UX, It’s Not a New State in the Union: User Experience Explained!

Using user experience (UX) methodologies, libraries can improve their web site by identifying the tasks that their users need to accomplish, and then eliminate those barriers. This process sounds easy enough, but if your library makes web site decisions based on self-referential or anecdotal data, then it’s not being geared towards user’s tasks and goals. By following user experience principles, libraries can clearly identify problematic touchpoints, or expand upon touchpoints that users value the most. Here’s a quick overview.

UX, if it’s not a new State, then what is it?

User experience, or “UX” for short, is an iterative process that examines a user’s tasks in relation to organizational goals and constraints. The goal of UX is to improve the users experience in completing a task by analyzing each step of their process through the lens of personas. This analysis informs which incremental changes will be made to the process of task completion.

The use of personas ensures design is driven by data, rather than being self-referential. In the past, design decisions were often based on excitement about the newest widget, and little regard was given to whether the widget actually satisfied a user’s need (Gube, 2010). UX strives to investigate and question design decisions by thinking of them as “a” decision rather than “the” decision, meaning there is no final solution to a problem, as UX is an iterative process.

After data is analyzed and interpreted, a list of tasks is generated for each persona based on their needs. Each task is broken down further into the steps a user must go through to complete the task; this is called a journey map, and includes the user’s feelings about each step. This is where personas can really inform your analysis, and you can gain insight into how your users are interacting with your website. Once you have taken a critical look at your website, you are quite possibly going to be overwhelmed by the possibilities.

You might be tempted to make a number of changes all at once, but don’t give in! You can still move fast, but by making minor, incremental changes, users are more likely to join you on your redesign journey (Whalen, 2013). Imagine a time a website you frequent did a huge redesign. How did you feel the first time you visited after that change? User experience implementation shouldn’t be something that happens to your users, but with them! The goal is to make our users feel empowered to complete their tasks successfully.

User experience is how companies have been able to improve their services and web sites to be intuitive and easy to use, and now libraries are applying user experience methodologies to improve their web presence.

Amanda Etches and Aaron Schmidt, who are consultants that apply user experience in library settings, summarize user experience very succinctly by stating that “UX design incorporates the practical aspects of utility, ease of use and efficiency to make your web design and functionality decisions with patrons in mind. This results in a better design, a more intuitive interface, and a more enjoyable experience,” (2012). We intend to make the use of our library web presence a more enjoyable experience for our users.

Why should libraries care about what Amazon is doing?

The reason might surprise you! But first, let’s summarize the current state of why our users need libraries, and then compare that to Amazon and other big companies.

Libraries are incredibly relevant today because of the breadth of digital information that we now create and disseminate. Our users need our libraries because there is no other agency that provides these services: vetting information sources, helping people create new knowledge, and access information – based on tax dollars – for free – for anyone.

When you think big companies and their competition, they start to lose their shape a bit because, let’s face it! Technically we don’t need Google. There are lots of ways to search for information and we know this, especially, as librarians.

Technically we don’t need Amazon. There are lots of ways to buy goods, online, in person, or a person can barter and trade, and even find something for free on Craigslist.

These companies were able to achieve a dominant presence through constantly assessing and iterating their web presence. By employing user experience tools and iterative changes based on subsequent analysis these companies were able to tailor their website to provide exactly what users needed. The bottom line is this: these businesses know what their users want and provide it quickly.

Amazon was able to boost their user experience through understanding exactly why a user arrived at a web location, know exactly what the user wants, and then give it to them.

Can libraries understand why our users value us, why they arrive at our web site, how they use the space, and then improve upon that? We can, by using the same user experience tools that Amazon, Google, and other companies have.

The biggest companies aren’t great because they are the greatest at what they do – they are the most successful at convincing you that they are the best. Many people believe that “Google has all the information” and that “Amazon has all of the things” – but Google only has a certain percentage of all web information! (Gil, 2013) These companies were able to make the experiences enjoyable for their users, and that is how they were able to secure such a large presence in our lives.

What do we want library users to feel when using our libraries? What services do we provide that are valued most, and how can we make them the most enjoyable? To begin, we are starting to identify what tasks our users need to accomplish and how they use the library to accomplish them. Do they need to: bake a cake, learn to read, learn to code, collect data, write a paper, build a rocket, and make a prototype? How can we help users best accomplish these tasks? “Ultimately that is what user experience design is about – it’s about solving problems for users. It should empower users, making them feel they can do something that they were previously unable to do,” (Boag, 2014). So my question for you is this: what can libraries empower users to do that they were previously unable to do? How can we make it a positive experience that they’ll return to?

Limitations: Why Libraries Can’t Play Like Amazon

Libraries are very proud of protecting privacy. According to the American Library Association, “Privacy is essential to the exercise of free speech,” (ALA, 2002). While this is true in many respects, it limits our ability to understand exactly what our users are doing and what they need. We depend on usability interventions to determine what they believe to be true.

Another issue is we coordinate with so many vendors who don’t provide data about what an individual user was downloading or using. And in the vendors that do provide this data, going back to privacy again, we don’t analyze how they’ve used the information in their final products (ie: papers, videos, etc). We don’t know if they found what they were looking for!

Online retailers, like Amazon, can see if someone liked what they bought based on ratings and purchases. They even go so far as to use predictive purchasing to determine what you need before you even know that you need it. How can libraries do the same thing? And for what? How can we save the time of the user and what problems can we solve for the user?

Libraries should have the goal of making their users feel able to find and access any piece of information that they might need. They should feel confident that, via the library, all of the data they need is accessible and can be found right away. In an ideal situation, our users won’t feel anxiety if they can’t find something immediately, because “do-it-yourself” style assistance is integrated at the point of need.

According to Dr. Villachica, an Instructional Design faculty member at Boise State University, one should design a website for the expert user where the path matches the “natural workflow and logic of the job,” (Villachica, 2006, p. 546). The web builders must then provide digital job aids to help guide non-experts to learn the path. An example of this is that an expert user knows to search for a full text article by citation by starting with the journal title to locate the database or vendor that supplies the full text. A non-expert user would probably search in the search box and may or may not find it on the first try, then give up. How do libraries add digital job aids to assist them to find the article depending on their user behavior?

In your everyday life you may run into this as a user yourself. Think about the last time you went grocery shopping. Was it easy to find what you were looking for? Now, imagine you’ve never been in a grocery store, but step into one and are really hungry. How would your experience be different? Where would you start? This is the difference between an expert and non-expert user, and though you’re thinking about grocery stores, the same experiences can be translated to library resources.

The expert user feels comfortable navigating a variety of databases, because they possess a broad understanding of how databases work and the type of information available within. The non-expert user knows they have a need, and know where they are expected to go to fill it, but have no idea how to navigate through the resources. This is where user experience principles can step in and guide less experienced users to resources.

At Albertsons Library, we set have out to determine common tasks, and improve the user experience of our most prevalent user groups. Our goal is to determine their tasks and analyze how our library helps them to accomplish those tasks.

Albertsons Library’s Process

The Digital Access Unit at Albertsons Library is initiating the application of user experience principles. We are primarily focusing on improving our web site and web presence in all ways, but also may improve other library touchpoints.

The first project step that we initiated was to create a spreadsheet of all of the ideas that came out of discussions and processes. Even as we discuss creating personas, we are noticing web issues and identifying potential solutions. However we don’t want to act on any of those ideas yet, so we are capturing them in an organized manner, and will analyze later to determine if they are based on data, user testing, or if it is self-referential.

Frequently we hear that things like vendor interface “cannot be changed,” but all of this is potentially changeable. If a vendor’s user interface isn’t user friendly, we can always switch vendors, or make the vendor aware of the issues, and see if they are open to changing their platform. Springshare is often very receptive and responsive to making changes that benefit user experience.

Here are our steps thus far:

amy1

  • Read research articles, attended presentations, and attend classes on user experience
  • Consulted faculty user experience expert Dr. Steve Villachica
  • Identified where our organization was in relation to the user experience maturity modelkeikendo n.d.
  • Presented user experience concepts and related terms to library staff
  • Persona development based on data
  • Identifying their most common tasks
  • Conducted user surveys to determine task priority
  • We are currently in the process of creating journey maps for specific tasks

Lessons Learned

Here are a few things our team has discovered, and are sharing with the hope it will inform your own UX process and decisions:

  • Persona creation based on data, though hard, is key to making the UX process a success. If you aren’t basing your personas on data, then you’re right back in that self-referential process that isn’t truly addressing users’ needs. Don’t have any data? Collecting it can be as easy as creating an online survey to determine what your user’s needs are, and how they are using your website. Here are examples of our personas and related tasks.

 

Role on Boise State Univ. campus Number of Students/ Faculty Examples of Tasks
Concurrent Enrollment students 2200
  • Complete their senior project
  • Find a peer reviewed journal article
Graduate Students 3021
  • Complete a literature review
Faculty 623
  • Find a permanent link to an article to place in Blackboard
  • Embed a video from Films on Demand in Blackboard
  • Find an exact citation
Undergraduates 18,900
  • Find a peer reviewed journal article

 

  • Communicate along the way with stakeholders. Don’t forget, your client isn’t just the user, but your colleagues too. No one likes having big changes sprung on them, so keep them in the loop as you proceed. They might be able to provide valuable insight, and you don’t want to cut that off by alienating them from the process. Communication can be done in a formal presentation, or one-on-one in casual conversations with colleagues. Explain why making changes, and provide data to back up those decisions. (Schmidt, A. 2012, p. 39)
  • Working across departments will make the process more meaningful. You will be getting input from varied points of view, and have multiple paths to disseminate your findings. Also, you never know where a UX ally might be lurking!
  • We have found coordination with vendors makes web analytics difficult to fully understand where our users go and what they do.
  • It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the possible changes your website needs. Keep in mind you aren’t going to implement them all at once, and focus your initial efforts on low hanging fruit that can be addressed with minimal expenditure of resources. This will give you a sense of accomplishment that will get your momentum going, and give you the confidence and experience to tackle larger changes.

Where We’re Going

We are just finishing the persona creation stage of the process, and are looking forward to humanizing them. Our next step is to analyze a specific task with a journey map that breaks it down into steps. We have discussed a number of ways to choose our tasks. Whether it would be best to focus on the most common task, a different task for each persona, or the most problem ridden. We decided it would be most informative to analyze a common task from different viewpoints. We are hoping that focusing our energies on a single task will give us a clear goal and help us stay focused.

Once we have developed our journey maps, and identified exact user experiences (ie frustrated, happy, easy to use, confused), we will identify touchpoints. A touchpoint is any place the library has control over possible improvements. For example, a touchpoint we do not have control over are the color requirements for websites at our institution.

Then, we will prioritize improvements based on user needs, and how quickly a solution can be developed and implemented. Once we have a prioritized list, we will start wire framing solutions, test them, redesign based on testing, possibly retest, and redesign, and then launch. This Lean UX diagram from Josh Whalen, Founder of Brilliant Experience, is a good representation of this process.

amy2

It’s all about you

Any library can implement user experience principles. Even if you have limited funds, you can still benefit from UX! There is always something you can do to add value regardless of the budget. You might have to use “guerilla” or “stealth” methods, but you can still implement UX (Jesmond, A., Chudley, J., 2012). Thinking like a user is the first step to user centered design. These principles are applicable to any area of a library to improve services (web, public services, etc).

Here’s our call to action to help you improve your library:

  • Using a UX maturity model, determine where your organization is on the spectrum. We like this one from UX Mag: http://uxmag.com/articles/how-mature-is-your-organization-when-it-comes-to-ux
  • Use this to have conversations at your library about user needs. When making decisions about projects and services, ask yourself what your users would want, and ask that question out loud.
  • Think about the types of tasks your users need the library for to complete their tasks. What are they? Take steps to figure this out.

Contact us if you want to chat! We’re around on the internet and we would love to talk with you more. Amy is on twitter at @librarythinking or can be emailed at amyvecchione@boisestate.edu and amyvecchione@gmail.com! You can find Deana by emailing deanabrown@boisestate.edu! Let’s make libraries better together.

Amy Vecchione is the Digital Access Librarian at Boise State University.

Deana Brown is a Librarian and Assistant Professor at Boise State University.

 

Resources to learn more

Maturity of your organization with UX

http://uxmag.com/articles/how-mature-is-your-organization-when-it-comes-to-ux

Intro to Library UX by Aaron Schmidt

http://vimeo.com/72766459

Articles from Smashing Magazine, http://www.smashingmagazine.com
– “What is User Experience Design? Overview, Tools and Resources”
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/05/what-is-user-experience-design-overview-tools-and-resources/

– “Effectively Planning UX Design Projects” http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/01/24/effectively-planning-ux-design-projects-2/

Planning your UX strategy
http://johnnyholland.org/2010/04/planning-your-ux-strategy/

Mission Impossible: Shrinking the UX Process

http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/mission-impossible-shrinking-the-ux-process/

Influx – UX library consultants

http://weareinflux.com/

Citations

Adams, J. (2012). Emulating Amazon. Bank Technology News, 5.

American Library Association. (2002) Privacy. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy

Boag, Paul. (2014). The essential secret to successful user experience. Retrieved from https://econsultancy.com/blog/64265-the-essential-secret-to-successful-user-experience-design#i.1nwtujd1edtdy7

Jesmond, A., Chudley, J. (2012). Chapter 2: Planning UX Projects. Smashing UX design: foundations for designing online user experiences (pp. 23-45). Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com

Gil, P. (2013). What Is the ‘Invisible Web’? The Content That Goes Beyond Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask.com… Retrieved from http://netforbeginners.about.com/cs/secondaryweb1/a/secondaryweb.htm

Gude, J. (2010). What Is User Experience Design? Overview, Tools and Resources. Retrieved from http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/05/what-is-user-experience-design-overview-tools-and-resources/

Keikendo. (n.d.). Methodology. Retrieved from http://en.keikendo.com/methodology

Schmidt, Aaron; Etches, Amanda (2012). User Experience (UX) Design for Libraries (The Tech Set #18). Retrieved from http://www.eblib.com

Villachica, Steven. (2006). Performance Support Systems in Pershing, J. A. Handbook of human performance technology: Principles, practices, and potential. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Whalen, J. (2013). Lean UX, slide 25 [flowchart]. Implementing lean UX: the practical guide to lean user experience. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/johnwhalen/uxpa-2013-implementing-lean-ux

 

 

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Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin: 1863-1899 [Review]

Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin

Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin: 1863-1899

Charles E. Lauterbach, Ph.D.

United States: CreateSpace, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-73445-3

218 pages, $18.00

Entertainment at our fingertips is taken for granted in 2014. Rarely do we consider a time when a variety of entertainment options were hard to come by here in Idaho—long before Netflix, television, or even Hollywood. Dr. Charles Lauterbach’s Pioneer Theatre in the Boise Basin: 1863-1899 pays homage to the foundational years in Boise’s popular entertainment history. The book chronicles a relatively unexplored aspect of our state’s history when performers braved long and treacherous journeys to bring Idahoans an occasional evening of escape. Against this backdrop, Lauterbach examines the historical circumstances that allowed Boise’s theatrical entrepreneurs to secure Idaho’s place on the “show-town” map of early 20th century America.

Professor Emeritus Charles Lauterbach served on the faculty of the Theatre Arts Department at Boise State University from 1971 through 2001. Although his post-retirement research includes the theatrical history of the entire Gem State, his 2013 publication focuses on the city of Boise, beginning with the entertainment seeds planted in Idaho City and Silver City during the mining boom. By analyzing the decades preceding the 20th century, Lauterbach demonstrates how the city endured through years of entertainment fits and starts, until the widely respected “show-town” status took root and flourished in the new century.

Pioneer Theatre synthesizes Lauterbach’s research into a detailed account of the array of “entertainments” offered to Boise’s early residents. Drawing largely from his investigation of archival newspapers, the study enumerates a broad scope of activities including local and touring theatrical productions, circus acts, dog and pony shows, operas, minstrel shows, elocutionists, and such sensational events as “an exhibition of mind reading, hypnotism, and rope-tying” (123).

Four chapters present Lauterbach’s findings chronologically: “Gold Rush Theatre 1863-1869”, “The Lean Years 1870-1879”, “Railroads and Opera Houses 1880-1889”, and “End of the Century 1890-1899.” Each chapter is further broken down into a year-by-year account of the entertainments presented. Although this arrangement sometimes lends itself to extensive listings of production titles, cast lists, performance dates, and venues, the author anticipates diverse reader needs and invites those desiring less detail “to skip over some listings of plays and players and get to the many colorful anecdotes” (Introduction, xx).

Indeed, Lauterbach delivers as promised. He engages the reader throughout with amusing contemporaneous accounts of audience and reviewer reactions to performers and dramatic spectacles such as steamship explosions, sinking ships, children being carried away in the talons of an eagle, an “electrical duel,” a “shower of fire” (148), and heroic rescues by acrobatic teams. In addition to the approximately 600 newspaper citations, key figures in Lauterbach’s story are highlighted with 49 photographs and illustrations from the collections of institutions across the country including the University of Washington, Harvard University, and New York Public Library.

From the earliest productions staged in Boise’s Idaho Saloon, to the crowning glory of the era realized with the completion of the Columbia Theater in 1892, Lauterbach delivers a fascinating account of Boise’s pioneering years in entertainment. As explained in his introduction, the book is particularly significant because “…to date no complete history of early theatrical entertainments in the Boise Basin has been written…it adds another book to the relatively small collection of books about the nineteenth century theatre in the American West” (Introduction, xvii).

And so as he salutes the pioneers of Boise’s entertainment industry, I salute Lauterbach’s pioneering effort to document this largely forgotten history, and hope that it will encourage further exploration. An interesting read for scholars or casual history and theatre buffs alike, Lauterbach’s work helps us appreciate Idaho’s theatrical roots and the “show-town” we are fortunate enough to enjoy today.

Gwyn Hervochon is an archivist/librarian at Boise State University.

Lands Never Trodden: The Franciscans and the California Missions [Review]

lands never trodden missions

Lands Never Trodden: The Franciscans and the California Missions

John J. O’Hagan

Caldwell, ID: Caxton Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-087004-563-9, paperback

309 pages, $18.95

The Spanish missions in California constitute such a major part of American history that it’s a wonder so few Americans know about them. John J. O’Hagan addresses this in his introduction to Lands Never Trodden, and proceeds to do his part to remedy this by sharing a readable history of that period. The Revolutionary War likely commands the focus of most students’ learning of this period, but O’Hagan shows that even before the Declaration of Independence, industrious Franciscan missionaries from Spain were establishing missions, creating the foundation for what we now know as California.

O’Hagan does well to draw on primary sources to paint a picture of Mission-era California; excerpts from some of these documents enrich the narrative. Of course, any modern historian looking to tell the whole story of the missions is confined by the fact that surviving documents, almost without exception, came from Spanish sources, rather than those of natives. Lands Never Trodden does include some writing from Pablo Tac, a Luiseño Indian who traveled to Rome, but as O’Hagan laments, he wrote little of himself.

The status and treatment of Indians in the mission system has been the source of considerable historical controversy. Though he perhaps gives the Spanish too much benefit of the doubt, O’Hagan recognizes and addresses this controversy. While he insists on judging the missionaries by the standards of their day, he also does not hesitate to condemn some of the clear atrocities in the historical record. While he acknowledges that European diseases and poor living conditions were responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Indians in the missions, he fairly argues that the intentions of the missionaries make “genocide” too strong a word for what Wikipedia calls a “clash of cultures.” The book’s title, Lands Never Trodden, is surely misleading in that it describes lands that many Indians tread, though in O’Hagan’s defense, the phrase is borrowed from a missionary’s writings.

After three introductory chapters, a chapter is dedicated to each of the 21 missions, in the order each was founded. Each of the chapters ends with information on the state of the mission site today (all have been preserved as historical sites or parks, though in some cases, the buildings themselves are replicas). Taken on their own, these sections would make a handy travel guide for anyone interested in taking a trip through California in the footsteps of the colorful historical figures profiled in the book.

Lands Never Trodden contains a wealth of information on the missions and the men and women who drove them, but it also contains some errors that should have been caught in copy editing; these are occasionally distracting. The book also lacks an index, making tracking down specific subjects more troublesome than it should be. Nevertheless, it is an informative book that belongs in any good collection of Californian or American Catholic history.

Alex Kyrios is a Metadata and Catalog Librarian at the University of Idaho.

A Million Steps [Review]

million-steps

A Million Steps

Kurt Koontz

United States: Self-published, 2013

ISBN 978-061585-292-8, paperback,

212 pages, $15.95

Let me start by acknowledging my ignorance of El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Before beginning A Million Steps by Kurt Koontz I had never heard of the almost-500 mile hike from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France across the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago, Spain. Nor did I know the history or background of the pilgrimage (or that it had been a pilgrimage since medieval times), that millions of people have walked El Camino –The Way in English–for centuries (including John Adams, who walked from Santiago to Paris in 1779 to enlist French aid for the American Colonies during the American Revolution), or that Christian tradition has it that the remains of St. James of biblical fame are entombed in the cathedral at Santiago—the main reason for the pilgrimage in the first place. I intended to read A Million Steps because a student at one of my schools excitedly told me that his uncle had written the book; to encourage young readers in pursuit of pleasure reading, I told him I would read the book myself over spring break. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when The Idaho Librarian had the title up for review! I’m sure Mr. Koontz and others who have walked The Way would smile and say that there are no coincidences; everything we experience is connected. And they may be right.

This relatively small self-published book reads like an abbreviated diary of Koontz’s 30-day journey. He chronicles his experiences– the sights along the trail; the food in the fancy restaurants, the small cafes, and the smaller tiendas (markets) along the route; the nights in the crowded albergues (hostels) and the occasional 5-star hotels; and his encounters with the locals and with fellow pilgrims from all over the world. The language is simple enough for most young adult to adult readers, although adults will identify more with Koontz’s underlying reasons for his journey—the physical, intellectual, and spiritual lessons he learned.

After every chapter (each representing one day of Koontz’s trek), the reader is treated to several black and white photos representative of the day’s encounters. Be aware these are not National Geographic or Ansel Adams photographs, and the graininess of the printing makes the panoramic shots unremarkable; however, the portraits of Koontz’s fellow travelers are vibrant and full of life.

There are several pages of appendixes listing resources about El Camino and the author’s musical playlist on his walk; the resources were valuable while the playlist was only marginally interesting.

Koontz took me back to my college days hiking the Grand Canyon when my hiking bible was The Man Who Walked Through Time by Colin Fletcher. I still have that dog-eared book in a place of honor on my shelf, and it will be joined by this new friend. I also read up on El Camino and watched the film The Way and enjoyed seeing the landmarks described by Koontz.For the serious or casual walker, A Million Steps may be the catalyst for a personal trip to experience El Camino de Santiago. For those who make the journey, as they say along The Way, Buen Camino!

The book would make a good addition to all types of libraries.

Tina Roehr is an Alternative Schools Librarian/Teacher in the Meridian School District in Southwest Idaho.

Godforsaken Idaho [Review]

 

Godforsaken-IdahoGodforsaken Idaho

Shawn Vestal

Boston: New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

ISBN 978-05440-2776-3, paperback
209 pages, $15.95

When I first saw Shawn Vestal’s book with its picture of Joseph Smith on the cover and its title, Godforsaken Idaho, my first thought was “Hey, that’s where I grew up. What a great title.” By the time I got about half way through this collection of nine short stories, I was thinking that an alternative title could have been “Godforsaken Families.”

The pivotal story in this collection is the first one, “The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death.” In it the protagonist, Rex, experiences an afterlife filled with trips to the cafeteria, reunions with deceased family members, and a quest through his own past to find wonderful events that he can relive. What he finds, though, is a troubled search that starts with a hunt for perfect days and then degrades into a search for “great afternoons” or “great nights” (13-14) until he’d be satisfied with finding “One great hour”(18). Eventually Rex concedes that “you find it hard to land in a single untroubled moment. Every second is crowded with life, with misery and anxiety that just won’t be stomped down” (14). And by the end of the story he settles on a moment that “lasts thirteen minutes and forty-seven seconds” (26) as he stands smoking cigarettes on the Perrine bridge in Twin Falls.

What makes this first story so pivotal is the way Vestal connects his nine of stories through a significant family event – a dinner. After he’s been dead for a few hundred years, Rex attempts to have a large reunion dinner with his ex-wife and children who have also died. His plan to have dinner with just his immediate family falls apart when grand-children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and nieces are also invited. During this dinner he finds himself surrounded by many members of his family, the Todds, and his ex-wife’s family, the Warrens. What makes this so important is that many of these characters appear again as the reader progresses further into the collection – finally meeting Joseph Smith himself in the final story entitled, “Diviner.” Rex says that he conceives of the family dinner idea 326 years after his death, so from first story to last covers about 500 years of his family’s history of bad decisions in chronological order from the future into the past. Sara Warren, Rex’s great-great-grandmother, appears again in “Gulls” debating with herself as to whether or not to become one of Bishop Warren’s wives during the 1848 “miracle of the gulls.” Sara is also mentioned in passing in “Families are Forever.” And Rulon Warren, is the central character of “Opposition in all Things” which takes place in Franklin, Idaho, a few years after WWI. Somewhere in each story is some small link to the first story that gives this collection an overarching continuity that I wasn’t expecting in any author’s first published story collection.

In the third story in the collection, “Families are Forever,” the narrator describes his girlfriend’s parent’s house and an ornate sign in their dining room “done up in curlicues: FAMILIES ARE FOREVER” and then he adds that this message “sounded like a threat” (49). This threatening notion is a theme that the book keeps circling back to – but I don’t want readers to get the impression that Vestal is saying that families are a bad thing. This book is really an open-ended examination of the complex and, often, poor choices made by the protagonists and how their family history influences those choices and how those choices influence the future of their families.

Since this review is for The Idaho Librarian, I’ll throw in a warning that this book is not without controversy. Many of the book’s critics are labeling it as “anti-Mormon” because Vestal is a former member of the LDS church, and many of the book’s less than moral characters are also LDS, therefore, according to these critics, the book is anti-LDS. My personal response to that criticism is that the characters in this book are not being held up as examples of perfect moral behavior. I can’t think of any religion that would hope for their members to act the way these characters act. The protagonists in these stories are surrounded by bad choices and poor examples that they think they are unable to overcome. It is a very dark book, frequently moving, and often hilarious with great moments of insight into some very difficult families.

I would certainly recommend this book to any academic or public library interested in developing its collection of Idaho or Pacific Northwest authors.

 

George Williams is the Access Services Manager at Latah County Library District.

Spoiled Milk: 37 OLD Expired Health Beliefs with a Fresh NEW Perspective [Review]

SpoiledMilk

Spoiled Milk: 37 OLD Expired Health Beliefs with a Fresh NEW Perspective

Angela Young, DC

Eagle, Idaho: Aloha Publishing, 2013

ISBN: 978-1612060521, paperback

184 pages, $14.95

Spoiled Milk reads like a series of magazine articles strung together, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Each chapter begins with a “Spoiler Alert” and then closes with “Fresh Ideas to Extend Your Expiration Date.” Angela Young’s 2013 publication, Spoiled Milk: 37 OLD Expired Health Beliefs with a Fresh NEW Perspective is a brief, informative collection of the author’s views on current personal practices for health, nutrition, and well-being. None of the chapters is longer than a few pages, and one could easily read the book in one sitting. Accepting Young’s invitation, however, could take some time and commitment. The author “encourages the development of new beliefs to change the American mind-set regarding health” (14).

Seven areas of discussion are offered, namely: Wellness, Food, Movement, Emotions, Chemical Peer Pressure, Popular Health Beliefs, and Chiropractic. Of the 37 “myths” Young busts, all have been presented either in other recent publications, on various medical or holistic websites, or in current medical or holistic journals. However, as Young conveys, much of what passes for news regarding health and wellness is possibly the result of the “advertising, marketing, and self-interested research that drives these fads” (13). One example of a debunked myth is the notion that one’s genetic profile will determine one’s health. Consider, she suggests, that one’s “genes can either be turned on or off by lifestyle choices” (33). Another mythical idea debunked is the lack of control over the way one feels. Referring to the forged neural paths and muscle memory which one has the ability to actually change, Young argues that if you feel unhappy or unwell, “you may feel that way out of habit” (105). Regarding this ability, she quotes health guru and wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil, “Among other things, neuroplasticity means that emotions, such as happiness and compassion, can be cultivated in much the same way that a person can learn through repetition to play golf and basketball or master a musical instrument, and that such practice changes the activity and physical aspects of specific brain areas” (108).

None of this information is actually very new, and none are the author’s own discoveries, but there is some value in having all of it laid out in one book, along with the perspective of a doctor of chiropractic. The field of diet, nutrition, and best practices in personal wellness is a vast and ever-evolving one in which last week’s fact could quickly become this week’s fiction. If one is confused about the myriad of conflicting opinions and information available on health, nutrition, and well-being, learning about and implementing any of a number of these ideas might prove beneficial. Angela Young is a practicing chiropractor in Boise, Idaho.

Because Spoiled Milk could serve as a springboard for further research, I would recommend this book to both public and high school librarians.

Kathleen McVey is a Youth Services Library Assistant in the Meridian Library District.

Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest [Review]

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Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest

Richard D. Scheuerman and Alexander C. McGregor

Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-87422-316-3, paperback

186 pages, $32.95

When you hear the opening notes of the song “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates and you listen to the words of the first stanza, “O beautiful for spacious skies,/For amber waves of grain,/ For purple mountain majesties/Above the enameled plain!/America! America!…” Like me, your first thoughts are of expansive fields in places like Nebraska or Kansas. You can picture the lakes of wheat undulating from the soft breeze while the rays of sun soak the fields. What you do not think about is the states of Oregon or Washington where the sun has a habit of taking a vacation. However, you would be remiss to do so according to Richard D. Scheuerman and Alexander C. McGregor. In their book, Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest, the authors recount the long history of agriculture in the Pacific Northwest, which undoubtedly includes wheat.

In Harvest Heritage Scheuerman and McGregor explore in detail the agricultural settling of the northwest. The book takes the reader on a journey exploring the movement of companies, fur traders, missionaries, Indians immigrants and military men. Although these people come from vastly different places they are all transformed into farmers and settlers of the northwest. The shaping of this bountiful, but decidedly more wet region, required thoughtful experiments by farmers and ranchers who utilized the constant influx of immigrants to supply them with a menagerie of wheat, oats, barley and rye, as well as, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Through trial and error and lots of hard work they are able to find the hardiest varieties for this unique climate.

If you are a seasoned history buff, you will appreciate the attention paid to the histories of the many people who helped settled this lush country and who were instrumental in developing the unique agriculture of this region. For those readers who enjoy reading about the fine points, this book offers many details. For example, the sheer varieties of red winter wheat mentioned can alone scare away the most seasoned of history readers. However, I urge you forward. This book will give you a better understanding and tremendous respect for the people who have settled this land.

It is clear that Dr. Scheuerman’s background in history coupled with McGregor’s family ties to the land has formed this distinctive look into the Pacific Northwest. However, this reviewer was left reflecting on the possible “under-represented” history in the area. A famous quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, says that the winners write history. I couldn’t help but feel that some aspects of this book were minimizing difficult parts of our history while overly focusing on the farmer as unsung hero. The settlement of this region meant many Native American tribes were pushed off their ancestral land which many times lead to acts of violence. There appeared to be a large influx of immigrant populations, but there was no mention of the unique difficulties these people experienced. I would have appreciated an additional chapter focusing more on the “losers” in history in this region with the same attention to detail given by the authors.

Harvest Heritage would be a good addition to a public or academic library collection. The casual weekend history buff would find this book engaging and interesting, especially since they could visit the many sites mentioned in the book. The academic would find this book useful to expand their research or as part of a reading assignment for courses focusing on the Pacific Northwest.

Nicole Silvester lives in Idaho and is a MLS Graduate Student at Texas Woman’s University.