Database vendors–this one’s for you

A panel discussion on databases at the SLJ Summit in D.C. raised some important concerns about database vendors. I think it would behoove them to listen to these concerns if they want their consumer market(k12 librarians and k12 students) to keep using their products.

In this arena, I’d say, Google has got it right. One stop shopping, ease of use, user friendly interface–all what a K12 student/teacher would want.

Some of the database companies are trying–creating widgets that are easily embedded on library webpages so you don’t have to navigate the database menu, for example, which I applaud. And databases without widgets, why don’t you have them yet?

But I think they could all stand to take a lesson from Google in understanding the way they are used by students.

Most users don’t care “where” the information came from–they just want the answer and they want it to be simple and quickly accessible.

The interface needs to be clean and simple. Yes, having a widget helps to give students a nice easy gateway into the database, but if once they get to the database it’s a bewildering myriad of information sources, what navigational tools are there to help them at that point? When are there “too many” bells and whistles, especially for the K12 market?

If we have to “teach” how to use the database site features, then they are too complex. One of my favorite interfaces is Ebsco’s Searchasaurus for elementary grades–it’s attractive, easy to navigate, colorful and appealing. And the name is catchy as well.

But for most, when the results list from a search comes back, is it simple and clear to read? Gale, I love the tabs you have, but frankly do students see all those tabs? Is it user friendly for them? Or should all the sources be sorted together?

Shouldn’t vendors tap into some of the most commonly used search engine designs and just base their designs on a similar format so that students can move easily and have familiar signposts? Just like all books have indexes in the back/table of contents in the front–why can’t we have some level of user interface uniformity that makes it easier for K12 students.

In this rush to gain consumers, databases offer far more sources/choices than the average K12 student could ever use. For example, instead of each developing their own bookmarking system, why don’t they partner with Diigo or delicious and use a common system? Why reinvent the wheel?

What database vendors don’t seem to understand is multiplicity–there are many databases vying for their attention. They design their site as though students will ‘live’ on that one site–getting to know it well, knowing all the features of it, understanding how to navigate it and what sources it offers, etc. While this may “occassionally” prove true, generally students flit on, look for something, and move off.

They are not an environment where they “live” like Facebook–nor do I predict they will use the database sites that way in the future. I guess it’s a matter of understanding the purpose of the database–which is to provide information from other sources quickly, efficiently, and easily–so that users can move on in their research to other things.

Naming things–why not call them what they are? Call an ebook an ebook, for example. And in general, the naming of databases is lacking. Google is catchy, their logo is simple and clean. Can you say the same for Ebsco, Gale, Newsbank, Lexis Nexis, etc.?

When I say EBSCO or GALE to our students it’s like holding up a reference book and calling it by the name of the publisher–it carries no meaning to students at all, has no “name recognition” for them, and I see their eyes glaze over. How about some more “hip” naming devices that tap into the web 2.0 flavor? Like Ebsco Searchr or Ebbie or Galicious or … get the idea.

My last request is simplify, simplify, simplify for the K12 market. Make it clean, simple, user friendly and make your product easy to use.

After all, you (vendors) and we(librarians) know how fabulous it is to have articles and journals and images at our fingertips, and the vast array of what is available. But the databases don’t really exist for us, they exist for the end users–students, public library patrons, etc. And we shouldn’t be having to “convince” them how fabulous they are–their “fabulosity” should shine forth because of good design, user friendly interfaces, and catchy branding that draw users to the site. Like Seth Godin writes about in his book Tribes–the tribe draws together at a site because they are drawn there, not because they are “told” to go there.

And in case you haven’t seen it, Joyce Valenza has created a rather catchy Youtube song to convince you that changes are needed:

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