all the news that’s fit to print (but not find)

Man, speaking of techie patrons not liking an interface

Someone in a web community I frequent linked to a newspaper article, noting that you could only read the first bit for free and the rest was paywalled. I thought, hey, I *totally* bet you could read that for free online through the library site. So I looked it up, and I started to type something like:

First you go to the library home page, then you click on the “Research & Information” tab, then you log in, then you can click in the sidebar where it has the ejournals finder to search for which database has this newspaper, then…

And at this point I was bored of typing these instructions and realized that, honestly, no one on the internet would care. (And I hadn’t even gotten to the part where the information she provided wasn’t exactly the same as the title cite so if you used them keyword-style as search terms you would find nothing!)

Maybe there was a permalink that would’ve made this easy, but I just assumed not. Having been trained that way by experience with interfaces like this.


OK, new rule: people can complain that other people are having idea/research/information conversations that cut the library out of the loop, or they can adopt interfaces like this one. But they may not do both.


Guest post: Notes from a techie patron, part 1

One of the recurring themes of my library science education has been that I see conversations about information all the time — some at school from a library perspective, and some at home from a computer science perspective; as a dot-com-era engineering school graduate married to same, I have a social circle dominated by software engineers. I often find radically different assumptions about the uses, roles, and limitations of technology in these spheres — the sort of differences that derail conversations for half an hour as you hash out why it is you can’t talk to each other, and the derailment ends up more rewarding than the initial conversation. Many of these conversations, of course, are with my software engineer husband, Grant Gould, who has written a guest post for this blog. It’s long, so it’s in two parts; part 1 below.


I am not a typical library patron. Taking my views and preferences into account is neither helpful nor in all likelihood appropriate for professional library-types. This is only one data point, and an outlying one.

What is and isn't my library

What isn't my library

Before I complain about my library, I should establish what is not my library, because there are a lot of red herrings.

This is not my library: it is closed. In fact if you don't get home from work before 6, there's not much there at all.

This is not my library: it has fewer than 10% of the books I look for.

Is this my library? I like the sound of "virtual"…

This is not my library: I am unauthorized.

(Note that if you log in as "guest" you can get a real treat… some great best-of-the-mid-90's web design, "not currently compatible with IE7"…)

My library is my library. It has most books that I look for, is always open, and I appear to be authorized to use it.

Library professionals may argue that this is not really a library at all — it is a consortium of some sort. I disagree with this analysis: It is for my purposes more of a library than any of the various other not-my-libraries on offer. It is hard to see how it is less a library than the West Somerville. More broadly, it does a better job of meeting (this) patron's information wants; it has the library nature.

Why my library annoys me

If you make much use of my library (, you will discover a number of things. First of all, it wants me to pick up my books somewhere — and not somewhere convenient, either. I don't understand why they need more than a kiosk at a coffeehouse somewhere, but my books go to the big not-my-library that is closed weekends and most evenings.

Anothing thing that you will notice is that the user interface is terrible. In fact it is weirdly terrible. Consider this screen, and ask yourself what you would do if this were a book you would like to read later:
(Ed. note: The image is too wide for my blog theme; you can see the whole at, though this gets the point across.)

  • You cannot bookmark this link, because it will just send you to the library's login page instead. (Ed. note: I pointed out the permalink you can sort of see here, which helps, but can’t be directly bookmarked in the way a URL can.)

  • In fact if you linger on this page for more than ten minutes, you will be redirected back there! This is an intentional feature — viewing source shows:

    <meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="600;URL=/search/" />

    Way to vandalize my browsing session there, guys! (I hypothesize that this was a "security" feature for viewing this page from a public terminal. No, really, stop laughing!)

  • "Save to My List," "View My List," and "Clear My List" all refer to a "wish list" feature, which sounds awesome — but the wish list is cleared at the end of your session or any time you open a new tab. Hope you didn't put anything hard-to-find there!

  • You can also — actually persistently! — save a search. Unfortunately "save search" is no longer available when, as in this screenshot, you have narrowed down your search to a single item.

  • The actual way to save it is to request the book and then click a "freeze request" buttom. But — requests cannot be frozen if the book was available. If the book was available, you have just requested it, exactly what you did not intend.

By the way — anyone recognize this visual style? Those beautiful bevels? If you were doing web design in 1998, you do!

Stay tuned for part 2!

data mining for fun and…

That slideset yesterday was funny, so I’ve RSSed the guy’s blog. Liked this recent post about data-mining your circ records. His university now has a recommender system (both “people who liked this book also liked” and “people in this course of study tend to like”) and a course-of-study-specific search functionality (nursing and law students want different books when they search for “ethics”). Turns out the recommender service is very popular and noticeably increases how much of their collection circulates (which my little ROI neurons like). Also provides suggestions for refining large searches based on search data. And keep an eye out for the very clever acronym which will warm your heart if you, like me, were online in the early ’90s.