Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hirshon, Liu, and Pixar

Upon reading this week’s articles, one of my main thoughts was the large disconnect between the creators of library web sites and their patrons. In Hirshon’s scan of library web sites he addresses the uniqueness of Digital Natives and their learning styles in relation to technology. Given that Digital Natives exhibit “behavior [which] is very diverse by geography, gender, type of university, and status at the university” and “assess authority and trust within seconds,” (Hirshon, 2008), it’s necessary for libraries to reassess their approach to web site and system design in order to be more accessible and reliable.

Similarly, Liu discusses how Web 2.0 principles are changing the relationship users have with technology. Users, Liu shows, are more engaged with information to the point where it technology isn’t just a “stand-alone, separate silo” in relation to users, it’s the interface with which they “integrate” with information. As Web 2.0 continues to dominate the Internet and take down barriers between individuals and technological tools, so should libraries in their digital spaces.

As part of my current job is to evaluate and consider ways to improve the CUA libraries web site, my mind during the reading of these articles was largely focused on how to apply this new knowledge to my ongoing projects. The web site here at Catholic University does not reflect either its patrons’ diversity or their close relationship with information. In fact it seems to present as much information as possible to the user rather than only the information relevant to the user. The site has the same danger Liu calls a “universe of information… that fails to recognize users as individuals” (2008).Graduates see the same circulation page as the undergraduates, and the same goes for faculty. This web site is text-heavy, with no tailored portals or useful graphics to guide the flow of information. Part of this, I believe, is because it is designed to be a guide to library resources and policies rather than a own stand-alone virtual library.

The largest challenge involved in restructuring the library web site is meeting the needs of our diverse patron base, which includes not only our students and faculty but also visiting students from the John Paul II institute, WRLC patrons, and Washington Theological Consortium patrons. Our patrons are of varying ages of levels of technological learning, and so creating a site which reflects this requires a significant amount of work and an overall rethinking of the site as a whole, but will ultimately serve them better than our current web site.

Considering the site as a whole to be the virtual representation of the library was not something I had done before reading Hirshon’s scan, and it is now certainly part of my thought process in the project. Incorporating spaces for entertainment and engagement as well as functionality is vital to making the site a place where patrons will come for browsing and exploring our resources as well as answers to questions about borrowing privileges and downloading e-books. After reading these articles, I’m contemplating what interactive and collaborative features we could add to the library site to make it more engaging. It’s certainly something to think about, whether or not anything is ultimately implemented.

My last thoughts are on a different note: Hirshon refers to a study at the University of Rochester done by an anthropologist about the habits of undergraduates. The study found that not all “Digital Natives” are at home with the “Digital” aspect of their generation. In short, they struggle with technology just like previous generations. This seems to be almost in conflict of some of the previous statements in the article. Not every young student has had access to the Internet or the “world where the Internet has always been present.” Some students do not have the option of interacting with their peers through smartphones and Twitter, whether on a local basis or on a “world-wide scale.” Likewise, not all libraries are able to supply these needs to their patrons.

Small colleges and universities are not privy to the same resources or consortia as one such as Catholic University. This makes the librarians all the more important to be advocates, grant-winners, or simply just scrappy individuals who are very clever with duct tape and paper clips. Cost-effective resources (such as the OLPC laptop and the Raspberry Pi) are becoming more available will help to close this gap, but there is still skill required to implement these device, not to mention the significant time and effort it takes to convince administration and install the technology. Anecdotally, patrons who do not have a laptop at home may have a smartphone, and yet many databases and libraries do not have full support for mobile operating systems. This effectively shuts out the patron and forces them to access the materials on a limited basis. The gap exists not only in the patrons’ skill and comfort with technology but also with the existing technology and its ability to meet the patrons on their home ground.

Articles Cited:
Hirshon, A. (2008). Environmental scan: A report on trends and technologies affecting libraries. Nelinet, Inc.
Liu, S. (2008). Engaging users: The future of academic library web sites. College & Research Libraries, 69(6-27).

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