Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Assumed Knowledge: Patron Barcodes

Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes can make all the difference... And sometimes, the naive question is quite revealing...

Here's a case in point - I want to make my first Stack Request via Newton...

(Ok, I'll pause there for a minute: stack request? Newton? It's Week 1 of a new academic year and not all of the current intake will speak the lingo yet...)

Here's what I see:

Cambridge Univresity Library login screen

Note the guidance: Please enter your Patron Barcode and Last Name, then click the Log in button.

I presumably need to enter the Barcode (lower case) from my University Card/UL Card?*

Here's my (slightly modified ;-) Library Card:

Hmmmm... Barcode (lower case)? Errr....? So that's abcde? Or veg_7.2? (Why can't a form validator handle case mapping, anyway?!;-)

Although the Reading Room Services webpage doesn't help much, the West Room - Services page does:

# Select, if required, University Card/UL Card from the drop-down list in the Home Library box (only necessary when using the Universal Catalogue)
# Enter your barcode in the Barcode box (the five-character code on your Library/University card)

Ahh... Barcode (lower case) = (the five-character code on your Library/University card)

Which will be ABCDE, presumably? Only in lower case: abcde... (Erm, err, just as an aside: Library/University card...? So - err, do I have a University card? Or is that the same as the Library card? That is, is the Library card my University card?)

Anyway - the moral of the tale is...? Maybe the University Library Card is the most important card I carry, and maybe it's obvious which set of characters is the barcode (err.... the barcode is the barcode, right? For no good reason, I'm not convinced that most people realise that barcodes actually decode to alphanumeric characters?)

Anyway, IMHO, it's not... Obvious, that is... Obvious, that is, which set of characters are the Patron Barcode, or Barcode (lower case).

A lot of interface design issues are problematic the first time round, and they can be quite hard to spot when you're familiar with a system even after only a couple of days use. But for the first time or occasional user, it's the little "isn't it obvious" assumptions that can make systems unfriendly to use: "BUT WHY SHOULD I KNOW THAT?!"

(By the way: hands up if you speak barcode/know how to decode one... Also: today is the 57th Anniversary of the invrention of the barcode. And yet again, Google gets a bucketload of free advertsing from all and sundry: Google doodle: 57th anniversary of invention of the bar code)

* Seems like there's an error in whatever is powering the 'Choose Your Library' selection box...

1 comment:

Tony Hirst said...

So it seems as if my Library card is different to the university card/library card which is a single smart card that identifies members of the university (staff and students).

The library owns a certain amount of real-estate on the back of the card - a barcode and the associated barcode number (in uppercase) below it.

Apparently, the Voyager system doesn't actually care about whether the barcode is submitted in upper or lower case (although I didnlt check...)