What kind of information professional do I want to be?

In an age where libraries are being deemed as unnecessary, as we can clearly get all the information from the web, especially Google; it is important that we as librarians and/or information professionals show how valuable we are.

The aim of someone within this profession has always been to disseminate information to everyone. This means, that those who are poorer than others may have access to information that they cannot afford by themselves. It is our aim to guide individuals in their quest for knowledge and understanding; providing adequate and reliable resources that will aid them in this endeavour.

However, due to the advances in technology and the World Wide Web, the library is no longer seen as the place that people will go to for information. There is a lot of information on the web, and anyone with access to the web has access to information. But is that true?

As trained librarians and information professionals, we know how important it is to have knowledge about how to access the information that we need. This is why we have spent so much money, time and resources on developing our user interfaces and understanding how search engines work. We want to help users find the information they need – information that is relevant, reliable and valuable.

For general information that we want a quick answer to, it can be hard to find the information that we need. Searching within a library catalogue or using a database can be quite tiresome, as they only give access and/or information to research papers or books. They don’t provide information on useful websites, blogs or people who are important within the field.

Search engine sites, such as Google, provide access to all types of information. So a person is able to find research papers, books, blogs and Twitter accounts etc. However, and as many of you will have found, there have been many occasions where I, myself have searched for something in Google and have not found what I am looking for. Or better yet, found something unexpectedly different from my initial goal that is actually relevant to my search and enlightening.

The web on it own doesn’t have a structure in which users can be sure they have found the information that they need. The web offers information, but it doesn’t filter out what is relevant and what is not. It is not regulated in such a way that a user can put in a search term and be completely sure that they are getting the information that they were actually looking for.

 

So how do we tackle this? How do we provide a way in which our users have knowledge of the value of all information types and create access to them?

As someone who is new to this field I am hoping to become a information professional who can develop answers to these questions. I want to be able to have the knowledge to create and build resources that will enable users to navigate the web with ease. This includes building sites that direct people to different types of information based on their search terms.

I want to be aware of current developments in technology, the different ways of organising and classifying information, and knowledge of how users engage with and look for information. I also want to continually engage with information in all its forms.

Information is everywhere and it’s important that we as librarians and information professionals engage with this information and make it accessible to our users. We must continue to be creative and masterful in our work as we don’t just work in library building anymore.

 

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Can we all be authors?

In a day and age where we all have the means to publish our work – whether it be on social media, having out own website, or using self-publishing sites; can we all be authors? Do we all have works that can be considered ‘works’?

The lines have become blurred due to this natural phenomeneon that has occured due to the major developments in technology over the past few decades. We are all publishing. We are writing, we are taking pictures, we are producing gifs and making our own videos. Thus, being an author is not just about having recorded something using text and producing a book. Works are of different formats and are just as important and valuable as a work in the form of a book.

For example, in one of my lectures, Aquiles Alencar-Brayner from the British Library spoke about a project in which they were collecting certain influential people’s personal belongings, such as laptops and other devices they have used to record their work and make notes. This means that every piece of material produced by those people are considered important, valuable and relevant.

Thus, looking to the future and using the example of youtubers, we would be collecting material in all different formats, hoping to preserve their memory and the time in which they lived. This is because some have even written books and some make TV appearances, as well as being on other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. If the person is considered important enough, we would be attemping to collect everything about them.

But what justifies seeing someone as more important and valuable enough to represent a period in time?

When there were very limited ways of publishing a piece of work, we could put authority in the publishing companies or the magazine a work was serialised in. We could assess a journal based on it’s standing within it’s community and assign value and relevance.
We probably didn’t think too much about who were the authors of our TV shows or radio programs. We thought about the actors and radio stars; but as authors? Maybe if they had written a book. But everyone is writing a book now. Footballers, TV personalities, YouTube personalities and every Tom, Dick and Harriet.

Nevertheless, even then, there wasn’t a value for which a person could be considered more of an ‘author’ than another. We have seen throughout history that an ‘author’ has become more valuable and considered as influential, after years, even hundreds of years, have gone by. At that point, we want to collect everything they have written and produced, to understand their works in the context of all their works and to understand the author.

What were they thinking when they were writing? Does their work represent the time they lived in? Does their work embody a part of the author?

We see it with Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, William Wordsworth and Dickens. Some were not as popular as they are today, but they are definitely considered influential today and are even studied in schools as a part of the syllabus.
We consider these people as authors, because they have come to mean something as an entity. Not just a writer. Thus, assigning the title author, means that they have become their work. Their names mean something in relation to their work.

This is the same of Picasso, Rembrandt and van Gogh. Even, Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart. These ‘beings’ are their works because their works mean something. And this is not just in the art community or the music community. Whether we listen to classical music or are knowledgeable in art or not, we all know who these people are and what they mean. They have been given a ‘stamp of approval’ (as said by a peer of mine) and thus considered authors.

Does that mean we can’t all be considered authors?

Probably. Popularity wins, but not in the sense of it’s popularity today. It is those individuals that stand the test of time who become authors. They are considered authors of a movement: a new way of thinking, a new way of understanding. They are usually misunderstood in their own time (not alwaysd) and so seem to transcend into a different state of being. Being ‘ahead of their time’ is a common conception of these ‘authors’.

There are many authors out there. But just because you are producing works, does not make you an author as I understand an author to be. Though my understanding of an author may not be what you would consider an author.

Intro to digital libraries

Digital libraries comprise of managed collections of information, where the information is stored in digital formats and is accessible over a network (Arms, 2001). Thus digital libraries differ from search engines, such as Google, as the data provided by them are not managed. The results provided have not gone through a process whereby someone has analysed and evaluated the information for relevance, usefulness, authority, subject etc etc. 

Thus, digital libraries are needed to help organise and manage the digital information available. This means, only collating the information that is considered valuable and beneficial to the users who use the libray and need useful information. 

By creating a digital library, information is brought to those who cannot visit a physical library. As long as they have a computer and access to the Internet, they have access to the latest information; as well as unique information that have traditionally been held at only a few libraries and archives around the world. 
Also, information that was “once available only to the professional is now directly available to all” (Arms, 2001). This means that users will have access to new developments in areas such as physics or medicine. And this information is always available, never checked out, or mis-shelved. 

These benefits can encourage users to be creative with the collections. This includes the manipulation of images and data, and bringing together information that may have first appeared to be unrelated but have unique qualifying characteristics. Digital libraries allow information to be presented in new and exciting ways that may not be possible in a physical library. 

In addition, because networks can be accessed on personal devices, such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones, users can personalise their experiences by using bookmarks or downloading documents. And as these devices are becoming less expensive, more than ever, people around the world can access this information.

In terms of management, digital libraries can be expanded and remodelled far more easily than physical libraries and storage of documents is becoming less expensive (although storage of high quality media files is still expensive). And as the technology develops, the costs of the underlying technology falls making digital libraries steadily less expensive. However, supporting collections in digital and analogue format is expensive and publishers charge more for the digital version. Most libraries do not have the money to acquire and process all the materials they “desire” (Arms, 2001). 

Furthermore, receiving digital information is far more easier than acquiring materials in a physical format. This ideally includes getting the latest information from international countries about their countries, as well as providing information to these countries. 
However, those who build and maintain digital libraries, need to consider the economical situation of less fortunate countries when designing digital libraries. “One of the great challenges in developing digital libraries is to build systems that take advantage of modern technology yet perform adequately in less-than-perfect situations” (Arms, 2001).

[This blog post was inspired by ‘Digital Libraries’ by William Y. Arms (2001).]

Visualising Data

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see.” – John Tukey.

Whenever we analyse data, our goal is to highlight it’s features in order of their importance, reveal patterns and simultaneously show features that exist across multiple dimensions.However when we visualise data, there are a few things that we have to think about.

We have to think about the amount of data we are planning to use and the level of information we are hoping to portray. We have to think about whether this kind of information changes over time and thus collate data the can be used to witness these changes over time.

But most importantly, we need to answer a question. There has to be a meaning behind what we are asking and what it means for us to put this visualisation out into the world.

“Why was the data collected, what’s interesting about it, and what stories can it tell?” Why is this data meaningful and who is it meaningful for?
By focusing on the original intent of the question, we can present something that provides a benchmark for what is and what is necessary, as well as provide insight to other questions that need to be answered.

“A visualisation should convey the unique properties of the data set it represents”
Each data set is different and so the point of creating a visualisation is to “expose that fascinating aspect of the data and make it self-evident”.
This means that we need to use the right type of visualisation, the right colours and provide the context for which the visualisation is important. It must be easily understood as it stands as well as providing a sense of mystery and wonder.

Should the data set be visualised?
If the data set benefits from being visualised because the dataset contains complex elements that cannott be shown in an excel spreadsheet or as a bar graph, then it should be visualised in a way that someone can undertand it’s concept and how it relates to the world.

“Just because it can be measured, doesn’t mean it should”
This is important. Just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should. If the dataset provides no meaning and there is no mystery to what it could mean, then there is no point in visualising it. Again, a question needs to be formulated before deciding to create a data visualisation.

[Reference: Visualising data – Ben Fry]

The OPAC and the LMS

This week I was treated to lecture by Simon Berron and Andrew Preater from Imperial College London. It concerned the issues surrounding procuring a library management system (LMS) and procuring a user interface software and customising it.

During the lecture, I did get distracted by the fact that Imperial College London should be shortened to ICL, and kind of wondered if they haven’t, because it’s so similar to UCL. But other than that, I was drawn into the issues that surround procuring and using LMS’. They include considering the expertise of the staff, whether the LMS’ strengths will play to the strengths of the organisation, how easy it will be for the staff to use and understand, and whether the transfer of records will be smooth.

I also learned that procuring an LMS is a different exercise from procuring an OPAC. This means that if we get a customisable software, we can change the layout and the fonts used. We can add facets and include additional information.

For example, SOAS are using an open source software called Vufind. They were able to edit and manipulate the code so that they could improve the visual aesthetics of the OPAC and most importantly, improve the user experience (XP). The OPAC should work seamlessly with the LMS and display information in a logical, creative and easy to understand way. This way, users can get the most out of the system by getting access to the information that they need.

As I am starting to focus my interest in how users interact with a user interface I have noted some important features that need to be considered when designing a user interface. They are:

    • What are the users of that institute like? (Are they formal, casual, academic, hobbyists? This changes the nature of the interface.)

 

    • Thus font size and type are important. It has to suit the users and the institution.

 

    • Having images of the items retrieved in a search will help users identify the item.

 

    • Alignment of the different sections will help keep things neat, tidy and streamlined. Users will focus more on the information than on the design.

 

    • Layout of sections is crucial. If a section is not prominent or too prominent or in a place a user wouldn’t look for it, it can be difficult for users to navigate.

 

    • Knowledge of the language is very important especially if wanting to provide information in other languages. Use of an expert is the best thing and do not use google translate.

 

    • You have to think about what the user wants to know first. For example, usually on an OPAC, the user wants to know the title, the author, the location of the item and how long they can borrow it for.

 

    • Is it accessible to those with visual requirements? Performing accessibility testing will enable you to fix any issues the site has with modifying any features that are inaccessible to some users.

 

    • Would infinite scroll be better? I think so, but the back button/feature needs to place the user where they left off and not at the beginning. Some sites still don’t do that and you can end up right at the beginning, and no one wants to start again. Searches within searches would help users to narrow down their search.

 

With these pointers, I think any organisation should be able to design a site that would enhance the UX of its users. However technical staff/systems librarians would need to have the expertise to modify the code of an OPAC in order to make a real difference, if the original style of the OPAC bought does not support the aims of the institution. This is especially if it is an open source software.