Tag Archives: Open Access

Less Is More, But Audiences Want That Digital Razzle Dazzle

“The library is a prerequisite to let citizens make use of their right to information and freedom of speech. Free access to information is necessary in a democratic society, for open debate and creation of public opinion.”

― Susan Orlean, The Library Book

This week’s readings reminded me of Susan Orlean’s excellent book, The Library Book, which essentially is a long love letter to public libraries and the information they share for free. I read it this past summer and highlighted so many great quotes that came in handy this week as I thought through these pieces on open access and minimal computing. I highly recommend it for any of you library/word fans out there.

Much like in public libraries, it’s the behind the scenes work (applying metadata, determining content organization, shelving books) that’s the least exciting, but the most important for usability in digital content platforms. This non-automated type of work requires human maintenance and is also what ensures the content’s survival. In “Pixel Dust”, Johanna Drucker argues that this work done by librarians and digital curators is actually the most exciting and innovative because of how the data can be searched and used for learning. Not how it’s presented in flashy ways on screen. She says, “Novelty and insight are effects of reading, not byproducts or packaging.” People are going to digital editions simply for the purpose of gaining knowledge. Why should they be distracted with heavy design? Maybe I’m becoming an aging millennial, but I agree that the pop ups, animations, and complicated “choose your own adventure” layouts of most sites today are distracting and hide the content I’m trying to access, hindering any kind of long term preservation.

Alex Gil explains how he thought similarly when he designed Ed. He makes the case for why simple is better when it comes to digital design, with benefits that include lower maintenance costs and more control around both ownership and usability of the text. As someone who spends her day job working extensively in a CMS while strategizing how to publish shared content across the web, mobile apps, and print materials, I was pleasantly surprised to read about his criticism of the expensive systems. It takes continuous work to preserve and maintain the correct audience tagging structures. Not to mention the frequent trainings that take away from the time I need to just read the content and understand what the audience needs to know from me as the author. And his point about the inequality of these systems is especially valid, as often it’s only those senior, more educated positions that really know how to use the system and determine its influence over the content.

Maybe a lot of the favor towards those “dazzling displays” that Drucker refers to can be blamed on people’s reduced attention span in our current internet age. There’s just too much information presented to us in too many mediums at a very quick speed. How are audiences supposed to know what to trust? It’s impossible to wade through it all, and digital spaces battle over getting you to visit by breaking out their snazziest interfaces. You would think audiences would prefer to get the information they need as quickly and simply as possible when they consult a digital space. Then they can move on to the next thing, but audiences gravitate towards and money is heavily invested in those sites that offer the most in their displays. And I agree with Peter Suber when he says in his piece, “What is Open Access”, that it’s really a cultural obstacle that we face to see wide acceptance of minimal, open access. Looking forward to hearing others’ thoughts in our discussion.


Additional quotes from The Library Book that popped in my head while reading for this week:

“The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace.”

― Susan Orlean, The Library Book

“if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are a part of a larger story that has shape and purpose—a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. We are all whispering in a tin can on a string, but we are heard, so we whisper the message into the next tin can and the next string. Writing a book, just like building a library, is an act of sheer defiance. It is a declaration that you believe in the persistence of memory.”

― Susan Orlean, The Library Book