Google like a Pro with Search Operators

Love it or hate it, the sparse white Google search page has become the primary interface to the web for most users. Google helps you cut through the junk to find the needle you were looking for amidst an almost infinite digital haystack. Considering how important the internet is and how difficult it can be to find what you need, Google’s advanced search features are something everyone can benefit from knowing a little bit more about.

The Google Advanced Search page is awesome, but it is rarely used. Most people don’t even know it exists because they have never seen it; there’s no link to it from the main Google page (at least none that are obvious) which makes it harder to reach than the standard single search field of the main Google page. Furthermore, many browsers are now allowing searches to be performed from the URL bar, and most are set to Google by default. How can we combine the power of Google’s advanced search with the convenience of the single field search? The answer is search operators. In a nutshell, search operators are miniature commands you can stuff into a Google single field search to add advanced features and filters to your query.

As librarians, we should all be familiar with Booleans. Google adds an AND between every search term by default for obvious reasons, but if you would be happy with only one of the terms in your query you can connect them with an OR statement (you can also use the pipe symbol, | to mean the same thing). To filter out certain results, use the NOT operator (implemented as a minus symbol in front of the word you want to remove), as in “peanut butter sandwich -jelly” to get results about various types of peanut butter sandwiches (mmm, banana) without the tried-and-true PB&J. Wildcards are another classic librarian move in Google searches. An asterisk (*) can stand in for any word in a quoted search. “Jimmy * is the best” could return results about fans of Jimmy Page, Jimmy Buffet or even Jimmy Carter. An ellipses between two numbers represents the range operator, and searches for every number in between those two as well as the ones named. “years best science fiction 2011…2013″ would return results for 2012 as well as 2011 and 2013.

And now, for something librarians probably won’t be familiar with, I present the humble prefix operator. Prefix operators are words followed by a colon that activate certain search features on the word or words immediately after it (with no space in between). For instance, a search for “classic pb&j” would return any site that has any of those words in the title or the full text of the site, but “pb&j intitle:classic” only returns those that have “classic” in the title. If you want all of the words to be in the title, use “allintitle:classic pb&j”. You can do the opposite with “intext:” and “allintext:” to find those words specifically in the full text of sites. One of the most useful prefix operators is the “filetype:” operator, which uses your search query to find file names with the file extension you define in “filetype:”. For instance, a search for “metadata pdf” is tricky because it not only returns PDF files about metadata, but sites talking about metadata in PDF files:

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 4.11.29 PM

A search for “metadata filetype:pdf” will only bring up results that are actual PDF files:

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 4.10.35 PMThere are a lot more search operators, but these are the ones I find myself using the most to cut out extraneous results. The sheer amount of operators may seem intimidating, but you don’t need to learn them all. Pick out a few that seem like they would be useful, and try to incorporate them into your daily searches and see if they help or not.

Do you have favorite tips or strategies for searching? Share them in the comments!

Midwinter Workshop Highlight: Meet the UX Presenters!

We asked our LITA Midwinter Workshop Presenters to tell us a little more about themselves and what to expect from their workshops in January. This week, we’re hearing from Kate Lawrence, Deirdre Costello, and Robert Newell, who will be presenting the workshop:

From Lost to Found: How User Testing Can Improve the User Experience of Your Library Website
(For registration details, please see the bottom of this blog post)

LITA: We’ve seen your formal bios but can you tell us a little more about you?

Kate: If I didn’t work as a user researcher, I would be a professional backgammon player or cake decorator (I am a magician with fondant!). Or both.

Deirdre: I’m horse crazy!

Robert: In a past life I was a professional actor. If you pay really really close attention (like, don’t blink), you might spot me in a few episodes of Friday Night Lights or Prison Break.

LITA: User Testing is a big area. Who is your target audience for this workshop?

Presenters: This is a perfect workshop for people who want to learn user testing in a supportive environment. We will teach people how to test their websites in the real world – we understand that time and other resources are limited. This is for anyone who wants to know what it’s like for patrons to try accessing their library’s resources through their website.

LITA: How much experience with UX do attendees need to succeed in the workshop?

Presenters: Experience isn’t required, but an understanding of the general UX field and goals is useful. Attendees are encouraged to come with a potential usability study topic in mind. From Robert: “You just need to be able to put your social scientist hat on and look at user testing as an informal (and fun!) psychology experiment.”

LITA: If your workshop was a character from the Marvel or Harry Potter universe, which would it be, and why?

Kate: Having just read the Harry Potter series with my two kids, I can say that our workshop will inspire like Dumbledore, give you a chuckle like those naughty Weasley twins, teach you like the astute Minerva McGonagle would, and leave you smiling with satisfaction just like the brilliant Hermione Grainger.

Deirdre: Either Hermione or Jean Grey (pre-Phoenix, obviously). In either case, someone others turn to for advice and guidance, but who truly guide rather than doing it for you.

Robert: I’m gonna say Mystique. Mystique can literally put herself in someone else’s shoes (human or Mutant). When we conduct usability testing, we’re directly observing what it’s like to be in the user’s shoes and we’re seeing things from their perspective.

LITA: Name one concrete thing your attendees will be able to take back to their libraries after participating in your workshop.

Kate: The knowledge about how to conduct a user test on their library site, a coupon for a free test from usertesting.com, and support and encouragement from a team of experienced researchers.

Deirdre: The skills to plan, recruit for and execute small-sample usability tests. The ability to communicate the findings for those tests in a way that will advocate for their users.

Robert: The ability to validate your ideas about your website with direct, reliable user feedback. Whenever you think, “This might work, but would it make sense to our users?” You’ll have the skills and tools to go find out.

LITA: What kind of gadgets/software do your attendees need to bring?

Presenters: Whatever note taking method you prefer; a laptop or mobile device to follow along is recommending but isn’t required. Kate recommends “A laptop. A pen and paper. A positive, can-do attitude!”

LITA: Respond to this scenario: You’re stuck on a desert island. A box washes ashore. As you pry off the lid and peer inside, you begin to dance and sing, totally euphoric. What’s in the box?

Kate: I’m assuming my family is on the island with me, and in that case – I want that box to contain Hershey’s hugs, the white chocolate kisses with milk chocolate swirls. I’m obsessed!

Deirdre: Hostess Orange Cupcakes.

Robert: A gallon of Coppertone Oil Free Faces SPF 50+ Sunscreen. I’m sorry but I’m fair skinned with a ton of freckles and a desert island scenario just screams melanoma to me.

Thank you to Kate, Deirdre, and Robert for giving us this interview! We’re looking forward to their UX Workshop at Midwinter in Chicago. We’ll hear from our other workshop presenters in the coming weeks!

More information about Midwinter Workshops. 

Registration Information:
LITA members get one third off the cost of Mid-Winter workshops. Use the discount promotional code:  LITA2015 during online registration to automatically receive your member discount.  Start the process at the ALA web sites:
Conference web site:
Registration start page:
LITA Workshops registration descriptions:
When you start the registration process and BEFORE you choose the workshop, you will encounter the Personal Information page.  On that page there is a field to enter the discount promotional code:  LITA2015
As in the example below.  If you do so, then when you get to the workshops choosing page the discount prices, of $235, are automatically displayed and entered.  The discounted total will be reflected in the Balance Due line on the payment page.
preconference
Please contact the LITA Office if you have any registration questions.

ADE in the Library eBook Data Lifecycle

Reader: “Hey, I heard there is some sort of problem with those ebooks I checked out from the library?”

Librarian: “There are technical problems, potential legal problems, and philosophical problems – but not with the book itself nor your choice to read it.”

[Update 2014.10.14@12.04pm: more info on security in the library data lifecycle added at the bottom of this post]

As mentioned, there are (at least) three sides to the problem. Nate Hoffelder* discovered the technical problem with the way the current version (4) of Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) manages the ebook experience, which was confirmed by security researcher Benjamin Daniel Mussler, and later reviewed by Eric Hellman. The technical problem, that arguably private data is sent in plain text from a reader’s device to a central data-store, seems pretty obvious once it was discovered. The potential legal problem stems from laws in every state which protect reader privacy which set expectations for data security, plus other laws which may apply. The philosophical problem has several facets, which could be simplified down to the tension between privacy and convenience.

When a widely-used software platform is found to be logging data unexpectedly and transmitting it for some unknown use it causes great unease among users. When that transmission is happening in plain text over easily-intercepted channels, it causes anger among technologists who think a leading software developer should know better. When this is all happening in the context of the library world where privacy is highly valued, there is outrage as expressed by LITA Board member Andromeda Yelton.

Here are the library profession’s basic positions:

  1. Each individual’s reading choices and behavior should be private (i.e. anonymized or, better, not tracked)
  2. Data gathered for user-desired functionality across devices should be private (i.e. anonymized)
  3. Insofar as there is any tracking of reading choices and behavior, there should be an opt-out option readily available to individuals (i.e, not buried in the fine print)

In his October 9th post from The Digital Shift, Matt Enis reports that Adobe is working to correct the problem of data being transmitted in clear text but “maintains that its collection of this data is covered under its user agreement.” The data that corporations transmit should be limited to the data and data elements necessary to provide desired functionality yet also restricted enough for an individual’s activity to remain private.

To join the conversation, begin to educate yourself using our ADE Primer, below, plus the following resources:

A Primer on how Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) works with library ebooks

I’m a reader and I go to use a library ebook
(via Overdrive or other downloading service offered):

  1. what will I need to install on my device(s)?
    (laptop, tablet, phone, & iPod let’s assume)

    • laptop/computer: Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), activated with an Adobe ID
    • tablet, phone, iPod, etc.: Bluefire Reader (or compatible) app, activated with an Adobe ID
  2. how do the various devices know which page to show me next when I switch between them?
    • access and synchronization across devices are managed using the Adobe ID and the information associated with the ebook and by data tracked with ADE
  3. what technologies are behind the scenes?
    • the ADE managed digital rights management (DRM) required by the ebook publisher
    • the ebook reader software/app
    • the internet
  4. what data is needed to be able to do the sync?
    • the minimum required data is arguably the UserID, BookID, and a page-accessed timestamp
    • the current ADE version, ADE4, tracks significantly more data than the minimums above
  5. how is that data shared between devices?
    • Users can access their ADE account from up to 6 different devices. When accessing the ID/account from a new device the user must “activate” the device by logging into the Adobe ID/Account to prove that the user is the legitimate account holder.
    • ADE4 shares all ebook data it tracks in plain-text in an unsecured channel over the internet
  6. what functionality would not work if this were suddenly not provided?
    • if ADE did not provide reader tracking data, each time a reader opened an ebook on a different device the reader would have to remember the page s/he was on and then navigate to that page to continue reading from where they left off
    • A computer can be anonymously activated using ADE, however this will prevent the items from being accessible from more than one computer/device. The ebooks would then be considered to be “owned” by that computer and would not be available to be accessed from other devices.
    • if ADE were completely withdrawn from availability, ebook DRM would prevent use of ADE-managed DRM-protected ebooks

From a technology point of view, the clear-text data transmitted suggests the data may be for synchronization, but it seems, first and foremost, to support various licensing business models. Because Adobe might in the future have customers who want to use Adobe DRM to expire a book after a certain number of hours or pages read, they may feel the need to collect that data. Adobe’s data collection seems to be working as intended here. Clear-text transmission is clearly a bug, but that this data about patron reading habits is being transmitted to Adobe is a feature of the software.

The philosophical discussion which needs to happen around ebooks and DRM should include:

  • what data elements enable user-desired functionality
  • what data elements enable digital rights management
  • what data elements above are/are not within ALA’s stated professional ethics
  • whether tracking ebook user behavior is acceptable *at all*

From libraryland conversations around the issue so far, opinions have ranged from ‘tracking is not the problem, the clear-text transmission is‘ to ‘tracking is very much a problem, it’s unacceptable.’

Issues like this highlight the need to revisit stated positions and evaluate where the balance point is between accomodating user functionality and protecting against collection of personally identifiable data, or metadata.

*Post updated to correctly credit Nate Hoffelder as the original discoverer (my apologies!)

[Update with more on the library data cycle from Gary Price of INFOdocket below]

  • According to OverDrive: “It is our understanding that the reported issue involves Adobe Digital Editions 4, which is not used as part of the OverDrive app.” Meaning this ADE4 problem does not affect their apps for Android, iOS, etc., it is only for the ADE console which is installed on computers and laptops.
  • Pulling more from Gary’s long-time informtional and eductaional posts about library data and privacy, there are data insecurities in the configuration of many library services which involve sharing library user data with third parties such as Adobe, Amazon, library catalog vendors, etc.
  • As Gary correctly points out: “issues with any third parties having access to library user data need to be discussed not only in the library community but also directly with users.”

Shifting & Merging

McKenzie Pass, Ore. Courtesy of Ryan Shattuck. Task Easy Blog 2013.
McKenzie Pass, Ore. Courtesy of Ryan Shattuck. Task Easy Blog 2013.

It has been exactly seven weeks since I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, yet I finally feel like I have arrived. Let me rewind, quick, and tell you a little about my background. During my last two years of undergrad at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), I spent my time working on as many Digital Humanities (DH) projects and jobs as I possibly could in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities.

[DH is a difficult concept to define because everyone does it through various means, for various reasons. To me, it means using computational tools to analyze or build humanities projects. This way, we can find patterns we wouldn't see through the naked eye, or display physical objects digitally for greater access.]

By day, I studied English and Computer Science, and by night, my fingers scurried over my keyboard encoding poems, letters, and aphorisms. I worked at the Walt Whitman Archive, on an image analysis project with two brilliant professors, on text analysis and digital archives projects with leading professors in the fields, and on my own little project analyzing a historical newspaper. My classmates and I, both undergraduate and graduate, constantly talked about DH, what it is, who does it, how it is done, the technologies we use do it and how that differs from others.

Discovering an existing group of people already doing the same work you do is like merging onto a packed interstate where everyone is travelling at 80 miles per hour in the same direction. The thrill, the overwhelming “I know I am in the right place” feeling.

I chose Indiana University (IU) for my Library and Information Science degrees because I knew it was a hub for DH projects. I have an unparalleled opportunity working with Dr. John Walsh and Dr. Noriko Hara, both prominent DH and Information Science scholars.

However, I am impatient. After travelling on the DH interstate, I expected every classmate I met at IU to wear a button proclaiming, “I heart DH, let’s collaborate.” I half expected my courses to start from where I left off in my previous education. The beginning of the semester forced me to take a step back, to realize that I was shifting to a new discipline, and that I needed the basics first. My classes are satisfying my library love, but I was still missing that extra-curricular technology aspect, outside of my work for Dr. Walsh.

Then, one random, serendipitous meeting in the library and I was “zero to eighty” instantly. I met those DH students and learned about projects, initiatives, and IU networking. They reaffirmed that the community for which I was searching existed.

Since then, I have found others in the community and continue those same DH who, what, how, why conversations. While individual research is important, we can reach a higher potential through collaboration, especially in the digital disciplines. I am continuing to learn the importance of reaching out and learning from others, which I don’t believe will cease once I graduate. (Will it?)

I assure you that my future posts will be more closely related to library technology and digital humanities tools, but frankly, I’m new here. While I could talk about the library and information theory I’m learning, I will spare you those library school memories, and keep you updated on new technologies as I learn them.

In the meantime, I’ll ask you to reflect and share your experience transitioning to library school or into a library career. How were you first introduced to library technology or digital humanities? Any nuggets of advice for us beginners?

2014 LITA Forum: 3 Amazing Keynotes

Join your LITA colleagues in Albuquerque, Nov 5-8, 2041 for the 2014 LITA Forum.

This year’s Forum has three amazing keynotes you won’t want to miss:

AnnMarie Thomas, Engineering Professor, University of St. Thomas

AnnMarie is an engineering professor who spends her time trying to encourage the next generation of makers and engineers. Among a host of other activities she is the director of the Playful Learning Lab and leads a team of students looking at both the playful side of engineering (squishy circuits for students, the science of circus, toy design) and ways to use engineering design to help others. AnnMarie and her students developed Squishy Circuits.

Check out AnnMarie’s fun Ted Talk on Play-Doh based squishy circuits.

Lorcan Dempsey, Vice President, OCLC Research and Chief Strategist

Lorcan Dempsey oversees the research division and participates in planning at OCLC. He is a librarian who has worked for library and educational organizations in Ireland, England and the US.

Lorcan has policy, research and service development experience, mostly in the area of networked information and digital libraries. He writes and speaks extensively, and can be followed on the web at Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog and on twitter.

Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Founder Trans*h4ck

Kortney Ryan Ziegler is an Oakland based award winning artist, writer, and the first person to hold the Ph.D. of African American Studies from Northwestern University.

He is the director of the multiple award winning documentary, STILL BLACK: a portrait of black transmen, runs the GLAAD Media Award nominated blog, blac (k) ademic, and was recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 LGBT activists by The Advocate Magazine and one of the most influential African Americans by TheRoot100.

Dr. Ziegler is also the founder of Trans*H4CK–the only tech event of its kind that spotlights trans* created technology, trans* entrepreneurs and trans* led startups.

See all the keynoters full bios at the LITA Forum Keynote Sessions web page

More than 30 concurrent colleague inspired sessions and a dozen poster sessions will provide a wealth of practical information on a wide range of topics. Networking opportunities, a major advantage of a smaller conference, are an important part of the Forum. Take advantage of the Thursday evening reception and sponsor showcase, the Friday networking dinners or Kitchen Table Conversations, plus meals and breaks throughout the Forum to get to know LITA leaders, Forum speakers, sponsors, and peers.

This year two preconference workshops will also be offered.

Linked Data for Libraries: How libraries can make use of Linked Open Data to share information about library resources and to improve discovery, access, and understanding for library users
Led by: Dean B. Krafft and Jon Corson-Rikert, Cornell University Library

Learn Python by Playing with Library Data
Led by: Francis Kayiwa, Kayiwa Consulting

2014 LITA Forums sponsors include EBSCO, Springshare, @mire, Innovative and OCLC.

Visit the LITA website for more information.

Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) members are information technology professionals dedicated to educating, serving, and reaching out to the entire library and information community.   LITA is a division of the American Library Association.

LITA and the LITA Forum fully support the Statement of Appropriate Conduct at ALA Conferences

Jobs in Information Technology: October 8

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

IT Assistant Coordinator, Colorado State University,  Fort Collins, CO
Publications Specialist, Computercraft, Bethesda, MD
Senior Web Developer, University of Maryland Baltimore – Health Sciences and Human Services Library, Baltimore, MD

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

Managing Library Projects: General Tips

Image courtesy of Joel Dueck. Flickr 2007.
Image courtesy of Joel Dueck. Flickr 2007.

During my professional career, both before and after becoming a Librarian, I’ve spent a lot of time managing projects, even when that wasn’t necessarily my specific role. I’ve experienced the joys of Project Management in a variety of settings and industries, from tiny software startups to large, established organizations. Along the way, I’ve learned that, while there are general concepts that are useful in any project setting, the specific processes and tools used needed to complete a specific project depend on the nature of the task at hand and the organization’s profile. Here are some general strategies to keep in mind when tackling a complex project:

Pay special attention to connection points

Unless your project is entirely contained within one department, there will be places in your workflow where interaction between two or more disparate units will take place. Each unit has its own processes and goals, which may or may not serve your project’s purposes, so it’s important that you as PM keep the overall goals of the project in mind and ensure that work is being done efficiently in terms of the project’s needs, not just the department’s usual workflow. Each unit will likely also have its own jargon, so you need to make sure that information is communicated accurately between parties. It’s at these connection points that the project is most likely to fail, so keep your eye on what happens here.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

While a cross-functional project will potentially require the creation of new workflows and processes, it’s not a good idea to force project participants to go about their work in a way that is fundamentally different from what they usually do. First, it will steepen the learning curve and reduce efficiency, and second, because these staff members are likely to be involved in multiple projects simultaneously, it will increase confusion and make it more difficult for them to correctly follow your guidelines for what needs to be done. Try to design your workflows so that they take advantage of existing processes within departments as much as possible, and increase efficiency by modifying the way departments interact with one another to maximize results.

Choose efficient tools, not shiny ones

Even in the wealthiest organizations, resources are always at a premium, so when picking tools to use in managing your project don’t fall for the beautiful picture on the front of the box. Consider the cost of a particular tool, both in terms of price and the learning curve involved in bringing everyone attached to the project up to speed on how to use it. Sometimes the investment will be worth it; often you will be better off with something simpler that project staff already know. You can create complex project plans with MS Project or Abak 360, but for most projects I find that a rudimentary scheduling spreadsheet and a couple of quick and dirty projection models, all created with MS Excel, will do just as well. Free web-based tools can also be useful: one of my favorites is Lucid Chart, a workflow diagram creation tool that can replace Visio for many applications (and offers pretty good deals for educational institutions). The main concerns with this type of approach are whether having your project plans stored in the cloud makes sense from a security point of view, and the potential for a particular tool to disappear unexpectedly (anyone remember Astrid?).

 

Those are a few of the strategies that I have found useful in managing projects. What’s your favorite project management tip?

A Tested* Approach to Leveling Up

*Unscientifically, by a person from the internet.

If you’re a LITA member, then you’re probably very skilled in a few technical areas, and know just enough to be dangerous in several other areas. The later can be a liability if you’ve just been volunteered to implement the Great New Tech Thing at your library. Do it right, and you just might be recognized for your ingenuity and hard work (finally!). Do it wrong, and you’ll end up in the pillory (again!).

pilloryMaybe the Great New Tech Thing requires you to learn a new programming or markup language. Perhaps you’re looking to expand on your skills–and resume–by adding a language. For many years, the library associations and schools have emphasized tech skills as an essential component of librarianship. The reasons are plentiful, and the means are easier that you might think. With a library card, a few free, open source software tools, and some time, you can level up your tech skills by learning a new language.

I humbly suggest the following approach to leveling up, which has worked for me.

What you’ll need

A computer. A Windows, OS X, or Linux laptop or desktop computer will suffice.

Resources. Online programming “schools”, such as Codeacademy and Code School are a great concept and work for some people, but I’ve personally found them to provide an incomplete education. The UI demands brevity, and therefore many of the explanations and instructions require a certain level of knowledge about coding in general that most beginners lack. I have found good ol’ fashioned books to be a better resource. Find titles that have exercises, and you’ll learn by doing. Actually building something practical makes the process enjoyable. The Visual Quickstart Guide series by Peachpit Press and the Head First series by O’Reilly usually teach through practical examples.

Books are a great source of knowledge, but so are your fellow coders. Most languages have a community with an online presence, and it would be a good idea to find those forums and bookmark them. But if you were to bookmark only one forum, it should be the Stack Overflow forum for the language you’re learning.

Some languages also have official documentation online, for example, php.net and python.org.

Time. Carve out time wherever you can. If you take public transportation to work, use that time (if you can find a seat). Learn during your lunch break. Give up a season of your favorite TV show (you can always catch up later in a weekend binge-watch when the DVDs hit your library shelves).

Where to start

Here and now. Maybe you’re reading this because you’ve just been tapped to implement the Great New Tech Thing at your library. Or maybe you’re considering adding a skill to your resume. Whatever the reason, there’s no time like the present.

Leveling up for professional development affords you greater flexibility. Start with a language your friends know–they will be an invaluable resource if you get stuck along the way. Also, consider starting with a simple language that you can build upon. If you already know HTML, then PHP and JavaScript are natural progressions, and they open the door to object-oriented languages like C++, Java, or Python. Finally, make sure there’s a viable–if not growing–community around the language you want to learn. Not only does this give a sense of the language’s future and staying-power, the community can also provide support through online forums, conferences and meetups, etc.

If you’re new to programming languages, I hope this approach helps. If you’re a veteran coder, please share your learning approach in the comments.

Doing Web Accessibility

Physical library spaces are designed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), hence the wide aisles, low checkout stations, and ramps. In contrast, alt tag awareness is low and web accessibility not a priority for most librarians. Yet for visually or otherwise impaired users, an improperly coded website can be like wandering into a maze and hitting a brick wall of frustration.

With accessibility in mind, I’ve been teaching myself to assess and retrofit webpages, aligning my library’s website with the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the U.S. Rehabilitation Act’s Section 508, and this WebAIM Infographic aimed at accessible design as well as code. For best practices, these are your first stops.

Design for Users

Crucially, designing with accessibility in mind makes for websites that are more usable for everyone, not just for disabled users. Questioning trendy design elements can pay off too. Do image-heavy carousels and page-spanning images really enhance UX enough to justify the space they fill and the accessibility problems they may engender?

Out-of-the-box products may come with their own access problems. WordPress themes often provide low contrast. LibGuides omits the HTML lang attribute on some templates. Developers forget alt tags and form labels. Sometimes it’s easier just to fix stuff yourself.

And I use the word “easier” advisedly. :)

W3C Markup Validator

First, copy and paste your webpage’s URL into the free W3C Markup Validation Service to check the HTML for conformance to W3C web standards. Optimally, your code would be up to HTML5 (and CSS3) standards. This makes for cleaner aesthetics, no deprecated elements, and fewer errors when you run accessibility evaluation tools in the next stages of this process. The Validator will tell you which lines of code need correcting, and lead you to relevant documentation. Once your code is sound (imperfections are ok), break out the WAVE tool.

Screenshot of WAVE web accessibility test resultsWAVE Tool

Plug in a URL, and the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool from WebAIM will scan your code, flagging errors, marking structural elements, and alerting you to potential issues. WAVE will flag link texts that say “Click here” or “More,” redundant or empty links, PDFs that may or may not be optimized for accessibility, missing alternative text and form elements, and other problems. WAVE also says what the page does right (for example, WAI-ARIA features, helpful alternative text, and the like).

As a coding newbie, I love WAVE’s unique color-coded icons, which you can click to see thorough explanations of each concern. Better yet, WAVE also comes as a Firefox toolbar that lets you evaluate pages on the fly–and it tests for JavaScript too!

Browser Developer Tools

To dig deeper into your code, I suggest using a browser developer tool (Bryan Brown wrote an excellent LITA Blog post on such tools). Google Chrome’s Accessibility Developer Tools are particularly good at auditing for color contrast and recognizable links. Add these to your browser and you can test any page for accessibility and discover exactly what could be improved. Note that these tools can be really nitpicky, and again, functionality rather than perfection is our goal.

Manual Checks

Can you turn off the CSS and still make sense of the page design? Did nothing disappear? Can you manually resize the font to at least 150% without spectacularly messing up the design? Can you navigate using only the keyboard? Are any videos close captioned and any audio files accompanied by transcripts? Can you run pages or sections of pages through a screen reader and still make sense of the content? Try it, and congratulations! You just became a web accessibility guru.

Conclusion 

You’re not a web developer, you say? Neither am I. But even if your job has nothing to do with digital services, librarians need to know about these technical matters so as to make the case for prioritizing web accessibility and to be able to speak the language of colleagues (often the IT department) who do engage in web development. Web accessibility builds equal access and diverse communities. These are enduring values for librarians, and why I joined the profession.

What about you? How do you “do” web accessibility?

Jobs in Information Technology: Oct 1

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Dean of the Library, California Maritime Academy, Vallejo, CA

Library Systems and  Applications Specialist, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, OH

Manager, Digital Services, Florida Virtual Campus, Gainesville, FL

Senior Software Developer, University of Maryland, College Park – Libraries, College Park, MD

Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.

The Library and Information Technology Association