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Thursday, 12 June 2008

Fancy a game of cards?

I've been recently been conducting a card sorting exercise at work in my efforts to review and revamp our existing website.

For any information professional worth their salt, card sorting is an excellent technique to involve system users in the re-design and re-organisation of a website or database system.

The basics

Conducting a card-sorting exercise involves:

  • Careful pre-planning including a clear method and system of recording results.
  • Thought and planning into who is invited to undertake exercise and whether to conduct. individually or in a group format.
  • Clear instructions for participants.
  • Potential Reward for participants.
  • How to disseminate results.
  • Analysis and making an ultimate decision based on feedback.

In conducting card sorting exercises for the particular project I am working on, I have used open card sorts with a group. I try if possible to get 2 groups to do the exercise simultaneously so that there is the opportunity to compare results at the end. I've also used a web-based sorting tool for some of the sorts for the first time, which was out of necessity and not my first choice, as I think it is preferrable to be in the room and observe and listen to participants. Having said that, the web sort is flexible in allowing people to participate who I might not otherwise have had access to.

Pros and Cons of card sorting

From my experience, card sorting is a deceptively simple technique but as with anything in a real world situation, it is open to interpretation and there is plenty to learn from the exercise.

At worst card sorting can be biased. The initial labels you produce or your description of the session can be misleading. You can also read too much into the statistics.

Unless you are a fulltime information architectural, usability or website design firm or consultant, I think that personally, even if you have put everything into place with a validated method of conducting, recording and analysing the sort, it is difficult to draw too much out of card sorting. Maybe that is a good thing. Card sorting is at best a method of reassuring your thinking.

It is powerful because it is structured and involves users. As one of the participants who recently took part in one of the exercises said to me, he wished he had known about this technique during a previous project, since it would have avoided many arguments.

Card sorting, it should be remembered is not the only technique available and it best used alongside other techniques depending on the nature of the project.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

The Hollywood Librarian - A Look at Librarians through Film

"The Hollywood Librarian" documentary film has been receiving a wide range of interest and column inches worldwide since being released in the US last year. It finally had an 'official' CILIP in London screening at the London Southbank University on 22 May 2008. It weaves in interviews with librarians, footage from library events and clips from librarians in film and tackles issues such as image, pay, censorship, financial and political pressures and much more.

Okay, it is sentimental and in your face American, but it is great marketing and long overdue.

I particularly like the clips from old Hollywood films featuring some of the stereotypes and images you have when you think of a librarian.

If even my chronically non-library boyfriend can say that he enjoyed the film and didn't walk out after 10 mnutes then I think that it is great and should be shown as widely as possible.

Though it is a shame that the film itself is currently isn't been shown or made available more widely to mainstream audiences either on TV channels such as BBC4 in the UK or PBS in the United States.

To find out more about the film watch the trailer below:

or view the website:

The truth is in there!

It is often hard to step back when working and see the support and assistance of others. That's why it is great to be reminded of the work of world renowned institutions and organisations.

The National Archives is a gem for the general public, teachers, researchers, information professionals.

At heart, it is home to basic stories of humankind - a repository of our collective heritage where we can identify our place in the world and the journey we are making.

I recently attended a free seminar on "Introduction to the Public Record System" which put the National Archives in context, explaining its rationale and remit.

The National Archives is at the heart of information policy. It sets standards and supports innovation in information and records management. The National Archives is also the UK government's official archive, containing 900 years of history with records ranging from parchment and paper scrolls through to digital files and archived websites. It aims to make records open and available to all and make history tangible.

As part of our visit we had the opportunity to see behind the scenes, in particular the stacks. We saw a range of records which revealed the range of the National Archives deposits including:

  • a document about declaring war on Germany which was lost and then re-found (and helpful stored in a folder which is titled - "Political - Western Europe - Miscellaneous") Lessons for us all to record information carefully!)

  • a letter written by Lt Gonville Bromhead which detailed the valour of the soldiers who served courageously to protect the supply station at Rorke's Drift on Wednesday 22 to Thursday 23 January 1879 in the face of a force of 4000 Zulus (an event made famous by the film 'Zulu' with Michael Caine)

  • an army record of an average soldier with the detail of his health record including a noticeable distinguishing mark which remains unrepeatable!

  • A handwritten note revealing the procedure for informing the Queen in case Britain went to nuclear war - which also reveals how to be very carefully if records are destroyed.

For information professionals, and civil servants, the National Archives is a treasure trove and puts our work in context. It makes you realise why we do what we do and ultimately the value for all.

The same day I was at The National Archives, on the 14th May, the Archives released MOD files on UFO's, Britain's so called "X-Files". This was widely reported in the press. The Guardian headline about the story reads "The truth is out there: National Archives lifts lid on UFO files". I would suggest that the truth is not out there - it is rather inside the National Archives itself.

We do not need to travel to distant universes to find out more about who we are as people and a country but to look inside its walls.