Sunday, August 7, 2016

Inclusivity, Gestalt principles, and plain language in document design

Next discussion: Thursday 25 August, 15:00 BST

Article: Turner, J. and Schomberg, J. (2016) ‘Inclusivity, Gestalt principles, and plain language in document design’, In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Thank you to Helen Farrell for suggesting our next discussion article and for writing this blog post.

How does this discussion work? 
Anyone can join this discussion!  Participants aim to read at least some of the article in advance, then come along at 3pm BST and join in the discussion by adding comments to this blog post. You can see how this works by looking at previous discussions (just scroll down the blog for previous posts).

I’m a big fan of Plain Language. Sometimes people express concern that it simplifies language too much, but it’s often the most popular format for the majority of users, when they are given a choice. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) goes beyond language and looks at connecting with people’s different learning styles; some learn best by visual methods; others prefer text or hands-on experimentation. There are so many ways that we can make teaching materials and our written communications more accessible and easily understood, by all.

I was really intrigued by the scope of the title “Inclusivity, Gestalt Principles and Plain Language in Document Design” (, recently published in the always-interesting, open access peer reviewed international library journal “In the Library with the Lead Pipe”. I’d read about Gestalt Principles in a very basic psychology-context, so I didn’t know much about them. Turner and Schomberg use these Gestalt components to illustrate the process of writing and designing material for users and librarians so that they are usable and understandable for all. I’m not sure this is the simplest method for explaining accessibility to the novice reader, but it was an interesting new approach to the topic of the design process using UDL and accessibility.

The section dealing with Plain Language was especially useful with clear directions and relevant examples, and I know I’ll refer to it when writing documentation in the future.
I was amused by the reworking of Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Sciences (do you remember him from Library & Information Studies?) into “Turner’s Five Laws of Document Design”. These five new laws give a nifty 5-point checklist for Librarians to refer to, when creating documentation that’s accessible and usable by all.

I particularly enjoyed the link to the examples of pre-redesign library handouts, compared with the new handouts that used the Gestalt and Plain Language principles described in this article.
This document design process covers writing, design and usability. Putting accessibility to the forefront of the creation process means that you aren’t working backwards to retrospectively make documents accessible, but considering the variety of user-needs and learning styles from the very beginning. Although it’s written from an American context referencing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the principles and processes described are all transferable to any local context.

This work, “Visual Gestalt,” is a derivative of “7 Laws of Gestalt” by Valessio used under CC 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. “Visual Gestalt” is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by Jennifer Turner.

No matter where I go when I’m writing, I always bring the same banker’s box with my favourite resources to keep beside me. One of these documents is a short booklet containing useful Writing and design tips by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) in Ireland that encourages the reader to use Plain English. The other booklet is “Written communication: Universal Design toolkit for customer engagement” from the National Disability Authority (NDA) in Ireland. Both are full of usable, practical and transferable guidelines that help me try to write clearly and simply, and avoid jargon. I will certainly be adding this new article to my banker’s box.

Our live discussion on 25 August 2016 15:00 GMT will no doubt be very diverse, but perhaps to begin the discussion, I’d be interested to hear how others are implementing (or considering implementing) Accessibility, Plain Language and UDL in Libraries around the world?

Helen Farrell is a job-sharing Faculty Librarian for Social Sciences in Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland, having joined in March, 2016. Previously she has worked in e-publishing, web-design and mark-up languages (including XML), and as a Librarian/Webmaster for NGO’s and State Agencies. She was Librarian for the NDA up to 2008 and after 2012 she provided a Library service to the National Disability Authority (NDA), Ireland as well as the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) - co-located in the NDA. She has interests in accessibility issues, universal design (UD), user experience (UX), mark-up languages, and information literacy.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Instructor perceptions of student information literacy

Next discussion: Thursday 21 July, 12-1pm BST

Article: Sandercock, P. (2016). Instructor perceptions of student information literacy: comparing international IL models to reality. Journal of Information Literacy, 10(1), 3–29.

Thank you to Pat for writing this introductory blog post and joining in our discussion. 
Pat Sandercock is the Instructional and Reference Librarian at the College of the North Atlantic-Qatar.  She teaches more than 400 students each year in classes that range from 6-12 students per class.  A librarian for almost 30 years, Pat joined the College 2 years ago on a 3 year contract.  The survey being discussed on July 21st was undertaken in the Fall semester of 2015 and written up for submission in November and December 2015 before it was published in the most recent issue of JIL.

How does this discussion work? 
Anyone can join this discussion!  Participants aim to read at least some of the article in advance, then come along at 12 noon BST and join in the discussion by adding comments to this blog post. You can see how this works by looking at previous discussions (just scroll down the blog for previous posts). 

On a campus with a revolving door of instructors, most ‘from industry’ rather than academic backgrounds, and a curriculum that implicitly favours one-shot information literacy classes, librarians at CNA-Q were facing an uphill battle.  The College of the North Atlantic-Qatar is a branch campus of a Canadian College located in Newfoundland, Canada’s eastern-most province.  CNA-Q was founded in Qatar just over a decade ago, promising western-style education and diplomas from accredited Canadian programs.  The problem was, that most of our students had never used a library, had never had a library in their public school system and confused us with the campus bookstore. And our one-shot lessons usually were sessions on how to use Ebsco or ProQuest databases….

The library’s target audience is a group of students in ‘Communications’ classes.  These classes are a requirement in all of the four Schools CNA-Q offers. Typically, each student does one written and one oral communication class each year in their program.  The written communication classes in the first year require students to find information about a company using their website and later in the semester a newspaper article about a company. In their second year written communications class, students must find 2 journal articles and one book on a chosen topic and summarize the findings.

But, there are huge hurdles for students in Qatar wanting a Canadian education.  Besides never having been exposed to libraries, websites are generally unreliable and out of date, newspapers are basically reprints of press releases which are riddled with grammatical errors.  Compound this with the small population of the country, there is a lack of both useful and credible information for students to use.

Consequently, none of us in the library were surprised by what we saw in the survey results.  They were entirely consistent with what has been seen in similar studies done in universities in the ‘western’ world.  We had expected the results to be poorer given the fundamental difference between 2-3 year college students and those on an academic path towards academic degrees.  We had also expected low results given that we work in an EFL environment and all our online content is in English.

Perhaps the most telling results were:

86% of instructors felt that students approached research assignments WITHOUT an information strategy.

Do you think you would get the same results at your academic institution?

17% of instructors felt students could not evaluate information for appropriate inclusion in assignments.

Do you think you would get the same results at your academic institution?

We in the library feel that this is a consequence of one-shot instruction (directed by a curriculum that assumes familiarity with libraries and information) and a failure to have a comprehensive ‘Student Success 101’ class with an IL component.

What would you do in this circumstance?

If we are ‘stuck’ with the curriculum we have, what would you do as the Instructional Librarian to affect positive change?

What would you do as the Library Manager to affect positive change?

I didn’t expect the results to be as positive given all the challenges our students face coping with a ‘western’ curriculum and all that encompasses.  Our instructors don’t actually ‘see’ how students choose journal articles like we in the library do.  Were our instructors jaded, un-informed, un-interested or complacent?