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An Incident of Road Rage on the Information Highway
August 10, 2011 - 10:15pm

Google has been driving me crazy. Until this week, I had used our campus version of Google apps for my calendar (so it can easily synch with various campus calendars) and another Google account for my RSS feeds (because there wasn’t a Google Reader available for the campus accounts). These are things I use often, so I have live bookmarks on my Firefox toolbars and have moved easily from one to another – apparently more often than I realized until the day Google changed the way multiple accounts are handled. Suddenly, I was either seeing a calendar with nothing scheduled on it or an RSS reader that had no subscriptions, depending on which account I was logged in to. Grrr!! Don’t they realize it takes valuable seconds to log in and out? And that I need to check my RSS feeds right now because I’m avoiding doing actual work?

There’s something about being stopped on your way to something you’re accustomed to accessing without having to think about it that makes that red mist descend.

But it’s all good, because now I’m thinking about how our students and faculty will feel when they try to do a bit of research this fall. We’re launching a new website for our library, partly to simplify the front page based the findings of surveys and focus groups with students, partly because our old site was dressed in the colors of a campus template that was changed last year. We don’t want to clash. Several popular databases have also changed their interfaces in the last couple of weeks (and the rest of them made big changes last year that we’re still getting used to). All of these updates are meant to make search better, but it will require figuring out where all the things that you were so used to you didn’t have to look for them are now hiding. It’s like those first shopping trips after everything in the grocery store got moved. The only constant is that the milk will still be as far as possible from the front door.

There’s something about being halted abruptly while careening along a familiar path that is intensely frustrating. The smallest things – a book the catalog says is available that’s not on the shelf where it’s supposed to be, a link that no longer works, a search box that has gone into hiding or acts differently – can let slip the dogs of war, or at least the puppies of profound irritation.

This is one of the reasons why I think librarians should take the time to be library patrons. Use your own library for research as much as possible. Look for books on the shelf and see what comes out of your mouth whent they’re not there. Search databases from home and see how long it takes to enter that 14-digit barcode accurately. Request items through interlibrary loan. (I do this a lot, and it never fails to amaze me how quickly they come - yay us! - though I notice it takes a ridiculous number of clicks to get to the request form.) See if you can leave through the front gates without setting off that beeper that makes everyone turn and stare. Experience the humiliation of an automated overdue notice sent to your inbox. Spend some time in a carrel trying to get some work done. It’s amazing how much you notice that is invisible from your office.

We don’t have control over the changes database vendors decide to make, and very little influence how our own catalog behaves. The changes we’re making to our website - well, those are our own doing, and we hope they’ll make it easier to use, not harder. Chances are it will be frustrating until you get used to it, and I’m guessing you will discover these changes just as you’re in a hurry to get a video for class or need to check a reference for a manuscript that’s overdue.

All I can say is . . . sorry, folks. I know how it feels. (And if it helps, I was able to import my feeds to my campus Google account in about thirty seconds, once I stopped grinding my teeth.)


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