Cybersecurity, Usability, Online Privacy, and Digital Surveillance

Cybersecurity is an interesting and important topic, one closely connected to those of online privacy and digital surveillance. Many of us know that it is difficult to keep things private on the Internet. The Internet was invented to share things with others quickly, and it excels at that job. Businesses that process transactions with customers and store the information online are responsible for keeping that information private. No one wants social security numbers, credit card information, medical history, or personal e-mails shared with the world. We expect and trust banks, online stores, and our doctor’s offices to keep our information safe and secure.

However, keeping private information safe and secure is a challenging task. We have all heard of security breaches at J.P Morgan, Target, Sony, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Office of Personnel Management of the U.S. federal government, University of Maryland at College Park, and Indiana University. Sometimes, a data breach takes place when an institution fails to patch a hole in its network systems. Sometimes, people fall for a phishing scam, or a virus in a user’s computer infects the target system. Other times, online companies compile customer data into personal profiles. The profiles are then sold to data brokers and on into the hands of malicious hackers and criminals.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/4978430615

Image from Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/4978430615

Cybersecurity vs. Usability

To prevent such a data breach, institutional IT staff are trained to protect their systems against vulnerabilities and intrusion attempts. Employees and end users are educated to be careful about dealing with institutional or customers’ data. There are systematic measures that organizations can implement such as two-factor authentication, stringent password requirements, and locking accounts after a certain number of failed login attempts.

While these measures strengthen an institution’s defense against cyberattacks, they may negatively affect the usability of the system, lowering users’ productivity. As a simple example, security measures like a CAPTCHA can cause an accessibility issue for people with disabilities.

Or imagine that a university IT office concerned about the data security of cloud services starts requiring all faculty, students, and staff to only use cloud services that are SOC 2 Type II certified as an another example. SOC stands for “Service Organization Controls.” It consists of a series of standards that measure how well a given service organization keeps its information secure. For a business to be SOC 2 certified, it must demonstrate that it has sufficient policies and strategies that will satisfactorily protect its clients’ data in five areas known as “Trust Services Principles.” Those include the security of the service provider’s system, the processing integrity of this system, the availability of the system, the privacy of personal information that the service provider collects, retains, uses, discloses, and disposes of for its clients, and the confidentiality of the information that the service provider’s system processes or maintains for the clients. The SOC 2 Type II certification means that the business had maintained relevant security policies and procedures over a period of at least six months, and therefore it is a good indicator that the business will keep the clients’ sensitive data secure. The Dropbox for Business is SOC 2 certified, but it costs money. The free version is not as secure, but many faculty, students, and staff in academia use it frequently for collaboration. If a university IT office simply bans people from using the free version of Dropbox without offering an alternative that is as easy to use as Dropbox, people will undoubtedly suffer.

Some of you may know that the USPS website does not provide a way to reset the password for users who forgot their usernames. They are instead asked to create a new account. If they remember the account username but enter the wrong answers to the two security questions more than twice, the system also automatically locks their accounts for a certain period of time. Again, users have to create a new account. Clearly, the system that does not allow the password reset for those forgetful users is more secure than the one that does. However, in reality, this security measure creates a huge usability issue because average users do forget their passwords and the answers to the security questions that they set up themselves. It’s not hard to guess how frustrated people will be when they realize that they entered a wrong mailing address for mail forwarding and are now unable to get back into the system to correct because they cannot remember their passwords nor the answers to their security questions.

To give an example related to libraries, a library may decide to block all international traffic to their licensed e-resources to prevent foreign hackers who have gotten hold of the username and password of a legitimate user from accessing those e-resources. This would certainly help libraries to avoid a potential breach of licensing terms in advance and spare them from having to shut down compromised user accounts one by one whenever those are found. However, this would make it impossible for legitimate users traveling outside of the country to access those e-resources as well, which many users would find it unacceptable. Furthermore, malicious hackers would probably just use a proxy to make their IP address appear to be located in the U.S. anyway.

What would users do if their organization requires them to reset passwords on a weekly basis for their work computers and several or more systems that they also use constantly for work? While this may strengthen the security of those systems, it’s easy to see that it will be a nightmare having to reset all those passwords every week and keeping track of them not to forget or mix them up. Most likely, they will start using less complicated passwords or even begin to adopt just one password for all different services. Some may even stick to the same password every time the system requires them to reset it unless the system automatically detects the previous password and prevents the users from continuing to use the same one. Ill-thought-out cybersecurity measures can easily backfire.

Security is important, but users also want to be able to do their job without being bogged down by unwieldy cybersecurity measures. The more user-friendly and the simpler the cybersecurity guidelines are to follow, the more users will observe them, thereby making a network more secure. Users who face cumbersome and complicated security measures may ignore or try to bypass them, increasing security risks.

Image from Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/4978430615

Image from Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/4978430615

Cybersecurity vs. Privacy

Usability and productivity may be a small issue, however, compared to the risk of mass surveillance resulting from aggressive security measures. In 2013, the Guardian reported that the communication records of millions of people were being collected by the National Security Agency (NSA) in bulk, regardless of suspicion of wrongdoing. A secret court order prohibited Verizon from disclosing the NSA’s information request. After a cyberattack against the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California system installed a device that is capable of capturing, analyzing, and storing all network traffic to and from the campus for over 30 days. This security monitoring was implemented secretly without consulting or notifying the faculty and those who would be subject to the monitoring. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the IT staff who installed the system were given strict instructions not to reveal it was taking place. Selected committee members on the campus were told to keep this information to themselves.

The invasion of privacy and the lack of transparency in these network monitoring programs has caused great controversy. Such wide and indiscriminate monitoring programs must have a very good justification and offer clear answers to vital questions such as what exactly will be collected, who will have access to the collected information, when and how the information will be used, what controls will be put in place to prevent the information from being used for unrelated purposes, and how the information will be disposed of.

We have recently seen another case in which security concerns conflicted with people’s right to privacy. In February 2016, the FBI requested Apple to create a backdoor application that will bypass the current security measure in place in its iOS. This was because the FBI wanted to unlock an iPhone 5C recovered from one of the shooters in San Bernadino shooting incident. Apple iOS secures users’ devices by permanently erasing all data when a wrong password is entered more than ten times if people choose to activate this option in the iOS setting. The FBI’s request was met with strong opposition from Apple and others. Such a backdoor application can easily be exploited for illegal purposes by black hat hackers, for unjustified privacy infringement by other capable parties, and even for dictatorship by governments. Apple refused to comply with the request, and the court hearing was to take place in March 22. The FBI, however, withdrew the request saying that it found a way to hack into the phone in question without Apple’s help. Now, Apple has to figure out what the vulnerability in their iOS if it wants its encryption mechanism to be foolproof. In the meanwhile, iOS users know that their data is no longer as secure as they once thought.

Around the same time, the Senate’s draft bill titled as “Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016,” proposed that people should be required to comply with any authorized court order for data and that if that data is “unintelligible” – meaning encrypted – then it must be decrypted for the court. This bill is problematic because it practically nullifies the efficacy of any end-to-end encryption, which we use everyday from our iPhones to messaging services like Whatsapp and Signal.

Because security is essential to privacy, it is ironic that certain cybersecurity measures are used to greatly invade privacy rather than protect it. Because we do not always fully understand how the technology actually works or how it can be exploited for both good and bad purposes, we need to be careful about giving blank permission to any party to access, collect, and use our private data without clear understanding, oversight, and consent. As we share more and more information online, cyberattacks will only increase, and organizations and the government will struggle even more to balance privacy concerns with security issues.

Why Libraries Should Advocate for Online Privacy?

The fact that people may no longer have privacy on the Web should concern libraries. Historically, libraries have been strong advocates of intellectual freedom striving to keep patron’s data safe and protected from the unwanted eyes of the authorities. As librarians, we believe in people’s right to read, think, and speak freely and privately as long as such an act itself does not pose harm to others. The Library Freedom Project is an example that reflects this belief held strongly within the library community. It educates librarians and their local communities about surveillance threats, privacy rights and law, and privacy-protecting technology tools to help safeguard digital freedom, and helped the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, to become the first library to operate a Tor exit replay, to provide anonymity for patrons while they browse the Internet at the library.

New technologies brought us the unprecedented convenience of collecting, storing, and sharing massive amount of sensitive data online. But the fact that such sensitive data can be easily exploited by falling into the wrong hands created also the unparalleled level of potential invasion of privacy. While the majority of librarians take a very strong stance in favor of intellectual freedom and against censorship, it is often hard to discern a correct stance on online privacy particularly when it is pitted against cybersecurity. Some even argue that those who have nothing to hide do not need their privacy at all.

However, privacy is not equivalent to hiding a wrongdoing. Nor do people keep certain things secrets because those things are necessarily illegal or unethical. Being watched 24/7 will drive any person crazy whether s/he is guilty of any wrongdoing or not. Privacy allows us safe space to form our thoughts and consider our actions on our own without being subject to others’ eyes and judgments. Even in the absence of actual massive surveillance, just the belief that one can be placed under surveillance at any moment is sufficient to trigger self-censorship and negatively affects one’s thoughts, ideas, creativity, imagination, choices, and actions, making people more conformist and compliant. This is further corroborated by the recent study from Oxford University, which provides empirical evidence that the mere existence of a surveillance state breeds fear and conformity and stifles free expression. Privacy is an essential part of being human, not some trivial condition that we can do without in the face of a greater concern. That’s why many people under political dictatorship continue to choose death over life under mass surveillance and censorship in their fight for freedom and privacy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation states that privacy means respect for individuals’ autonomy, anonymous speech, and the right to free association. We want to live as autonomous human beings free to speak our minds and think on our own. If part of a library’s mission is to contribute to helping people to become such autonomous human beings through learning and sharing knowledge with one another without having to worry about being observed and/or censored, libraries should advocate for people’s privacy both online and offline as well as in all forms of communication technologies and devices.


Are Your LibGuides 2.0 (images, tables, & videos) mobile friendly? Maybe not, and here’s what you can do about it.

LibGuides version 2 was released in summer 2014, and built on Bootstrap 3. However, after examining my own institutions’ guides, and conducting a simple random sampling of academic libraries in the United States, I found that many LibGuides did not display well on phones or mobile devices when it came to images, videos, and tables. Springshare documentation stated that LibGuides version 2 is mobile friendly out of the box and no additional coding is necessary, however, I found this not to necessarily be accurate. While the responsive features are available, they aren’t presented clearly as options in the graphical interface and additional coding needs to be added using the HTML editor in order for mobile display to be truly responsive when it comes to images, videos, and tables.

At my institution, our LibGuides are reserved for our subject librarians to use for their research and course guides. We also use the A-Z database list and other modules. As the LibGuides administrator, I’d known since its version 2 release that the new system was built on Bootstrap, but I didn’t know enough about responsive design to do anything about it at the time. It wasn’t until this past October when I began redesigning our library’s website using Bootstrap as the framework that I delved into customizing our Springshare products utilizing what I had learned.

I have found while looking at our own guides individually, and speaking to the subject librarians about their process, that they have been creating and designing their guides by letting the default settings take over for images, tables, and videos.  As a result, several tables are running out of their boxes, images are getting distorted, and videos are stretched vertically and have large black top and bottom margins. This is because additional coding and/or tweaking is indeed necessary in most cases for these to display correctly on mobile.

I’m by no means a Bootstrap expert, but my findings have been verified with Springshare, and I was told by Springshare support that they will be looked at by the developers. Support indicated that there may be a good reason things work as they do, perhaps to give users flexibility in their decisions, or perhaps a technical reason. I’m not sure, but for now we have begun work on making the adjustments so they display correctly. I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences with these elements and what they have had to do, if anything to assure they are responsive.

Method

Initially, as I learned how to use Bootstrap with the LibGuides system, I looked at my own library’s subject guides and testing the responsiveness and display. To start, I browsed through our guides with my Android phone. I then used Chrome and IE11 on desktop and resized the windows to see if the tables stayed within their boxes, and images respond appropriately. I peeked at the HTML and elements within LibGuides to see how the librarians had their items configured. Once I realized the issues were similar across all guides, I took my search further. Selfishly hoping it wasn’t just us, I used the LibGuides Community site where I sorted the list by libraries on version 2, then sorted by academic libraries. Each state’s list had to be looked at separately (you can’t sort by the whole United States). I placed all libraries from each state in a separate Excel sheet in alphabetical order. Using the random sort function, I examined two to three, sometimes five libraries per state (25 states viewed) by following the link provided in the community site list. I also inspected the elements of several LibGuides in my spreadsheet live in Chrome. I removed dimensions or styling to see how the pages responded since I don’t have admin access to any other universities guides. I created a demo guide for the purposes of testing where I inserted various tables, images and videos.

Some Things You Can Try

Even if you or your LibGuides authors may or may not be familiar with Bootstrap or fundamentals of responsive design, anyone should be able to design or update these guide elements using the instructions below; there is no serious Bootstrap knowledge needed for these solutions.

Tables

As we know, tables should not be used for layout. They are meant to display tabular data. This is another issue I came across in my investigation. Many librarians are using tables in this manner. Aside from being an outdated practice, this poses a more serious issue on a mobile device. Authors can learn how to float images, or create columns and rows right within the HTML Editor as an alternative. So for the purposes of this post, I’ll only be using a table in a tabular format.

When inserting a table using the table icon in the rich text editor you are asked typical table questions. How many rows? How many columns? In speaking with the librarians here at my institution, no one is really giving it much thought beyond this. They are filling in these blanks, inserting the table, and populating it. Or worse, copying and pasting a table created in Word. 

However, if you leave things as they are and the table has any width to it, this will be your result once minimized or viewed on mobile device:

Figure 1: Rows overflowing from table

Figure 1: LibGuides default table with no responsive class added

As you can see, the table runs out of the container (the box). To alleviate this, you will have to open the HTML Editor, find where the table begins, and wrap the table in the table-responsive class. The HTML Editor is available to all regular users, no administrative access is needed. If you aren’t familiar with adding classes, you will also need to close the tag after the last table code you see. The HTML looks something like this:

<div class="table-responsive">
    all the other elements go here
</div>

Below is the result of wrapping all table elements in the table-responsive class. As you can see it is cleaner, there is no run-off, and bootstrap added a horizontal scroll bar since the table is really too big for the box once it is resized. On a phone, you can now swipe sideways to scroll through the table.

Figure 3: Result of adding the responsive table class

Figure 2: Result of adding the responsive table class.

Springshare has also made the Bootstrap table styling classes available, which you can see in the editor dropdown as well. You can experiment with these to see which styling you prefer (borders, hover rows, striped rows…), but they don’t replace adding the table-responsive class to the table.

Images

When inserting an image in a LibGuides box, the system brings the dimensions of the image with it into the Image Properties box by default. After various tests I found it best to match the image size to the layout/box prior to uploading, and then remove the dimensions altogether from within the Image Properties box (and don’t place it in an unresponsive table). This can easily be done right within the Image Properties box when the image is inserted. It can also be done in the HTML Editor afterwards.

Figure 4: Image dimensions can be removed in the Image Properties box

Figure 3: Image dimensions can be removed in the Image Properties box.

 

Image dimensions removed

On the left: dimensions in place. On the right: dimensions removed.

By removing the dimensions, the image is better able to resize accordingly, especially in IE which seems to be less forgiving than Chrome. Guide creators should also add descriptive Alternative Text while in the Image Properties box for accessibility purposes.

Some users may be tempted to resize large images by adjusting the dimensions right in the Properties box . However, doing this doesn’t actually decrease the size that gets passed to the user so it doesn’t help download speed. Substantial resizing needs to be done prior to upload. Springshare recommends adjustments of no more than 10-15%.1

Videos

There are a few things I tried while figuring the best way to embed a YouTube video:

    1.  Use the YouTube embed code as is. Which can result in a squished image, and a lot of black border in the top and bottom margins.

Default Youtube embed code

    1. Use the YouTube embed code but remove the iframe dimensions (width=”560″ height=”315″). Results in a small image that looks fine, but stays small regardless of the box size.
    2. Use the YouTube embed code, remove the iframe dimensions and add the embed-responsive class. In this case, 16by9. This results in a nice responsive display, with no black margins. Alternately, I discovered that leaving the iframe dimensions while adding the responsive class looks nearly the same.

Youtube embed code dimensions removed and responsive class added

It should also be noted that LibGuides creators and editors should manually add a “title” attribute to the embed code for accessibility.2 Neither LibGuides nor YouTube does this automatically, so it’s up to the guide creator to add it in the HTML Editor. In addition, the “frameborder=0” will be overwritten by Bootstrap, so you can remove it or leave, it’s up to you.

Considering Box Order/Stacking

The way boxes stack and order on smaller devices is also something LibGuides creators or editors should take into consideration. The layout is essentially comprised of columns, and in Bootstrap the columns stack a certain way depending on device size.

I’ve tested several guides and believe the following are representative of how boxes will stack on a phone, or small mobile device. However, it’s always best to test your layout to be sure. Test your own guides by minimizing and resizing your browser window and watch how they stack.

Box stacking order of a guide with no large top box and three columns.

 

Box stacking order of a guide with a large top box and two columns.

 

Conclusion

After looking at the number of libraries that have these same issues, it may be safe to say that our subject librarians are similar to others in regard to having limited HTML, CSS, or design skills. They rely on LibGuides easy to use interface and system to do most of the work as their time is limited, or they have no interest in learning these additional skills. Our librarians spend most of their teaching time in a classroom, using a podium and large screen, or at the reference desk on large screens. Because of this they are not highly attuned to the mobile user and how their guides display on other devices, even though their guides are being accessed by students on phones or tablets. We will be initiating a mobile reference service soon, perhaps this will help bring further awareness. For now, I recently taught an internal workshop in order demonstrate and share what I have learned in hopes of helping the librarians get these elements fixed. Helping ensure new guides will be created with mobile in mind is also a priority. To date, several librarians have gone through their guides and made the changes where necessary. Others have summer plans to update their guides and address these issues at the same time. I’m not aware of any way to make these changes in bulk, since they are very individual in nature.

 


Danielle Rosenthal is the Web Development & Design Librarian at Florida Gulf Coast University. She is responsible for the library’s web site and its applications in support of teaching, learning, and scholarship activities of the FGCU Library community. Her interests include user interface, responsive, and information design.

 

Notes:

1 Maximizing your LibGuides for Mobile http://buzz.springshare.com/springynews/news-29/tips
2 http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/accessibility-testing-libguides-2-0


Supporting Library Staff Technology Training

Keeping up with technical skills and finding time to learn new things can be a struggle, no matter your role in a library (or in any organization, for that matter).  In some academic libraries, professional development opportunities have been historically available to librarians and library faculty, and less available (or totally unavailable) for staff positions.  In this post, I argue that this disparity, where it may exist, is not only prima facie unfair, but can reduce innovation and willingness to change in the library.  If your library does not have a policy that specifically addresses training and professional development for all library staff, this post will provide some ideas on how to start crafting one.

In this post, when referring to “training and professional development,” I mostly have in mind technology training – though a training policy could cover non-technical training, such as leadership, time management, or project management training (though of course, some of those skills are closely related to technology).

Rationale

In the absence of a staff training policy or formal support for staff training, staff are likely still doing the training, but may not feel supported by the library to do so.  In ACRL TechConnect’s 2015 survey on learning programming in libraries, respondents noted disparities at their libraries between support for technical training for faculty or librarian positions and staff positions.  Respondents also noted that even though support for training was available in principle (e.g., funding was potentially available for travel or training), workloads were too high to find the time to complete training and professional development, and some respondents indicated learning on their own time was the only feasible way to train.   A policy promoting staff training and professional development should therefore explicitly allocate time and resources for training, so that training can actually be completed during work hours.

There is not a significant amount of recent research reflecting the impact of staff training on library operations.  Research in other industries has found that staff training can improve morale, reduce employee turnover and increase organizational innovation.1  In a review of characteristics of innovative companies, Choudhary (2014) found that “Not surprisingly, employees are the most important asset of an organization and the most important source of innovation.” 2  Training and workshops – particularly those that feature “lectures/talks from accomplished persons outside the organization” are especially effective in fostering happy and motivated employees 3 – and it’s happy and motivated employees that contribute most to a culture of innovation in an organization.

Key Policy Elements

Time

Your policy should outline how much time for training is available to each employee (for example, 2 hours a week or 8 hours a month).  Ensuring that staff have enough time for training while covering their existing duties is the most challenging part of implementing a training policy or plan.  For service desks in particular, scheduling adequate coverage while staff are doing professional development can be very difficult – especially as many libraries are understaffed.  To free up time, an option might be to train and promote a few student workers to do higher-level tasks to cover staff during training (you’ll need to budget to pay these students a higher wage for this work).  If your library wants to promote a culture of learning among staff, but there really is no time available to staff to do training, then the library probably needs more staff.

A training policy should be clear that training should be scheduled in advance with supervisor approval, and supervisors should be empowered to integrate professional development time into existing schedules.  Your policy may also specify that training hours can be allocated more heavily during low-traffic times in the library, such as summer, spring, and winter breaks, and that employees will likely train less during high-traffic or project-intensive times of the year.  In this way, a policy that specifies that an employee has X number of training hours per month or year might be more flexible than a policy that calls for X number of training hours per week.

Equipment and Space

Time is not enough.  Equipment, particularly mobile devices such as iPads or laptops – should also be available for staff use and checkout. These devices should be configured to enable staff to install required plugins and software for viewing webinars and training videos.   Library staff whose offices are open and vulnerable to constant interruption by patrons or student workers may find training is more effective if they have the option to check out a mobile device and head to another area – away from their desk – to focus.  Quiet spaces and webinar viewing rooms may also be required, and most libraries already have group or individual study areas.  Ensure that your policy states whether or how staff may reserve these spaces for training use.

Funding

There are tons of training materials, videos, and courses that are freely available online – but there are also lots of webinars and workshops that have a cost that are totally worth paying for.  A library that offers funding for professional development for some employees (such as librarians or those with faculty status), but not others, risks alienating staff and sending the message that staff learning is not valued by the organization.  Staff should know what the process is to apply for funding to travel, attend workshops, and view webinars.  Be sure to write up the procedures for requesting this funding either in the training policy itself or documented elsewhere but available to all employees.  Funding might be limited, but it’s vital to be transparent about travel funding request procedures.

An issue that is probably outside of the scope of a training policy, but is nonetheless very closely related, is staff pay.  If you’re asking staff to train more, know more, and do more, compensation needs to reflect this. Pay scales may not have caught up to the reality that many library staff positions now require technology skills that were not necessary in the past; some positions may need to be re-classed.  For this reason, creating a staff training policy may not be possible in a vacuum, but this process may need to be integrated with a library strategic planning and/or re-organization plan.  It’s incredibly important on this point that library leadership is on board with a potential training policy and its strategic and staffing implications.

Align Training with Organizational Goals

It likely goes without saying that training and professional development should align with organizational goals, but you should still say it in your policy – and specify where those organizational goals are documented. How those goals are set is determined by the strategic planning process at your library, but you may wish to outline in your policy that supervisors and department heads can set departmental goals and encourage staff to undertake training that aligns with these goals.  This can, in theory, get a little tricky: if we want to take a yoga class as part of our professional development, is that OK?  If your organization values mindfulness and/or wellness, it might be!

If your library wants to promote a culture of experimentation and risk-taking, consider explicitly defining and promoting those values in your policy.  This can help guide supervisors when working with staff to set training priorities.  One exciting potential outcome of implementing a training policy is to foster an environment where employees feel secure in trying out new skills, so make it clear that employees are empowered to do so.  Communication / Collaboration

Are there multiple people in your library interested in learning Ruby?  If there were, would you have any way of knowing?  Effective communication can be a massive challenge on its own (and is way beyond the scope of this post), but when setting up and documenting a training policy staff, you could include guidance for how staff should communicate their training activities with the rest of the library.  This could take the form of something totally low-tech (like a bulletin board or shared training calendar in the break room) or could take the form of an intranet blog where everyone is encouraged to write a post about their recent training and professional development experiences.  Consider planning to hold ‘share-fests’ a few times a year where staff can share new ideas and skills with others in the library to further recognize training accomplishments.

Training is in the Job Description

Training and professional development should be included in all job descriptions (a lot easier said than done, admittedly).  Employees need to know they are empowered to use work time to complete training and professional development.  There may be union, collective bargaining, and employee review implications to this – which I certainly am not qualified to speak on – but these issues should be addressed when planning to implement a training policy.  For new hires going forward, expect to have a period of ‘onboarding’ during which time the new staff member will devote a significant amount of time to training (this may already be happening informally, but I have certainly had experiences as a staff member being hired in and spending the first few weeks of my new job trying to figure out what my job is on my own!).

Closing the Loop:  Idea and Innovation Management

OK, so you’ve implemented a training policy, and now training and professional development is happening constantly in your library.  Awesome!  Not only is everyone learning new skills, but staff have great ideas for new services, or are learning about new software they want to implement.  How do you keep the momentum going?

One option might be to set up a process to track ideas and innovative projects in your library.  There’s a niche software industry around idea and innovation management that features some highly robust and specialized products (Brightidea, Spigit  and Ideascale are some examples), but you could start small and integrate idea tracking into an existing ticket system like SpiceWorks, OSTicket, or even LibAnswers.  A periodic open vote could be held to identify high-impact projects and prioritize new ideas and services.  It’s important to be transparent and accountable for this – adopting internally-generated ideas can in and of itself be a great morale-booster if handled properly, but if staff feel like their ideas are not valued, a culture of innovation will die before it gets off the ground.

Does your library have a truly awesome culture of learning and employee professional development?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments or @lpmagnuson.

Notes

  1. Sung, S. , & Choi, J. (2014). Do organizations spend wisely on employees? effects of training and development investments on learning and innovation in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior,35(3), 393-412.
  2.  Choudhary, A. (2014). Four Critical Traits of Innovative Organizations. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communication and Conflict, 18(2), 45-58.
  3. Ibid.

Wikipedia, Libraries, & Neutrality

This piece is substantially based off of a column I wrote for RUSQ that will appear early next year.


Broadly construed, there are two camps of opinions surrounding Wikipedia in librarianship. The first is that Wikipedia is not an academic quality source. It is something students need to be warned away from. The community authorship of wikipedia is typically the source of this criticism; since “anyone can edit” the online encyclopedia, there’s no way to tell whether you’re receiving high quality information written by experts or the ill-informed opinions of internet trolls.

The other camp is far more positive regarding Wikipedia. After all, the values of the Wikipedian community clearly align with our own. The ultimate goal of the project is not to give a venue for poor research or fringe theories, but to enable free and open access to information. While Wikipedia isn’t flawless, many of its articles compete with more established reference sources. Famously, Nature performed a comparison of scientific articles and found Wikipedia to be comparable to Encyclopedia Britannica. But following the study, a community project to correct the identified errors in Wikipedia sprung up, fixing them all in a little over a month.1 With this common ground, it’s no wonder that libraries have found Wikipedia to be a valuable partner in publicizing our content. Articles like Using Wikipedia to Extend Digital Collections, Putting the Library in Wikipedia, and Wikipedia Lover, Not a Hater: Harnessing Wikipedia to Increase the Discoverability of Library Resources all discuss the value of working with Wikipedia to highlight library digital collections and metadata, not against.

A good example of Wikipedia driving traffic to library special collections was brought to my attention by fellow Tech Connect author Margaret Heller, who pointed me towards the Google Analytics Usage Reports for CARLI Digital Collections. CARLI regularly sees Wikipedia as one of the top external traffic sources, with Wikipedia being noted in last few quarterly reports as a traffic source leading “to home pages or images from multiple CARLI Collections”.

The Problem with Neutral

I must admit that I side with the pro-Wikipedia folks. I love using Wikipedia as a resource—as a procrastination-enabler I have open several articles on roguelikes that I’m reading while I right this—and I love contributing to it in whatever small ways I can, from fixing broken markup to citation hunting. But Wikipedia is imperfect in ways more insidious that its anonymous authorship or occasionally inaccurate details. Rather, one problem lies within one of the five pillars that define the philosophy of Wikipedia; “Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view”.

Neutrality has been under fire from #critlib lately, a group of librarians emphasizing critical theory especially with respect to information literacy instruction. ALA Annual featured a well-attended presentation entitled “But We’re Neutral!” And Other Librarian Fictions Confronted by #critlib. A seminal article appearing earlier this year in Code4Lib by Bess Sadler and Chris Bourg begins with a rousing section labelled Libraries are not Neutral:

In spite of the pride many libraries take in their neutrality, libraries have never been neutral repositories of knowledge. Research libraries in particular have always reflected the inequalities, biases, ethnocentrism, and power imbalances that exist throughout the academic enterprise through collection policies and hiring practices that reflect the biases of those in power at a given institution. In addition, theoretically neutral library activities like cataloging have often re-created societal patterns of exclusion and inequality.

Wikipedia shares this problem; while it appears neutral on the surface, its topical coverage and treatment of subjects reflect the skewed power relations of our society. A 2011 study found that 91% of editors were men. The same study shows that few editors come from the Global South and that the English Wikipedia receives far more focus than other languages. Another research paper from 2011 goes a bit further in demonstrating that “male articles are significantly longer than female articles”.2 The editorial gender gap has real effects on the encyclopedia’s content; it’s not just that having editors of all genders is good in its own right, it’s that Wikipedia’s claims to objectivity and neutrality are jeopardized by the disbalance.

Art+Feminism

So what’s a concerned librarian to do? I think the wrong thing would be to denounce Wikipedia. For one, the alternative sources we or our patrons would turn to are no less problematic. Encyclopaedia Britannica has a well-documented history of supposedly scientific articles written from the dominant viewpoint (c.f. the racist description of black people in the 1911 edition). What’s more, Wikipedia is going to be used. It’s massively popular. Sticking our heads in the sand because it doesn’t live up to its own standards of neutrality improves nothing.

Luckily, there are several Wikipedia projects focused on recruiting editors from underrepresented groups and addressing lackluster coverage of particular topics which we can support. One such project is Art + Feminism. In its own words:

Art+Feminism is a rhizomatic campaign to improve coverage of women and the arts on Wikipedia, and to encourage female editorship…Content is skewed by the lack of female participation. Many articles on notable women in history and art are absent on Wikipedia. This represents an alarming aporia in an increasingly important repository of shared knowledge.

Art+Feminism started out by hosting an edit-a-thon out of the Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in New York City in 2014, with more than 30 other locations worldwide joining in. An edit-a-thon is an event where people gather to perform Wikipedia edits, often centered around a particular theme or project. Higher education institutions and libraries make perfect partners for such occasions. We typically have useful materials to be cited and our students form a large body of potential participates who can be easily incentivized to join in, whether with extra credit or simply some food. So when my library heard of the upcoming 2nd annual edit-a-thon, we immediately began planning to host it. Below, I’ll briefly outline what we did in the hopes it’ll encourage other institutions to join us during this year’s edit-a-thon on March 5th.

Hosting an Edit-a-thon

First, we set up a meetup page on Wikipedia. If you’re unfamiliar with Wikipedia, creating a page like this isn’t a struggle. For one, you can simply copy the entire source markup of someone else’s meetup, then edit your specific details into that skeleton. For two, you can enable the experimental Visual Editor to make Wikipedia even easier to edit without learning wiki markup. The meetup page is an important place for putting up information like timing and directions, but is also a place for us to talk about the impact we made by showing how many editors attended and what articles we improved or created.

While we were putting initial details on our meetup page, we set about securing a location on the date of the edit-a-thon. We discovered that a gallery associated with our school had hosted the edit-a-thon the prior year, but they were unable to repeat it. Our school has campuses in both San Francisco and Oakland, but since Oakland had no other edit-a-thon locations we decided to host it there with the idea that SF locals already had an event nearby.

Our next steps aimed to make the event as easy for newcomers as possible. A staff member pulled relevant materials from our collection, so that researching would be simple and our rarer, more valuable resources might lend some of their information to Wikipedia. We also wanted experienced editors to be on hand during the event. I looked at a local Wikiproject, asking for help on the Talk page and then corresponding directly with a couple editors who had expressed interest. Finally, we managed to secure a visit from someone who actually works for the Wikimedia Foundation that runs the encyclopedia.

During the day, we set out snacks and name badges for everyone. Similar to the color-coded name badges at Ada Camp and other tech conferences, Art+Feminism recommended giving out name badges which signify one’s willingness to be photographed: green meant feel free to take a photo, orange meant please ask permission first, and red meant absolutely not. These steps ensure that everyone is comfortable at the event and not being exposed on the internet against their will. At the start of the day, we explained the coloring system and the Wikimedia staff person gave a short talk on how to write articles that endure, standing up to scrutiny over time. The results of the global event are listed on Wikipedia.

While I feel we accomplished much at our local event, there was one negative experience. An image uploaded to Wikimedia Commons for use on a page was flagged for deletion. The editor flagging it said something along the lines of “this isn’t your personal photo album” as the image was a headshot of a female artist. In the ensuing discussion around the proposed deletion, I noted that the image was about to be used on an article. It was never removed from Commons. Still, the incident underscores cultural problems in Wikipedia. The confrontational style of the discussion lacked good faith. Further, I heard a gendered undertone in the editor’s response; how many pictures of white men are derided as personal photos? While our library staff person was undeterred, moments of hostility like these drive away newcomers.

In Which I Admit I’m Missing the Point

To be fair, Wikipedia itself acknowledges that it fails to live up to neutral status. That the encyclopedia strives towards neutrality is the more vital point. But it’s not as if reaching a supposedly perfect neutrality resolves the issues that folks like #critlib are highlighting. Neutral as a positive value is precisely the problem, because there is no neutral stance that can be taken from outside of society’s power relations and history of inequity. So should we instead be agitating for Wikipedia to become less neutral and take more active stances on social issues? Or are edit-a-thons like Art+Feminism the most viable route towards ensuring topics are covered in a way that surfaces marginalized peoples and their experiences? I have no answers, just food for thought.

  1. See External peer review/Nature December 2005 for Wikipedia’s internal take on the correction process. The original Nature article is paywalled here and is doi:10.1038/438900a. A similar but open access study is doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106930, Accuracy and Completeness of Drug Information in Wikipedia: A Comparison with Standard Textbooks of Pharmacology.
  2. WP:Clubhouse? An Exploration of Wikipedia’s Gender Imbalance. I’m skeptical of how “male” and “female” articles were defined, but the paper itself is thorough in its argumentation and statistical analysis. It’s also worth noting that this paper, and much of the other literature around the gender gap, ignores genders outside the female-male binary. It’s most useful to conceive of the gap as a disproportionate majority of males than a minority of females, while leaving all other genders out of the picture.

Accessibility Testing LibGuides 2.0

Over the summer my library began investigating potentially migrating to the LibGuides content management system from our current, Drupal-based subject guide system.  As part of our investigation, and with resources from our campus’ Universal Design Center 1, I began an initial review to determine the extent to which LibGuides 2.0 was accessible to all users, including users with disabilities or those using assistive technologies.  Our campus, like other California State University campuses, has a strong commitment to ensuring technology is accessible to all users.  The campus has a fairly extensive process for acquiring new technologies that require all departments to review the accessibility of any technology or web-based product purchased, and the Universal Design Center assists all departments on campus with these evaluations.  While evaluating technology for accessibility is not typically my area of responsibility (in fact, I rarely have involvement in end-user facing technology, let alone testing for usability and accessibility), in this case I was interested in using LibGuides as an opportunity to learn more about accessibility for my own knowledge.  Ensuring that web content is accessible requires a blend of skills related to using web markup, understanding user behavior, and knowledge of assistive technologies, and as a librarian I know I can benefit from a solid understanding of all of these areas.

While I am by no means an expert on accessibility, I am familiar with basic guidelines of accessibility for content creation and markup. 2  Of course, accessibility and usability in a content management system depend, in large part, on the practices followed by content creators.  LibGuides authors have a significant amount of control over the accessibility of the content they create.  For example, using the HTML source code editing features of LibGuides, any guide author can ensure their own markup is compliant with accessibility guidelines, and manually add elements such as alternative text, titled iFrames, or ARIA attributes.  However, I was especially interested in identifying any issues that LibGuides guide authors could not easily modify themselves.  While many features can be overridden via the extensive CSS customization available in LibGuides 2.0’s Bootstrap Framework3, I wanted to identify those ‘out-of-the-box’ elements that posed accessibility problems.

The following issues identified below have been reported to SpringShare, and I was told by SpringShare support that all of these issues are being investigated and already ‘on the list’ for future development.  As this is my first attempt to really deep-dive into web accessibility, I’m really interested in feedback about the issues identified below.  I am hoping that I’ve interpreted the standards correctly, but I definitely welcome any feedback or corrections!

Method

A sample guide was created in a LibGuides demo instance to evaluate all built-in LibGuides box types, content types, and various multimedia elements to determine Section 508 compliance.  The following features were included on the guide that was used for testing:

LibGuides Box Types:

  • Tabbed
  • Gallery
  • Profile

LibGuides Content Types:

  • Rich Text/HTML
  • Database
  • Link
  • Media/Widget
  • Book from the Catalog
  • Document/File
  • RSS Feed
  • Guide List
  • Poll
  • Google Search

Free tools used to evaluate LibGuides accessibility include:

  • W3C Markup Validator :  Valid markup is usually much more accessible markup.  Unclosed tags or nesting problems can often cause problems with screen readers, keyboard navigation, or other assistive technologies.
  • WebAIM WAVE Accessibility Tool – Enter the URL of your page, and the WAVE Tool will examine the page and automatically identify accessibility errors (elements, such as form labels, that are required for accessibility that are absent or problematically implemented), alerts (potential issues that could be improved) and features (good accessibility practices).
  • CynthiaSays – Similar to the WAVE tool, CynthiaSays automatically reads through the markup of a URL you provide and generates a comprehensive report of problems and potential issues.
  • Mozilla Firefox with the following extensions (there are likely Chrome alternatives to these):
    • Fangs – A screen reader emulator that enables you to view a text-only version of a page the way a screen-reader would read it.  Ensuring that your page is read by a screen reader the way you intend is essential for accessibility, and Fangs enables you to review the screen-readability of your page without downloading a full screen-reading desktop client such as JAWS.
    • WCAG Color Contrast Checker – A handy tool to quickly view the color contrast of your page in the browser.  Low contrast elements, such as yellow text on a white background, can be very different to see for a variety of users.   
  • Colour Contrast Analyser – A helpful desktop client that enables automated checking to ensure that web page elements or images contain high enough contrast to be viewed and read easily by a wide variety of users.
  • JAWS – JAWS is a very popular screen reading application that enables web pages to be navigated and read aloud to users.  While this software has a cost, a free trial can be downloaded temporarily to preview the software’s functionality.

Guidelines from the US Federal Government’s Section 508 Accessibility Program, W3C’s WCAG 2.0, and CSU Northridge’s Web Accessibility Criteria were used in this evaluation.

Findings

These features do not conform to Section 508 and/or WCAG 2.0 compliance, and their implementation in LibGuides does not enable guide authors to easily override code to improve accessibility manually.  

Polls: Lack clear labeling of form elements (Section 508 1194.22(n))

In our testing, Poll elements lack “FOR” attributes in tag labels and “ID” attributes in associated form elements.  Poll forms also make use of ‘implicit labels’, where the form element and its associated label are contained within opening and closing label tags.  For example, radio button code from a  poll element is generated by LibGuides as:

<div class="radio">
<label>
<input type="radio" class="pad-left-med" name="s-lg-poll-option-13342416" 
id="s-lg-poll-option-13342416_1" value="83823" >Never
</label>
</div>

More accessible code might instead look like:

<div class="radio">
<label FOR=”never”>Never
</label>
<input type="radio" class="pad-left-med" name="s-lg-poll-option-13342416" 
id="s-lg-poll-option-13342416_1" value="83823" ID=”never”>
</div>
Cover images from ‘Books from the Catalog’:  Lack textual description (Section 508 1194.22(a))

In testing, whether covers were retrieved from Syndetics, Amazon, or whether default (blue or white) covers were used, all resultant “Books from the Catalog” elements lacked ALT attributes.  Images do, however, have title elements.  It could be interpreted that these elements are decorative and therefore do not require alternative text elements.  However, the default title elements (derived from the title of the book) is not especially descriptive to help the user understand the role of the image on the page.

For example:

<img alt="" src="http://syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9780133017854/LC.GIF&amp;
client=springshare" 
title="Getting It Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds" 
class="pull-left s-lg-book-cover-img-0">

This code could be made more accessible with the following:

<img alt="Getting it Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds 
Cover Image" 
src="http://syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9780133017854/LC.GIF&amp;
client=springshare" 
title="Getting It Right for Young Children from Diverse Backgrounds" 
class="pull-left s-lg-book-cover-img-0">
Gallery Keyboard Accessibility and Tab Navigation Section 508 1194.21 (a)

In testing, it was not possible to navigate through gallery images using keyboard tab navigation alone.  While it was possible with tab navigation to bypass the gallery (tab into and out of it into the next page element) the user would not be able to control the movement of the gallery or tab through the gallery images to access the descriptions or captions of the gallery.

Gallery Default Label and Caption Color: Insufficient contrast and readability

FireFox’s WCAG Color Contrast Checker identified the white label and caption color of the “Gallery” box type as having insufficient contrast with many images that could be used in the gallery.  Because the label and captions appear directly overlaid upon gallery images, with no outline or background color to enhance the contrast of the text, these labels and captions can be difficult to read.  There does not appear to be a way in LibGuides administrative settings to adjust the default caption, though custom scripting might be used to override the style.

A screenshot of an example "Gallery" image in LibGuides. The example screenshot is of a cityscape in Israel.

Figure 1:  LibGuides gallery feature showing white label and caption that can be difficult to read against the gallery image.

Accessible Practices for Guide Authors:  A few tips

The issues identified above cannot easily be resolved through LibGuides administrative options or author controls, but there are several other important practices for guide authors to be aware of.  The tips below are by no means a comprehensive guide to accessibility; there are many more aspects to ensuring content is accessible (especially concerning the use of media, tables, and other types of content), but this list provides a few examples of things content creators can be aware of when creating guides.

Media/Widget Embed Codes:  Manually add title attributes to iframe elements

When embedding iframe media (such as a YouTube video, SoundCloud file, or Google Form) it is essential that Guide authors manually add a TITLE attribute to media embed codes.

Here is an example of a YouTube video’s embed code:

<iframe width="548" height="315" 
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rWDN64k977o" 
frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

When adding code like this to a LibGuides Media/Widget feature, guide authors should manually add in a descriptive title element to briefly describe the contents of the embedded media:

<iframe title=”Video tutorial on finding a book at the Oviatt Library” 
width="548" height="315" 
src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rWDN64k977o" 
frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Embedded media should also always include captions for visual media and transcripts for audio and visual media.

Rich Text/HTML Content: Add alternative text to all images

When manually adding images to RichText/HTML content, guide authors should be sure to add descriptive Alternative Text in the image dialogue box:

The LibGuides image upload dialogue menu, with a black box highlighting the input field for alternative text.

Figure 2:  LibGuides Image Properties Dialogue Box used to add images.  The Alternative Text field is highlighted.

Links:  Add title and aria-label attributes

When manually adding links to resources in LibGuides, ensure the purpose of the link is clear, either with title attributes or aria-label attributes.  Avoid, where possible, vague link text such as ‘Read More’ or ‘Click Here’. If link text is vague or there is no descriptive information about the link visible on the page, use a title attribute or aria-label attribute:

Link with title attribute:

<a href="http://example.com" 
  title="Read about evaluating sources with the CRAP Test">
  The Crap Test
</a>

Link with aria-label attribute:

<a href="http://example.com" 
  aria-label="Read more about evaluating sources">
  The Crap Test
</a>
Look and Feel:  Ensure text is visually distinct from background colors

When designing the look and feel of LibGuides, where possible, ensure a high level of contrast between text and background colors for readability.  For example, consider enhancing the text contrast on box labels, which by default have somewhat low contrast (dark grey text on light grey background).  

A screenshot of a default LibGuides tab heading reading "Profile Box", with dark grey text over light grey text.

Figure 3:  LibGuides default box header, showing low contrast between text in box and background.

A LibGuides box header with text reading "Profile Box" where the text contrast has been enhanced by making it black against a light grey background.

Figure 4:  LibGuides box header with font color set to #000000 in administrative Look and Feel settings.

For any element on the page, avoid using colors that do not have high contrast with background color features.

More Resources

Many LibGuides authors have created excellent guides to accessibility for guide authors at their institution, and SpringShare also provides an useful  guide for best practices for LibGuides content creators that covers some accessibility practices.  Here are a few resources from the LibGuides community that helped me enormously when doing this evaluation:

The ACRL Universal Accessibility Interest Group (UAIG) is currently exploring the formation of a subcommittee to review LibGuides accessibility and potentially create a more comprehensive guide to best practices for LibGuides accessibility.  You can join the UAIG through your ALA / ACRL membership to learn more about this initiative.

I would also love to hear from other who have done this kind of testing and found other issues.  Do you have a guide to best practices that covers accessibility?  Are you aware of other features in LibGuides that are not accessible to all users?  Comment here or tweet me @lpmagnuson.

Notes

  1. The mission of the Universal Design Center is “to assist the campus community in creating pathways for individuals to learn, communicate, and share via information technology.  Part of the mission is to help the campus community design-in interoperability, usability, and accessibility into information technology so that individual learning and processing styles, or physical characteristics are not barriers to accessing information.” http://www.csun.edu/universaldesigncenter
  2. For an excellent overview of web accessibility compliance, see Cynthia Ng’s articles on ACRL Tech Connect at http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/making-your-website-accessible-part-1-understanding-wcag, http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/making-your-website-accessible-part-2-implementing-wcag, and http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/making-your-website-accessible-part-3-content-wcag-compliance.
  3. For a great example of the extensive customization that can be done in LibGuides 2.0’s Bootstrap framework, see http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/migrating-to-libguides-2-0

Collaborative UX Testing: Cardigans Included

Usability Testing

Understanding and responding to user needs has always been at the heart of librarianship, although in recent years this has taken a more intentional approach through the development of library user experience positions and departments.  Such positions are a mere fantasy though for many smaller libraries, where librarian teams of three or four run the entire show.  For the twenty-three member libraries of the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI) consortium this is regularly the case, with each school on staff having an average of four librarians.  However, by leveraging existing collaborative relationships, utilizing recent changes in library systems and consortium staffing, and (of course) picking up a few new cardigans, PALNI has begun studying library user experience at scale with a collaborative usability testing model.

With four library testing locations spread over 200 miles in Indiana, multiple facilitators were used to conduct testing for the consortial discovery product, OCLC’s WorldCat Discovery. Using WebEx to screen record and project the testing into a library staff observation room, 30 participants completed three general tasks with multiple parts helping us to assess user needs and participant behavior.

There were clear advantages of collaborative testing over the traditional, siloed approach which were most obviously shown in the amount and type of data we received. The most important opportunity was the ability to test different setups of the same product. This type of comparative data led to conclusive setup recommendations, and showed problems unique to the institutions versus general user problems. The chance to test multiple schools also provided a lot more data, which reduced the likelihood of testing only outliers.

The second major advantage of collaborative testing was the ability to work as a team. From a physical standpoint, working as a team allowed us to spread the testing out, keeping it fresh in our minds and giving enough time in-between to fix scripts and materials. This also allowed us to test before and after technical upgrades. From a relational perspective, the shouldering of the work and continual support reduced burn out during the testing. Upon analyzing the data, different people brought different skill sets. Our particular team consisted of a graphic/interface designer, a sympathetic ear, and a master editor, all of whom played important roles when it came to analyzing and writing the report. Simply put, it was an enjoyable experience which resulted in valuable, comparative data – one that could not have happened if the libraries had taken a siloed approach.

When we were designing our test, we met with Arnold Arcolio, a User Researcher in OCLC’s User Experience and Information Architecture Group. He gave us many great pieces of advice. Some of them we found to work well in our testing, while others we rejected. The most valuable piece of advice he gave us was to start with the end in mind. Make sure you have clear objectives for what data you are trying to obtain. If you leave your objectives open ended, you will spend the rest of your life reviewing the data and learning interesting things about your users every time.

He recommended: We decided:
Test at least two users of the same type. This helps avoid outliers. For us, that meant testing at least two first year students and two seniors.
Test users on their own devices. We found this to be impractical for our purposes, as all devices used for testing had to have web conferencing software which allowed us to record users’ screen.
Have the participants read the tasks out loud. A technique that we used and recommend as well.
Use low-tech solutions for our testing, rather than expensive software and eye tracking software. This was a huge relief to PALNI’s executive director who manages our budget.
Test participants where they would normally do their research, in dorm rooms, faculty offices, etc. We did not take this recommendation due to time and privacy concerns.
He was very concerned about our use of multiple facilitators. We standardized our testing as much as possible.  First, we choose uniforms for our facilitators. Being librarians, the obvious choice was cardigans. We ordered matching, logoed cardigans from Lands’ End and wore those to conduct our testing. This allowed us to look as similar as possible and avoid skewing participants’ impressions.  We chose cardigans in blue because color theory suggests that blue persuades the participants to trust the facilitator while feeling calm and confident. We also worked together to create a very detailed script that was used by each facilitator for each test.

Our next round of usability testing will incorporate many of the same recommendations provided by our usability expert, discussed above, with a few additions and changes. This Fall, we will be including a mobile device portion using a camera mount (Mr. Tappy see http://www.mrtappy.com/) to screen record, testing different tasks, and working with different libraries. Our libraries’ staff also recommended making the report more action-oriented with best setup practices and highlighting instructional needs.  We are also developing a list of common solutions for participant problems, such as when to redirect or correct misspellings. Finally, as much as we love the cardigans, we will be wearing matching logoed polos underneath for those test rooms that mirror the climate of the Sahara Desert.

We have enjoyed our usability experiences immensely–it is a great chance to visit with both library staff, faculty, and students from other institutions in our consortium. Working collaboratively proved to be a success in our consortia where smaller libraries, short staff, and minimal resources made it otherwise impossible to conduct large scale usability testing.   Plus, we welcome having another cardigan in our wardrobe.

More detailed information about our Spring 2015 study can be found in our report, “PALNI WorldCat Discovery Usability Report.”

About our guest authors:

Eric Bradley is Head of Instruction and Reference at Goshen College and an Information Fluency Coordinator for PALNI.  He has been at Goshen since 2013.  He does not moonlight as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter or Los Angeles studio singer.

Ruth Szpunar is an Instruction and Reference Librarian at DePauw University and an Information Fluency Coordinator for PALNI. She has been at DePauw since 2005. In her spare time she can be found munching on chocolate or raiding the aisles at the Container Store.

Megan West has been the Digital Communications Manager at PALNI since 2011. She specializes in graphic design, user experience, project management and has a strange addiction to colored pencils.


Data, data everywhere…but do we want to drink?

The role of data, digital curation, and scholarly communication in academic libraries.

Ask around and you’ll hear that data is the new bacon (or turkey bacon, in my case. Sorry, vegetarians). It’s the hot thing that everyone wants a piece of. It is another medium with which we interact and derive meaning from. It is information[1]; potentially valuable and abundant. But much like [turkey] bacon, un-moderated gorging, without balance or diversity of content, can raise blood pressure and give you a heart attack. To understand how best to interact with the data landscape, it is important to look beyond it.

What do academic libraries need to know about data? A lot, but in order to separate the signal from the noise, it is imperative to look at the entire environment. To do this, one can look to job postings as a measure of engagement. The data curation positions, research data services departments, and data management specializations focus almost exclusively on digital data. However, these positions, which are often catch-alls for many other things do not place the data management and curation activities within the larger frame of digital curation, let alone scholarly communication. Missing from job descriptions is an awareness of digital preservation or archival theory as it relates to data management or curation. In some cases, this omission could be because a fully staffed digital collections department has purview over these areas. Nonetheless, it is important to articulate the need to communicate with those stakeholders in the job description. It may be said that if the job ad discusses data curation, digital preservation should be an assumed skill, yet given the tendencies to have these positions “do-all-the-things” it is negligent not to explicitly mention it.

Digital curation is an area that has wide appeal for those working in academic and research libraries. The ACRL Digital Curation Interest Group (DCIG) has one of the largest memberships within ACRL, with 1075 members as of March 2015. The interest group was intentionally named “digital curation” rather than “data curation” because the founders (Patricia Hswe and Marisa Ramirez) understood the interconnectivity of the domains and that the work in one area, like archives, could influence the work in another, like data management. For example, the work from Digital POWRR can help inform digital collection platform decisions or workflows, including data repository concerns. This Big Tent philosophy can help frame the data conversations within libraries in a holistic, unified manner, where the various library stakeholders work collaboratively to meet the needs of the community.

The absence of a holistic approach to data can result in the propensity to separate data from the corpus of information for which librarians already provide stewardship. Academic libraries may recognize the need to provide leadership in the area of data management, but balk when asked to consider data a special collection or to ingest data into the institutional repository. While librarians should be working to help the campus community become critical users and responsible producers of data, the library institution must empower that work by recognizing this as an extension of the scholarly communication guidance currently in place. This means that academic libraries must incorporate the work of data information literacy into their existing information literacy and scholarly communication missions, else risk excluding these data librarian positions from the natural cohort of colleagues doing that work, or risk overextending the work of the library.

This overextension is most obvious in the positions that seek a librarian to do instruction in data management, reference, and outreach, and also provide expertise in all areas of data analysis, statistics, visualization, and other data manipulation. There are some academic libraries where this level of support is reasonable, given the mission, focus, and resourcing of the specific institution. However, considering the diversity of scope across academic libraries, I am skeptical that the prevalence of job ads that describe this suite of services is justified. Most “general” science librarians would scoff if a job ad asked for experience with interpreting spectra. The science librarian should know where to direct the person who needs help with reading the spectra, or finding comparative spectra, but it should not be a core competency to have expertise in that domain. Yet experience with SPSS, R, Python, statistics and statistical literacy, and/or data visualization software find their way into librarian position descriptions, some more specialized than others.

For some institutions this is not an overextension, but just an extension of the suite of specialized services offered, and that is well and good. My concern is that academic libraries, feeling the rush of an approved line for all things data, begin to think this is a normal role for a librarian. Do not mistake me, I do not write from the perspective that libraries should not evolve services or that librarians should not develop specialized areas of expertise. Rather, I raise a concern that too often these extensions are made without the strategic planning and commitment from the institution to fully support the work that this would entail.

Framing data management and curation within the construct of scholarly communication, and its intersections with information literacy, allows for the opportunity to build more of this content delivery across the organization, enfranchising all librarians in the conversation. A team approach can help with sustainability and message penetration, and moves the organization away from the single-position skill and knowledge-sink trap. Subject expertise is critical in the fast-moving realm of data management and curation, but it is an expertise that can be shared and that must be strategically supported. For example, with sufficient cross-training liaison librarians can work with their constituents to advise on meeting federal data sharing requirements, without requiring an immediate punt to the “data person” in the library (if such a person exists). In cases where there is no data point person, creating a data working group is a good approach to distribute across the organization both the knowledge and the responsibility for seeking out additional information.

Data specialization cuts across disciplinary bounds and concerns both public services and technical services. It is no easy task, but I posit that institutions must take a simultaneously expansive yet well-scoped approach to data engagement – mindful of the larger context of digital curation and scholarly communication, while limiting responsibilities to those most appropriate for a particular institution.

[1] Lest the “data-information-knowledge-wisdom” hierarchy (DIKW) torpedo the rest of this post, let me encourage readers to allow for an expansive definition of data. One that allows for the discrete bits of data that have no meaning without context, such as a series of numbers in a .csv file, and the data that is described and organized, such as those exact same numbers in a .csv file, but with column and row descriptors and perhaps an associated data dictionary file. Undoubtedly, the second .csv file is more useful and could be classified as information, but most people will continue to call it data.

Yasmeen Shorish is assistant professor and Physical & Life Sciences librarian at James Madison University. She is a past-convener for the ACRL Digital Curation Interest Group and her research focus is in the areas of data information literacy and scholarly communication.


How is programming work supported (or not…) by administrators in libraries?

[Editor’s Note:  This post is part of a series of posts related to ACRL TechConnect’s 2015 survey on Programming Languages, Frameworks, and Web Content Management Systems in Libraries.  The survey was distributed between January and March 2015 and received 265 responses.  The first post in this series is available here.]

In our last post in this series, we discussed how library programmers learn about and develop new skills in programming in libraries.  We also wanted to find out how library administrators or library culture in general does or does not support learning skills in programming.

From anecdotal accounts, we hypothesized that learning new programming skills might be impeded by factors including lack of access to necessary technologies or server environments, lack of support for training, travel or professional development opportunities, or overloaded job descriptions that make it difficult to find the time to learn and develop new skills.  While respondents to our survey did in some cases indicate these barriers, we actually found that most respondents felt supported by their administration or library to develop new programming skills.

Most respondents feel supported, but lack of time is a problem

The question we asked respondents was:

Please describe how your employing institution either does or does not support your efforts to learn or improve programming or development skills. “Support” can refer to funding, training, mentoring, work time allocation, or other means of support.

The question was open-ended, enabling respondents to provide details about their experiences.  We received 193 responses to this question and categorized responses by whether they overall indicated support or lack of support.  74% of respondents indicated at least some support for learning programming by their library administration, while 26% report a lack of support for learning programming.

Of those who mentioned that their administration or supervisors provide a supportive environment for learning about programming, the top kind of support mentioned was training, closely followed by funding for professional development opportunities.  Flexibility in work time was also frequently mentioned by respondents.  Mentoring and encouragement were mentioned less frequently.

 

However, even among those who feel supported in terms of funding and training opportunities, respondents indicated that time to actually complete training or professional development, is, in practice, scarce:

Work time allocation is a definite issue – I’m the only systems librarian and have responsibilities governing web site, intranet, discovery layer, link resover, ereserve system, meeting room booking system and library management system. No time for deep learning.

Low staffing often contributes to the lack of time to develop skills, even in supportive environments:

They definitely support developing new skills, but we have a very small technology staff so it’s difficult to find time to learn something new and implement it.

Respondents indicated the importance to their employers of aligning training and funding requests with current work projects and priorities:

I would be able to get support in terms of work time allocation, limited funding for training. I’m limited by external control of library technology platforms (centrally administrated), need to identify utility of learning language to justify training, use, &c.

26% of respondents indicate a lack of support for learning programming

Of those respondents who indicated that their workplace is not supportive of programming professional development or learning opportunities, lack of funding and training was the most commonly cited type of support that respondents found lacking.

Lack of  Funding and Training

The main lack of support comes in the form of funding and training. There are few opportunities to network and attend training events (other than virtually online) to learn how to do my job better. I basically have to read and research (either with a book or on the web) to learn about programming for libraries.

Respondents mentioned that though they could do training during their work hours, they are not necessarily funded to do so:

I am given time for self-education, but no formal training or provision for formal education classes.

Lack of Mentoring / Peer Support

Peer support was important to many respondents, both in supportive and unsupportive environments.  Many respondents who felt supported mentioned how important it was to have colleagues in their workplace to whom they can turn to get advice and help with troubleshooting.  Comments such as this one illustrate the difficulty of being the only systems or technology support person in one’s workplace:

They are very open to supporting me financially and giving me work time to learn (we have an institutional license to lynda.com and they have funded off site training), but there is not a lot of peer support for learning. I am a solo systems department and most of our campus IT staff are contractors, so there is not the opportunity for a community of colleagues to share ideas and to learn from each other.

Understaffing / Low Pay for Programming Skills

Closely related to the lack of peer support, respondents specifically mentioned that being the only technical staff person at their institution can make it difficult to find time for learning, and that understaffing contributes to the high workload:

There’s no money for training and we are understaffed so there’s no time for self-taught skills. I am the only non-Windows programmer so there’s no one I can confer with on programming challenges. I learn whatever I need to know on the fly and only to the degree it’s necessary to get the job done.

I’m the only “tech” on site, so I don’t have time to learn anything new.

One respondent mentioned that pay for those with programming skills is not competitive at his or her institution:

We have zero means for support, partially due to a complex web of financial reasons. No training, little encouragement, and a refusal to hire/pay at market rates programming staff.

Future Research and Other Questions

As with the first post in this series, the analysis of the data yields more questions than clear conclusions.  Some respondents indicated they have very supportive workplaces, where they feel like their administration and supervisors provide every opportunity to develop new skills and learn about the technologies they want to learn about.  Others express frustration with the lack of funding or ability to collaborate with colleagues on projects that require programming skills.

One question that requires a more thorough examination of the data is whether those whose jobs do not specifically require programming skills feel as supported in learning about programming as those who were hired to be programmers.  30% of survey respondents indicated that programming is *not* part of their official job duties, but that they do programming or similar activities to perform job functions.  Initial analysis indicates there is no significant difference between these respondents and respondents as a whole.  However, there may be differences in support based on the type of position one has in a library (e.g., staff, faculty, or administration), and we did not gather that information from respondents in this survey.  At least two respondents, however, indicates that this may be the case at least at some libraries:

Training & funding is available; can have release time to attend; all is easier for librarians to obtain than for staff to obtain which is sad since staff tend to do more of the programming

Some staff have a lot of support, some have nill, it depends on where/what project you are working on.

In the next (and final) post in this series, we’ll explore some preliminary data on popular programming languages in libraries, and examine how often library programmers get to use their preferred programming languages in their work.


Where do Library Staff Learn About Programming? Some Preliminary Survey Results

[Editor’s Note:  This post is part of a series of posts related to ACRL TechConnect’s 2015 survey on Programming Languages, Frameworks, and Web Content Management Systems in Libraries.  The survey was distributed between January and March 2015 and received 265 responses.  A longer journal article with additional analysis is also forthcoming.  For a quick summary of the article below, check out this infographic.]

Our survey on programming languages in libraries has resulted in a mountain of fascinating data.  One of the goals of our survey was to better understand how staff in libraries learn about programming and develop their coding skills.  Based upon anecdotal evidence, we hypothesized that library staff members are often self-taught, learning through a combination of on-the-job learning and online tutorials.  Our findings indicate that respondents use a wide variety of sources to learn about programming, including MOOCs, online tutorials, Google searches, and colleagues.

Are programming skills gained by formal coursework, or in Library Science Master’s Programs?

We were interested in identifying sources of programming learning, whether that involved course work (either formal coursework as part of a degree or continuing education program, or through Massive Online Open Courseware (MOOCs)).  Nearly two-thirds of respondents indicated they had an MLS or were working on one:

When asked about coursework taken in programming, application, or software development, results were mixed, with the most popular choice being 1-2 classes:

However, of those respondents who have taken a course in programming (about 80% of all respondents) AND indicated that they either had an MLS or were attending an MLS program, only about a third had taken any of those courses as part of a Master’s in Library Science program:

Resources for learning about programming

The final question of the survey asked respondents, in an open-ended way, to describe resources they use to learn about programming.  It was a pretty complex question:

Please list or describe any learning resources, discussion boards or forums, or other methods you use to learn about or develop your skills in programming, application development, or scripting. Please includes links to online resources if available. Examples of resources include, but are not limited to: Lynda.com, MOOC courses, local community/college/university course on programming, Books, Code4Lib listserv, Stack Overflow, etc.).

Respondents gave, in many cases, incredibly detailed responses – and most respondents indicated a list of resources used.  After coding the responses into 10 categories, some trends emerged.  The most popular resources for learning about programming, by far, were courses (whether those courses were taken formally in a classroom environment, or online in a MOOC environment):

To better illustrate what each category entails, here are the top five resources in each category:

By far, the most commonly cited learning resource was Stack Overflow, followed by the Code4Lib Listserv, Books/ebooks (unspecified) and Lynda.com.  Results may skew a little toward these resources because they were mentioned as examples in the question, priming respondents to include them in their responses.  Since links to the survey were distributed, among other places, on the Code4Lib listserv, its prominence may also be influenced by response bias. One area that was a little surprising was the number of respondents that included social networks (including in-person networks like co-workers) as resources – indeed, respondents who mentioned colleagues as learning resources were particularly enthusiastic, as one respondent put it:

…co-workers are always very important learning resources, perhaps the most important!

Preliminary Analysis

While the data isn’t conclusive enough to draw any strong conclusions yet, a few thoughts come to mind:

  • About 3/4 of respondents indicated that programming was either part of their job description, or that they use programming or scripting as part of their work, even if it’s not expressly part of their job.  And yet, only about a third of respondents with an MLS (or in the process of getting one) took a programming class as part of their MLS program.  Programming is increasingly an essential skill for library work, and this survey seems to support the view that there should be more programming courses in library school curriculum.
  • Obviously programming work is not monolithic – there’s lots of variation among those who do programming work that isn’t reflected in our survey, and this survey may have unintentionally excluded those who are hobby coders.  Most questions focused on programming used when performing work-related tasks, so additional research would be needed to identify learning strategies of enthusiast programmers who don’t have the opportunity to program as part of their job.
  • Respondents indicated that learning on the job is an important aspect of their work; they may not have time or institutional support for formal training or courses, and figure things out as they go along using forums like Stack Overflow and Code4Lib’s listserv.  As one respondent put it:

Codecademy got me started. Stack Overflow saves me hours of time and effort, on a regular basis, as it helps me with answers to specific, time-of-need questions, helping me do problem-based learning.

TL;DR?  Here’s an infographic:



In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the findings related to ways administration and supervisors support (or don’t support) programming work in libraries.