Catching up on Reading: The Future of Librarians in Info Retrieval 9 Years Ago & Usability & Library Sites

Since the rain washed away my plans today, I read through several old Information Today publications I probably picked up at previous Special Libraries Association conferences and stashed in a “someday I’ll read this” pile.

I began with a 2003 Searcher issue with a cover story about early online pioneers. While the history of the databases MEDLINE and ERIC was fascinating, what sticks with me is the article about the future of information professionals in information retrieval—the future that is now 9 1/2 years gone. Librarians still need to make cases for themselves to be involved in search initiatives in their own companies and in other companies. A sidebar highlights this challenge in light of job postings:

“… Why not just hire a librarian? Instead, this company has decided to throw everyone but librarians into the code tank. Part of that oversight may be disdain. … I think it just didn’t occur to anyone at these companies that librarians could help.
Aside from “re-marketing” librarians as a whole, numerous voices have said that librarians need to get more technical, to learn programming and database design. … [L]earning enough programming fundamentals to come to tomorrow’s meeting with some pointed questions can be accomplished in two college courses. …”

Author Nicholas Carroll then proceeds to make a case for why librarians should focus on learning interfaces and interface design because many of the people who work on these parts of a system are more likely to appreciate input from librarians. “[I]f librarians cannot find a horse to pull their cart, they should for the moment hitch their cart to a horse heading in the right general direction. … [B]ecause IR interface and storage are merging—and a foot in the door of interface could lead to a voice in how information is stored and retrieved.”

(When I get a chance to share career advice with library and information science students and new professionals, I usually suggest learning a programming language or some other aspects of our field that seem more like computer science than library science.)

The other set of articles worth noting comes from the June 2008 Computers in Libraries issue focusing on usability and patron-centered design (yes, that’s how the cover describes it). Erica Reynolds’ article outlining the Johnson County (Kansas) Library’s methods of gathering feedback during their Web site redesign and applying usability principles can be very helpful to anyone facing such a task. Even if there isn’t much time to revamp a small portion of a site, asking for other opinions can be very beneficial. Cassi Pretlow’s annotated list of 10 tools to aid in implementing or evaluating sites for usability shares some great resources. The links and short summaries follow. Pretlow provides more details in her article.

  • Webinaria: records what people do during usability testing
  • Browsershots: renders sites as they should look in various browsers you specify
  • WebSort: allows the organization exercise known as card sorting online
  • Xenu’s Link Sleuth: a downloadable program that checks links
  • intended for government Web site designers, this resources has very useful information for everyone
  • Survey Monkey: for the creation and sharing of online surveys
  • Google’s Custom Search Engine: adding a search box to your site helps people find information on your site
  • WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool: give it a URL, file, or some code to learn how accessible it is
  • Readbility Test: get a general idea about the reading level of your site content
  • Vischeck: simulate certain kinds of color-related sight impairments when viewing Web sites
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