Friday, November 12, 2010

A Digital Librarian's Toolkit

Presented by Michael Lascarides, New York Public Library

Michael Lascarides specializes in usability analysis and user experience design. Before joining the New York Public Library, Lascarides was a programmer and information architect for a wide variety of commercial clients. He teaches in the Computer Art MFA program at the School of Visual Arts.

Lascarides presented a very fast-paced and exciting talk on how to serve and engage your patrons through your Web site. Some of his ideas include the following:

1. Watch your patrons do stuff. For those who spend most of their time fixing their Web sites, it is very difficult to sometimes see the big picture of what's wrong with your Web site. It is important to spend time among your patrons and watch them use your site. He highly recommends the books "Don't Make Me Think" and "Why We Buy" to get a fresh perspective on system design.

2. Look at what's on every screen in your library. What messages are these things sending to people? There is a difference between service and hospitality. Eighty-seven percent of catalog usage is from off site, so understand that informational messages that direct patrons to the circulation desk are useless and frustrating. In fact, instructions are signs of design failure. Know that your patrons are not stupid, and that training your patrons out of problems is only a stopgap measure. Bad software makes people feel they failed.

3. Send user feedback to software vendors. You are the main channel of information that vendors need to improve their products.

4. Use Google analytics. Lascarides did try Omniture to get usage information, but found that Google Analytics does most of what Omniture does for free. 

5. Decide what metrics measure your success. One project Lascarides worked on involved tracking NYPL's Digital Gallery. They noticed that after launching a redesign of the site, the pages per visit and time on the site dropped. However, total visits, page views, and the traffic from search engines went up. Patrons were looking at the site more frequently and for shorter visits, displaying more frequent tool usage behavior. The length of a web visit is very context-dependent and not a good measure of its success. For example, a lengthy visit may be due to the fact that the patron cannot find what she or he is searching.

6. Do a Twitter search for your library. Set up an RSS feed on Twitter for your library, feed it to Google reader to monitor what is being posted.  

7. Look for stories in your Google Analytics search terms. NYPL found that the most popular search term at NYPL is "tumblebooks," e-books for children, discovering that young mothers comprise a very important segment of their audience.

8. List things your patrons are passionate about. Check your analytics and ask your staff, then extend the conversation about those things. 

9. Create a library Twitter account. NYPL posts interesting lines from its books with links back to their catalog record.

10. Get on Wikipedia and create informational links back to your library. 

-- Sunny Pai

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