscuit,I want a nectarine,  and for kisses and cuddles, the last which is very hard to ignore and turn down :). At one stage I had Miss BG is sitting on my knee singing while I typed. I saved it for another day, which is today!

I’ll bet there is a library database for it!– a great clip advertising library databases in a public library. I was involved with databases in a previous position when I worked at the State Library of Victoria,and still have a soft spot for their great, targeted content.

Movie Poster re-designs– a look at 70 years of movie posters and how their design has evolved. Great to look at from a design/readability perspective.

Does the ‘fold’ matter? According to the article, after heaps of user testing, the fold on a web page is not a barrier to information further down the page. People do scroll- apparently…(Yes just a tad sceptical!)

Factors that affect usability– love this article and the resources it leads to. It looks at navigation, content above the fold, accessibility, typography, analytics and errors.

100 essential websites– the Guardian has put a list together of what every geek should be aware. Tres cool!

And it’s official- I am a geek A fellow geek has compiled a series of categories, obsessions, activities, terms, and idols onto a Master Diagram of Geek Culture, of which I can identify all too closely…

I(don’t) like Mondays

Actually I don’t mind Mondays. I look forward to getting dressed up in something other than jeans and tshirt, putting makeup on and reading the paper uninterrupted while the train hurtles me toward Melbourne. I get to hop off at Melbourne Central and walk a little bit further to work to enjoy the early morning. I look forward to morning tea with my colleagues where we discuss all and sundry (a wedding theme this morning). I also enjoy my work- a tad unusual, but there you go :).

What I don’t like is stupidity. Users who have no clue as to what they want, except they want reams of paper faxed to them, or sent via express post from Canberra. I detest interfaces such as the Commonwealth Parliament’s Hansard which is slow, hard to search and displays in PDF. I am thankful for the lovely people at Open Australia whose aim is to make it easy for people to keep tabs on their representatives in Federal Parliament- and what’s more they’re volunteers!

I’m also not a big fan of moustaches- there- it’s out. I know it’s Movember, and I have donated to my lovely little bro A, and P.S. for their moustaches, but it’s as much to get them to shave them off as it is for men’s health and depression.  Whenever Mr BG has worn the mo ( usually when he has been sick for an extended period and there has been no need to shave),it has not been an enjoyable experience. It is difficult to feel amorous when you are kissing bristles. Yet perversely, that is when he is more than happy to kiss me! There is only one place where moustaches are acceptable and that is the 1970s, preferably a cricket field…


I’m stranded

Wednesday is the day the boss appears in my workspace, which is quite distant from the actual library. She works from a ‘hot desk’ on that day in order to get away from construction work currently going on outside her office window. Another manager has also appeared, presumably to get away from the noise. Given this is a busy week for us, his presence as  a senior reference librarian is needed more in the library than here. Needless to say, the atmosphere is quieter than normal. So far the only comic relief has been observing the  two senior managers’ attempts to pick up phone calls.

An interesting look at the distinction between user experience and information architecture-I just wish I had been at this workshop.

Usability testing demystifiedhaving done and seen it done, it’s always good to get people’s perspective on the process.

How keywords determine site architecture – another way to look at constructing an information architecture.

And I am sure there are stories out in libraryland to match these . The stories I could tell about Laurence the demon spawn and his mother, or the guy known as the poo-man would make your stomach curdle.

I have two more subjects to complete for my Masters and am leaning towards more web related subjects namely web usability and web design. It would more or less consolidate what I know. Another option is Social Networking for Information Professionals, which feels like going on Facebook and Twitter for my course- Mr Bookgrrl would NEVER buy that …:)

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

A hectic day, visiting parents in Geelong, study, catching up with the lovely Ms S and feeling the need to blog. People will ask me how it all gets done. My answer is I don’t dust, Mr Bookgrrl vacuums and does his own ironing and the kitchen table has  crap all over it…

Encountering a wide range of catalogs and library management systems over the years, I can really relate to this article about academic libraries using better search software. The current catalogue used at CSU is Aleph and not the most intuitive interface. I will quite happily use journal databases, e-journal search and Google Scholar before I use the catalogue- it’s that bad. And if I’m experiencing this type of difficulty after having used catalogues over a period of 20 years both as a student and a professional, I shudder to think how undergraduates are faring.

The main issue has been that designers of library management systems want people to see all the bangs and whistles up front to show them how the search is created. Only problem is, users don’t care, all they want are the results, preferably arranged in relevance, not reverse chronological order. Libraries shouldn’t be putting up more barriers for users to have an excuse not to use them. It’s not dumbing down, it’s understand what users want and adapting.

Our library is experimenting with the VuFind interface as used by the National Library of Australia. I like it, the tech services librarian was not too fussed with some of the facets, but it’s an improvement on entering a misspelled term and getting a null result.

And something nice from the UK this week- every library is a local library now, with public libraries open to anyone regardless of where they live.

Post script: My parents have the pleasure of Master and Miss BG’s company tonight (and possible tomorrow). I have the place to myself for about the next half hour and am blasting U2 (guilty pleasure no3- another story to tell) before Mr Bookgrrl gets home.

Food for thought

A relaxing day- morning tea with the mum’s group, domestic chores of kitchen, bathroom and laundry, followed by a peruse online of the news and RSS feeds.

Here are the 50 best dishes in Melbourne according to The Age’s food critics.

The seven stages of user frustration, as modelled by 6mth old Grace.

Two worthy items of note:
1. Love the laptop!
2. Just goes to show that no matter how old or young you are, usability is paramount

I don’t think my kids were ever on the computer at that age, but sometimes I’m away for a couple of minutes and come back to this…

Miss BG at the PC

Miss BG at the PC

Sorry, just wanted an excuse to show her off :).

10 Useful usability findings and guidelines

To some it may be telling someone how to suck eggs but they’re worth repeating, if only to your boss

1.Form labels work best above the fields
2.Users focus on faces
3.Quality of design is an indicator of credibility
4.Most users do not scroll
5.Blue is the best colour for links (totally agree with this one- our last iteration of our intranet had the links as red to fit in with the branding of the site- cheesed me off to no end)
6.The ideal search box is 27 characters wide (actually pretty good- my rule of thumb is if I can type my name, approx 20 characters, comfortably it’s long enough)
7. White space improves comprehension
8. Effective user testing doesn’t have to be extensive (5 users can find 85% of issues, which Jakob Nielsen has been saying for 20 years)
9. Informative product pages help you stand out
10. Most users are blind to advertising (yet that never seemed to stop people clicking on advertising when I used to teach internet classes for seniors eons ago…)

Afternoon cuppa beckons…


When I get home tonight, I will

1. Bake yet another cake for Miss BG- playgroup are coming to our house for fun, frivolity and lots of processed sugar.

2. Look through this list of User Experience Publications and resources from Nick Finck. His website is worth a look, if only to ooh and ahh over its nice white space, easy navigation and incredibly easy mode of subscribing to his RSS feed. (Not only am I a library nerd, I’m a usability freak as well…)

3. Spend some time with my family.

4. Figure out what to cook for tea (kids are done- it’s just the grownups I have to worry about)

5. Study and figure out config files for an Apache server

6. Sleep for more than five hours (a tad dicey owing to the kids)

Since I have it in writing, I’m hoping it will be accomplished 🙂