Category Archives: academic libraries

The Mobile App Design Process: A Tube Map Infographic

**This post was originally published in ACRL TechConnect on March 4, 2013***

The Mobile App Design Process Tube Map:

Last June I had a great experience team-teaching a week-long seminar on designing mobile apps at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). Along with my colleagues from WSU Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture (CMDC) program, I’ll be returning this June to the beautiful University of Victoria in British Columbia to teach the course again [1. http://dhsi.org/]. As part of the course, I created a visual overview of the process we use for app making. I hope you’ll find it a useful perspective on the work involved in crafting mobile apps and an aid to the process of creating your own.

topological map of the mobile app design process
A visual guide to the process of designing and building mobile apps. Start with Requirements Analysis in the upper-left and follow the tracks to Public Release. (Click for full-sized image.)
Creating the Tube Map:

I’m fond of the tube-map infographic style, also know as the topological map[2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topological_map], because of its ability to highlight relationships between systems and especially because of how it distinguishes between linear (do once) and recursive (do over and over) processes. The linear nature of text in a book or images in slide-deck presentations can artificially impose a linearity that does not mirror the creative process we want to impart. In this example, the design and prototyping loops on the tube-map help communicate that a prototype model is an aid to modeling the design process and not a separate step completed only when the design has been finalized.

These maps are also fun and help spur the creative process. There are other tools for process mapping such as using flowcharts or mind-maps, but in this case I found the topological map has a couple of advantages. First and foremost, I associate the other two with our strategic planning process, so the tube map immediately seems more open, fun, and creative. This is, of course, rooted in my own experience and your experiences will vary but if you are looking for a new perspective on process mapping or a new way to display interconnected systems that is vibrant, fun, and shakes things up a bit the tube map may be just the thing.

I created the map using the open source vector-graphics program Inkscape[3. http://inkscape.org/] which can be compared to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Inkscape is free (both gratis and libre) and is powerful, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Being unfamiliar with vector graphics or the software tools to create them, I worked with an excellent tutorial provided by Wikipedia on creating vector graphic topological maps[4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Graphic_Lab/Resources/Draw_topological_maps]. It took me a few days of struggling and slowly becoming familiar with the toolset before I felt comfortable creating with Inkscape. I count this as time well spent, as many graphics used in mobile app and icon sets required by app stores can be made with vector graphic editors. The Inkscape skills I picked up while making the map have come in very handy on multiple occasions since then.

Reading the Mobile App Map:

Our process through the map begins with a requirements analysis or needs assessment. We ask: what does the client want the app to do? What do we know about our end users? How do the affordances of the device affect this? Performing case studies helps us learn about our users before we start designing to meet their needs. In the design stage we want people to make intentional choices about the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of  their app design. Prototype models like wireframe mock-ups, storyboards, or Keynotopia[3. http://keynotopia.com/] prototypes help us visualize these choices, eventually resulting in a working prototype of our app. Stakeholders can test and request modifications to the prototype, avoiding potentially expensive and labor intensive code revisions later in the process.

Once both the designers and clients are satisfied with the prototype and we’ve seen how potential users interact with it, we’re ready to commit our vision to code. Our favored code platform uses HTML 5, CSS 3, jQuery Mobile[4. http://jquerymobile.com/], and PhoneGap[5. http://phonegap.com/] to make hybrid web apps. Hybrid apps are written as web apps–HTML/JavaScript web sites that look and performlike apps–then use a tool like PhoneGap to translate this code into the native format for a device. PhoneGap translates a web app into a format that works with the device’s native programming environment. This provides more direct and thus faster access to device hardware and also enables us to place our app in official app stores. Hybrid apps are not the only available choice and aren’t perfect for every use case. They can be slower than native apps and may have some issues accessing device hardware, but the familiar coding language, multi-device compatibility, and ease of making updates across multiple platforms make them an ideal first step for mobile app design. LITA has an upcoming webinar on creating web apps that employs this system[6. http://www.ala.org/lita/learning/online/HTML5].

Once the prototype has been coded into a hybrid app, we have another opportunity for evaluation and usability testing. We teach a pervasive approach that includes evaluation and testing all throughout the process, but this stage is very important as it is a last chance to make changes before sending the code to an app marketplace. After the app has been submitted, opportunities to make updates, fix bugs, and add features can be limited, sometimes significantly, by the app store’s administrative processes.

After you have spent some time following the lines of the tube map and reading this very brief description, I hope you can see this infographic as an aid to designing mobile web apps. I find it particularly helpful for identifying the source of a particular problem I’m having and also suggesting tools and techniques that can help resolve it. As a personal example, I am often tempted to start writing code before I’ve completely made up my mind what I want the code to do, which leads to frustration. I use the map to remind me to look at my wireframe and use that to guide the structure of my code. I hope you all find it useful as well.

 

(This was originally published on the ACRL TechConnect site. If you care to comment, please join the conversation there.)

#DigiWriMo #acwrimo 2012 What I’m doing

Ok, so the title of this post may be misleading. I’m not certain I know what I’m doing, other than I’m doing #digiwrimo and #acwrimo this year. This means I’m going to focus on getting a metric shitte-tonne of writing done in the month of November. Follow the links above for the official rules, but I’ll be breaking those. These are my rules:

  • I’m going to write for at least two pomodoro units each work day. This isn’t very much.
  • I’m going to make progress on at least my accepted Online Northwest presentation and an article I should have written 18 months ago.
  • I’m going to include non-text-entry parts of writing such as editing my own writing and others’ work and also my own project management as “writing” tasks
  • Twitter and other social networking doesn’t count. (They don’t move me toward my productivity goals.) Neither do things like writing Goodreads book reviews. (These are things I do instead of writing.)
  • I’m going to pursue a thought I’ve been chewing on until I either have a draft or I’ve decided it is stupid. The thought is that library public services can be split into two approaches: UX design and the hacker ethic. One has few barriers to access but incentivizes  a passive approach to receiving pre-digested information. The other is more difficult and has technology and skill barriers but incentivizes an active approach to creating and integrating new knowledge. For now I’m calling the two approaches “Jobs” and “Woz.”
The Main Project

The main project I want to progress on is a paper on the effects teaching search engine architecture and SEO have on students information literacy. I’ve presented a few times on this subject but need to write an actual paper. It’s based on my classroom experiences, but I’ve also started a review of textbooks used to teach search in Information Science / Information Management graduate programs to track how much information architecture librarians are provided with in their graduate education. My hypothesis is that searchers who understand how both keyword-relevance algorithm search tools and traditional databases, indexes, and well-ordered sets of metadata are structured are able to make better practical decisions in their search processes.

What I need to do is to gather and collate a couple years of divergent projects and false-starts and squish them together into a cogent outline.

Side Project One:

I have promised to build some training materials for the ACRL LITA Code Year Interest Group on working w/ APIs. I’ve decided to work w/ OCLC’s Worldcat Local API to solve an annoying problem with our catalog. (OK, the problem is in the DATA, not in the tool that searches the data.) Currently, government documents in electronic form are cataloged as books. So, when students search our catalog looking for locally held books they can check out, they have to wade through pages of electronic government reports, white papers, and hearings. Weeding out these items that are not physical books on our local shelves takes an insanely complex series of Boolean operations that I once discovered by failed to write down.

My project will be to write a simple search web-app that can be used either as a search box on a web page or as a mobile app that automates this complex search as a simple “find books I can find on the shelf” search box. As I build this, I’ll record the steps and publish a training guide to simple deployment of OCLC’s Worldcat search API.

Side Project Two:

I mentioned I’m looking into the hacker ethos and UX design as competing priorities in public services librarianship. Perhaps they are in a dynamic balance instead of directly competing, but this is something worth thinking/reading/writing/mulling over.

Side Project Three:

Library Boxen. I’ve orderd a couple of the routers used in the Library Box project and I have an implementation plan for one of them. I’ve just hacked a spare home wifi router w/ DD-WRT, so I think I”m ready to install Open-WRT on the hardware, then the Pirate Box software, and then Jason Griffey’s Library Box code on top of that.

I’m hoping to deploy my first Pirate Box at the Fort Vancouver Historical Site in support of the CMDC’s mobile project there. My CMDC faculty colleagues Brett Oppegaard and Dene Grigar have been developing mobile apps to help present rich historical content available to visitors at the site. The historic fort is remote and out of range of wifi and most cellular broadband signals. The Library Box would be a solution to offer visitors the chance to download the app itself or rich media content to help make their visit to the site more informative.

This is primarily a making/hacking project, but I’m betting I’ll find some way to write (yack) about the project before I’m done.

Side Project Four:

I’m currently a blogger for ACRL’s TechConnect blog. I’m struggling to get my work in on time. (Translate: missing deadlines pretty badly) If I sit down to write every day, there is no reason I can’t hammer out a couple of posts to keep on hand, giving me a buffer. This week, in fact, I’d like to finish my piece on the Hacker Ethos and Librarians. This will detail both mindsets and tools librarians can use to empower us to remake our online and physical environment to meet our needs. No longer will we have reason to complain about our tools. If they don’t meet our needs: remake them until they do! I recently gave a talk to a class of undergrads new to digital media on the ethics of hacking and I’d like to modify that content for my library colleagues.

Yack Yack

If I get half way through half of these things, it will be a highly productive month. I’m not interested in 50k words in 30 days. I’m interested in building new workflows that get some work done. I’ve got plenty of interesting things to think about, #digiwrimo and #acwrimo are, for me, a chance to DO THINGS instead of just keep lists of interesting possibilities.

 

As the (tenth) Doctor says: “Allons-y!”

My #ALA12 Conference Report

My #ALA12 Conference Report

(Or how I discovered LITA, said goodbye to ACRL, and rediscovered a joy and engagement with library professional involvement)

<!– Conference Report –>

(tl;dr version: LITA has some kick-ass interest groups.)

This year at the American Library Association’s annual meeting in Anaheim #ala12, I decided to change-up my standard method for dealing with the conference and was greatly pleased with the results. I found engaging new content and interesting projects that are worth the effort of engagement. Read on:

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King James, Gutenberg, and Information Abundance

Libraries are solutions to the problem of information scarcity

Libraries, broadly speaking, are solutions to the problem of information scarcity. Given a world in which information is rare, difficult to acquire, and expensive; collecting information into a central location where it can be shared with a population of users is a very good idea. People who on their own could not afford to purchase all of the books they want to read can pool their money and build institutions that collect, house, and share books. Libraries are genius solutions to the problems posed by information scarcity.

More and more often, however, I’m left wondering what happens when information scarcity is no longer the overriding information issue? It is still a big issue, mind you, and for the present, libraries are still appropriate solution to information scarcity. However, digital information products, the Internet, WordPress and other free self-publication platforms, and Wikipedia have changed this. Or at least have changed this for people w/ computers, smartphones, tablets and ubiquitous broadband connections. As one of my favorite librarians has pointed out: the IMDB app on a smartphone has changed bar-bets about movie casts forever. Wikipedia on a smartphone changes ready-reference for ever. We’re still figuring out the full extent of the disruption, but for many of our patrons this means that they no longer need libraries to discover that Lima is the capitol of Peru or that Val Kilmer starred in Real Genius.

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The user becomes the collection

(This is a previously unpublished post  from my WordPress drafts folder. I’ve cleaned it up and finished some thoughts, but mostly it stands as written in November 2010)

The user becomes the collection

At this Fall’s ACRL Northwest conference, I had the good fortune to participate in a panel discussing the future of libraries. We were asked what we thought the theme of the conference would be five years in the future. In the month or so since the panel took place, I can’t seem to stop mulling over the answer that I gave. I said something along the lines of “The user becomes the collection”, meaning that libraries, instead of providing access to static content will instead provide access for our users to connect with networks of like minds. I predict this trend will continue to the point where libraries become more about curating networks and connections between thinkers and creators of information and less about the static content we store in our collections.
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Imaginary Libraries

I was asked recently to write a response piece to an article written by one of my CMDC colleagues John Barber. John is a Richard Brautigan scholar and has recently proposed creating a digital archive in the spirit of the library described in Brautigan’s The Abortion: an historical romance. My response focused on three questions. What was the essential nature of Brautigan’s library? Is this a sound model for a contemporary digital archive? Is John’s proposed archive both in keeping with Brautigan’s model and a practical solution for today’s archival needs? Our pieces will be published in a upcoming issue of Hyperrhiz.
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It’s not about the book

If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries” – Michael Gorman

The L.A. Times recently published a story about the future of libraries. It contained the sorts of things you would expect to find. A comment about the relevance of libraries in the age of Google? Check. Discussion about the relevance of libraries after information goes digital? Check. Michael Gorman antagonizing his fellow librarians by using his status as a former president of the American Library Association to advance a narrow and anachronistic definition of what a library is? Check. So what is new here? Is it really worth re-hashing the Blog People incident all over again? At first, I had a hard time finding the energy to care. Library bloggers at 8-Bit Library and Agnostic, Maybe offered up spirited defenses of the place of games in library collections, does more really need to be said? This is a blog, so of course something more is going to be said, whether it needs to or no.
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State of Academic Library Gaming: Response to Paul Waelchi’s Letter

State of Academic Library Gaming

Paul Waelchli of Research Quest recent sent around an email to some academic librarians who have shown an interest in gaming. I encourage you all to read the original letter and chime in with your views. As I wind down my week and prepare to head up to Seattle, I’d like to offer my $.02 USD on the subject and publicly thank Paul for getting the conversation started. So here is my stab at responding to Paul’s excellent questions. (I apologize for the hasty scrawling, but, if I give in to the editing impulse, I’ll never get it posted before ACRL.) Mary Broussard also has a response to this conversation posted, and I have a sense that more contributors will be coming forward soon.

1) What is the current state of games and learning in academic libraries?

Games and learning exist on the margins of academic libraries. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but my experience, which includes publishing and presenting about games and learning in academic libraries as a major aspect of my tenure and promotion process has taught me a few valuable lessons. First, academic librarians are willing to listen to ideas and research about the current and forthcoming generations of students. Tying gaming to the learning preferences and culture of students is an excellent way to justify studying learning in games. I haven’t noticed that most librarians are interested in gamers per se, that is to say, generally we don’t see a role for games being collected or played in the library. I have noticed a high amount of interest in games being taught librarians as a path to understanding the learning preferences of today’s students. Games are one tool that can be used for specific purposes. For now, I think this is an appropriate reaction. As games or interactive media take on a larger role in information transfer and communication, as I forsee they inevitably will do, that role will necessarily evolve.

2) What are some of the factors to that current state?

Besides those mentioned above, I think the content of games has a lot to do with the rate that they are assimilated into academic libraries. Despite the potential of the medium, games are largely designed and marketed to children and young adults. To horrifically oversimplify, a major mission of information literacy instruction is to help young scholars move beyond uncritical reliance on popular media and become critical consumers of scholarly publications in their discipline. On the surface, focusing on games is a move in the wrong direction. A way around this is to focus on pedagogy and critical thinking. If we can show our sceptical colleagues that game designers have developed innovative ways of building skills and reflective practices then we have built a bridge between meeting our students where they are today and where they need to be in order to successfully complete their undergraduate education.

3) Based on your experience and research, what are the next steps?

The next step is to build a scholarship of game studies that focuses on information literacy instruction. Perhaps a collaborative project might include building an annotated bibliography out of the scholarship we have done so far. We’ve all read a lot, processed a lot, and produced some good work. We can make it easier for our academic colleagues to follow our conversation if we provide a roadmap or at least a trail of bread crumbs that led us to where we are today. I also think it would be useful for us to do some talking about niches. Games have become a mature media. Perhaps it is no longer useful to lump in game analysis with designing useful games for the classroom or teaching to a gaming generation. Many game scholars are dividing into camps of ludologists and narratologists, those who focus on the game-play mechanics and those who focus on the narrative action of games. The time may be ripe for librarians to become equally specific in our work.

4) What are the factors supporting or preventing those “next steps?”

I think there is a lot of work to be done. Outside of Media Studies or Digital Technology and Culture programs, there may not be a lot of widespread acceptance for games and interactive media being a serious and significant area of study. On the other hand, I don’t think there is much to be gained by arguing that point. Perhaps the best way to convince skeptical colleagues that a focus on games and learning is in the best interest of the library is to do work with games and learning that enhances student learning and furthers the mission of our libraries.

On the bright side, there do appear to be rich opportunities to perform scholarship in this area. In my personal experience, after writing and presenting on games and learning in academic libraries, I’ve begun to receive invitations to present my research in new venues. There is clearly a market for library scholarship on games, gaming, and gamers on the local and national level and in peer-reviewed library journals. If we truly want to build a body of scholarship surrounding games and learning in academic libraries, it is my belief that the publishing market will support us.

5) What do the financial and economic situations at many institutions mean for instructional gaming in libraries?

Now is not a good time for unproven projects that cost a lot of money. For example, given the choice between purchasing a Wii, a monitor, and a gaming lab and cutting one less journal subscription; I couldn’t responsibly not save the journal. The financial situation is bad and I can’t imagine asking for funds with a clear concience any time soon.

6) What other issues/questions should we be considering?

I’ll save this conversation for ACRL and the next round of discussions. My angle on games in libraries is fairly limited, and I’m sure that others are focusing on many areas that I’m blind to or unaware of.

Thanks Paul, for getting the conversation started. I look forward to seeing and or meeting more of you all in Seattle this week, if you are fortunate enough to travel. Seattle is fairly local, so I’m car-pooling up and staying w/ friends. I’m sure its harder for folk who have further to travel.