Soliciting volunteers

Patrick is ready to run card sorts with our community to begin our information architecture work, and the first question in any volunteer enterprise is “how do we get people to participate?”

Well, by asking.

Then by begging.

Then by arm-twisting.

Also, try offering incentives. Like coffee or pizza.

(I haven’t been forced to the Pizza Extreme. Yet.)

As the Voice Of The Library, I took two initial approaches to finding volunteers for the card sort. First, I sent an email to Dr. Tom Baker, the head of our Honors Program, and asked if he would solicit student volunteers for us. We, as The Libraries and as members of the campus community, have a strong existing relationship with Dr. Baker and with the Honors Program, so this was an easy way to reach out to several hundred students to ask for help. I offered a gift certificate for free coffee at the cafe to any student who volunteered, and before the day was over I had 3 volunteers.

Then I sent out an email to our faculty liaisons to the library. This group consists of one faculty member from each of our academic departments, with whom we work on Collection Development and libraries’ communication issues. And, when needed, I use them as a sounding board, informal advisory group… and pool of potential volunteers. (I also offered them coffee.)

If these two solicitations fail to get us enough volunteers to fill the three card sort sessions, we will move on to the next step: Begging. This means asking for volunteers personally, from amongst our friends, colleagues, coworkers, student workers, students in classes, library regulars… and offering coffee.

If that fails, arm-twisting is next. That means I, as Director of Libraries, start calling in favors. I try to save these for stuff that matters, but this project counts in that category.

(Or I offer to buy pizza. We’ll see.)

Brainstorming Part II

Tuesday we had the opportunity to continue our discussion about the scenarios that we came up with last week. Before getting together I grouped the scenarios together by common tasks that people do at the SUNY Potsdam College libraries. After putting them into groups a list of ‘Common Trends’ was created based upon what people do on a regular basis. It is a listing of the items that people do here in the libraries along with the items that they need access to accomplish the given task. The additional information has been added to the Brainstorming working document.

Common Trends from Scenarios

  • Find Books – Access to Library Catalog
  • Put something on reserve – Information on how to put something on reserve
  • Find Articles – Access to Library Databases, Access to Serial Solutions
  • Locate Journals – Access to Library Databases and Library Catalog, Access to Serial Solutions
  • How to cite things – Information about APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.
  • Find Images – Access to Library Databases
  • Print Poster – Information about Process
  • AP2 Call Numbers – Information/Access to Map

As we move forward in the redesign process these items will be very important because they will help guide the information that will part of the new website. Regardless if a person is physically in the building or some place else in the world they still will be looking for books, putting items on reserve, searching for an article etc.

Organization of Common Tasks

Once we briefly talked about how the scenarios were grouped together we added one more to the list that was about a person looking for scholarly books. This was a very important addition because it will help remind us that people are still looking for books for a variety of different reasons. Next we began to talk about the common questions that get asked in the library. On one hand this is really a crap shoot because the questions that get asked are not recorded anywhere and we are doing them from memory; However, they are very useful and will serve as a guide.

Recording Questions

One thing that the College Libraries is not currently doing is recording the actually questions that get asked at the reference or circulation desks. We are keeping reference statistics in the form of how was a question asked, length of transaction, and if the question was a reference, directional, or technology question. We are not recording the actual question itself, so the common questions that we came up with may not be as common as we might think they are.

A question that was asked to me at the reference desk earlier today was “Can you help me find a review of a dance performance created by Alvin Ailey during 1970 in the New York times?”. If we start to record these questions we will have a better understanding of what people are actually asking and do not have to rely on remembering the questions that were asked at either the reference desk or circulation desk. This is very valuable information that can help everyone in a variety of different ways. In conclusion we should be recording the questions that get asked because it will help us better serve the people who use the libraries.


Earlier this morning we got together to do some brainstorming to gain a common understanding of the people who use the college libraries website. We began by talking some more about the target audience and secondary audience for the website. This information mostly comes out of the interviews that INFLUX did for the libraries. They created several persona’s that helped guide the brainstorming process.


After talking briefly about the libraries audience we started a discussion about the environments in which both faculty and students would be using the libraries website. This was a very good discussion allowing us to thing about how, when, and why a person would be using the college libraries website. We determined that faculty mostly use a computer in their offices or at home and that each person may have a proffered location to work and some do not have a preference at all. Other places that faculty may use a computer include anyplace on campus that has wifi access or off campus locations. These locations are the minority, but they do have similar traits amongst the other ones that where mentioned earlier.

Students tend to use the college website in a much broader range of locations such as where they live, at the libraries, in classrooms, in the Levett Computer Center etc. It is interesting that we came up with a much broader range of locations where students use a computer verses where a faculty member may use a computer. Regardless of the location there are a few common traits that both these groups of people encounter. By far probably the largest similarity between these two groups is that they are doing several things at one time and move back and forth between a variety of different tasks.

Common Questions/Tasks

Next we moved on to talk briefly about the common questions and tasks that people are trying to accomplish. This was a chance to introduce some of the things that would be determined by the scenarios that we would be created lager on in the discussion. The common questions are based upon talking to the staff who work at the circulation desk at both the Crane and Crumb libraries. Some of the questions overlap between both libraries; However, the Crumb Library tends to get more questions of a greater variety. This is reflective of the Crumb Library being the main library on campus which is much busier than the Crane Library.

The majority of the questions that get asked occur at both the circulation and reference desks. For people who visit the libraries they do not have a distinction between either location and view each one as a place to ask a question. The tasks that people do come directly from the interviews that INFLUX conducted and the scenarios that have been created.


A good portion of our time was spent talking about the scenarios that people had written based upon the persona’s that INFLUX created for us. This was a really good discussion that allowed us to write down a variety of things that people do on a daily basis as it relates to library resources. Each person had at least one scenario to add to the list that we where creating. Out if each scenario that was written we pulled out the specific task or tasks that a person was trying to accomplish.

Here is one example:

Scenario – Sylvia Page: Poster for a class, needs images and the poster teacher guy said something about some “commons”

Task – Needs images to create a poster, needs to locate information given in workshop.

As you read through the scenarios that we have created you will notice some common themes amongst them. Regardless if a person is a faculty member or a student at the college they still need to be able to access and find similar pieces of information.

Some examples include

  • locate an article
  • find a book
  • use course reserves in some manner

By keeping in mind the tasks that people need to complete will help us to narrow in on the low hanging fruit (the things that can impact people the greatest).

To read about the items that came out of this session please take a look at the Brainstorming Phase I working document that is located in Google docs.

Next Brainstorming Session

Time: 10a.m. to 10:45a.m.
Date: Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
Location: Crumb Library Room 205

At the next brainstorming session we will continue talking some more about the scenarios that we created and determine five or six of them that are the most important based upon the people who use the college libraries. We than take these scenarios in flush them out in more detail to determine the actual tasks that must be completed. After we have created a long list of tasks we will than select the most common ones that people to on a daily basis.

By having a good understanding of the tasks and questions that get asked will determine the items that need to be included within the new college libraries website.

Brainstorming Overview

On Friday we will be getting together to do some brainstorming to help us better understand the people that use the libraries services and the tasks that do on a regular basis. This will be the time to develop a shared context about the people who use our services that will help us throughout the process of designing and building a new website.


  • Create a healthy environment that allows us to look towards the future
  • Expose the talents of various individuals
  • Develop a universal understanding of people who use the library

When it comes to understanding people we will to look at how and where they will be using the libraries website and the type of tasks that they do. If we do not have a shared understanding of the people who use the library we may not realize or understand the problems that occur into years in the future, which we cannot afford to do. One thing that needs to happen is to develop a new simplified way at looking at the world. Instead of looking at the world from an inside perspective of a librarian providing every resource imaginable, we need to look at things from the outside in. If we continue to cling to old beliefs it will prevent the libraries from moving forward.

A new project along with new ideas will help to establish a new healthy environment allowing us to move in a direction that better serves the college community. Today is the time to start looking at things in a new a way as we began the brainstorming process. As we work through the first phase we will want to start with a broad range of ideas and than began to narrow them down into specific tasks that people do on a regular basis.

As we work through the process we will be drawing and writing out various things on paper, a white board, and on a computer to record our thoughts. This will help us to think out loud and share our ideas with everyone.We we start the process by revisiting the persona’s of our users and defining the college libraries target audience. This will be a great time for us to talk about how we have helped a person accomplish something that they where trying to do, but could not do on their own.

During this brainstorming session we will be talking about the following items: people that use the libraries website, the environment they work in, and the tasks that they do on a regular basis. Throughout this session we will not be allowed to disagree or state that something does not happen.

What we will be doing

  1. Creating a list of
    1. people who use the libraries
    2. environments people work in
    3. tasks that need to be completed
  2. 10 to 12 Scenarios
  3. flush out 5 to 6 scenarios in depth

The start of the outcome

  • Users
    • Faculty
    • Undergraduate Students
    • Graduate Students – Music and Eduction
  • Environment – how and where people use the libraries website
    • Faculty Students – Office/Home etc.
    • Students – Dorm Room/Library etc.
  • Common Questions
    • Can you help my find a book?
  • Tasks
    • Tasks that came from INFLUX Interviews
      • Search Library Databases
      • Use Inter Library Loan
      • Search Library Catalog
      • Ask Librarians
      • Use Chat Reference
    • Other
      • Pay Fines
  • Scenarios

Part III Kick Off Meeting

Next we began talking about the things people do not do while they are using the internet. When we were talking about why we use the internet nobody mentioned that they used it to read, look images or the design of a website. After making this statement a few people started challenging this statement by saying that they do read. At this point in time Jenica stated that reading was not a persons first instinct and that nobody actually mentioned that they read when using the internet. The discussion got very lively again and there were still a few skeptics still in the room. I then asked everyone to take a look at the list of reasons we came up with about how we use the internet. Once everyone had a chance to look at the list again, I pointed out that reading or looking at images was not on the list.

Another common theme was that nobody mentioned that they looked at the design or images that appear on a website. When we take a moment to thing about the reasons why this occurs we can come up with many different reasons. It goes back to the simple principle that we are trying to get something accomplished or find a piece of information and therefore we ignore everything else that is not important to us at that particular moment in time. Everything else that exists on a web page just gets in our way and we ignore it unless we cannot find what we are looking for. One way to think about this process is that we are information foragers trying to get to what we need as quickly as possible. There is so much stuff that exists on the web do not have time read everything or look at each individual image. We just want to accomplish a particular task that we have as fast as possible and move on to the next item without looking backwards.

Next we moved on to briefly talking about three books that have influenced me in one way or another and how they are useful to the process of redesigning a new website. A few months ago, I had the chance to read Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Janice (Ginny) Redish. The focus of the book is about writing for the web; However, Ms. Redish does a good job of discussing design principles and how its relationship to writing content that helps people in completing a task.

Picture of a grid with on horizontal column and three vertical columns

Simple Grid

We then began talking about the importance of keeping things simple because it helps support a persons goal in trying to complete a task or find the information they are looking for. This segment consistent of drawing two diagrams to represent this point. The first one was very complicated having several lines and images that had no consistency what so ever. The next diagram consisted of one horizontal box and three vertical boxes to represent simplicity. Simplicity works to your advantage when it comes to the web. The easier it is for people to do something that happier they are.

We than talked about the process of design itself and all of the different components. The outline web page lists all of these different elements. For the most part the items are pretty self explanatory; However, some explanation is warranted. The fist important step is to gather the requirements of the project and to understand your target audience. As stated in the first Kick Off Meeting post INFLUX is helping the college libraries with this process. The next step is the first brainstorming phase where we we list out the tasks that people need to complete along with several different scenarios. After coming up with several different items we will than take these items and narrow them down to three or four sceneries that represent the college community.

Based upon the information that we gather during the first brainstorming phase will help in creating a list of words that will be used for a card sort. A card sort is where you come up with a list of words that represent different possible elements on a web site. After coming up with a list of words you give it to a group of three to five people and ask them to put them into different categories. Once you have done this with two or three groups of people you can begin to create the organization of your website together that will aid people in the search for information that they need.

The last part of the kickoff meeting consisted of talking about designing and prototyping. This is probably one of the most easiest parts of the process to explain because you can use visual aids. Essentially this consisted of passing out sketches and wire frame models that, I have created for other projects. This also made it easy to talk about the iterative cycle of design where you can show someone a sketch and ask them a question to find something within a website. After showing people a variety of sketches and wire-frame models we briefly talked about what Information Architecture is all about and how it is related to the design process.

Part II Kick Off Meeting

Once we moved past discussing a few things it was time to start talking about the process that we will be using to create a new website. The discussion began with a brief discussion of my background from both an educational and professional standpoint. The process that we will be using to create a new website appears on the Outline web page. The outline was created based upon several things that include personal experience, my graduate work at Indiana University, and attending professional workshops.

Here is the outline for the discussion:

  1. Introduction
    1. My Background – HCI, Information Architecture, Course Work, Professional Workshops
  2. Why do you use the Internet?
    1. Summary:
      – Find Information
      – Accomplish a Task
    2. Did Not Say:
      – Read
      – Look at the Design
  3. Mention Books
    1. Letting Go of the Words:writing Web content that works
    2. Prioritizing Web Usability
    3. The Design of Everyday Things
  4. Keep it Simple
    1. Draw complicated diagram
    2. Draw simple diagram
  5. Iterative CycleDiagrahm of iterative cycle. Do Something, Test, Good, Not Repeat.
  6. Design is a Process
    1. Gather Requirements – INFLUX helped to do this process
      1. First Thing
        – Understanding of who we are?
        – Who are they?
      2. Field Study- Interview
        – Shadow
        – Identify the ‘low-hanging fruit’ – the most important stuff
    2. Brainstorm Phase One
    3. Brainstorm Phase Two
    4. Design & Prototype
      1. Sketches
      2. Wire Frame Models
      3. Build Prototype
    5. Usability Testing
  7. Other things we will be doing
    1. Card Sort
    2. Developing Information Architecture

After taking a moment to talk about my background we moved into the interactive part of the discussion in which people where asked “Why do you use the Internet?” This was a lively discussion in which everyone had the opportunity to mention a reason or two why they use the internet. Right after I asked this question it was followed up by a question that asked if we were talking about why are patrons use the internet or why we use the internet. The people in the room where reading to much into the question. They were simply asked “Why do you use the Internet?”. There was no reference made to patrons or anybody else.

Here are the reasons why the people who work at the SUNY Potsdam College Libraries use the Internet:

  • go to a website
  • find information
  • email
  • chat
  • shopping
  • communication
  • check the weather
  • play games
  • watch movies/tv
  • learn to do something
  • understanding
  • curiosity
  • on-line banking – bill Paying
  • relationships
  • share stuff

As you read through this list you probably find yourself using the internet to do at least a couple of these things. There may be things that you do that are not here; However, when you take a moment to think about them you will realize that they are very similar in nature to the items listed above. Once we created this list everyone was happy and content with the reasons why we use the Internet.. When we use the internet we typically use it to either find information or accomplish a very specific task. Everyone agreed with this statement and was content at the moment, but that all changed within a matter of a few seconds when we started to talk about the things that were not on the list.

To be continued….

Kick Off Meeting

On January 28th (Friday) we had a Kick Off Meeting to officially start the process of redesigning the college libraries website. The reason for the meeting was to allow everyone who was interested to have the opportunity to learn about my design philosophy and how, I approach things. The very simple answer is that design is a very iterative process where you do something, show it to someone to get feedback, and than repeat the process.

At the start of the meeting Jenica passed out a handout that had a list of the basic tasks that we will be doing over the course of the rest of the year. She also passed out pencils to everyone that said “WE ARE NOT OUR PATRONS” (yes every letter is capitalized on the pencil).

Picture of a pencil with the quote "We are not our patrons"

At the end of the document the following information was listed:


January 28, 2011: Project Kickoff
February 1, 2011: INFLUX deliverables discussion (this meeting was canceled and it will be rescheduled)
February 11, 2011: Brainstorming Meeting
March 10, 2011: Discuss results of Card Sort

(All meetings subject to change as project timeline is adjusted)

Follow our progress and process:

Homework for February 11, 2011 Brainstorming Meeting:

Roles and Environments
Choose a persona from INFLUX, and think about how and where and why that person encounters our site. Describe that environment, and the tasks they need to do. For example, a persona in an environment:

Wallace Stanfield is holding office hours, and while he waits for students, he is trying to find an article cited by a colleague in a recent paper, and also finish his syllabus for a 300-level history seminar.

What are his tasks?

We will all bring our persona’s, environments, and tasks together to brainstorm all the tasks that people use our site to accomplish for Patrick’s use in building the site to meet those needs.

And remember: we are not our patrons.

The next time that we get together as a group we will be talking about the environment where people work, the tasks they need to complete, and common scenarios that exist for the target audience. This is the reason behind the homework example (more information will be coming in a future post). After Jenica briefly discussed the handout there was some discussion that took place about things that were not related to the meeting. Once we got back on task we only had about 30 to 35 minutes left to talk about the process we will be using to create a new website. With the limited amount of time that was available there where a few things that, I just glossed over instead of going into detail.

To be continued….

More Domains

In listening to people talk about what they need to have access to has got me thinking about how librarians are truly different from the people that they help on a regular basis. The needs of librarians and the people that they serve are very different even if a librarian states they are the same they are different. For example, if a person wants to check out a book from the library they just need to go to the circulation and show their library card to check it out. On the other hand a librarian or staff member need to do how to use the library system in place to do so.

The information that a librarian or staff member would need to know would best reside within an Intranet. For some people this may very obvious, but for other not so much. One thing that I have observed the past few months is that we as librarians want to provide more information than is necessary for a person to complete a task. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to providing someone with information.

This leads to a variety of new web services that will become available to librarians and staff on the libraries Intranet. The new additions are going to be:

  1. – Will be used as a testing location for the library website. It will be a place to update content and make sure things look the way they are supposed to before moving the changes to the live web server.
  2. – a residing place for all internal information
  3. – phpBB a bulletin board will be installed
  4. – WordPress blog will be installed

The first item will be used for the libraries website. At the moment there is no place that exists where things can be added without the world seeing them. Currently when an update is made the libraries website is made to the live web server ( you can imagine all of the problems this can cause). By having a test server (or sandbox if you prefer) will allow for a better process to take place in updating content by putting in place an editor who will be responsible for keeping things consistent.

Everything that resides on the Intranet will only need to be accessed by staff and nobody else. The bulletin board has come from the need for people to have discussions about various topics. Currently email is being used for discussions; However, it is not the most effective way because sometimes you may be included in a discussion that does not really pertain to you. It will be a great way for people to provide an opinion or make a recommendation in one location. The blog will be a great way for staff to communicate with each other in a different way. If someone is at a conference this would be a great place for them to share their thoughts with other people or a place to post information about a new resource that the library has purchased. It will be interesting to see how the blog will be used.

Infrastructure and Domains

Talking to CTS has been one of the most valuable things in understanding how things are currently configured and where things will be going in the near future. In taking a look at the variety of different URL’s and locations for a variety of web related services the library uses, it gets a little confusing to keep things straight. It would actually make you quite confused and dizzy if you are responsible for maintaining these items.

In the previous post it was mentioned that the web servers in place at the university are running Apache. There is at least one caveat to this statement as far as the libraries are concerned. The libraries here at SUNY Potsdam are using Illiad for Inter Library Loan which runs on a Microsoft IIS web server.

Here is a listing of the current domains for websites the libraries is using:

  • Library Website –
  • Library Wiki – Potsdam
  • Library News (Blog) –
  • Illiad –
  • Early Periodicals Database –

As you read through the domain names there is no consistency with the naming that has been selected because things were added at different times and locations based upon the colleges infrastructure. When taking a look at the URL for the current website and library news blog they look like completely separate entities; However, they are related to each other. Another thing to make note of is that almost all of these websites reside on different servers for a variety of different reasons. As stated earlier Illiad requires the use of a Microsoft web server and the way things have been configured have been based upon the colleges needs.

In talking with CTS some of the websites in place need to be moved from older servers to new ones as equipment gets replaced. With things getting moved around this is the time to start renaming and moving things around in a way that is coherent for people.

The most important change that will occur is that all of these domains will be renamed. The URL for the libraries website will become: Along with having a new URL there will also be several name variations that will be put into place that would redirect a person to the main URL. The other name variations for the libraries website will become:


By having these other name variations in place will help to eliminate confusion that may exist from people trying to access the libraries website. For example, if someone was to use the URL they would be automatically taken to

Along with having a new URL for the libraries website the News Blog, Illiad, and the Early Periodicals Database will also be renamed. They will become:

  • – WordPress Blog
  • – Inter Library Loan
  • – Early Periodicals Database

This is just one of the early steps that need to take place before you can start designing and building a new website. Without having a solid infrastructure and consistent naming in place you will fail before you even begin to start the journey of creating something new.

Where to Begin

When undertaking a new project such as creating a new website it can be very overwhelming because of the amount of things that must be done to be successful. With so many things that need to occur you need to start somewhere and go from there. The starting point is always the hard part because of all of the different variables that are involved. The process started before my arrival to SUNY Potsdam when the libraries contacted INFLUX to help them trying to identify the people who use the College Libraries website.

It is always a good idea to contact and work with people outside your organization for parts of the process. Often times when working on a project we can get really involved and loose site of the larger scope because we get very focused. Later on in the process we will be looking to people outside the libraries to help with usability testing. After working on designing something new it is usually hard to step back and look at something with a fresh pair of eyes.

For me the beginning started by spending time learning about several different things from the culture of the library to the computer infrastructure that is in place. As many people can a test too, I was constantly asking people questions and observing the processes and behaviors that take place in the College Libraries. For example, I spent an hour or two at the circulation desk at the Crumb Library for a few days talking and observing what takes place on a daily basis. This was helpful because it is a great opportunity to learn about the questions that people where asking and how the current libraries website was unable to answer them. One way to thing about observing is conducting your own psychology experiment where you are trying to understand both the tasks and questions that people have.

Another area that was very important to learn about was the computer infrastructure that was currently in place and how web related services where organized. The simply answer is that the organization of items is a complete mess and is currently in the process of being reorganized. As far as the computer infrastructure is concerned everything is pretty good. Every library organization is different when it comes to web related services and SUNY Potsdam is no different. In my experience the size of the institution and number of people working within the library has a direct impact on the infrastructure that is in place.

Here at SUNY Potsdam the libraries do not have their own web server or people on staff that are able to run and maintain this type of equipment. The libraries website resides on a web server that is managed by the CTS (I am not sure what CTS actually stands for because, I have never come across the full name). Having an outside department manage a small academic libraries web site is pretty typically. During the fall semester my time was also spent talking to CTS about all the different web related services are managed and where everything resides. The web servers in place at the university are Apache running just about any programming language on them that you would want to use. Talking with the CTS department was very useful because it allowed me to understand exactly what we could do and not do.

For the most part from a back end perspective we can do just about anything we would like to do. We would only be limited by are current knowledge. Working with CTS has been a very positive experience and I expect that to continue as we move forward. The libraries have a very good relationship with CTS and this is because the two organizations communicate with each on a regular basis.