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By: Erica Olsen,
Blog: Librarian Avengers
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Let’s talk for a moment about why I misfiled my tax extension. Melty Jello brain aside, bad software design almost cost my little family $2,500.
When I’m not wrestling a one-year-old into tiny shoes, I’m a User Experience Designer. This means I work with software companies to create easy-to-understand interfaces.
It also means that when I screw up my tax extension, I look very carefully at the software path that got me there.
It was April. I needed to file an extension. Like most Bay Area tech nerds, I hate mail. I consider it a personal affront if I have to print out a form, write an address, locate stamps, and put a letter in the whatsit…mailbox…thing. Naturally, my first step was to search irs.gov for “file extension online“.
Problem one: Too many results
The IRS site is too damned helpful. There were 948 results for my search. Many results were press release or blog type articles hinting at the existence of online extension filing, but containing no direct links. I wanted to find one or two good matches. Instead, I found a sea of irrelevance.
Problem two: Too many names
I hopped down a bunny trail for about ten minutes, searching for a feature alternately referred to as “E-file an extension”, “Free file”, “Freefile”, “Free Fillable Forms”, “Free File Fillable Forms”, “Free Federal Extension”, “Form 4868″, “Traditional Free File”, and “IRS e-file”.
Problem three: Inconsistent design
I eventually landed on a modern-looking site that seemed likely. I clicked “Get Started” and wandered through four increasingly less-well-designed pages which jumped from site to site, forcing me to read and parse options despite having already told the system what I wanted.
Problem three: Asshole account requirement
The eventual winner was a page called “Free File Fillable Forms” which required me to create an account and update my Flash plugin. I was already logged in to irs.gov, but that didn’t count. I created “a password that is different than my User ID, between 8 and 32 characters, and contains at least 1 number and 1 symbol”. All the eye-rolling gave me a headache.
Problem four: Misleading email
I received a spammy looking ALL CAPS email telling me my account had been created. I filled out the IRS extension form, which was the easiest part of the process. I submitted, and received another spammy ALL CAPS email saying “Your federal return was successfully transmitted”.
At this point, I fell on the bed and whined to my husband for several minutes about information architecture. Then I fell asleep, secure in the certainty that I had filed an automatic extension. Taxes wouldn’t be bothering us for a few more months, by which time we would certainly be getting more sleep.
Thanks to LiB Sara for the tip. Read her post about what libraries can do about DRM and what we should be mindful of. You can read more about the Day Against DRM on this wiki and don’t forget to grab yourself a nifty graphic for your website.
“The bottom line: the priorities for the library staff and for the library users are poorly aligned.” Complete article available via Project MUSE or email me and I’ll “check out” a copy from my library for you.
This is the second and last part of the Jessamyn’s Dad’s Library Card story. I went home yesterday. I got a phone call from my Dad.
Dad: So I clicked the link in that email the library sent?
Me: Yeah? Good.
Dad: It connects me to “iBistro on the go…” what is that?
Me: That’s the library’s online catalog. The library is supposed to type their name at the top there but it looks like they didn’t.
Dad: It’s hard to read.
Me: Yeah it sure is isn’t it? [explains how to make font bigger]
Dad: How do I look for a book, do I really have to log in first?
Me: You shouldn’t have to, but maybe, it depends how it’s configured.
Dad: My login number is fourteen digits long! Why is that?
Me: Good question. You can probably set the browser to remember it. Your PIN is probably the last four digits of your phone number
Dad: It is. Why do I have to log in here?
Me: Well you can reserve books and check your account and there are privacy laws about that information.
Dad: Where does this catalog live?
Me: Depends on the library, many libraries run it off of servers in their basement. Some use hosted versions of the catalog. The consortium probably hosts this one.
Dad: And this iBistro thing is something they buy?
Me: Yeah and they pay a lot of money for it.
Dad: It sucks.
Me: Yeah. It’s sort of useful for consortiums [explains consortiums] so libraries can do interlibrary loan and stuff.
Dad: Okay I searched for sailing and I get 1500 hits. How do I search for the most popular books?
Me: I don’t know if you can, you can redo your search and sort by relevance.
Dad: Amazon lets me search by popularity. I like that.
Me: Yeah I do too. Can you sort the search you have?
Dad: No, it says there’s more than 500 records so I can’t search.
Me: You may be able to search by subject heading and get a shorter list.
Dad: Didn’t I do that?
Me: No, you searched by keyword [explains difference] or you can search just the books in your library.
Dad: I’m not already doing that?
Me: No, you’re searching the whole SAILS network.
Dad: How can you tell?
Me: Because on the search page next to where it says library, is says ALL.
Dad: Okay I’ll find my library. There are like 100 libraries on this list!
Me: I know, you can borrow books from any of those libraries.
Dad: I just want to know if there’s a book at my library.
Me: Yeah, that should be easier.
Dad: What are these libraries at the bottom of this list just called zddd and zddddd?
Me: That’s probably some kludge that the libraries are using to put books in a category or location that isn’t available in the regular catalog.
Dad: Okay thanks for the tutorial. I’ll try again tomorrow.
Me: You’re welcome. It’s not you, it’s them.
So hey this is barely library related. I was reading library_mofo and saw someone complaining about Oprah. Yes Oprah the lady who seemed to have single-handedly revived reading in some circles. I didn’t understand the problem. Apparently somehow Oprah was telling people to go get a coupon for free chicken at KFC. This was a problem at libraries for some reason. I investigated further.
Turns out, you go Oprah’s site and then to this page and have one day (now only a few hours, maybe not even okay anymore depending when you read this) to print up to four coupons to get a free meal. Actually now that I go there I get message that “Our partner, Coupons, Inc. is experiencing an exceptionally high volume of traffic to the site right now. Please check back soon to get your coupon. Sorry for any inconvenience.” Color me surprised.
That brings me to my next point. This isn’t just a coupon on a page that you can print, this is a coupon system which involves downloading… something … to your computer (mercifully available for Mac/Win, don’t know about Linux, I assume not). Once you have downloaded and installed the something, you can then click the “Print coupon” link which will load the coupon on to a web page as a PDF and allow you to print it with a special barcode. Photocopied coupons are, for some reason, not acceptable at restaurants. I could not get it to easily work with Firefox but it was a breeze with Safari and I assume the Firefox issue was mine alone.
So, people without printers head to the public library to get a coupon for a free meal. You can use a printer at the public library, yay for the library! They can’t do this for any number of reasons up to and including
- They can’t download the application to a library computer because of library policy
- They can’t download the program to the computer because the website is being flakey
- Coupons Inc is down
- They manage to download the application and get to the “print coupon” link only to wait forever and have no idea if their coupon is printing or not
- The “you are limited to four downloads of this coupon” restraint is somehow per computer which means the first four people are lucky, the rest not so much
Yes that’s right, it’s the coupon so popular and so buggy they had to create a FAQ for it. Do people look at this fiasco the way I do, as an well-meaning but ill-conceived program that uses a lot of stupid middleware to prevent fraud that mostly managed to tank itself due to overpopularity and complicated implementation? No, they think the library isn’t the place to go for printing. Or that librarians can’t solve technical problems as easy as printing a coupon from a website, so the next time they have a coupon to print, they’ll go elsewhere. Or that computers are hard.
This system encourages cheating. It complicates what should be a fairly straightforward computer activity for no particularly good reason. What do you suppose happens if you show up at KFC with a photocopied coupon? What happens when you print more than four coupons? Thanks for reminding me that “Coupon fraud is punishable by law.” If I ever get this website to load again, I’m printing 100 coupons and you can take me to jail. The nearest KFC to here is 21 miles anyhow. Boy am I glad I’m not working at the library today.
I was looking for something completely different and wound up finding the Traveling Wheelchair’s four star review of the Boston Public Library and noticed they’ve reviewed a few other libraries in the Massachusetts area. Reading Kenny’s experiences in and around Boston Public Library gives you a really good idea of not just what accessibility means from a legal perspective, but how it’s perceived from a wheelchair user perspective.
By: Erica Olsen,
Blog: Librarian Avengers
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appy news! I was invited to be a panelist at the South by Southwest Interactive conference next month, as part of their ScreenBurn track. I’m on a panel called “Funologists live and in person: Guerilla Game Research.”
I’ll share my experience starting some low-budget user research cycles for Second Life, and my work translating those frustrating observations into shippable engineering requirements.
There will be pretty pictures, and possibly cake.
The cake is a lie, but you should stop by anyway. There could be cake.
There certainly won’t be cake and not cake. Not at the same time, I can assure you.
The Usability Working Group of the University of Michigan University Library has a new website up which aims to “provide open access to our reports and working documents in order to share our findings with the University of Michigan Libraries as well as the community-at-large.” [web4lib]
By: Jessamyn West,
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Now that I’m somewhat affiliated with the MaintainIT project I am trying to put my crabbiness aside and interact more with WebJunction. I’m thinking about even trying to attend a webinar about Practical Techniques for Supporting Public Computing. I stepped through the instructions for getting their helper applications set up and it went pretty smoothly albeit very slowly. I’m going to see if any of the librarians I work with here are interested in trying this process out, including the set-up which involves disabling pop-up blockers, sending and receiving audio via their application, as well as running a bunch of java applications. I’m interested to see if it was as simple for them as it was for me.
The only part I was dissatisfied with, from a personal perspective, was the overly-cute “door hanger for E-learners“. First of all, learning is learning and calling something E-anything really sounds like you discovered the Internet yesterday. Second, for a two page PDF that basically just says “I’m busy” with the WJ logo [actually it says “I am participating in an online course that is critical to my job performance” among other things, but I am overly sensitive to hyperbole so maybe this sounds normal to other people] why is it a 2.3 MB file? Just because most public libraries now have broadband doesn’t really mean we should be using it up with overly-large files. For the libraries that don’t have broadband, this is a forty minute download.
So, my constructive feedback, up to this point.
- the webinar software works well, I’m pleased it works on my Mac
- I’m glad WebJunction is functional, I’d like to see it look decent on Firefox on my Mac. I sent in a help request about this little problem
- I wish WebJunction had URLs and filenames that gave me some idea what was behind them. Why isn’t the door hanger called webinar_door_hanger.pdf or something so when I dump it on my hard drive I know what is is? Why aren’t we optimizing our web pages for Google?
- If you’re in advocacy work, it’s sometime tough to draw the line between what level of branding is appropriate to keep you able to do your work and get grants and what amount is actively getting in the way of delivering services. I’m really happy that WJ is using more platform independent means of content delivery despite the fact that they’re at least partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (as is MaintainIT). I hope they continue to support libraries in whatever technology choices they decide to make. A search for Ubuntu on WebJunction only gets no hits in the site itself and nets a few discussion topics, though this one should be required reading for any library thinking about making the big expensive step to Vista.
- No more 2 MB PDFs please. Since we’re working with people who, in many cases, are not that tech savvy, I feel that every choice we make should specifically send the message that technology is manageable, understandable and hopefully fun. There are best practices for usability just like there are best practices for accessibility and we should be working hard to move from “hey it works!” to “wow, this works WELL.”
update: I take back what I said about cross-platform support. What I emailed WebJunction asking why one of their pages didn’t look right on my browser (see photo above) the email I got back said, embarassingly:
At this time, WebJunction does not support Macintosh browsers. However, I will make note of the display anomaly you reported for future implementations.
WebJunction Training & Support Specialist
If it’s 2007 and you can’t design your web pages to be at least readable on a Mac browser, you should rethink your commitment to enabling “relevant, vibrant, sustainable libraries for every community” (emphasis mine) in my opinion. I appreciated the speedy response, though.
I know a lot of folks (staff and members included) have been screaming from the rooftops for this, waiting impatiently. But today it finally happened. We’re trying to turn the cruise ship - come join me on the ledo deck!
Senior Usability Officer
“Responsibilities: The American Library Association (ALA), a large, information-based professional organization seeks a Senior Usability Officer (SUO). This position in its key role will support 65,000 members and non-member in the organizations’ initiative to recast its growing Website with user-centered web design principles. The potential candidate will have extensive first hand experience designing and running usability tests, accessibility reviews/audits, and determining website trends. In addition, must have experience with other methodologies such as expert walkthroughs, defining stakeholder requirements, task analysis, wireframing, prototyping and card sorting. Excellent communication and people skills with the ability to communicate with non-technical individuals are a must in this highly visible position. The SUO must be flexible and able to incorporate user-centered design principles to online interfaces while remaining responsive and open to the diverse and shifting needs of a complex organization. The ability to work in a team environment and between two universes of Information Technology and Librarianship is essential in order to maintain an outcome-oriented, global vision.
Requirements: Master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) with a minimum of five years experience in designing and conducting usability tests and making recommendations to effect changes. Must have knowledge of web site design, web-based usability standards, web-based accessibility standards and industry-acknowledged best practices. This individual must be able to work in a fast-paced environment and manage multiple projects simultaneously. Salary is negotiable from $75,000. ALA has an excellent medical/dental package, vacation and retirement annuity. Closing Date: Review of applications will begin December 1, 2007 and continue until the position is filled. For consideration send a letter of application and resume to the American Library Association, Human Resources Department, SUO/IT, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611; fax: 312.280-5270, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Salary Range: Negotiable from $75,000
You can get 75K plus decent benefits to be a usability officer at ALA. They say “senior” but to the best of my knowledge there aren’t any other usability officers there currently. I’m not sure where officer actually comes from, maybe some ALA-er can explain? In any case, if I were the Usability Officer after I changed the job listings to not spell Website with a capital W, I would ask very specifically what this requirement in the ad means.
The ability to work in a team environment and between two universes of Information Technology and Librarianship is essential in order to maintain an outcome-oriented, global vision.
I’m curious why those are deemed to be two universes instead of, say, two moons orbiting around one big planet of helping people do the things they want to do and go where they want to go. I’m sure Jenny is asking the same questions. I hope they find someone, but I wonder what affect that person will be able to have on the in-process-for-many-years-already website redesign?
You’ve got two days. Go! I don’t want to influence your opinion much but I will tell you that I have already used the word “sadistic” once. I tend to agree with this comment on web4lib.
The review process comprises two stages. First, you’ll step through ten web pages that show and describe the proposed new graphic (visual) design of the ALA site. Each of these pages presents a type of page in the design. Each has a textual description (summary or detailed) of the page type at the top, and provides below it a screen shot of a sample page of that type.
I subscribe to the LibLime news blog which is often announcements of libraries that have decided to go with Koha. It’s an interesting blog, I’m always curious who decides to go to the Open Source route. This latest announcement about the Derby Public Library cheered me because not only are they going with Koha, they’re implementing YakPac which is a kid-specific OPAC that still has a huge degree of functionality. I show it off a lot in my 2.0 talks because it’s engaging and entertaining and represents the answer to the question “how far can you go with the OPAC?” without a lot of bells and whistles, just fun easy-to-use design.
I just got back from the Association of Rural and Small libraries conference where I gave a talk about using technology to solve problems in small libraries. I had a great time and I only wish I could have stayed longer because the people at that conference, they are my people. A lot of them are in rural areas with limited or no access to broadband, they have small budgets and often untrained staff and yet they’re being told that all teenagers are “born with a chip” and that technology is moving faster than any one person can keep up with, etc. It’s daunting. Being able to know what “normal” is becomes sort of important as you have to determine what’s appropriate for your library and for your staff.
I think about this specifically in terms of our library organizations and how they determine what normal is versus what end users think is normal. Not to point the finger at ALA too much but it’s not really normal in 2008 for a website redesign to take years. It’s not really normal in 2008 to speak in allcaps when you’re emailing people as the incoming president of your organization. It’s not really normal to have a link to customer service on the main page of your website be a 404. I’m aware that it’s easy to cherrypick little pecadillos like this about an organization that does a lot of things very right. However, I do believe that one of the reasons we have trouble as a profession dealing with technology is that we don’t have an internal sense of what’s right and what’s appropriate technologically-speaking making it hard for us to make informed decisions concerning what technology to purchase or implement in the face of a lot of hype and a lot of pressure.
I’m going to work today at the Kimball Library in Randolph Vermont (I fill in there sometimes) and the librarian-facing part of the Follett OPAC interface is becoming one of my favorite slides. It looks like it was designed for a Windows 95 interface, in fact it probably was, and just never revisted. It’s 2008. People can create a blog on Tumblr that’s 100% accessible and legible and nice looking in less than two minutes. Why do I have to click a 32×32 pixel image of … a raccoon mask? to circulate books. And why can’t we agree on what usable means?
By: Jessamyn West,
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So today my task at the library where I am employed as the nominal “systems” librarian (a very part time job mostly concerned with the eventual automation of the card catalog) was to decipher the procedure for using WebJunction’s TechAtlas (© Powered by OCLC) to do an inventory of our four public access computers. This inventory is mandatory for those applying for funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here is how my day went.
Our library had gotten a letter from our state librarian including a letter from the TechAtlas people explaining the steps we needed to take to do this. The first step which was strongly suggested but not required was to sign up for a webinar that explained, I suppose, how to do the inventory. My boss wanted to arrange a time where she and I could both be present for the webinar. I got as far as the Wimba set-up asking me to disable my pop-up blocker (do not get me started on the 2.2 MB door card again) and then said I thought we could figure out the process (for our FOUR computers) without it.
So, on to the mandatory inventory. This was the first thing that greeted me, a browser incompatibility message (some language nsfw there). What this means, in a more polite fashion is that TechAtlas has some nifty IE tools that can make the inventory process a lot simpler. Firefox users need to do more of the process by hand. You know, that’s fine with me. I don’t like it, but that’s okay. However, acting like this isn’t a series of choices that were made by designers and program managers seems somehow odd. Odder still, when I went home this evening to grab some screenshots, the site now gives me a similar “Browser Incompatibility” message and yet displays that I am using a compatible browser. Apparently Firefox got compatible within the last few hours. I guess this is good news? The part they left out is that my browser is incompatible because I’m on a Mac, not because I’m using Firefox.
So we have four computers and it’s not that difficult to fill in the blanks. For each computer, there are twenty-two fields to fill out, but only five of them are mandatory. We have four identical computers so this was actually pretty simple and you can edit the entries if you get anything wrong. Oddly, one of the questions: “Opportunity Online Grant Funds?” which is asking whether you used this certain grant to get the money to buy the computers originally (a question our librarian wasn’t totally sure about, but was pretty sure) isn’t actually editable after the fact. I hope I chose correctly!
So, it didn’t take terribly long. Most of my time at work today was spent cursing at Overdrive and having to do Windows Media Player updates on computers that are locked down via Centurion guard. What I told the librarian — who is a very nice lady, and sympathetic to my muttering in a “There but for the grace of god go I” sort of way — is that this time around, if they let us, maybe we should get Macs.