Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Keep Your Promises for a Better User Experience

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Keep Your Promises for a Better User Experience

Article excerpt

Arbitrary calendar dates are great for catalyzing deferred maintenance projects. I'm writing this in the first weeks of the new year. Past columns at this time of year have included suggestions for creating stronger passwords, checklists for better tech hygiene, and encouragement to block and ban bad actors in your social media streams.

This year, I suggest performing a website content analysis, particularly within your support and help pages. It's long been my assertion that poor tech support by large companies--phone companies, cable companies, and internet companies--exacerbates the digital divide by inhibiting what the Pew Research Center calls "digital readiness." Pew states that users need to be technologically competent, but also intellectually discerning enough to know how and when to trust online information. Otherwise, they can't, or won't, take advantage of online learning opportunities and will continually need human assistance even in situations in which other forms of support are available.

Trust is not just based on intellect, of course, but also on the emotional aspects of our relationships to technology: We have bad interactions with tech support, we feel bad, and we trust them less. This can delay learning and engagement with various kinds of digital content, including not reading ebooks and not filing taxes online.

To help people trust libraries, we should I be making sure that the online information we offer is helpful, up-to-date, and accurate. We're pretty good at this in person, but not always as good online. For a lengthier background on website content analyses, you can read Chapter 7 of Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library, by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches. I'm just going to focus on a small subset of content and when you should think about updating it.

Software Updates

One of the funny aspects of print books in libraries is the New Titles shelf. In smaller libraries near where I live, this could mean "new to the library" as well as "newly printed." It's a relative term, depending on how many new books the library gets. When a library uses it, we're saying something about the books on this shelf relative to the other books in the library. Similarly, online content has a time context and a relative context to other online information. Blogging allows libraries to include time-sensitive content that can be properly slotted into the time stream of library activities. However, static webpages sometimes make assertions about the past, present, or future that need to be re-evaluated from time to time.

When I created the Open Library support pages--a set of pages I am particularly proud of--we used screenshots from Adobe Digital Editions to show users where to click to perform various functions such as returning a book. This was helpful for users, right up until the software went through a redesign and all of our screenshots needed to be redone. Obviously, it can be easier to create help files with no screenshots or link to help pages on vendor-specific sites to avoid this issue, but we opted to save the user's time. When your help files include information about other software, make sure that you're keeping it updated as often as the software is updated.

This is especially important if it's your software and you're promising something by a specific deadline. Once the deadline has passed, update the files. Since the Internet Archive allows people to view historical versions of your site, keep in mind that patrons may remember your promises even if you've removed them from your website.

Staff Changes

Another motivation for reviewing your website is staffing changes. If an employee leaves the library and was in charge of a particular project, check to make sure he or she is not the sole contact for that project. Also, make sure someone else is responsible for the online documentation for that project. …

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