The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the vendor or platform has changed, from May 1 – 29. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.
Confab Central 2015 is a wrap! I was very pleased to be able to attend this absolutely fantastic conference for the third year running.
I can’t say enough good things about Confab. The organizers are fantastic, attending to every little detail and making sure attendees’ needs are met; the speakers are smart, generous with their knowledge, and entertaining (yes, entertaining – did you know that the brain holds more new knowledge if you clean it out periodically with a good laugh? SCIENTIFIC FACT*) and the attendees are friendly, interesting, and all-around great folks to spend some time with.
I met and hung out with people who came from the east coast, the west coast, and everywhere in between as well as more far-flung places like Belgium, Switzerland, and Facebookistan. (Seriously, I met a bunch of Facebook employees this time around and you know what? Facebook hires some smart, cool people!) One of the really useful things about this conference for me is getting out of the “higher ed bubble” a little bit. I love working in higher ed, but we have a lot to learn from our colleagues out there in the world of brands and industry. I suspect they learn something from us, as well.
umm, that name badge says “speaker” … yikes!
This year was a little different for me as it was my first time attending with the word “SPEAKER” on my badge. Presenting a session at Confab was a pretty great experience; the audience is SO ENGAGED, which makes it delightful to share thoughts and ideas with them. (If you’re interested, I’ve included readings & resources – including a link to my slides – in my follow-up blog post.) I learned a lot from preparing the talk as well as from delivering it, which makes it a success in my book. Since my name and bio were in the conference program, I was tracked down by a handful of IU alumni who were excited to meet a fellow Hoosier content strategist; that was also a delight!
So, some specific takeaways from this year’s Confab:
Over and over, multiple speakers stressed the importance of editing, weeding, reducing, decluttering your web content. At the macro level, in his workshop on “Top Tasks and Self-Service: Creating better customer experiences online,” Gerry McGovern gave some startling examples of websites that reduced their content and saw increased usage and/or higher user success rates (defined as “the users were easily able to complete the tasks that were important to them”). For example, Columbia College launched a new site in 2014 which had 944 pages compared to 36,000 on their old site – a 97% reduction!!! – and they saw a resulting 82% increase in inquiries per month (a highly favorable outcome given that a major goal of their site is to attract prospective students). In his workshop, McGovern outlined a methodology for identifying your users’ “top tasks” and designing so that these tasks can be accomplished more quickly and easily. His closing keynote was a condensed version of the “top tasks” argument, minus the detailed methodology for getting it done; it was very pointed, very funny, and well worth viewing. (Note, the first few minutes of the talk are omitted – most of the best stuff is here though. Also, if the video doesn’t display in your browser, see kb.iu.edu/d/bdny for help.)Other talks with a similar focus included Matthew Grocki’s “Reducing Digital Clutter: How to clean up the back of your house” and Marcia Riefer Johnston’s “Write Tight(er): Get to the point and save millions,” which used the example of web content that requires translation – at a measurable cost per word – to make a case for the importance of editing out every unnecessary word. From top tasks to tiny words, other sessions also touched on this theme and certainly left me with the sense that this is a universal struggle for web content wranglers. Less content, better managed, using better metrics! That’s an excellent goal.
And speaking of metrics, the importance of data in making decisions and taking action was also a theme. Content strategy as a discipline draws heavily from user experience (UX) in its emphasis on testing and design iteration, but many content strategists come from marketing or journalism backgrounds and haven’t necessarily studied UX in any formal way, so learning about how to make good data-driven decisions is new for some of us and important for all of us. Again, Gerry McGovern’s workshop included a lot of this including some specific methodologies for gathering and understanding user data. Deborah Carver and Kate Pennell gave a great presentation, “Humans make search happen: Behavioral data to debunk SEO’s sullied reputation,” which not only talked about how to look at search data to understand users’ behavior but also managed to make it lively and entertaining. Kim Marques shared her ideas for “Delivering Your Content Strategy: Effective Documentation and Deliverables” to help us get that data across to the people who need to see them. And the need for numbers came up in a bunch of other sessions as well. In short, we may think we know what our users want, but unless we see what they are actually doing – in other words, gather data on their behavior, know how to understand it, and do something about it – we’re just whistling in the dark.
And finally, collaboration – working together to identify and solve problems – was a huge, important theme this year. From Jonathon Colman’s stunning opening keynote, which posited that we must solve our big problems together or not at all (seriously, take the time to watch this talk, or at least read the transcript – it was the highlight of the conference for me) to Rebekah Cancino’s great talk on “Next-level collaboration: The future of content and design” to, if I may be so bold, my own talk which offered up good old-fashioned reference interview techniques as a way to collaborate with clients and stakeholders via structured communication – over and over it became clear that we are all in this together and need to figure out how to work together. Our workflows and processes are by necessity (to quote Rebekah Cancino) “overlapping, iterative, messy.” This means we need new ways of working together to get things done. As content strategists, as people who make the web happen, we are engaged in nothing short of changing how people are able to communicate with one another. That’s pretty mind-blowing. Yes, we’re all working in our own domains – brands, non-profits, higher ed, what have you – and we’re all working on our own projects, but unless we break through those silos and work together, we are all struggling alone.
Big stuff, huh? Yeah. But cake helps. And good humor. And the willingness to share knowledge. All of which are available in surplus at Confab Central. Not to mention that the main stage had an actual space rocket and a backdrop of twinkling stars. (For a conference attended primarily by word-nerds, the visual design throughout Confab is – yes, I’m going to go there – out of this world!) Oh, and did I mention that Anne Lamott gave Friday morning’s keynote? She claims not to know what content strategists do, but she said “it sounds like what you people do sort of resembles wrestling drug-addicted cows” and proceeded to talk to us as writers, so I think she pretty much got it.
I closed out my conference by joining up with an international gang of wild and crazy content strategists who set forth to have dinner at Sea Salt, a great seafood shack overlooking Minnehaha Falls – definitely a true Minnesota experience. We made all the nerd jokes and laughed A LOT. Learning, laughter, and great food – what more could you possibly ask of a conference? YAY CONFAB.
I’m also grateful to the friends and colleagues who were instrumental in helping me think through issues, track down resources, and put together the talk. I’m lucky to know and work with so many smart, helpful people. You all know who you are, and I owe you cookies.
And a BIG thank you to the amazing folks at Confab Events, for putting on this ridiculously well-managed and delightful conference every year. Without the stuff I’ve learned at Confab, this talk wouldn’t have existed, and I daresay the entire trajectory of my career would look different and much less interesting.
Dervin, Brenda and Patricia Dewdney. “Neutral Questioning: A New Approach to the Reference Interview.” RQ, Vol. 25 No. 4, 506-513, Summer 1986. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25827718 (Pioneers the concept of neutral questioning, also called sense-making questions.)
Dewdney, Patricia and Gillian Michell. “Oranges and Peaches: Understanding Communication Accidents in the Reference Interview.” RQ, Vol. 35 No. 4, 520-523, 526-536, Summer 1996. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20862995 (Useful study of listening gone wrong and what we can learn from that.)
Portigal, Steve. Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights. Brooklyn: Rosenfeld Media, 2013. (Mainly about conducting research with end users, but has some fantastic insights – particularly in Chapter 6, “How to Ask Questions.”)
Ross, Catherine Sheldrick, Kirsti Nilsen, and Marie L. Radford. Conducting the Reference Interview: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2009. (A thorough introduction to reference interview techniques and strategies.)
Taylor, Robert S. “Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries.” College & Research Libraries, Vol. 29 No. 3, 178-194, May 1968 (Reprinted, Vol. 76 No. 3, 2015). http://crl.acrl.org/content/76/3/251.abstract (Classic analysis of the reference interview.)
Young, Indi. “A New Way to Listen.” A List Apart, No. 414, Feb. 17, 2015. http://alistapart.com/article/a-new-way-to-listen (A great little article about how good listening builds empathy. I tried to get her book, Practical Empathy, but it’s so new that no library would ILL it – it’s high on my reading list!)
The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the vendor or platform has changed, from April 1-30. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.
As I was reading Robert S. Taylor’s article, Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries*, I drew a lot of parallels between the librarian-patron interactions that he discussed and the human-computer interaction that is important to consider when creating web content and navigation.
Taylor discusses the negotiation process between a librarian and a patron, where a librarian and patron need to ask each other multiple questions to determine the true information need that usually begins as an intangible concept in a patron’s mind. This is generally a great way for patrons to become familiar with library resources and research. However, Taylor also examines the library system which many users choose over asking librarians for help. Back in Taylor’s day (1968), this system referred to the stacks of books and card catalog. In 2015, this library system has expanded to online resources. With our dependence on the omnipresent internet, it has become easier and easier to search for needs without asking others for help.
Because many patrons go directly to the library’s electronic resources, librarians miss out on the opportunity to help patrons find information through a negotiation process where librarians uncover the patron’s explicit research objectives. Therefore, libraries have a new challenge of educating users through electronic help guides. Because person-to-person interaction is lost in this setting, websites have the responsibility of guiding users to beneficial resources. Subject-specific guides, easily findable lists of resources, and help links are a great way to show users how to find library resources. Additionally, Ask a Librarian chat tools provide an outlet for users to ask questions without going to a reference desk.
Because patrons are increasingly using electronic resources to conduct their research, it’s important for libraries to understand patron needs and how they search for library resources. In this way, users can have a pleasant experience in finding their research needs even when they do not visit the physical library or ask librarians for help.
The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the vendor or platform has changed, from March 2-31. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.
The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the vendor or platform has changed, from February 2-27. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.
The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the vendor or platform has changed, from January 2-30. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.
In her Weave UX article, “Improving the Library Homepage through User Research – without a Total Redesign”, Amy Deschenes writes about the usefulness of making continual, small changes to a library’s website based on patron feedback and the results of user testing. Although user testing, feedback, site statistics, and/or heat maps are necessary to consider while completely redesigning a site, website managers can conduct further testing and analysis after a redesign. This can show how new features are being used by patrons and if they are helping a patron find desired information. By determining how a redesign is being used, site managers can make small changes where users can efficiently find information without becoming disoriented by large changes or even noticing that the site has changed.
Since the Summer 2014 Drupal migration, DRS has been making changes to the new Libraries’ site. A heat map revealed where users clicked on the homepage. Feedback from emails and reference desk questions indicated links and labels that were useful or needed to be changed. Google Analytics showed how long users stayed on each page and their navigation. Through this information, we were able to shorten the hompage and prioritize its links so that it is faster to find the footer’s useful information, such as recommended databases and hours.
In December, the ‘Start Your Research’ section in the top left had four subordinate categories to list links by subject. A heat map revealed that the links under the ‘Featured Collections’ and ‘Faculty & Graduate Students’ categories were underused.
The homepage on December 8th, 2014
Therefore, we got rid of the four categories and reduced the number of ‘Start Your Research’ links to those that are more widely used. We also changed the ‘Resources’ category in the navigation bar to ‘Research Resources’ to indicate that subject guides and databases are found within that category.
The homepage on January 22nd, 2015
By focusing on a few site features, we are able to improve the site’s usability without creating new obstacles for users. As users navigate the updated site, we can use statistics, feedback, and testing to continually improve the site in small ways that are barely noticeable, but helpful.
The following list represents new subscription databases added to the A-Z list of Resources, as well as those for which the vendor or platform has changed, from December 1-30. You may wish to add one or more of these to your subject guides. New databases will be posted to reDUX at the end of each month.