The Potential of Ebooks, Part 2: Another Modest Proposal

S. by Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams
I keep thinking about the novel S. and how Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams intended it to be a celebration of the printed book—they created an experience calibrated to take advantage of aspects that are unique to printed material.

It has me wondering—how do you create a story that equally celebrates ebooks and takes full advantage of the aspects that are unique to electronic formats?

Part of the challenge with such a goal is that we haven’t even come close to developing the full potential of ebooks yet: multimedia integration, burying easter eggs in the pixels, ereader versions of the Konami Code… There’s tremendous opportunity for a level of interactivity that print simply can’t match and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
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Website Development as Storytelling

In my last few jobs—non-profit health support organizations in Chicago, the Kansas City Public Library—I developed a reputation as the person who can break your brand new website in ways that you never anticipated.

As we built our award-winning Civil War on the Western Border website here at KCPL; as the non-profit I worked at for my last few years in Chicago went through two different content management systems and completely redid their website—we obviously spent a lot of time testing the new sites and services, making certain of the functionality, running the systems through their paces before launching them to the public.

In the process, I learned that I’m the guy who identifies the most bizarre ways that things break down and fall apart. I search for the most counter-intuitive paths I can take through a site and I see where they lead me.

For example:
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Everything to Everyone, or: Why Library Websites Are So Complicated

“Everything to everyone is a very confusing mixed message.”

This is one of the last lines in this post from UX Magazine:

Five Customer Experience Lessons Coffee Taught Me by Tyler Wells (posted on May 5, 2014)

As a digital librarian, my library’s website is the entrance point for the Digital Branch. So it’s no surprise that I spend a lot of time thinking about library websites and following discussions about the subject. Sometimes, I even write about it.

A couple of years ago, I noticed a lot of people comparing library websites to Amazon has far more stuff in their catalog than any library system (probably—I don’t actually have any numbers to back up this statement) and yet they manage to maintain a site that’s much more user friendly and highly functional than most library websites; their information architecture, their UX design, and the ways they leverage their product metadata puts most library websites to shame.

Why can’t library websites be more like Amazon?
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On the Role of Digital Librarians

The other day, I told someone that I’m a digital librarian. Of course, they asked the standard follow-up question:

What does a digital librarian do?

Such exchanges have become common for me and they highlight the continuing issues of misperception that plague digital librarianship. People assume that it must be different from traditional librarianship.

I’ve addressed this issue before but I want to take another stab at it:

Digital librarianship is librarianship. There’s no significant qualitative difference between a digital librarian and any other kind. Digital librarians require the same basic training and fundamental skills that all librarians need.

Digital libraries are libraries. Sure, different sorts of libraries are different (how’s that for tautology?)—public vs. academic vs. private, etc.—but digital libraries aren’t any more so.
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A Lesson in Customer Service

I recently had an eye-opening customer service experience. Given how much customer service experience I have—in a few different industries—I’m somewhat surprised that I can still have my eyes opened.

I was contacted by a library patron who was looking for musical scores. He wanted a list of what the Library has in our collection. I’m not sure how he got my contact info for this inquiry—I’m not on the Reference staff, I don’t work the front line, my contact info isn’t on the website. Regardless, I tried to be as helpful as I could and sent him a link to our catalog listing all our holdings categorized with the “Musical Scores” format. I provided him with instructions on how to search for scores by particular composers and encouraged him to come visit our Central branch where we hold the bulk of our sheet music collection, to browse the shelves.
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The Importance of Deep Reading

I’ve long wondered about the differences between reading in print, reading online, and reading in mobile formats. Science is bearing out my belief that our brains apprehend and process language differently in different mediums.

Technology is changing the way we read, with a much greater emphasis on skimming and speed reading. Apps like Spritz—well-intentioned though they may be—intrinsically promote an idea that reading isn’t worth investing time, a belief that deep reading is flawed because it’s inefficient.

I can’t believe that this is a good thing. So I was very happy to read this article:

Reading Literature Makes Us Smarter and Nicer by Annie Murphy Paul (posted by Time on June 3, 2013)

It’s an excellent summary of the importance of deep reading. Intentional, invested, slow reading.
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Thoughts on Mobile Reference

Digital librarians spend a lot of time thinking about online and mobile reference. Reference is the core service of libraries—helping people find the information they need is what librarians have been doing for centuries.

We need to explore methods to translate reference services into digital environments. I’m happy to see all the work being done on this front.

One of the concerns that comes up pretty often in discussions of mobile reference is the competition with online, crowd-sourced Q&A services like Yahoo Answers. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m convinced that this concern is a red herring.

I don’t believe that libraries should try to compete with these services. Because I’m not at all convinced that libraries should be in the business of casual Q&A.
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