Library WayAre games-style interfaces really going to make it easy to find information? And what about the perils of too graphical an approach? I can see the different sides here.

In a somewhat related vein, a new site called E41ST – Library Way is both encouraging and frustrating. It’s not a games environment but does offer a highly graphical approach with far, far more Flash–and, yes, the capital F word applies–than does the typical library-style site. Library Way, named after a library branch in New York City, allows simultaneous searches of both Amazon and public libraries. While LW isn’t the first site to offer such services, it may well be the one with the slickest interface. I don’t know if the guy behind it is a librarian or not, but he has done wonders with Flash. Even so, two problems arise.

First off, while the site is a refreshing contrast to the dowdy look that characterizes most library-style sides on the Net, all this glitz just isn’t as efficient to me as a more traditional graphical interface for the real New York Public Library. I’d welcome a straight-text alternative highlighting the popular books within different categories. Keep the glitz as an option. But save me from it, please, if I don’t want it.

Second, I’m not enchanted with the reliance of Library Way on Adobe technology. Notice screenshot and the reminder that you can’t use Library Way without recent Flash? Here’s to a more open SVG approach! Let’s hope that SVG can evolve in ways that truly will serve the needs of the the public and the library community, so that libraries can look flashy online without having to be Flashy.

Meanwhile, despite the above reservations, I’m pleased to see such experimentation going on. Perhaps more powerful hardware will help make flashy interfaces become more efficient for information finding and browsing than they are right now.

Related: Open Source, e-books and libraries.

Update, 5 p.m., July 23.: Just heard from Amit Gupta, the developer, who has kindly included the Alexandria, VA, library in his system, at my request. Thanks, Amit! While I’m concerned about proprietary technologies such as Flash, I’m delighted you’re eperimenting. Maybe you could offer different kinds of interfaces on the same site.


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