Thursday, March 22, 2012

Of Lipstick Tubes & Librarian Webmakers

So I watched Luke Wrobleski’s opening keynote for DrupalCon, Day 3. It was a kick in the butt to move us ALL IMMEDIATELY into mobile first. And I couldn’t help thinking to myself, if I’m struggling with this, what are our library vendors doing to make sure that they’ve rebuild their web interfaces with a mobile-first focus? Have they reduced the amount of content they expose in their interfaces by 80%? Have they replaced checkboxes with larger targets? Have they thought about just highlighting what the user needs - only showing the minimum of what they want first, and then only more if they ask for it? Are they converting to HTML5 with media queries?
Our database vendors, our integrated library system vendors, our providers of digital repositories/asset management systems (like contentdm) - what are their plans for dealing with the mobile revolution? What’s their path forward? We should demand to know.
This is the joy of taking on the role of being a true creator of websites rather than just being a webmaster or content author. Every library needs a full, professional (by which I mean, web professional, not librarian whose done a little html) web team (or at least 1 full-time web person). Or else, they need to keep a full team on retainer & keep rehiring them every year to keep up with technological developments. If libraries want to remain relevant, they have to truly be the bridges across the digital divide. They can’t do that if they can’t even build good websites or understand today’s web methodologies. They won’t even know what to demand fro their vendors. That much is clear to me.
It’s like libraries (& worse still, library administrators who keep allocating resources to other activities, i.e., hiring MLS’ to do copy cataloging instead of using their money on web workers) built html pages in 1999, then decided that’s all they ever needed to do. As the web evolved in technique, process, methodology, and capability, most libraries did not (even though there is an annual conference called “Internet Librarian”!) So they don’t even realize how far behind they are. Nor do they respect the skillsets required for true web development. It’s not willful ignorance. It’s just - as my sister reminded me - “you don’t know what you don’t know”.
Just as your average librarian / white collar worker of any sort doesn’t realize how much talent, skill, and technology goes into the building of the smallest part, they don’t realize what it takes to really build meaningful web presences. Before you get your dander up (unless you’ve been doing true web development yourself, in which case, I can only apologize for my own earlier ignorance), consider this: how do you make a lipstick tube?
Couldn’t just anybody create a lipstick tube? It’s a simple piece of metal, often wrapped with plastic or capped by plastic these days.
My husband is a tool-and-die maker. Tool-and-die making is a common profession (less so these days) in the industrialized northeast. It means he builds the tooling that make the parts. You may not even realize that there is a maker behind the scenes who makes the modular tooling that gets used by the larger presses, as one example, that push out the parts. The toolmaker also has to debug the process, so that when they hand it off to the lower-level (well, fewer hours of education) machinists for straight production using that tooling. Unlike your pre/misconceptions about manufacturing, this job requires a lot of work and education. It requires at least 4,000 hours of work and a lot of classroom-based work which requires an understanding of geometry and trigonometry. They have to learn how to run specific types of machines, to understand the tensile strength and hardening properties of metals. I don’t even understand all that goes into it. I do know that it was intensive. Additionally, there are different kinds of toolmakers. There are, for example, progressive toolmakers, like my husband. And then there are eyelet toolmakers. Eyelet toolmakers create tubes - for example, lipstick tubes. The process of making a lipstick tube includes drawing out metal into a tubular shape bit by bit. Beyond broad brush strokes I’m giving you here, I really don’t understand this stuff. But I respect those who do because I can see how much knowledge and technique goes into it.
At Drupalcon, I feel like I’m learning to be a webmaker and like I’m becoming professional for the first time (despite having had my MLS for quite a while). I can’t believe that professional librarians would have more trouble grokking how to do metadata and build taxonomies than the people who work as professional web developers do. Moreover, I find it somewhat shocking that many librarians are unaware of how google results are altered by the concerted efforts of a subsector of the professional web world - Search Engine Optimizers. I find it frustrating that we don’t think about user experience first, THEN look at making our many systems work together to create that experience, that we don’t put the person who handles the website in charge of working with all aspects of their web presence in order to make that possible, that we silo the systems we use & accept that a catalog would ever be a separate experience than the rest of the library’s website.
We need to all learn to be (or at least respect and hire professional) webmakers.

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