Interesting Article: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age

The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens by Ferris Jabr (posted by Scientific American on April 11, 2013)

When I was in grad school, I had an idea to conduct research into the neurological underpinnings of reading on paper vs. computer screens vs. ebooks. While my vision for the project was beyond the scope of what I could accomplish in the program and thus never got started, I’ve continued to be obsessed with this facet of our modern technology. I’ve written about it on this blog before. I continue to follow research being done on the subject.

This article from Scientific American sums up well what we currently know about how our brains process written language through different presentation media. It appears that I’m correct in my belief that these acts of reading are qualitatively different as far as our brains are concerned.

As librarians, we need to account for these differences in our resources – especially when it comes to education and literacy initiatives.

Why Libraries Are Relevant in the Google Age

This is simply one of the best summaries I’ve read of the importance of libraries:

Libraries are uniquely positioned to make sense of today’s tsunami-like exposure to information, to allow people to transform facts into knowledge and to move knowledge along divergent paths of practical relevance and unbridled inspiration.

Libraries are uniquely positioned to do this for an audience of all ages and status — children, college students, community members, university scholars, researchers and just plain folks who are just plain curious. From princes to paupers, libraries are a great equalizer and emancipator. In this new environment, we are all students. Libraries — both physical and virtual — are the places where we learn, discover old truths and synthesize new knowledge.

… [L]ibraries have moved beyond being mere repositories for shelf after shelf of printed materials, as valuable as that function is. They are gateways to a dynamic world of information and the manner in which that information is collected, presented and used is as important as the information itself.

(From Why libraries are relevant in the Google age by Patricia Iannuzzi, posted in the Las Vegas Sun on April 15, 2013)

Library Website Design, Part III: Give Them Paths to Follow, Not Points to Click

When it comes to making sure that all of our services are available on our library’s website, the best strategy is to make access intuitive and obvious.

The mistake that’s all too easy to make (and all too frequently made) is to assume that this means putting points of access right there on the home page.

At certain point, though, this requires either:

  • Putting so many points of access on the home page that everything gets lost in the chaos and the site loses any sense of focus at all; or,
  • Prioritizing certain services over others and keeping many points of access off the home page – which triggers our fear that we might fail to address every conceivable patron need in an obvious way, and unintentionally defines unwanted implications regarding the perceived relative value of these services.

To reiterate what PC Sweeney said: “Too many choices creates confusion.”
Continue reading “Library Website Design, Part III: Give Them Paths to Follow, Not Points to Click”

Library Website Design, Part II: The Tyranny of Choice, and an Ode to the Reference Interview

Consider the way that many library websites handle online database collections: we list every database we have and let the patron find the one they need. We offer alphabetical listings of our databases, we have categorized lists… we offer multiple points of access to try and provide any given patron an option that might fit how they want to interact with the site.

But there’s a fundamental flaw in this use-case:

It puts the burden of identifying and locating appropriate resources on the patron. The general category and topics lists help somewhat – but the patron still needs to decide which category they need to drill through, and then they need to assess each database offered in that category to determine which might best serve their purpose.
Continue reading “Library Website Design, Part II: The Tyranny of Choice, and an Ode to the Reference Interview”

Library Website Design, Part I: The Trader Joe’s Principle

Prefab from Influx (image used with permission)
Designing a library website is challenging. Most commercial websites – e-commerce sites, for example, or promotional sites for businesses – have clear purposes and limited use-cases.

Libraries, by contrast, offer a staggering array of services to a wide variety of users.

How do you design for that? How do you focus your layout and navigation without sacrificing the visibility of all your myriad resources and services? How do you promote certain services without ostracizing patrons who are seeking services that aren’t being promoted?
Continue reading “Library Website Design, Part I: The Trader Joe’s Principle”

Thoughts on the True Nature of Ebooks

Stuart Kelly at The Guardian has an interesting take on the potential new reality of ebooks:

Why ebooks are a different genre from print (posted March 26, 2013)

I’ve long been advocating for the multimedia potential of ebooks but I hadn’t really thought about the data-gathering and non-private nature of the medium before.

On a deeper level, I’d like to see more longitudinal studies done on information comprehension and retention when reading ebooks, as well as direct neurological mapping of ebook reading vs. print. I’m curious to know how our pre- and sub-conscious minds deal with the physical differences in the delivery mechanisms.
Continue reading “Thoughts on the True Nature of Ebooks”

Again with the Ebooks & Online Library Services & Patron Privacy

Defining a Less Polarizing Position

I was talking to my wife about my concerns over patron privacy and library ebook lending for Kindles, and she presented me with an argument that pretty well demolished my entire principled stance on this issue:

Ebook services for libraries don’t carry any really controversial or potentially dangerous stuff anyway. Ereaders are for fluff – all the data shows that pretty much no one uses them for serious reading or scholarship. There’s no real danger in exposing ebook lending records because there’s nothing there to get patrons in trouble in the first place.
Continue reading “Again with the Ebooks & Online Library Services & Patron Privacy”