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No-brainer Usability: the new Twitter iPhone app

I am presenting about usability issues in library websites in Computers in Librareis 2011 in a few weeks. So needless to say, I have been thinking a lot recently about usability. Today, having updated all apps on my iPhone, I noticed that the Twitter iPhone app finally made some changes in its new message user interface (UI) which makes it more usable.

However, the new UI fails in some respects, and the new app introduces a different usability problem, which is often the case with website redesign. So let’s pretend the new Twitter app is a re-designed library website and see what its pluses and minuses are in terms of usability.

Old Twitter App

When the arrow is pressed down

This is how the old Twitter iPhone app’s new message screen looked like. (Screenshots thanks to @bmljenny.)  It is very basic until you press the “140 ▼” button on the top right corner over the keyboard.

Once you press that button, however, the whole new world of functionalities unfolds. Taking a photo, inserting an already-taken photo, geo-tagging, adding Twitter user by his/her Twitter username, adding a hashtag, and shrinking a URL is all just one touch away.

Unfortunately, not many people noticed this button; many users weren’t able to take advantage of these useful functionalities.

I must say, the design of hiding these functionalities behind the “140 ▼” button is both clever and stupid. Clever in the sense that it made the new message UI clean and simple. But quite stupid in the sense that the button that holds these functionalities don’t stand out at all that it resulted in those functionalites being often completely unknown and undiscovered to users.

One of the great usability principle is, in my opinion, is this :
Stop being clever and make things super-obvious.

New Tweet screen in the Twitter iPhone app

The new Twitter iPhone app followed this principle and corrected the issue by removing the “140 ▼” button. Instead it added a gray bar with four icons that stand for usernames, hashtags, camera, and geotag. I would say this is an improvement since users can now clearly see the icons when they are in the new tweet screen.

However, these icons are not the same as the previous icons used in the old Twitter app. Geotag icon has changed the appearance and the camera icon now functions for two previous features of taking a photo and adding a photo from the photo library.

One of the pitfalls of re-design is that even when improvements are made, often the web team (designers in particular) are not satisfied with just fixing the existing issue. They are tempted to make changes ‘for uniqueness’, which tends to raise rather than solves a usability problem.

So now Twitter seems to have gotten rid of perfectly useful two icons — photo library and shrink URLs.

If I were to redo the screen, I would keep the same icons in the previous app.  After all, some users have discovered and used these hidden functionalities. Why now force them to change their pattern of use?

My version of New Twitter screen

While I was evaluating the new Tweet screen, I realized that the new Twitter app has also introduced a new usability issue to it. The new trending hashtag notification. It appears on top of the tweet timeline.

As quite likely to be intended, since it appears on top and written on a black bar, it stands out.  The problem is that it actually stands out more than what users need. It is downright annoying.

This can be easily corrected if the bar appears at the bottom rather than the top. It would be still noticeable enough for those who take interests in the trending hashtag but would not annoy the majority of users who want to quickly scan the timeline from the top to the bottom.


New Twitter Timeline

My version of Timeline










Because of this this new and  un-user-friendly trending notification, the overall reaction to the new Twitter app would be more negative than positive.

Furthermore, what was really interesting to me is that even after the re-design, the new Tweet screen of the new Twitter app does still slightly fall short of the new Tweet screen of the Tweetdeck app. Compare my revised version of the new Twitter app above with the following Tweetdeck’s new tweet screen below. Pretty much what I have done ended up making the Twitter app look almost the same as the Tweetdeck’s existing new tweet screen.

Sometimes, a good design comes from benchmarking a competitor’s product and from following conventions that users are already familiar with.

Can you think of an example of a library website that failed to be user-friendly while trying to be clever and/or from poorly benchmarking another library website?  If you work with a library website, this is a good thing to think about.


Why Not Grow Coders from the inside of Libraries?

How fantastic would it be if every small library has an in-house developer? We will be all using open-source software with custom feature modules that would perfectly fit our vision and the needs of the community we serve. Libraries will then truly be the smart consumers of technology not at the mercy of clunky systems. Furthermore, it would re-position libraries as “contributors” to the technology that enables the public to access information and knowledge resources. I am sure no librarian will object to this vision. But at this time of ever-shrinking library budget, affording enough librarians itself is a challenge let alone hiring a developer.

But why should this be the case? Librarians are probably one of the most tech-savvy professionals after IT and science/ engineering/ marketing folks. So why aren’t there more librarians who code? Why don’t we see a surge of librarian coders? After all, we are living in times in which the web is the platform for almost all human activities and libraries are changing its name to something like learning and ‘technology’ center.

I don’t think that coding is too complicated or too much to learn for any librarian regardless of their background. Today’s libraries offer such a wide range of resources and services online and deploy and rely on so many systems from an ILS to a digital asset management system that libraries can benefit a great deal from those staff who have even a little bit of understanding in coding.

The problem is, I think, libraries do not proactively encourage nor strongly support their in-house library staff to become coders. I am not saying that all librarians / library staff should learn how to code like a wizard. But it is an undeniable fact that there are enough people in the library land who are seriously interested in coding and capable of becoming a coder. But chances are, these people will have no support from their own libraries. If they are working in non-technology-related areas, it will be completely up to them to pursue and pay for any type of learning opportunities. Until they prove themselves to be capable of a certain level of coding, they may not even be able to get hands-on experience of working in library technologies/systems/programming. And when they become capable, they may have to seek a new job if they are serious about putting to use their newly acquired programming skills.

It is puzzling to me why libraries neglect to make conscious efforts in supporting their staff who are interested in coding to further develop their skills while freely admitting that they would benefit from having a programmer on staff. Perhaps it is the libraries that are making the wrong distinction between library work and technology work. They are so much more closely intertwined than, say, a decade ago. Even library schools that are slow to change are responding and adding technology courses to their curriculum and teaching all LIS students basic HTML. But certainly libraries can use staff who want to move beyond HTML.

At the 2011 ALA Midwinter, I attended LITA Head of Library Technology Interest Group meeting. One of the issues discussed there was how to recruit and maintain the IT workforce within libraries. Some commented the challenge of recruting people from the IT industry, which often pays more than libraries do. Some mentioned how to quickly acclimate those new to libraries to the library culture and technology. Others discussed the difficulty of retaining IT professionals in libraries since libraries tend to promote only librarians with MLS degrees and tend to exclude non-librarians from the important decision-making process. Other culture differences between IT and libraries were also discussed.

These are all valid concerns and relevant discussion topics. But I was amazed by the fact that almost all assumed that the library IT people would come from the IT sector and outside from libraries. Some even remarked that they prefered to hire from the IT industry outside libraries when they fill a position. This discussion was not limited to programmers but inclusive of all IT professionals. Still, I think perhaps there is something wrong if libraries only plan to steal IT people from the outside without making any attempt to invest in growing some of those technology people inside themselves. IT professionals who come from the general IT industry may be great coders but they do not know about libraries. This is exactly the same kind of cause for inflexible library systems created by programmers who do not know enough about the library’s businesses and workflows.

So why don’t libraries work to change that?

One of the topics frequently discussed in librareis these days is open source software. At the recent 2011 Code4Lib conference, there was a breakout session about what kind of help would allow libraries to more actively adopt open source software adn systems. Those who have experience in working with open source software at the session unanimously agreed that adopting open-source is not cheap. There is a misconception that by adopting open source software, libraries will save money. But if so, at least that would not be the case in any short tem. Open-source requires growing knowledgeable technology staff in-house who would understand the software fully and able to take advantage of its flexibility to benefit the organization’s goals. It is not something you can buy cheap off the shelf and make it work by turning a key. While adopting open-source will provide freedom to libraries to experiment and improve their services and thereby empower lirbaries, those benefits will not come for free without investment.

Some may ask why not simply hire services from a third-party company that will support the open-source software or system that a library will adopt. But without the capability of understanding the source and of making changes as needed, how would libraries harness the real power of open-source unless the goal is just a friendier vendor-library relationship?

In his closing talk at the 2011 Code4Lib conference, Eric Hellman pointed out the fact that many library programmers are self-taught and often ‘fractional’ coders in the sense that they can afford to spend only a fraction of their time on coding. The fact that most library coders are fractional coders is all the more reason for having more coders in libraries, so that more time can be spent collectively on coding for libraries. Although enthusiastic, many novice coders are often lost about how certain programming languages or software tools are or can be applied to current library services and systems and need guidance about which coding skills are most relevant and can be used to produce immediately useful results in the library context. Many novice coders at librareis who often teach themselves programming skills by attending (community) college courses at night at their own expenses and scouring the web for resources and tutorials after work can certainly benefit from some support from their libraries.

Are you a novice or experienced coder working at libraries? Were/are you encouraged to further develop your skills? If a novice, what kind of support would you like to see from your libraries? If experienced, how did you get there? I am all ears. Please share your thoughts.


N.B. If you are a formally trained CS/E person, you may want to know that I am using the term ‘coding’ loosely in the library context, not in the context of software industry.  Please see this really helpful post “after @bohyunkim: talking across boundaries and the meaning of ‘coder'” by Andromeda Yelton which clarifies this. Will K’s two comments below also address the usage of this term in its intended sense much better than I did.  I tried to clarify a bit more what I meant below in my comments but feel free to comment/suggest a better term if you find this still problematic.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts! (2/22/2011)

Practically Speaking – about Streaming the LITA Board Meeting

As many librarians know by now, on Saturday January 8th at the ALA Midwinter, there was a LITA board meeting. Jason Griffey, one of the LITA board members live-streamed the event. Having not been notified of this in advance, the board voted to stop the streaming once they realized that the meeting had been being broadcast in public.

Many librarians have written thoughtful posts on this including Karen G Schneider, Michelle Boule Smith, and Meredith Farkas. I am not going to argue about ALA’s open meeting policy or the legitimacy of the reasons given by the LITA board since I simply do not know much about those matters as a relatively new member of ALA.  (Those blog posts and comments have great information about them.)  But I wished that LITA -the division that I deem to be my primary home at ALA- were the first division to stream a board meeting for the members who could not attend the conference. And I still hope it would become the case at the upcoming Annual.

I am in favor of streaming open meetings and making more programs virtually available. The reason why I love to attend a library conference is that I get to meet and hear from so many different librarians. All of them have so much energy and great ideas, which help me do my job better and enrich my thoughts on librarianship. So the more people add their thoughts and ideas to the discussion, the better the conference experience becomes. So why not invite more ALA members to join the conference in the virtual space?

I was even more surprised to see that the LITA meeting in question was not even a program. In my mind, yes, one may want to block a program since it should be ‘technically’ only available to the attendees who paid for the conference. (Actually, I will try to counter this later too.)

But a business meeting? If someone is going to sit down and watch a board meeting for three hours discussing policies and bylaws not even physically attending the meeting, I would say that that someone should be commended. When I attended my first-ever LITA board meeting as an observer on Monday, there were only two (!) people including me who were not on the LITA board. And even I (a LITA-sponsored emerging leader) didn’t stay for the whole meeting. That is a small number to be present considering that there are thousands of LITA members.

I understand that having a meeting while knowing that every word you speak is being broadcast can be extremely difficult. There may well be some people who would even avoid physically attending a meeting. And I completely sympathize with them. (I myself hate to have a webcam pointed at my face when I have an online meeting with colleagues although I like to see their faces!)

However, we live in times in which people’s attention and time are hard to come by and probably worth much more than any content online. Content is not scarce nor particularly precious. Even if a board meeting is indeed publicly broadcast, I would be shocked if that suddenly draws in hundreds of people. The LITA board may have to sacrifice their discomfort at public broadcasting whether they like it or not if getting LITA members’ feedback and ideas broadly from as many LITA members as possible is a top priority to the division.

We often act as if by putting certain content online, suddenly we create this great danger of having that content exposed to ‘everyone’. Theoretically, yes, it is true that by putting something online, it will be accessible to everyone on the Internet. But the reality is that the content will be accessed only by those who ‘decide’ to give their time and attention to the particular content. Just think about how hard politicians campaign to get voters’ attention. ALA is lucky to have many members who are eager to participate online if an opportunity is given. Streaming a business meeting may be well worth the effort “and” the discomfort of the meeting attendees at a physical meeting if that will allow many eager members to participate further in ALA.

Lastly, I want to say a few things about why even ALA programs should not be ‘strictly’ restricted to those who registered for the conference. I organized and moderated a panel discussion at ACRL New Members Discussion Group (NMDG) at this year’s ALA Midwinter. The panel discussion was great success thanks to the NMDG team who diligently prepared for and organized the program virtually. Some of those members could not attend the conference, but they generously donated their time, thoughts, feedback, and ideas to the program that they could not attend over a few months’ period.

If (hypothetically) this NMDG discussion were to be streamed, I would have thought that it should be streamed to everyone or at least to all team members whether virtual or not. Actually, in the case of NMDG, all team members were virtual members until the day on which the program took place. As we benefit from our colleagues’ generosity, why shouldn’t we be able to return it in a way? Since all our labor was freely given to create a program and all panelists also served for free, why can’t it be made available freely (or at a small cost for a virtual conference registration)?

While ALA encourages all its members to participate and be actively involved in the ALA conferences, I hope it’s not ignored that those who are willing to contribute to ALA virtually should be “provided with a means to do so.”

LITA Mobile Computing IG Meeting at ALA Midwinter 2011

I am very excited about the LITA Mobile Computing IG Meeting at ALA Midwinter 2011. If you are interested in mobile devices and libraries, please join for the lively and informal discussion. Great presentations and discussion topics are already lined up. Bring your own topic to discuss with peers and colleagues with same interests! Add your thoughts and suggest more topics here at:

LITA Mobile Computing IG Meeting at ALA Midwinter 2011

When: Sun. Jan 9 1:30pm – 3:30pm (Pacific Time)

Where: SDCC 31a

Come and join us for the exciting, lively, and informal discussion about libraries and mobile devices at the 2011 ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Diego! In addition to covering the following presentations and discussion topics, we will also discuss what everyone is working on and other topics brought for discussion.

Presentations and Discussion Topics

  • “A rapid ethnographic study of the iPad on a campus bus” – Jim Hahn (University of Illinois)
    : This short presentation will describe the results of a rapid ethnographic study of 10 students using an iPad on a campus bus. Presentation will include fail-points to use as well as unexpected use. Discussion of frequently searched for terms as well as the significance of user context will be included. Tentative ideas for apps to develop as a result of student search data will be discussed.
  • “Putting the fun back in mobile websites: launching an OS book recommender” – Evviva Weinraub & Hannah Rempel (Oregon State University)
    : Building on the success of our mobile site, including a fully mobile catalog, and our well received historical walking tour, Beaver Tracks, OSU Libraries Mobile Team went looking for a fun project to work on.  Recognizing that many students (not to mention faculty, staff and our own librarians) often want diversionary reading, we began working on an open source mobile book recommender tool. We will describe how we selected the content to include in our book recommender database, some details of how the book recommender tool was built, the process of choosing a design, and a demonstration of the features of the book recommender tool.  Our planned go live date is January 7, 2011.
  • “Creating a mobile site with zero budget” – Tiffani Travis (California State University)
    : Is there a simple way to connect users to vital library info and links to mobile versions of products other than creating a full-blown mobile website? This presentation will share the experience of quickly creating a “free” mobile site using LibGuides and WordPress, both of which auto-format their sites for smart phones.
  • “Brainstorming ideas about great library-centric apps”
    : This will be a brainstorming session for library-centric mobile apps that go beyond searching the catalog or looking up building hours. How can we leverage the existence of the mobile platform to provide a truly transformative experience of the library?  Your input may be used to inform suggested development tasks for the competition and overall guidelines to the “Apps for Libraries” development competition planned by Tod Colegrove (University of Nevada, Reno).
  • “Mobile usability and assessment”
    : Has anyone done or is anyone planning to do a usability study or assessments and also the accessibility (for people with disabilities) for a library’s mobile website or apps? We will discuss also how we can measure success in regard to the mobile web (e.g. feedback, environmental scanning, survey, etc.).

Some thoughts about “The Desk Setup”

One of my favorite blogs written by a librarian(s) is In the Library with the Lead Pipe. This blog consistently addresses issues that are not usually discussed either openly or in-depth but are nevertheless of many librarians’ interests, such as burnout, librarian identity crisis, or upward mobility, to name a few.

So I was, of course, over the moon when Brett Bonfield, one of the bloggers at In the Library with the Lead Pipe, requested a written interview with me about my computer and gadget setup. Brett’s idea was to write a blog post similar to The SetUp, which is a site that features a series of interviews of people who work closely with the web in one way or another, that is, technologists. The people who have been interviewed for The SetUp include Paul Graham, Jakob Nielson, Stephen Wolfram, Danah Boyd, Jeffery Zeldman, Dan Benjamin, and many more well-known people. If you are interested in the web but haven’t read The SetUp, I highly recommend reading it.

And now, thanks to Brett, we have the librarians’ version of The SetUp: The Desk Setup.  It is not only cool but also quite informative to know what kinds of technology tools today’s librarians use to get their work done as well as at their leisure. Many cool gadgets and interesting software are mentioned along with iPhone and iPad apps that librarians use. But beyond those, the interviews also show that there is still a wide variety of set-ups that librarians have at work. Some librarians battle with old computers at work while some librarians work with a machine with 8 GB(!) RAM (yes, I am jealous).  Some librarian is running most of the library computers on Linux, while other librarians don’t even get the full admin rights to her/his own work computer.  If we (meaning ‘the society’) expect our librarians to be on the vanguard in the areas of information, technologies, and digital literacy, the full admin rights shouldn’t even be an issue. Don’t you think? So we (meaning ‘librarians’) might just have to double up the effort of doing “the job of making clearer connections between libraries and technology.”

The Desk Setup was posted today. Go check it out. Add things that weren’t mentioned there but you use and love in the comments. Share your thoughts!

20 Tips for Planning Your Mobile Website

Last Thursday at the new student orientation, I  have launched the new mobile website for our library.  You can also see how it works from this tutorial.

Florida International University Medical Library Mobile Website

From the survey of the first year medical students, we have discovered that over 90% of them owned a mobile device or a smartphone and the majority of devices were iPhone or iPod Touch.  Since medical students go into the clerkship at hospitals in their third year and they are expected to use mobile devices in order to keep up with reference and research needs at the point of care, the library has been preparing for additional support for students’ mobile devices and the library’s mobile resources.  I have added mobile resources to the list of workshops I offer during the semester and created a web page dedicated to medical apps and other mobile databases available on mobile devices.  Now the mobile library website should further improve the students’ access to library resources and services.

A little before launching the library’s mobile website, I also had an opportunity to do a Pecha Kucha presentation for Handheld Librarian Online Conference III about how to plan a library’s first mobile website in the right way.  At the presentation, I focused more on the project management side of building a mobile website.  Although many people tend to think that building a mobile website is mostly a technical work, without proper planning work and appropriate project management, things may not turn out as expected.

Here are my 20 tips for planning right for your first mobile website that I shared at Handheld Librarian Online Conference III.

Planning begins with an environmental scan: what your peer library organizations are doing and what your own user base expects.

Know what your capabilities and limits are so that you can set a reasonable and realistic project goal.

A mobile website is all about users. Find out what they want and what their expectations are and make sure to develop your  mobile website based upon these needs.

Feature the library services and resources that would attract mobile device users such as a video, SMS reference, or mobile-optimized resources.

Recycle for branding. Whenever possible take advantage of a style sheet for a mobile website that already exists in your organization. Using a consistent style across different units of the same organization is also good for branding purposes.

Less is more. A mobile website should meet the particular needs of mobile device users, i.e. their needs for information on the go. Do not replicate the entire library website.

Do make the scope of your mobile website project explicit. Decide upon how many pages and what content you will be creating  and stick to it unless a change is absolutely necessary. Communicate this to stakeholders in advance.

Be flexible about funding options. If you are sure that what your users needs cannot be created in-house, look for funding outside the library such as grant opportunities.

If you can afford, invest in market research, usability testing, and/or hiring an experienced web developer. Keep in mind that the mobile website exists to offer a better experience for users.

Take advantage of many existing mobile frameworks such as iUi, JQTouch, iWebkit, XUI to save development time.

Pay attention to a potential scope creep. Keep your focus on the users’ needs, and not all stakeholders’ requests.

Define the roles for content providers, usability experts, and web designers /developers in advance for a better design and improved usability of a web site.

Avoid perfectionism. Since the mobile devices and markets are constantly changing, do not try to make your site perfect for all types of devices at one go.  Research what mobile devices the majority of your users use and make sure to design your mobile web site or web app in accordance with web standards.

Before launching it, do let users do a test-drive. Let them try your mobile site on their own devices, and solicit their feedback on both content and design. Find out what they find useful and gain insight from their comments.

Launch it! Make it sure that it goes with a bang, so that the majority of your mobile device users would notice the new mobile website of your library.

Publicize. Devise a clear plan of marketing your mobile site to your target users.

Use both traditional and social media to market your mobile website. There is no bad publicity and the more exposure the better for your mobile website.

Stay flexible and be ready to make quick changes. The mobile market and user expectations undergo frequent changes.

Make your mobile website fit your users’ workflows and not the other way.

Remember to put the piece of codes to track where the visitors come from and what they do, so that you can improve through iteration.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that I have followed all of these twenty things I have just listed here. Depending on the environment, some of them may not be applicable or feasible. For example, at our library, it was impossible to have a content expert, a usability specialist, and a web designer/developer.  So those three roles were all played by me. And I continuously reminded myself of keeping in mind which perspective of these three different roles I need to apply to the different stages of building the mobile website.

Similarly, marketing considerations can overweigh other factors.  Although I said above to put in the tracking codes for statistics before the launch, since we really really wanted to launch the mobile website at the new student orientation for the maximum exposure and marketing effect, we put the site up in the production server before we were ready for the tracking codes yet. Again, it was not ideal, but considering the alternative of delaying the launch and having a struggle with marketing the mobile website later, what we did was clearly a better move.

So, these 20 tips are only a guideline. But no matter what your environment is, it certainly helps to plan the whole project from the beginning to the end as it helps you to adjust your project to work with particular conditions, under which you will have to develop your own mobile website.  And here are my presentation slides.

Mobile Devices and a Sensor Revolution

Have you heard about the emerging Internet of Things? I have been meaning to write about this for a while now but was unable to find time.  This term refers to the new and expanded Internet by real-world objects that are connected to the Internet and feeds the massive amount of new data to the Web through its sensors  such as a smartphone equipped with a camera, mic, a touchscreen.

The New York Times article, “The Coming Data Explosion” that ran on May 31 reports the coming data explosion that will result from the Internet of Things. The article also talks about “a sensor revolution”  quoting Marissa Mayer: “today’s phones are almost like people,” in that they have senses such as eyes (a camera), ears (a microphone) and skin (a touch screen).”  The result of ubiquitous smartphone use is that more and more data will be uploaded and made available to the web. Remember all the photos you take with your cellphone and upload to  TwitPic, pictures you draw with your fingers and post to Flickr, and video recordings  you make and upload to Facebook?  If you thought that was cool, now wait until you see a nanosensor that can sense all of these below.

* Vibration
* Tilt
* Rotation
* Navigation
* Sound
* Air flow
* Light
* Temperature
* Biological
* Chemical
* Humidity
* Pressure
* Location

With this kind of a nanosensor, your cellphone is also a thermostat, GPS, air flow detector, molecule reader, etc.  Can you imaging what kinds of applications will come out taking advantage of this type of nanosensors that detect multiple senses?  I have previously posted on this blog about a cool medical iPhone/iTouch app called Pocket CPR that gives you immediate sensory feedback to a CPR procedure you perform holding your mobile device. If I am pressing a patient’s heart not fast enough, it will tell me to go faster; if I am not pressing hard enough, it will tell me to do so. Even though this app is pretty rudimentary utilizing only the simple movements of up-and-down and the speed of a device, there is something marvelous about it. I think that is because the way the device is used in this case offers us experience that is entirely new to us.

The sensor revolution has the potential of transforming a mobile device into a de facto default device for our day-to-day interaction with the web.

Joomla: A Nice Surprise

I volunteered to serve on the web committee of the Southern Chapter of Medical Library Association (SC/MLA) this year.  The work I do as the co-chair of this committee is to create a web site for the 60th Annual SC/MLA Conference.  The idea of using Joomla for the conference site came from the folks at the Shimberg Health Sciences Library of Univ. of South Florida who use Joomla for their library site.

I have heard about Joomla before but never tried.  I heard a lot about Drupal and WordPress at library conferences but not so much about Joomla.

Well, I spent a few days – three days to be exact – working with a Joomla site, and I am very much impressed.  Joomla is easy to learn, and I love the fact that it comes with so many useful modules which can be configured and used pretty much out of the box.  There are also many free template extensions that can be directly plugged in to create a nice web site.  I picked a template and an extension for the banner image, installed and configured the settings, did some CSS editing to customize the overall style of the site, added a bunch of pages with lorem-ipsum content, activated a couple of useful modules such as breadcrumb and footer.  That’s pretty much all I have done and Ta-da!

I am a web admin at work but we don’t use a CMS.  Now if we ever migrate the site to a CMS, I will shout for Joomla.  If you are looking for a content management system (CMS) that is free and easy-to-use, Joomla is definitely something to consider.  Interested?  Check out the Showcase of the library Websites built with Joomla.

(This is the site I have worked on, which is still in progress:

After Two days with an iPad

So finally it came. The long-awaited iPad. I got this as a birthday present from my husband.  So  I can’t really say that I was committed to purchase this gadget myself.  I doubt if I would have spent that much $$$ although the model I got is the lowest spec (16GB wi-fi access only).  But of course, my wiser half was convinced rightly that I would want one.  It arrived yesterday morning with a honk from a UPS truck.  I wonder how many same iPad packages the UPS driver delivered that day, but I am pretty sure he had a good idea about what was going on.

So to cut to the chase, this is how it looks. My iPad.

I think I am relatively happy with it although I am not sure how successful it would be as a eBook reader and a PDF reading device, which are the features that I was most looking forward to test.  Actually, now that I have spent two days with it, I think I will use the iPad more for watching TV shows/movies (Surprise I rarely watch videos on the computer!) and surfing online. I am not sure if I will use the iPad for any type of serious work other than PDF reading.  But the App Store is showing all three productivity apps for the iPad with very high ratings.  So I am holding my judgment on this.

The iPad is not as light as I would like, but about half the weight of my small netbook, which can make a big difference when you are traveling.  It seems to be pretty sturdy but the screen is very glossy and gets a lot of glare used outdoors or under direct lighting.  It is quite fast and the battery seems to last long enough to last the working hours from 8/9 to 5 without recharging. The screen keyboard is usable when the iPad is in a horizontal position but is too sensitive. Lots of typos ensued when I tried to type. The keyboard inputs letters every time the fingers brush on it.  Personally, I am very much bummed about the fact that iPad doesn’t support as many international keyboards as the iPhone does. What this means to me is that I can’t write emails and create documents in Korean.  Although this may be a feature that is not widely used, the ease of switching keyboards for different languages was one of the features that distinguished Macs from PCs.

I don’t think the iPad will replace my smartphone.  Checking emails, Twitter, my calendar, to-do-list, making short notes, taking photos and videos will still be the tasks I perform mostly on my smartphone when I am not using an iPad already for something else.  But then there is a chance that I may use the iPad a lot.  Iin that case, I will perform these tasks on the iPad rather than on my smartphone.  It is to be seen later.

So the question boils down to this: would it be a good reading device?  Depending on that, I may or may not carry my iPad around.

First Impression

Yes, you can see your finger prints all over when the light hits the screen. I took it out to the outside. Under the daylight sun, I could see my face and background reflected as if it were a black mirror. The iPad in a box comes with a power code/plug, a tiny little instruction, and nothing else. Not even a cheap wiping cloth.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my iPad.  My plan was to think about it once it arrives.  Well, I had a very difficult time to get it to work and had to spent hours grumbling.  As soon as I unboxed the shiny new iPad, of course I plugged right into the power outlet thinking it will work automatically. It didn’t. Instead, it showed the sign that I have to hook it up to iTunes first. The instruction also said that I should first download the latest version of iTunes. This took a very long time. Finally, I was done, I hooked up my iPad.  I only got an error message saying an iPad requires Mac OS leopard or higher.  I got only Tiger on my Mac desktop and haven’t updated it.  Wouldn’t it have been so nice if Apple put that on the instruction sheet? So I took out my Mac laptop (I know I just have so many computers), which has Leopard, downloaded iTunes again and hooked it up. It worked.

But if the iPad is going to work for grandmas and grandpas, they will definitely need some help from their granddaughters and grandsons.

IPad as a Movie player: Thumbs Up

It is quite accurate to think that an iPad is a big iPhone with limited functionalities but with a bigger screen.  Initially my response to an iPad was lukewarm.  It didn’t seem to do anything special that I couldn’t do with my iPhone and a netbook.  Well, that was my thought until I downloaded the ABC player app and watched a few episodes of FlashForward and Modern Family.  IPad rocks as a video player.  The screen is awesome for playing a video and the lack of keyboard is a huge advantage in this type of use. I could watch a TV episode lying down on the couch holding it against a cushion. It gets a bit heavy on the wrist after a while, and you may want a holder.  But there is no sitting required to watch a video when you use an iPad.  This was something I didn’t think that I would use an iPad for.  I was impressed how well it works as a video player.  The Apple store is also selling a VGA cable to connect an iPad to a TV.  I am not sure if it can transfer the audio as well as the video.  But I think I may also try that in the future. Try the Netflix app and the ABC player app for this if you have an iPad already.

The only issue I found in video viewing was the shiny surface.  The touchscreen is the best if it is used indoors without direct lighting that will cause annoying glare.

For videos that are online, however, the iPad is unable to play any Flash files although it plays MPEG4 files well.

IPad as an eBook Reader: Better but…

I wasn’t terribly impressed by iBooks, which comes with one free book, Winnie the Pooh. (There are more you can download.)   There was the obvious advantage of having a larger screen and being a tablet rather than a computer with a keyboard.  But I could not zoom in and out freely in iBooks as I did using Safari.  IBooks only offer two font sizes.  Also, as a reading screen, an iPad is no different from a computer screen except that its surface gets a lot of glare which would make lunchtime reading outdoors challenging.  The iPad screen doesn’t use the e-Ink technology, as many noted, and so, is hard on the eyes for prolonged reading.  The iPad also seems to lack the accessibility feature of reading out the content of an ebook in iBooks or of a web page in Safari like the iPhone 3GS (although I am not 100% sure). The iPad also is equipped with much-touted iPhone OS’ accessibility features that allow zooming in and out of the screen itself rather than the fonts and make the content on the web read aloud.  In order to use this features, one has to go to the Accessibility tab on the Settings.  Make sure to double-tap with three fingers when you want to return to the normal screen after you turn on the zoom function.

IBooks also doesn’t allow highlighting and notes-adding feature that the Kindle iPad app offers.  And finding a free eBook for iBooks is not as intuitive as it could be. (One needs to go to the App Store first. )  I liked the dictionary function of iBooks a lot but was disappointed that there was no way to use the dictionary as a stand-alone app to look up whatever word I would like.  I thought this was very odd.  Overall, I was more impressed with the Classics app on the iPhone, which is pretty much identical with iBook except that iBooks lacks the page-turning sound (again, such a shame! the sound makes a big difference).

The iPad hasn’t yet changed my preference for reading a book in paper whenever possible.  I think eBook readers have still a long way to go to become even a remote competitor with books in paper.

IPad as a PDF reader: Promising but Awaiting Better Apps…

Reading PDF files is one of the big reasons that made me to get an iPad.  But in order to do that, you need to get an app.  The iPad allows you to read PDF files online but not to download them on the iPad, which seems to me to be ridiculous.  I purchased GoodReader which allows syncing with Dropbox, Google Docs,, etc.  It also allows you to directly search and download PDFs onto iPad from the web.

But I realized that in order for me to save trees, I need to be able to annotate on the PDF files that I read.  So I got iAnnotate for that purpose.  Both apps work well, and iAnnotate also supports downloading the annotated pdf file back to the computer although I have not tried this yet.  The only issue with iAnnotate is that it doesn’t sync with Dropbox or Google Docs and you have to manually  upload documents to the iAnnotate application on your computer.  I am hoping that iAnnotate adds the sync feature with Dropbox in the future.

I haven’t read much yet on iAnnotate nor GoodReader. But so far it seems to be promising.  And if I can get most of my PDF readings done on the iPad rather than printing them out on the papers or reading in front of my computers, it would be a huge benefit for me.  Just to store and read PDF files, the Evernote app also does a great job. This app is free and allows voice recording as well as creating notes. (This is how I found out that the iPad comes with a mic but there was no Voice Memos app on the default screen.  I realized that in order to use the built-in mic, one needs to go to the Apple App store and download Voice Memos for iPad. This app is free. I think in the future, Apple may add more default apps to the iPad.)

IPad for Online Reading: Excellent

While the iPad is so-so as an ebook reader and it is yet to be seen if it will be good for PDF reading/annotating, it works quite well for online surfing and casual reading onthe web. The USA Today app almost makes you feel as if you were reading a newspaper in paper again.  The BBC News app allows one to easily browse news and plays video in a news article.

IPad as a Gaming Device: Promising

I have only tried Scrabble on the iPad, but I think gaming on the iPad will be quite cool since it will provide a larger screen to fill with images and may well provide a more intuitive control for games. I think it would be addictive if a good role-playing game comes out for the iPad but any simple games will be fun as well.


I think that overall the iPad is an interesting device and that the large part of its success will depend on the apps that can take advantage of the unique features of this device.  I am disappointed, however, to find that Apple is offering a lesser version of the iPhone OS for the iPad with the limited number of international keyboards.

As also noted by many, the way Apple designed the iPad to run the silos of applications that do not talk to each other becomes glaringly annoying as one needs to save multiple copies of one and the same file to use it for different applications.  One copy for iAnnotate. Another copy of the same file for GoodReader. You get the idea of how inefficient and stupid this is.  The iPad also makes it a huge pain to import and export any files.  Why no way to exchange files directly between at least the iPad and the iPhone?

I am not going to even bother with commenting on the lack of built-in camera, which is obviously an intentional omission by Apple. (See  WePad for example, which runs Flash, comes with USB ports, a built-in web cam, an inbuilt card reader and expandable memory.)

Lastly, it will be interesting to see how publishers and news media will provide content to the iPad users. Already the TIME magazine packaged their weekly magazine as an individual app and priced it for $4.99 in the App Store.  This caused a lot of complaints from users who didn’t realize that they were purchasing only one weekly magazine.  The Wall Street Journal app also requires its users to create an account even for free content, which I found to be annoying and disturbing.

Persistence and Some Other Virtues for Solo Web-Services Librarians

Last September, I did an online presentation through OPAL (Open Program for All).  The topic was “Web Services for Underfunded and Understaffed Libraries.”   After the presentation, I uploaded my slides on SlideShare and then completely forgot about it.  A few days ago, I got an email from SlideShare that notified me the number of views of these slides.  How interesting!  Anyhow, so I remembered. Right, I did that presentation, and what was I thinking back then?

I felt funny realizing that what was a burning question to me only about four months ago seemed already close to some distant memory.  The presentation was part of my efforts to make sense of the challenges and difficulties I have encountered at my work as a new solo web librarian at a small academic library.  I was feeling overwhelmed because I was fully aware of many innovative things I wanted to try, but also there was a very clear limit to what I could do in reality.  Also I was somewhat depressed by the fact that some really awesome things other libraries were doing couldn’t be done for various reasons related to limited resources, funding, staff, etc.

Does the fact that I almost forgot about the presentation mean that I came to some kind of  conclusion on that topic?  Well, probably not.  I think it would be more accurate to say that I have rather gotten used to my environment.

However, now that I look back, I think I learned something about patience in getting things done.  Trying new things requires dealing with some procedures and forming a teamwork  whether it is with some university offices or within one’s organization.  Inevitably, it takes time and efforts – sometimes in a seemingly inexplicably large sum.  Unfortunately, there is no real shortcut in dealing with all the steps whether it is bureaucracy or paperwork.  So what becomes quite important is, more often than not, persistence.

Persistence is also an important virtue and one of the most valuable weapon in a solo web-services librarian’s arsenal.  I mentioned in the presentation that almost everything technology-related becomes the responsibilities of web-services librarian in a small library. So, it is unavoidable that things that need to be done pile up while one solo web-services librarian tries to get all the technology-related things requested as well as other things s/he deems to be important done.  Some of them cannot be done in the time frame desired and/or requested.  Some of them have to go down on the priority list, so that more important things, which keep popping up anew, can be taken care of. But if there are things that need to be done whether it is next month or next season, they have to stay on the list and a solo web-services librarian needs to find time for those.  This sometimes requires persuading others and enlisting their help.

Oh, and resourcefulness. That probably would make another blog post. So I won’t talk about it here.

Another thing that I have learned since the presentation is that one library can’t do all and each library’s environment is unique.  This seems quite an obvious thing to say.  But still many times, libraries waste a lot of time trying to replicate what has been done successfully at other libraries without realizing that there are very different dynamics at work.  Particularly for small libraries, it only makes sense to focus a small number of things that they can excel at rather than spreading thin their resources and staff in many different things.

From time to time, I think I should remind myself of these new lessons I have learned, so that I won’t get unproductively frustrated or disappointed and stay positive and efficient at the same time.

The question which still remains in my mind as an unanswered question is how a solo web-services librarian should deal with necessary R&D.  Unlike at larger libraries where there are multiple programmers and a large IT staff for example, it is extremely difficult for a solo web-services librarian to engage in any productive and meaningful R&D activities because there are so many daily tasks to be handled that come before R&D.  (Also remember many of these librarians are trained first as librarians and not necessarily magical in programming and writing codes?)  On the other hand, without R&D, a solo web-services librarian is likely to be burned out and  get outdated at the same time.  Sadly, I don’t see any systematic support for R&D in small libraries.

This is probably not an issue that can be solved by a lay librarian nor at the scale of individual small libraries.  My hope is to see some larger agencies that  support continuing education/R&D for library technology staff – maybe funded by multiple libraries – and those libraries again committing themselves to allowing time for such continuing education for their technology staff.  Oh, well, wouldn’t that be nice?

For what it’s worth, here is my past presentation at OPAL. I am glad SlideShare sent me the notice. Otherwise I would have completely forgotten about all these questions.

OPAL Program Archive: (Sep. 17, 29009)