Web Magazine for Information Professionals

LONGITUDE: The Users in the Digital Landscape

Linda Berube on the Longitude project, designed to test a toolkit of qualitative survey methodologies to assess user needs in the digital library.

“May you live in interesting times.” I think we in library-land, and particularly public library-land, can lay claim to our share of those. On the national level, we have infrastructure, content creation, and training, all activity that the roll out of the People’s Network will require. In addition, regional strength and co-operation ensures participation and development on all levels. We have the opportunity to more than adapt to the changing information and communication environment: we can build on our traditional skills of networking, communication, organisation, and customer relations to create something truly innovative. In essence, we have the opportunity to re-vision the profession, the professionals, and the information environment. And, although these interesting times might, at certain moments of a frantically digitised day, seem more a sentence than an opportunity, we know that we are extensible (and we were even before the mark-up languages were).

But, let’s look on the other side of the reference desk for a moment. Are our public library users as extensible as we are? We probably have an inkling, based on observation, about certain user group reaction or interaction with electronic resources, but there are obvious risks attached to such informal observation, especially when the acquisition of expensive equipment and software is based on it. Unfortunately, professional literature cannot provide much in the way of support in developing an understanding of our users as they navigate the digital landscape.

It is with this concern in mind that EARL, the Consortium for Public Library Networking with members from 75% of local authorities, has embarked upon an 18-month study to develop and test a toolkit of long-term longitudinal qualitative survey methodologies. Longitude, the Library Networking Toolkit for a User-Driven Environment, designed specifically for public library implementation, will not only look at the behaviour, over a period of time, of users in a digital library environment, but will also offer a practical method for measuring that behaviour.

Funded by the Library and Information Commission, now RESOURCE: the Council for Museum, Archives, and Libraries, Longitude will benefit from partnership with CERLIM (which is making its own contribution towards this body of research with VITAL, a “snap-shot” study of users and IT)1 and CIPFA PLUS. The process will also be informed by JISC’s User Monitoring and Evaluation Framework2, a three-year study of “the impact of IT networks and electronic information services and sources on academic information users.” Other important references include The Digital Library Research Review prepared by Professor Peter Brophy of CERLIM3, EARL’s own READINESS project4, the EC Libraries Programme project PUBLICA5, and the LIC-funded Stories from the Web6. Information about user groups at Luton Borough, Norfolk County, and Westminster Libraries will be gathered through a variety of methods, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, user logs, and direct observation. This process will provide the basis for a toolkit, which will then be tested for reliability.

Such a toolkit will provide the kind of knowledge of users that will contribute to a digital decision-making process that builds on a human understanding. E-business lives and dies by just such a knowledge. Public libraries, all decked out with the latest technology, while not exactly subscribing to the commercial means, must take a lesson from the end.

References (as below)

  1. The Value and Impact of IT Access in Libraries (VITAL) is at:
  2. From JISC’s User Monitoring and Evaluation Framework report. For further information, contact Professor Jennifer Rowley, JISC Scientific Advisor at Rowleyj@edgehill.ac.uk or Jennifer.Rowley@tesco.net
  3. The Digital Library Research Review by Professor Peter Brophy is at:
    http://www. lic.gov.uk/research/digital/review.rtf
  4. The executive summary of READINESS is at:
    http://www. earl.org.uk/news/execsums/readines.htm
  5. The PUBLICA website is at:
  6. Stories on the Web is at:

Author Details


Linda Berube
Development Co-ordinator
EARL: the Consortium for Public Library Networking

Email: linda@earl.org.uk
Web site: www.earl.org.uk/

Article Title: “Longitude”
Author: Linda Berube
Publication Date: 21-Jun-2000
Publication: Ariadne Issue 24
Originating URL: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue24/pub-libs/