Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Advertising Electronic Resources: What's the Problem?

A week ago, I was asked to start revamping the electronic resources - to come up with a way to "make it so people want to use them." ("Electronic Resources" are the databases that the library subscribes to.)

So I sit down and take a look at the electronic resources page. How should these be organized? Alphabetically? By subject? Actually, we already have them arranged in both those ways. Yet I agree, the electronic resources page is hard to use. What does it need? A better system of visual organization? Different subject categories? My brainstorming was getting me nowhere. I tried picturing myself as a user, visiting the electronic resources page - what would I want to see?

I ran into some trouble at that point: I had no idea what these databases were, or how to use them, or who used them, and for what. I decided to spend a few minutes getting some basic familiarity with this resource. After all, I've been working at the library for five years. I should probably know how to use this service that we're always talking so much about.

FAIL. I spent maybe half an hour trying to figure the bloody things out. I couldn't find a darn thing that seemed even remotely useful or interesting. I'm pretty interested in psychology - specifically evolutionary psychology - and linguistics, and I though maybe I could find some interesting articles to read? Nothing. I tried to think of other things to look up. I went to the kids section and looked up bats; it was WAY less informative than your average internet search. I browsed around, looking for anything that might be remotely interesting. I got absolutely nowhere.

Now, maybe there's something for me in the electronic resources, and maybe there isn't. But how am I supposed to find out?

The problem here, I realized, was not the way the lists were arranged. Adding graphics and visualizations was not going to help. The problem is that most people do not know how to use these resources. I'm a smart, library-literate, net-savvy person. I'm sure that other people are just as confused as me when it comes to the electronic resources, if they ever even venture to that section of the website in the first place.

It's a mixed-blessing realization, because now I'm going to need to find someone to write an "introduction to the electronic resources," along with some user-friendly instructions. I'm pretty sure this will end up looking like a bigger overhaul than my bosses had in mind. Don't be surprised if the only change we end up seeing is some new color-coded organization and a banner advertising a "featured resource." At least I tried.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Interlude: What I'm Reading

"A Princess of Roumania" by Paul Park

Actually, "A Princess of Roumania" starts a 4-part series, of which I am on the third book. It's an interesting story - original in setting, system of magic, and characters. The books possess that rare quality of true unpredictability; I never know what will happen next. People live, people die, people act with honor or stupidity or grace or vindictiveness, and you never can tell what's coming.

My main problem with it is the jumping around between points of view. We don't just hear the story from the major characters; lots of minor characters have passages devoted to their thoughts and feelings. Personally, I tend to be impatient with this writing style - it's as though the author doesn't know how to develop a character except by writing from their point of view.

A secondary problem: I am bored of the villain. When I read the backs of these books, half the praise goes to the villain - how striking, how realistic, how fascinating! You can tell that that's how the author feels, also - Paul Park is completely enamoured of his villain, wants to spend half his pages writing about his villain. But I'm just bored by these passages.

Overall, the books are worth a read, especially if you're interested in speculative fiction.