“The Library Web Site of the Future” and the Espresso Book Machine

I am basking in the semi-warm glow of being vaguely caught up with my teaching for the first time in two weeks. Not that it means that much; I still need to get back in gear with research and writing, we need to get ready around here for our an annual function for this weekend, and we still haven’t quite figured out what we’re going to be doing when we go to D.C. next week. But none of this has stopped me from posting something that might actually be useful to the ol’ blog. Besides posts about bacon, of course.

First, there’s this Inside Higher Ed article, “The Library Web Site of the Future” by Steven J. Bell. I can imagine this being handy for English 516 for the electronic library angle on things, but I can also imagine it being interesting for English 444 too. Most of the article is about how academic-types find most university library web sites/portals are not user-friendly and/or useful. I don’t know if I agree with that or not when it comes to EMU’s Halle Library web site, to be honest. I have always found it pretty easy to find journals and such through it– though oddly, there seems to be some glitches in the book catalog. Of course, part of my comfort-level with the library’s web site comes from the librarians: when I have questions, I ask; when I take students to the library for orientations about doing research in the library, I inevitably learn something myself. So maybe part of the “usability” part being left out of Bell’s article is the fact that most academics– certainly faculty but also students– don’t interact exclusively with the university library web site. Most of us manage to get over to the building once in a while to talk with actual librarians and occasionally touch actual books.

I did think this passage was kind of interesting though:

Several years ago academic institutions shifted control of their Web sites from technology wizards to marketing gurus. At the time there was backlash. The change in outlook was perceived as a corporate sellout, a philosophical transformation of the university Web site from candid campus snapshot to soulless advertiser of campus wares to those who would buy into the brand. I observed that academic librarians feared what the marketers wrought, and would resist efforts to let any advertising consultant or marketing vice-president take control of the library Web site. They might just make it more about marketing than connecting people to information.

I was one of the resisters. Now I think the marketing people got it right. The first thing librarians must do after ending the pretense that the library Web site succeeds in connecting people to content is understand how and why the institutional homepage has improved and what we can learn from it. Doing so will allow academic libraries to discover answers to that first question; how to create user community awareness about the electronic resources in which the institution heavily invests.

Of course, instead of just talking to the marketing people, the library-types could talk to people in academic programs interested in usability and web design… just sayin’….

The other thing I heard earlier today that I thought might be good to bring up in 516 at some point was a story on Michigan Public Radio about the Espresso Book Machine. It was actually on the “Environment Report” because the angle was on how these machines can save paper. The story also took the angle of how these machines would replace browsing for paperbacks in Borders or something, but that strikes me as unlikely. No, the real value of this sort of “on demand publishing” machine is clearly in academic publishing where the press runs are already pitifully small and expensive.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t any academic publishers now using this technology; or am I wrong about that?

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