Demystifying the Library with Game-Based Mobile Learning

How do you orient students to to the library? Put them in a classroom and show them the website? Walk them around in a giant herd, pointing out the important spaces? That’s how we at North Carolina State University Libraries were doing it, too. And we were finding ourselves a little disappointed. Wouldn’t it be better, we thought, if we could get the students out into the library, actually engaging with staff, exploring the spaces, and discovering the collections themselves?

Classroom Based Library Orientation

 

Background & Rationale

We had long felt that classroom-based library orientation had inherent flaws and we had tried several alternatives, including a scavenger hunt. Although the scavenger hunt was popular, it was not sustainable: it took a significant amount of work to hide paper clues around the library before each hunt and the activity could not be scaled up to meet the needs of over a hundred ENG 101 classes per semester. So, we focused our efforts on enhancing traditional classroom-based instruction and creating online tutorials.

In 2011, I held a focus group with several instructors in the First Year Writing Program, and the message was clear: they believed that students would benefit from more face-to-face library instruction and that instruction should be more active and engaging. This confirmed my gut feeling that, while online tutorials can be very effective at delivering content, they do not necessarily promote our “affective” goals of reducing library-related anxiety and fostering confidence in using the library’s collections and spaces. After classroom instruction, we distribute a short survey that asks students if they remain confused about how to find information, about whom to ask for help, about how to navigate the physical spaces of the library, or anything else. The most common response by far – from 44% of surveyed students – was that they still didn’t feel comfortable finding their way around our large library, which is in fact four merged buildings. We needed to develop an activity that would simultaneously teach students about our collections and services, introduce them to critical library staff, and help them learn their way around the library’s spaces.

Project Development

It was with this feedback in mind that two colleagues — Adam Rogers and Adrienne Lai — and I revisited the idea of the scavenger hunt in March 2011. Since the last scavenger hunt attempt in 2010,  mobile devices and the cloud based apps that run on them had become mainstream.  If we could develop a scavenger hunt that relied on mobile technology, such as iPod Touches, and which didn’t rely on students finding paper clues throughout the library, we might be able to sustain and scale it.

We first investigated out-of-the-box scavenger hunt solutions such as SCVNGR and Scavenger Hunt With Friends, which were appealing in that they were self contained and provided automatic scoring. However, we did not have a budget for the project and discovered that the free versions could not meet our needs. Furthermore, apps that rely on GPS coordinates to display challenges and questions did not work reliably inside our building.

Ultimately, we decided we needed to come up with something ourselves that would allow students to submit answers to scavenger hunt questions “mobilely”, automatically calculate scores or allow us to score student answers rapidly, and enable us to display results and provide feedback at the end of the 50 minute activity. Our eventual solution made use of traditional approaches to scavenger hunts, in the form of paper maps and clue sheets, alongside novel cloud-based technologies such as Evernote and Google Docs.

The Scavenger Hunt in 50 Minutes

0:00-10:00: A class arrives at the library classroom and is greeted by a librarian, who introduces the activity and divides the group into 3-5 teams of about 4 students. Each team gets a packet with a list of 15 questions and an iPod Touch. The iPod Touches are already logged into Evernote accounts assigned to each team.

Our eventual solution combined old and new technologies.

10:00-35:00: Teams disperse into the library to discover the answers to their 15 questions. Some questions require text-based answers; others prompt students to submit a photo. We ask them to introduce themselves to and take a photo with a librarian, to find a book in the stacks and take a photo of it as evidence, and to find the collection of circulating DVD’s, among other things. Each answer is submitted as an Evernote note. While students are exploring the library, a librarian monitors the teams’ Evernote accounts (which have been shared with our master account) and scoring their answers using a GoogleDocs spreadsheet. Meanwhile, another library staff member copies student photos into a PowerPoint document to run while students return at the end of the hunt.

Students consult the question list.

35:00-50:00: At the end of 25 minutes, students return to the classroom, where a slideshow displays the photos they took, the correct answers to the questions, and a URL to a short survey about the activity. After all team members have returned, the librarians reveal the teams’ scores, declare a winning team, and distribute prizes.

Student meets a librarian.

Feedback

The scavenger hunt has been very popular with both students and faculty. In the two semesters we have been offering the hunt (Fall 2011 and Spring 2012), we have facilitated over 90 hunts and reached over 1,600 students. 91% of surveyed students considered the activity fun and enjoyable, 93% said they learned something new about the library, and 95% indicated that they felt comfortable asking a staff member for help after having completed the activity. Instructors find the activity worthwhile as well. One ENG 101 faculty member wrote that the “activity engaged students… on a level that led to increased understanding, deeper learning, and almost complete recall of important library functions.”

Lessons Learned & Adjustments

After almost 100 scavenger hunts, we have learned how to optimize this activity for our target audiences. First we discovered that, for our institution, this scavenger hunt works best when scheduled for a class. Often, however, one instructor would schedule scavenger hunts for three consecutive sections of a class. In these cases, we learned to use only half our iPods for the first session. In the second session, while the second half of the iPods were in use, the first half would be refreshed and made ready for the last group of students.

In the very early scavenger hunts in Fall 2011, students reported lagginess with the iPods and occasional crashing of Evernote. However, since some critical iOS and Evernote updates, this has not been a problem.

Finally, after an unexpected website outage, we learned how dependent our activity was on the functionality of our website. We now keep an ‘emergency’ version of our scavenger hunt questions in case of another outage.

More details about implementing the NCSU Libraries Mobile Scavenger Hunt are available on the NCSU Libraries’ website.

 

About Our Guest Author: Anne Burke is Undergraduate Instruction & Outreach Librarian at  NCSU Libraries. She holds an MSLIS from Syracuse University and an MA in Education from Manhattanville College. She like to explore new and exciting ways to teach students about information.


Tips for Making Your First Mobile App a Success

About a year ago we launched the Gimme Engine (gimme.scottsdalelibrary.org) – a mobile web book recommendation engine.  Choose one of the categories – Gimme a Clue, Gimme Something Good to Eat, etc – and the Engine will offer you a staff-recommended book from the Scottsdale Public Library collection, complete with summary, staff review, and a quick link to the mobile catalog to check availability or reserve.

Since launch, our app and the Gimme Engine Brain Trust that created it have won a number of awards – including a 2012 OITP Cutting Edge Technology in Library Services award.  What’s our secret?  We are happy to share what we learned in our process with the hope it will help you in your next technology process.

Find out what your users (and future users) want

When our team got together for the first time we had more ideas than we knew what to do with – everything from a mobile formatted version of our web site to a Dewey-caching in library scavenger hunt. We soon realized that in order for us to create a successful, and more importantly, sustainable mobile app, we needed to poll our customers and find out what exactly they want out of a mobile app. Though we had done some basic surveys of staff in the past, we didn’t feel that we were the experts best suited to properly create & distribute a survey that would ultimately drive our entire project.

We hired a local experience design agency called Forty to craft a survey to get the information we so desperately needed. Forty also helped distribute the survey via their social media, email lists and other outlets. This meant that in addition to our customer we would get responses from non-customers as well. This would help us understand if there was a difference in need between customers and future-customers (at least that is how we like to think of our ‘non customers’.)

What they want might be what you already have

There was in fact no real difference between customers and non customer need in the survey results but one thing was clear:  current and future customers had no idea that we already had a mobile catalog with most of the standard functionality that they wanted.  Great, we thought, just get the word out about the mobile catalog and our job is done!  Then we realized no, we still have all this LSTA money that the Arizona State Library was nice enough to give us . . . we should probably spend that out.

Maximize your resources

So we looked at the highest items on the list that we didn’t have in mobile – book reviews and staff recommendations.  That’s when we decided to make the book recommendation app.  As it turned out we already had a lot of the raw materials for the project.  Staff was already doing book reviews and posting them on GoodReads.  We had content enrichment services for bib data and book jackets(Syndetics).  And we had the mobile catalog and the ability to generate RSS feeds of items in the collection (AirPAC and FeedBuilder from Innovative Interfaces).  All we needed was someone with enough experience to put that together.

Back to Forty for the design work and to hire a programmer.  We had so little money to work with that I thought for sure the end result would use a rubber band.  But when we sat down with the programmer not only was he able to do the project he actually saved us $3,000 in expected software costs by putting together the feeds, mobile catalog, content enrichment with some JavaScript and the GoodReads API.  The end result is a very simple, easy to care for web-based app that keeps working as long as we keep feeding it the raw materials – staff book reviews.

Maximize your expertise

From the outset of this project, we engaged all levels of staff. This was critical to ensuring that whatever product we created would be supported throughout the organization, as well as vetted to ensure that we didn’t leave out any crucial elements.  One of those elements was the encoding that allowed FeedBuilder to pick up the items for Gimme.  A quick chat with the catalogers solved that problem – they created a series statement utilizing controlled vocabulary that would identify the item as belonging to a particular Gimme category and pasted the review into the MARC record. By adding Library staff review_[gimmeCategory] in the 830 field of each record and indexing it, not only were we able to create a constant flow of records for the Gimme feeds we were able to give all library staff easy access to these reviews when searching in the catalog.

The other process we had to create was a standardized way for people to submit reviews.  Here we called on the cataloging group, the folks who where posting to GoodReads, and our IT department to create a book review form on SharePoint.  The form itself was easy – staff at any level go to SharePoint (which functions as our intranet), type in their name, info about the book and their review and submit.   The catalogers and GoodReads group developed a process to “hand off” reviews that ensure that it gets encoded, posted in both the catalog and GoodReads,  and at all times is associated with the ISBN of the same edition so that everything seems to magically link together.  Having staff who don’t normally interact working together on the share outcome certainly fostered a sense of ownership and respect in the group.

Don’t just build it . . . make it fun

Once the Gimme engine design was complete, and we had the back end programming to make it work, we were ready to unleash Gimme out into the world. Our biggest concern was that Gimme would get lost amongst all of the other products and services the library offered. One evening while cooking a delicious shepherd’s pie, a light bulb went off over Ann’s head. Since we were using our library staff book recommendations to fuel Gimme, why not turn our Staff in marketing vehicles? The next day a call went out to staff asking whoever wished to help to come forward. The end result was 15 life-sized cardboard cut outs of library staffers, highlighting their personalities. Attached to each was a ‘speech bubble’ that directed customers to go to http://gimme.scottsdalelibrary.org to see what books that staff member recommended.

The next phase was to create floor decals to put in various spots in our five library branches, so as customers walked through the library they would gain exposure to Gimme. We created corresponding buttons for staff to wear, which helped spur conversions and questions from customers, “What is Gimme?” This marketing plan engaged all level of staff, which helped make the launch of Gimme a success.

One year later the Gimme Engine is continuing to grow with new categories and increasing stats.  Not only was the project a success but it by integrating the various workflows we’ve been able to make it, as well as doing fun reviews by staff, part of our culture.  We hope that our experience can help you in some way make your next project as successful as the Gimme Engine.

 

About Our Guest Authors:

Aimee Fifarek is the Library Technologies and Content Senior Manager for the Scottsdale Public Library in Arizona.  She has an MLIS and an MA in English from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and spent 6 years as the Systems Librarian at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge before going to Scottsdale.  Her professional interests include ebook platforms & development, self-publishing, and mobile technologies.  She can be found on Twitter @aimeelee.

Ann Porter is the Community Relations Coordinator at the Scottsdale Public Library. She has over 11 years of marketing, PR and media relations experience, working for organizations such as a major cosmetics company, an online retargeting agency that was recently purchased by Ebay and for a major NFL team.

 


Creating quick solutions and having fun: the joy of hackathons

Women Who Code

Photo credit Adria Richards, used CC BY-SA 2.0

Hackathons– aka “hackfests”, “codefests”, or “codeathons”, are time periods dedicated to “hacking” on a problem, or creating a quick and dirty technical solution. (They have nothing to do with “hackers” in the virus or breaking into computers sense of the word). Traditionally, hackathons gave developers a chance to meet in person to work on specific technologies or platforms.  But increasingly, the concept of hackathons are used to work on solving technical problems or developing new ideas using technology in fields such as  law, public data, water supply, and making the world a better place. Academic librarians should be thinking about hackathons for several reasons: first, we help researchers to learn about innovative tools and resources in their areas, and these days a lot of this work is happening in hackathon settings. Second, hackathons are often improve library technology in open source and proprietary products alike. And third, hackathons are sometimes taking place in academic libraries (such as the University of Michigan and the University of Florida). Even non-coders can and should keep an eye on what’s going on with hackathons and start getting involved.

Origins of hackathons

People have, of course, hacked at technical problems and created innovative technical solutions since the beginning of computing. But the first known use of the term “hackathon” to describe a specific event was in June of 1999 when a group of OpenBSD developers met in Calgary to work on cryptography (see more on the record of OpenBSD hackathons). Later that same month, Sun Microsystems used the term on a Palm V project. 1 Just as in a marathon, individuals came together to accomplish a very challenging project in a short and fixed amount of time.

The term and concept became increasingly popular over the course of the first decade of the 2000s. The concept can vary widely, but is usually understood to mean a short time period (often a weekend) during which a specific problem is addressed by a group of developers working together, often by themselves but in close enough proximity to each other to meet and discuss issues. They usually are in person events where everyone meets in one location, but can be distributed virtual events. Often hackathons have prizes for best solution, and are a chance for developers to show off their talent to potential employers–sometimes companies sponsor them specifically to find new employees. But they can also be an opportunity for incubating new and learning developers (Layer 7).

Hackathons can be organized around an existing open source software community, but also frequently take place within a company to give developers a chance to come up with innovative ideas. One notable example is Facebook. In Pedram Keyani’s post, he describes the excitement that regular hackathons provide for Facebook’s engineers by giving them a chance to work on an idea without worrying about whether it scales to 900 million people. After the hackathon, developers present their prototypes to the rest of the team and have two minutes to prove that they should be part of Facebook. Some features that were developed during hackathons include the “Like” button and the ability to tag users in comments–huge pieces of functionality that might not be there without hackathons.

Hackathons in library technology

The first library technology hackathon we know about happened at the Access 2002 conference, and was modeled after PyCon code sprints (Art Rhyno, email message to author, July 18, 2012). The developers at this hackathon worked on projects related to content management systems for cultural content, citation digests, and EZProxy tools. Since then, each Access conference has had a hackathon as part of the conference. The Code4Lib conference has also had elements of hackathons (often as pre-conferences) throughout the years.

Another example of hackathons those sponsored by library vendors to promote the use of their  products’ API’s. Simply put, APIs are ways that data can go between platforms or programs so that you can create new tools with pieces of data from other systems. In 2008, OCLC sponsored a hackathon in New York City where they provided special access to various pieces of WorldCat and other OCLC products. Staff from OCLC were on hand to answer questions and facilitate breakout sessions. Hacks included work with controlled vocabularies, “find more like this” recommendation services, and several other items (Morgan). Eric Morgan, one of the participants, described  the event as a success partly because it was a good example of how librarians can take control of their vendor provided tools by learning how to get the data out and use in other ways.

How to get involved with hackathons

It’s easy to be discouraged or overwhelmed about the idea of participating in a hackathon if you are new to the open source software world. First of all, it’s important to remember that librarians who work with technology on a daily basis have a lot of ideas about how to improve the tools in their libraries. An example of this are the ideas submitted for the Access 2011 Hackfest. Ideas included bookmarklets, augmented reality in the library, and using iPads for self-checkout among many others. Reading that list may start to jog your own memory for tools you would love to see in your library but didn’t have a chance to work on yet or don’t completely understand.

But how to take those ideas and get involved with fellow developers who can help complete those projects? Many resources exist to help with this, but there are a few specifically geared at hackathons. First,  OpenHatch  is an open source project with the mission to make it easier to participate in open source software. One feature helpful to those just starting out are “Training Missions” that walk through basic skills you need such as working on the command line and using version control systems. Another area of OpenHatch shows lists of projects suitable for beginners and information on how non-coders can participate in projects. Keep an eye on the events listed there to find events geared for beginners or people still learning. Another resource for finding out and signing up for hackathons is  Hackathon.io.

Try to participate in a hackathon at the next technical library conference you attend. You can also start small by meeting up with librarians in your area for a very informal library technology hackathon. Make sure that you document what you work on and what the results were. Don’t worry about having judges or prizes–just make it a fun and collaborative event that allows everyone to participate and learn something new. You don’t need to create something new, either. This could be a great opportunity to learn how to work all the bells and whistles of a vendor platform or a social media tool.

Don’t worry–just start hacking

You can approach hackathons in whatever way works for you. For some, hackathons provide  the excitement of competing for prizes or great jobs by staying up all night coding amongst fellow developers. If the idea of staying up all night looking at a computer screen leaves you cold, don’t worry. In a April blog post, Andromeda Yelton shared her experience attending her first hackathon, and encouraged those new to this type of event to “sit at the table” both physically and by understanding that they have something to contribute even if they are not experts. She suggests that the minimum it should take to be involved in hackathons or similar projects is “interest, aptitude… [and a] drive to contribute.” (Yelton)

There are a lot of problems out there in the library world. Hackathons show us that sometimes all it takes is a weekend to get closer to a solution. But don’t worry about solving all the problems. Just pick the one you are most concerned about, find some friends, and start hacking on it.

Works cited
Layer 7 Technologies. “How to Run a Successful Hackathon for Your Open APIs”. July 12, 2012. http://www.slideshare.net/rnewton/how-to-run-a-successful-hackathon-for-your-open-apis.
Morgan, Eric Lease. “WorldCat Hackathon « Infomotions Mini-Musings.” Infomotions Mini-Musings, November 9, 2008. http://infomotions.com/blog/2008/11/worldcat-hackathon/.
Yelton, Andromeda. “My First Hackathon; or, Gender, Status, Code, and Sitting at the Table.” Across Divided Networks, April 6, 2012. http://andromedayelton.com/blog/2012/04/06/my-first-hackathon-or-gender-status-code-and-sitting-at-the-table/.
  1. This information comes from Wikipedia, but does not have a citation and I am unable to independently verify it. This is presented as common knowledge in a variety of sources, but not cited.

3D Printers in the Library: Toward a Fablab in the Academic Library

Colegrove and a student assembling an articulated model of a V8 engine
photo by Nick Crowl

Considering adding a 3D printer to the array of technology your library offers to meet your members’ needs?

The DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, recently added two 3D printers, along with a 3D scanner and supporting software, to its collection. In the spirit of sharing the tremendous excitement involved in providing a 3D printer to our community, we hope our successful experience may be of use to others as you make the case for your own library. We’ll cover the opportunities libraries can embrace with the potential 3D printing brings, what exactly 3D printing is, how 3D printing, making, and fabrication enhances and perhaps changes learning, and to illustrate we’ll talk about what we’re doing here in DeLaMare.

What’s a 3D Printer?

In a manner similar to printing images on paper, a “3D printer” is a type of additive manufacturing: a three-dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material that adhere to one another, creating a three-dimensional output.

What the material is composed of varies from one manufacturer to the next including:

  • fine cornstarch held together by “watered-down superglue”
  • ABS plastic (think Legos!) with each layer literally melted onto the other
  • high-end photopolymer printers where each layer is “printed” by flashing a 2-D image of the layer onto a thin film of a photoreactive layer deposited on the growing surface of the object, the process is similar: the three-dimensional object is constructed by printing and adhering one layer at a time.

Although the technology has been around for well over a decade, the cost for reliable printers has dropped to the point where it is now becoming widely accessible to hobbyists and the education market. Fair warning: don’t be surprised (like we were!) to find that your local high schools may already be years ahead of you in this arena. You can learn a great deal by talking to the high school teachers that may already be on their second or third iteration of the equipment. This makes sense: with the ability to rapidly produce detailed precision parts, such a device is by its very nature a rapid prototyping tool; it has a rightful place next to those CNC routers and milling machines in the shop.

But… the academic library? We would argue that the DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library and academic libraries in general are about knowledge creation, and “rapid prototyping represents the kernel activity of knowledge creation through action.” Spraggon & Bodolica, 2008.

Think of it this way: a laser printer enables students to create a tangible product of their creative writing, enabling further refinement and creation as it is marked-up and shared with others. A 3D printer can play a similar but more broadly-based role in the lives of research and learning – producing tangible models of theoretical constructs, acting as the springboard of new ideas. The ability to go from a two-dimensional model on a computer screen to a real-world object that can be handled, is potentially transformative; immediately accessible, it will not only promote but accelerate knowledge creation and innovation.

Engine assembly
Photo by Nick Crowl

 

But… a 3D printer in the library?

Not everyone can easily understand the connection between libraries and 3D printing. Sometimes stakeholders need to have the “dots connected” to better understand what it is, the value it provides in academia, and why a library is a prime location for this technology.

First consider technology that has become commonplace in today’s library:

  • copy machines, recently expanded to include scan to email functionality
  • desktop computer workstations and software
  • laptops and tablets
  • supporting equipment such as laser printers and scanners
  • audio and video production and editing equipment and staff
  • large-format (poster) printers and scanner

students look on at a piece of math art
photo by Nick Crowl

There is serious potential here

UNR Libraries and many academic libraries across the country already strategically deploy technology to enable knowledge creation across departmental boundaries. We are actively building an environment that nurtures creativity while stimulating and supporting learning and innovation across the university landscape.

The library is in a unique position to be able to leverage the wealth of learning and opportunities for knowledge creation that access to such technology can provide in a way that most individual departments are not. Because the library exists for everyone in the academic community, we are well equipped to provide open support for all. By its very nature the library is an active inter-disciplinary hub, where communities of practice cross paths regularly; rather than relegated to isolated departmental “silos” on campus, library technology explicitly enables learning and knowledge creation across disciplines. Science, Technology, Engineering & Math projects can be augmented by insights from the Arts and Humanities, and vice-versa. Regardless of academic discipline, “imagination begets fabrication, fabrication begets imagination.” (Doorley & Witthoft, 2012) 

Colegrove and student discussing the build process of the newest model.
photo by Nick Crowl

How is Rapid Prototyping a match for libraries?

Rapid Prototyping technology enables the active construction of new knowledge in a way that may be a good match for the library; beyond simply an opportunity to continue to be seen as leading the way technologically, the addition of the resource might enable your students and faculty to leverage the multidisciplinary skills and competencies needed to innovate and compete in today’s rapidly changing environment. In our case, liaison/outreach opportunities abound; currently identified needs that would be supported include:

• Chemistry Department – production of 3D chemical models and lattice structures in support of ongoing research being performed by graduate and undergraduate students working closely with teaching and research faculty. To date, the department has been required to outsource such production needs at a significant cost – both for the cost of the printing, and a lag time on the order of weeks to months for turnaround.

• Mechanical Engineering – development of custom piecework as-needed to support various projects throughout the undergraduate curriculum: from gears and structural work associated with robots and hovercraft to bridges and other structures; the students are already making heavy use of the equipment and software to meet unforeseen needs.

• Computer Sciences & Engineering – in addition to significant prototyping needs identified with several department flagship Senior Projects courses, more routine work will include the production of custom case enclosures to house prototype systems.

• Mining Engineering – production of 3D models of ore bodies and other mine structures immediately enabling learning on a level that is difficult to approach from a strictly two-dimensional print standpoint.

• Geography – structural modeling of geographic terrains, including 3D models based on traditional maps combined with other data to create tangible models of concepts being considered both in the classroom and as faculty research.

Planetary gear
Photo by Nick Crowl

Potential support could include:

• BioSciences – examples could include production of body parts models from CT or other scans; producing tangible 3D replicas of actual case studies. [ Editorial note: a research team from the Psychology department on campus has already announced their intention to print 3D models of each team member’s brain from MRI scans.]

• Business/Engineering/Physical Sciences – production of custom parts needed to prototype development in support of patent applications without overly costly outsourcing of work.

• Seismology – active production of 3D models of fault boundaries in an area of study as based on field sampling and collected data.

• Arts – need more be said? Imagine the creativity documented in Lawrence Lessig’s “Remix” extended to the world of 3D objects…

In short, rapid prototyping is a new multidisciplinary literacy that is poised to boost learning and knowledge creation across the Sciences, Engineering, and Arts across the academy. The need for rapid prototyping support is real, and the library is an appropriate place to maximize both the investment and return on the equipment.

So what kind of 3D printer to get?

As of this writing, RP publications hosts a pretty thorough comparison chart of “Comparison Chart of All 3D Printer Choices for Approximately $20,000 or less” at http://www.additive3d.com/3dpr_cht.htm. Its authors make the important points up-front:

• there’s no such thing as the “best” 3D printer, and

• the most important thing is to ask yourself what you and your community will be doing with the machine; balance current needs and future potential.

3D printing software
photo by Nick Crowl

What will we be doing with a 3D printer?

In identifying needs strongly in line with robust, droppable output; we needed to be able to print 3D models of gears, robot parts, and models that could be handled with a minimum of breakage. Stakeholders across the disciplines were quite clear that they would rather hand-paint a part made of “real” (ABS) plastic if need be than deal with pretty but fragile output.

We chose 2 printers for our maiden voyage along with supporting hardware and software:

  • Production 3D printer: Envisioned as the production engine for reliable output of precision parts, the Stratasys uPrint+/SE appeared to be the optimum choice given the demands of a production environment. The combination of reliable precision output, along with the relatively low cost of materials, promises to be a good entry point, at roughly $4.50/cubic inch of printed volume. Although the Stratasys uPrint/SE is somewhat less expensive, the “+” option adds the capability of printing in multiple colors – a feature that is likely to be key in the adoption and use of the equipment.
  • Hobbyist 3D printer: The 3DTouch printer was selected to serve both as an active display and an entry point for users experimenting with 3D print output; although the printer lacks the precision of the recommended production machine, the cost of materials with the 3DTouch are dramatically lower than for the production machine at approximately $0.60/cubic inch. The idea is that the 3DTouch can serve as a testing ground for first-round prototypes that would otherwise be printed at a significantly higher cost on the production machine.
  • Supporting hardware and software: Purchases include a single NextEngine 3D Laser Scanner, along with a single license of the supporting software RapidWorks. Capable of scanning extended real-world objects at up to 160,000 points per inch, producing a highly-detailed digital representation that can be immediately opened and manipulated in popular modeling software such as SolidWorks or AutoCAD. The educational lab license (30 floating licenses) of the Rhino 3D Modeling Tools for Learning was purchased to meet the needs of customers less comfortable with the SolidWorks software available through a partnership with Engineering on campus.

gargoyle
Photo by Nick Crowl

Connecting the Dots

It should be mentioned that the equipment identified for purchase already has a successful track record – it continues to be the choice for installation in high schools across the country for the same reasons detailed here.

The introduction of the new service already speaks loudly to the students and faculty as to UNR Library’s commitment to the continuing support of combining new with traditional technologies in support of the depth of learning that could not otherwise be obtained. In addition to directly supporting learning and innovation across disciplines at the University, the addition of rapid prototyping services may provide opportunities to introduce those that may not currently think of themselves as “library users” to the wealth of supporting resources that the library already provides. Production use of the 3D printers will build on the already well-established model of large-format printing support, developed over many years; the adoption of the new technology will not require substantial modification to existing procedures.

The great news is we are seeing both printers get use from students and faculty from a variety of departments, even through the summer. Many students have been early adopters, often spreading the news by word of mouth and bringing their work to their peers and faculty. Interestingly, the students are helping each other with the 3D scanning, manipulation and building using 3D software, as well as sharing files. The printer is available to all within the UNR community and we are also looking forward to working with a number of faculty as they add 3D printing as part of their courses and curriculum starting this fall.

Edited to add the official press release from University of Nevada, Reno: http://newsroom.unr.edu/2012/07/18/university-of-nevada-reno-library-first-in-nation-to-offer-3d-printing-campuswide/

 

References

Doorley, S., & Witthoft, S. (2012). Make space: How to set the stage for creative collaboration. (1 ed., p. 79). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Spraggon, M. and Bodolica, V. (2008). Knowledge creation processes in small innovative hi-tech firms, Management Research News, 31(11), p. 879-894.

 

About Our Guest Author: Tod Colegrove holds the degree of Master of Science in Library and Information Science with a concentration in Competitive Intelligence and Knowledge Management from Drexel University which complements additional advanced degrees held in Physics, including the Ph.D.; over 14 years experience as senior management in high-technology private industry. Actively involved in the academy across multiple scientific and engineering disciplines, and keenly aware of the issues and trends in scholarly communication in the sciences; active member of the Association of College and Research Libraries, Science and Technology Section (ACRL/STS), as well as the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) division of the ALA. At the University of Nevada, Reno, where I served multiple years as manager of the Information Commons @One at the opening of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, and currently serve as the Head of the DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library.

 


Library Code Year IG Meeting at ALA Annual Conference 2012

The LITA/ALCTS Library Code Year Interest Group was born from the wide spread interest in computer programming among librarians which coincided with Codecademy‘s Code Year program. The Library Code Year IG is active on both ALA Connect and on the Catcode wiki and held its inaugural meeting at ALA Annual last month.

The meeting started with introductions, which gave the membership an opportunity to share our goals for the group while also learning about common problems and frustrations that people have encountered while learning to code. The group came together over shared concerns and frustrations ranging from getting stuck on problems that can’t be solved alone to finding the lessons too dry when there is no real life application. Members also discussed the sense of frustration that comes from knowing that you need to know more about computer programming to keep up-to-date and simultaneously feeling guilty about time spent on computer programming lessons that aren’t directly related to a specific job duty.

Participants discussed techniques that they found helpful in teaching themselves to program, including:

  • reviewing lesson walkthroughs or keys (though some avoid this because it feels like “cheating”),
  • working through the problem with another student/mentor,
  • setting aside an allotted time daily or weekly to practice coding skills,
  • saving up multiple lessons or projects to work through in a single day of non-stop coding, and
  • finding code online that you can learn from and adapt for your own purposes.

These suggestions highlighted the importance of learning style and schedule flexibility when it comes to successfully teaching oneself to program. Just as importantly, the conversation showed that for most participants, committing to a long-term practice of regularly using these skills was key to success. This discussion provided an excellent foundation for the topics covered in the rest of the meeting.

The second portion of the meeting was devoted to lightning talks. Eric Phetteplace offered an introduction to bookmarklets. These relatively simple programs can be created with just a small amount of Javascript and can allow users to exert a powerful effect on websites through their browser. Bookmarklets run the gamut from the fun, such as Kick Ass, a bookmarklet which allows you to play Asteroids on any website, to Instapaper, which allows you to save and reformat webpages for future reading. Eric discussed some of the possible uses for libraries, including data harvesting or adding proxy server information to all links on a page. Any data on the web page can be accessed and changed with a simple script.

For those inspired to get started writing their own bookmarklets, Eric also provided concrete information on how to get started. He advocates using a template found online, echoing the meeting’s recurring theme that coders, particularly beginners, shouldn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel for every project. Instead, finding templates online that can be adapted for your purposes is often a much more efficient way to start a project and a great way to learn from the work that other coders have already done. Eric also discussed tricks and tips for bookmarklets, such as having the bookmarklet point to code hosted elsewhere for easy updates, the importance of not making assumptions about the types of websites on which the bookmarklet will be used and the difficulty (to the point of virtual impossibility) of using bookmarklets on mobile browsers.

I gave the second lightning talk, which covered resources that can be used for learning or teaching programming. As was evident from our introductions, members of the group have a wide range of different interests and approaches to learning. While Code Year has worked for some people who want to learn more about Javascript, JQuery and web programming, my talk highlighted other tools that can be used to learn Python, Ruby, Java and other languages through tutorials, videos and exercises. I also discussed options for finding in-person programming classes locally for those who prefer to work with a group in person. Those interested in finding these alternative tools can refer to the handout I prepared for this talk or to my Pearltree on the topic.

The final, and arguably most important, agenda item for the meeting was discussing plans for the future. The group brainstormed and settled on focusing our efforts on a number of different types of how-to projects including:

  • A Python preconference event for beginners based on the curriculum developed by Boston Python Users Group,
  • A project based on OCLC’s APIs,
  • A Git and GitHub how-to session,
  • An IRC how-to session, and
  • A collection of resources to support those who want to host a Hackathon.

You can see the full list of volunteers for these projects on our ALA Connect space, but we are definitely looking for more helpers for these and other projects, so let us know if you want to help out! We also hope to maintain a list of members’ areas of expertise to facilitate helping each other out. If you want to coordinate this project, or if you would just like to be included on the list, add a comment on our ALA Connect space.

This first meeting is just the first step in what we hope will be a long history for this interest group. Even if you weren’t able to attend the meeting, we want you to be able to get as much as possible out of our activities. Be sure to stay in touch and please think about getting involved with us!

About Our Guest Author: Carli Spina is the Emerging Technologies and Research Librarian at the Harvard Law School Library. She has an MSLIS from Simmons College and a JD from the University of Chicago Law School and she is one of the co-chairs of the LITA/ALCTS Library Code Year Interest Group. Her interests include emerging technologies, innovation in libraries and coding. She can be found on Twitter @CarliSpina.


LITA Mobile Computing Interest Group meeting at ALA Annual Conference 2012

I attended the ALA Annual Conference 2012 and was up bright and early to get to the 8am Sunday morning session from the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Mobile Computing Interest Group (MCIG) session. It included four presentations on a variety of different topics plus Q&A and some time for more general discussion. Below is my summary of the presentations and discussion. (The presentation slides are available at ALA Connect).

NCSU Libraries Mobile Scavenger Hunt
- Anne Burke, North Caroline State University (Slides)

Anne spoke about the way NCSU have revitalised their traditional induction sessions by offering a mobile scavenger hunt to help introduce students to navigating the library and asking librarians for help. They hoped to improve student engagement, foster confidence and introduce students to emerging technologies by using iPod Touches to deliver a scavenger hunt which they worked through in groups. Although they looked into existing solutions such as SCVNGR and Scavenger Hunt with Friends, these were either too costly or relied on geolocation which can be a problem for small areas like libraries.

Their chosen solution uses Evernote (one account for each iPod Touch, and a master one for staff) and a Google spreadsheet alongside a set of questions on paper. Students record their responses via the iPod Touch (either as text, photo or audio) as they move around the library, and staff can keep an eye on progress. When students return, they are shown a slideshow of photos from the groups, given their scores, and prizes are given out (chocolates). Any questions which appeared to cause problems are discussed as part of the feedback also. NCSU use these for an one-hour instruction sessions and are currently looking into offering a self-guided version. Further details are available on the NCSU library website.

Gimme! The mobile app development project at Scottsdale Public Library
- Aimee Fifarek and Ann Porter, Scottsdale Public Library (Slides)

Aimee and Ann shared their experiences of developing a mobile app using a grant fund. Unusually, Scottsdale Public Library received funding before deciding what sort of mobile app they wanted to produce. They established a project team bringing together technology staff and tech-savvy staff from across the library in order to get investment from a variety of different areas first, and then brainstormed ideas with the team. They also wanted to ensure whatever they built was valuable to their customer base so they employed consultants to research user needs. The consultants also then developed the app and supported implementation.

The mobile app they chose to produce, Gimme!, is a book recommendation system which combines catalogue details with book recommendations from library staff. A number of different systems are used to achieve this – they use the Goodreads API with Feedburner (which they get from their library catalogue) to combine reviews with the descriptions and book covers (using the ISBN to link it together). Gimme! works across all devices, you can try it out at: http://gimme.scottsdalelibrary.org/

Before the first Connection: A marketing campaign for a Law Library’s Mobile Application
Terry Ballard, New York Law School, Mendik Library (Slides)

Terry spoke about how the New York Law School had wanted to get ahead of the curve by implementing a mobile app. Having investigated a number of options, they chose to use a third-party solution, Boopsie. However at the time it didn’t offer support for course reserves. They spoke to Boopsie about this and arranged for Boopsie to develop this additional functionality (at no extra cost as they were aware that other libraries would be interested in this feature as well). They also wanted to integrate a Google Custom Search on mobile, so they spoke to Google and were able to add this option. Although the usage of the mobile app has so far been relatively low, the number of search sessions via mobile has stayed relatively high since the launch.

It’s time to look at our mobile website again
- Bohyun Kim, Florida International University Medical Library (Slides)

Bohyun presented a really interesting overview of the current state of mobile websites for libraries. To set the context, she gave some figures about mobile web usage in US – more mobile devices are now shipping than desktops, and over the last 5 years AT&T mobile web use has grown by 20,000%! As devices and mobile web capabilities have improved, the way we expect to use mobile websites is changing. We are spending more time accessing the web via our mobiles instead of desktop and are doing more detailed tasks such as research and shopping. Bohyun looked at the mobile websites which Aaron Tay reviewed in 2010 and revisited them to see how they had changed. It was really interesting to see the changes, many of which were common to most websites:

  • Research tools being added (or made more prominent), often with a search bar at the top of the mobile website
  • Additional functionality for library transactions (view the library account, course reserve, renew books and other items on loan)

Design had generally simplified and moved towards websites that look similar to native mobile apps, though there were different approaches. For example, some library mobile websites had moved from a list to icons, whilst others have moved from icons to a list! Bohyun concluded that it is no longer relevant to have a companion site for mobile with minimum content – the mobile site should aim to deliver the same functionality as the main website. She emphasised the importance of an environmental scan to see what others are doing, and to research your target audience to understand their needs and expectations and commented on how to market your mobile service more effectively.

Discussion

The four presentations were all excellent and we had lots of Q&As so discussion was dispersed throughout, but we also briefly discussed the general topic of responsive web design. This followed nicely from Bohyun’s presentation as it is evident that there is no longer a clear cut difference between what we expect from a mobile website and what we expect from a desktop website. Add to the mix the tablet market and its varying sizes, and it is clear that responsive web design is a useful approach to take. Fortunately, there was a presentation at the conference later that day on responsive web design and you can view further information and a copy of the presentation online.

As last time, I found the mobile computing interest group session really interesting and encourage anyone interested in mobile technologies in libraries to follow the future discussions and webinars from LITA MCIG.

About our guest author: Jo Alcock is a Researcher at Evidence Base, Birmingham City University (UK), who attended ALA Midwinter and Annual Conferences this year as one of the 2012 ALA Emerging Leaders. She is currently working on a JISC-funded project, the M-library support project, as part of the JISC Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme. Jo tweets as @joeyanne and blogs as Joeyanne Libraryanne.


A Brief Trip into Technology Planning, Brought to You By Meebo

The Day That Meebo Died

Today is the day that many librarians running reference services dreaded – Meebo discontinuing most of their products (with the exception of the Meebo Bar). Even though Meebo (or parts of it) will still live on in various Google products, that still doesn’t help those libraries who have build services and applications around a product that has been around for a while (Meebo was established in 2005).

If Meebo was any indication, even established, long running technology services can go away without much advanced notice. What is a library to do with incorporating third party applications, then? There is no way to ensure that all the services and applications that you use at your library will still be in existence for any length of time. Change is about the only constant in technology and it is up to us who deal with technology to plan for that change.

How to avoid backing your library into a corner with no escape route in sight

The worst has happened – the application you’re using is no longer being supported. Or, in a more positive light,  there’s a new alternative out there that performs better than the application your library is currently using at the moment.  The scenarios above have different priorities; migration due to discontinuation of support will probably happen on a faster timeline than upgrading to a better application. Overall, you should be prepared to survive without your current 3rd party applications with minimal amount of content loss and service disruption. For this post I’ll be focusing on third party application support and availability. Disruptions due to natural disasters, like fire, flooding, or, in Grinnell’s case, tornadoes, is equally important, but will not be covered at length in this post.

Competition (or lack there of)

When news broke that Google purchased Meebo, most weren’t sure about what would be next for the chat service. Soon afterwards, Meebo gave a month’s notice about the discontinuation of most of their products. Fortunately, alternative chat services were plentiful. Our library, for example, subscribes to LibraryH3lp, but we were using Meebo Messenger as well as the MeeboMe widget for some course pages to supplement LibraryH3lp’s services. After the announcement, our library quickly switched the messenger with Pidgin, and are working on replacing the Meebo widgets with LibraryH3lp’s widgets.

Having a diverse, healthy pool of different applications to choose from for a particular service is a good place to be when the application you use is no longer supported. Migrations are never fun, but consider the alternative. If you’re using a service or application that does not have readily available alternatives, how will your services be affected when that application is no longer supported?

The last question wasn’t rhetorical. If your answer is looking at a major service disruption, especially to services that are deemed by your library as mission-critical, then you’re putting yourself and the library in a precarious position. The same goes if the alternatives out there require a different technical skill set from your library staff. Applications that require a more advanced technical skill set will require more training and run the heightened risk of staff rejection if the required skill level is set too high.

Data wants to be backed up

Where’s your data right now? Can you export it out of the application? Do you even know if you can export your data or not? If not, then you’re setting yourself up for a preventable emergency. Exporting functionality and backups are especially important for services that are living outside of your direct control, like a hosted service. While most hosted services have backup servers to prevent loss of customer data, you should still have the ability to export your data and store it outside of the application. It’s best practice and gives you the peace of mind that you do not have to recreate years’ worth of work to restore data lost due to vendor error or lack of export functionality.

Another product that is widely used by academic libraries, LibGuides, provides a backup feature where you can export your guides in XML or individual guides in HTML. It will take some work for formatting and posting the data if needed, but the important thing is that you have your data and you can either host it locally in case of emergencies or harvest the content when the time comes to move on to another application.

Some technology service audit questions

Here are some general questions to start you down the path of evaluating where your library currently stands with third party applications you rely on for providing specific library services. Don’t worry if you find yourself not as prepared as you want to be. It’s better to start now than when you learn that another application you use will be shutting down.

  • What third party applications does your library currently use to provide library services?
  • Are there other comparable services/applications available?
    • What training resources are available for alternative applications?
    • What technical skills do these applications require? Are they compatible with the technical skills found with the majority of library staff?
  • Which applications are used for mission-critical library services?
  • Can you export your data and/or settings from the application?
    • If so, how often is the data being exported?
    • Where is the backup file stored? Locally? Remotely?
  • What is the plan if the application…
    • …is no longer supported?
    • …goes offline due to a service disruption?
      • …for a couple of hours?
      • …longer than a day?
      • …during finals week/first week of the semester/midterms (high pressure/high stakes times for library users)?

While there are many potential landmines when using third party applications for library services, these applications overall help expand and provide user services in various ways. Instead of becoming a technological recluse and shunning outside applications, use these applications wisely and make sure that your library has a plan in place.


Applying Game Dynamics to Library Services

There is a lot of talk about games at libraries. Public libraries in particular have been active in incorporating games in their programs and collections. Even for academic libraries, gaming is no longer a foreign topic. The 2012 Horizon Report sees Game-Based Learning to be on the 2-3 years horizon for adoption. That is not a very long time away from the present.

I am not going to talk about games here, of which I am a rather poor player in general. Instead, I would like to talk about game dynamics and how they can be applied to library services. I am really late for writing about this idea, which I heard about a few years ago. But probably now is as good a time as any as the Horizon Report this year mentions gaming.

A light bulb in my head lit up when I listened to the TED talk, “The game layer on top of the world” by Seth Priebatsch during my commute. (See the video below.) There, he talks about the game layer as something that is being built now after the social layer that Facebook has pretty much established. Just as the social layer has fundamentally changed the mode of human interaction and the way of our lives as a result, Priebatsch sees a similar potential in the game layer.

What has attracted my attention in this talk about the game layer was not so much the game per se as the impressive power the game dynamics wield to human beings.  Once you hear those examples of the game dynamics, their impact is immediately obvious. But until now, I haven’t had a conscious understanding about how successful well-designed games can be at providing people with such engaging and immersive experience.

According to Priebatsch, among those game dynamics are: (a) appointment dynamic, (b) influence & status, (c) progress dynamic, and (d) communal discovery. (He says that there are three more but he only mentions four in the talk.) Since he details what each of these dynamics mean in the talk below with clear examples, I am not going to repeat the explanation.

Seth Priebatsch: The game layer on top of the world

To simply put, these game dynamics are very powerful motivators for human action. Did you know that Farmville can change the behavior pattern of over 70 million people by simply changing a rule for how often a Farmville user needs to water the crop? The power of these game dynamics stems from the fact that they require meeting relatively simple conditions in return for attainable rewards. Games usually begin with simple tasks that award you with some goods and elevation in your status or level. Then gradually, the tasks become complicated for more challenging rewards. The game dynamics drive game players to plan and perform simple to complicated actions. These often motivate individuals to exert a significant level of diligence, creativity, and resourcefulness.

What is really cool about these game dynamics is that they are applicable to any human action in the real world, and not just in the gaming world. Sure, you can create a game to tap into people’s creativity and diligence. (In another TED talk, “Gaming can make a better world,” Jane McGonigal explores the possibility of harnessing the human energy and creativity spent on gaming to solve the real-world problems. See the video below.) But, you do not have to. You can just as easily embed these game dynamics outside the traditional game sphere. These dynamics tend to be quite effectively utilized in games. But they do not have to be restricted to online games.

So my question is whether these game dynamics can be applied to make library services more engaging and interesting to library users? Can libraries take advantage of these game dynamics to help library users to attain the goals that they themselves probably want to reach but often fail to? 

Here are some of my thought-experiments applying game dynamics to library services.

  1. Provide level-up experience for library users.
    Suppose your user logs into a library proxy system every time for browsing library’s databases, e-books, and e-journals. How about based upon the time spent and the number and frequency of log-ins, allowing the user to level up from ‘novice library user’ to ‘super researcher’?  Of course, you would probably want to use way more appealing terms such as “Paladin level 20 Killer Ninja Researcher” instead of “Super Researcher.”
  2. Award some status and powers associated with library use that can be admired (with the addition of visible tokens for them).
    Allow users to tweet, Facebook, and G+ their updated status and powers as they level up, so that it can be boasted to others. Status and power is meaningless unless it is looked up to by others in one’s own community. How about re-issuing library cards as in Judo with some sort of belt system: red belt, black belt, brown belt, white belt etc.? Add up some sleek mini-posters that celebrate some of those high belt status in the library space where everybody can see. Or even better something users can boast in their Facebook pages. It might just work to motivate library users to study more, read more, and research more.
  3. Show the progress bar in library catalog.
    The progress bar makes you goal-oriented. It gives you satisfaction whenever you move the bar one notch to the right. It makes you feel that you are moving towards something good. Why not show the progress bar in the library OPAC? If a user run a search, show the progress! If a user selects a record in the search results, move one notch up in the progress bar. If s/he clicks holdings or the links in the record, how about showing the Happy Face or a Dancing Penguin for a second before moving on? Humans have such a soft spot for positive feedback that if a required action is simple and easy enough, they might just do it for fun.
  4. Color-code the status of checked-out books.
    In the library’s “My Account” page, mark past-due books as red and newly checked-out books as green. Items that are about the midway of the check-out period can be in yellow. Or show it as an hourglass that loses its sand on the top part as you pass the due date of library books. This may make people more compelled to return the overdue items.
  5. Library currency to accumulate and spend?
    Let users to boast taking out and returning books from the library to others.  Maybe give them points per transaction? Social reading is already a big phenomenon. Combined with a library, it can create even more fun experience.  Maybe it can be just like Gowalla or Foursquare. Maybe users can trace their reading history and find others with a similar reading pattern. How about letting library users to accumulate and spend library points (or currency) for coffee at a library cafe? Now some students may seriously start reading.

Game dynamics are significant because they can be used to build a foundation for our willing participation in a project for our own optimum performance.  Libraries have been an indispensable means for individuals who aspire for learning, experience, and knowledge, and serving those individuals has been always a crucial mission of libraries. Game dynamics can be utilized to help libraries to serve such mission more effectively.

PS. Also check out the talk below by Jane McGonigal about her explanation regarding why people are so much more successful at games than at the real life and how we may perhaps harness that potential to solve the real life problems.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

 


Design 101: design elements, part 2 Typography

Previously I wrote about the importance of design in libraries, the design process and discussed three core elements of design: color, composition, and size. In this post, I’d like to focus on typography. Though not traditionally a design element, typography is more a tool or a language to use within your design to convey the message you are trying to achieve.

As mentioned previously, design elements work together to create a successful design that communicates to your audience if used well, and typography is no exception.

Type is rather complex and has a rich history. There are abundant options available with free and for-a-fee font files available. There are even resources available to have beautifully designed type on your website. Designers still create typefaces from scratch if needed, particularly for decorative uses. But it is perfectly acceptable to use already available font files and most designers do this. To create thoughtful designs using type well does not have to be difficult; with some basic knowledge, you can successfully choose the right type for the job and develop a successful design.

About fonts versus typefaces

As you work in design, it’s good practice to use the correct terminology. When most people talk about letterforms, they use the term, “fonts.” However what most people really mean is “typeface.” Fonts are really the format in which the typeface is available- librarians can understand this distinction easily. As Ellen Lupton states in Thinking With Type, “A typeface is the design of the letterforms; a font is the delivery mechanism…In digital systems, the typeface is the visual design, while the font is the software that allows you to install, access, and output the design.” Lupton’s book is a resource I highly recommend by the way. If you read nothing else about design and type, please read her book. I’ve provided the citation toward the end of the post.

Typography versus design

Typography within design should never be an afterthought. In fact, in many cases the typeface you choose can make or break a design. Every design should be a fluid creation, balancing between the various design elements and type. A designs are being created, it is best to bring the elements up together, tweaking and adjusting each piece as you go while also taking that step back to see the whole picture. As in writing, it can be more beneficial to keep the overall theme and outline in mind as you work on various details and sections of a piece; being too focused in on one small detail may be detrimental to the overall design piece.

Basics

There is a lot to learn and geek out over design and typography but rather than overwhelm, I’m going to give some good basics about type that will get you started right away. There are several main type classifications and the main three groupings are humanist, transitional, and modern or geometric.

Ellen Lupton defines each as the following: “Humanist letterforms are closely connected to calligraphy and the movement of the hand. Transitional and modern typefaces are more abstract and less organic.”

For the purpose of this post and for what you really need to know, I’m going to lump them into four categories based on the look of the typeface: Serif, Slab Serif, Sans Serif, and Decorative. There are examples of each one below.

Serif

Serif typefaces essentially have feet. Serif typefaces are essentially more organic and derive from various periods in history. You see these typefaces traditionally used in novels and blocks of text. Their use is not limited to that, however. There are many new Serif typefaces being developed that are contemporary based on their more historic predecessors.

Baskerville

Baskerville

Garamond

Garamond

Typographic Anatomy Lesson print: http://www.ligatureloopandstem.com/product/lesson-plan-print

Slab Serif
Slab Serif typefaces also have feet but their feet are blockier and slab-like, hence the name. These typefaces were developed for advertising and are more contemporary than traditional Serifs. These are used in a variety of ways but are popular for titles, posters, flyers, websites, and logos.

Museo Slab

Museo Slab

archer

Archer from the H&FJ foundry: http://www.typography.com/fonts/font_overview.php?productLineID=100033&path=head

Sans serif

As the name implies, these typefaces do not have Serifs or “feet”. They are generally more contemporary and less organic than Serif typefaces. These are very popular for text within websites, logos, and posters.

Helvetica

Helvetica

Gill Sans

Gill Sans

Keep Calm by K-Type: http://www.k-type.com/?p=2199

Decorative
Decorative or ornamental typefaces are self explanatory. These are typefaces that can stand alone as an image or illustration. They are highly decorative and should be used very carefully as they can overpower a design or clash more easily with other elements. Not all decorative typefaces are equal and many designers who are really good with decorative type do the lettering by hand and specialize in this area specifically. When done well and with skill, decorative typefaces are a true art form and when done poorly, they can quickly highlight an amateurish design. Decorative type is gaining in popularity as people, designers and non-designers alike, are embracing retro styles again and these typefaces are seeing a resurgence in use.

Rosewood STD

Rosewood STD

Decorative type from Louise Fili

Decorative type from Louise Fili: http://www.louisefili.com/

 

Bold, Italic, Underlined, Caps, and, and, and….

There is nothing wrong with using these elements. However it’s a good rule of thumb to use them sparingly and not all at once. By using them judiciously, they will have more impact and continue to maintain readability, which is key to design. Use them with caution.

Use

As you design and use type, be aware of what your type may be conveying to your audience and the medium in which you are designing in. Some typefaces are more successful on screen than others and some typefaces are specifically designed for print, screen, etc. A good resource for typefaces on the web is the 3rd edition of The Web Style Guide. There is a section specifically on typography that is helpful and gives insite into where typefaces are today.

Like all design elements and design in general, you are communicating with others. What is the type you are using saying? Does it fit with the message you want to send? Are you going for a modern and sleek look? Do you want to give your design a tactile/print feel or maybe you want it to be an homage to a specific period in design history? How does the typeface fit in with the rest of your design? What kind of mood might you be setting with the type and design elements you’ve put together? Type has a personality so be sure to choose a typeface that assists and hopefully conveys the message you want to give.

The end

At this point, you have the type basics and I hope that this gets you thinking more about the typefaces you see and perhaps use in your designs. I highly encourage reading Ellen Lupton’s book, Thinking With Type: a critical guide for designers, writers, editors, and students. She goes over a good deal of design basics and some design history and it’s a quick, enjoyable, informative read.

A couple of other good resources are: The FontFeed and The Elements of Typographic Style.

The best way to learn type and design is to just start. Things change so quickly and what was once right can become wrong or out of style very quickly. In design, you learn much more quickly by designing and making work. So pick a project and begin!


The Middle Way of Mobile App Design

We’ve heard this conversation on mobile app design before, where well meaning coders will say to you: “don’t design native mobile apps, it isn’t worth your time, ” followed by the common refrain/rebuttal : “native apps take advantage of the hardware, like camera, and WiFi components of the phone…”

I’m not very interested in the debate, since it isn’t a very informed or intelligent discussion when one argues of developing native apps over mobile web apps, or the binary opposite. The common misconception is that there are only two approaches to design of mobile apps: native or web-based. The native approach includes developing in compiled languages like Java in the Android platform, and Objective C in the iOS platform. Web based mobile apps make use of HTML5 and CSS and Javascript to achieve an app-like interface and experience. A popular template used in the web based approach is the JQuery mobile framework: http://jquerymobile.com/

But there is a middle way.  You can design and build a mobile app utilizing compiled languages as well as HTML, CSS and Javascript. The hybrid approach is HTML with native app elements. These rely on using cross platform mobile frameworks, like the PhoneGap framework (http://phonegap.com/).

You might wonder — why make an app using the PhoneGap framework? Using this HTML5 + native tools approach allows you to get into the hardware of the phone; like camera data, to incorporate things like a barcode scanner into your hybrid app. A full list of API elements is available here: http://docs.phonegap.com/en/1.9.0/index.html.  If you want a more basic rundown of how PhoneGap itself works in a library context, check out a past ALA presentation I did for the Mobile Computing Interest Group back in 2010: http://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/16542

Mobile app stores like Google Play and the Apple iTunes App Store help to drive traffic to your services and sites, and they will result in increased use of your library services and collections –and make possible new services, by their sheer existence.

Here are a few examples of apps I’ve built this way:

UGL4EVA

video tour of the undergrad library

–video tour app of the undergrad library, code available here: https://github.com/jimfhahn/ugl4eva

New LIS Books

new book app

— recently added Library and Information Science books at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, code available here: https://github.com/jimfhahn/newbooks

What your users and library will need is, of course, entirely up to you, but to know the options available such as hybrid approaches is a way to make informed and intelligent decisions about your library’s mobile presence.

 

Full disclosure: I researched and wrote an iPhone development book unpacking a hybrid approach to mobile application design that advances ways for web developers to make their apps available from the iTunes app store (goo.gl/n3LUB). But you could also make your apps available from Google Play, using the Hybrid approach as well.