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Book Review: User Studies for Digital Library Development

Selenay Aytac reviews a collection of essays on user studies and digital library development that provides a concise overview of a variety of digital library projects and examines major research trends relating to digital libraries.

User Studies for Digital Library Development provides a concise overview of a variety of digital library projects and examines major research trends relating to digital libraries. While there are many books on user studies and digital library development, this work operates at the junction of these two domains and stands out for its insights, balance, and quality of its case-based investigations. The book brings together points of view from different professional communities, including practitioners as well as researchers. It incorporates an overview of usability tools and techniques, takes a look at the latest research on designing for a positive user experience, and provides many tips on accessibility and usability of online digital resources.

This is a well-written, broad-reaching work that is structured and organised in a manner that goes beyond many user studies for digital library development. The contributors aim to combine two approaches; each chapter not only elaborates a relevant case study but also discusses and analyses the broader significance of the methods. In this way the case studies move beyond merely presenting discrete examples and instead offer the reader something more compelling.

Although this book mainly focuses on information professionals who want to develop user-centered digital libraries, it is also appropriate for students as well as instructors. For students, the list of acronyms, glossary, and bibliography will be appreciated. This is a good book for library and information science instructors and deserves use in many courses on research methods, digital library design, and user studies. Individual chapters are also valuable for introductory courses, such as knowledge organisation and information society.  This book provides the ideal opportunity to gather insights and ideas to ignite the imagination and spark innovation in the field of user studies.

This stirring and stimulating volume is edited by Milena Dobreva of University of Malta, Andy O’Dwyer of the BBC, and Pierluigi Feliciati of the University of Macerata with an excellent preface by T.D.Wilson. It consists of a very detailed glossary, a brief introduction, and 24 chapters relating to digital library design and evaluation. The 24 chapters are independent of each other and can be read out of sequence, but they flow well in the order presented. Many of the chapter authors are prominent scholars known for their numerous articles and books in the area of user studies and digital libraries.

The book is divided into five parts. Four chapters in Part 1: “Setting the Scene” present a general overview of the digital library context. Elaine G. Toms, the Chair of Information Science at the Information School, University of Sheffield, UK, reviews the types of models that have emerged in information science and how existing models from different disciplines contributed to inform the design of digital libraries. The author of chapter 2, Sudatta Chowdhury, faculty member at the University of Technology Sydney, presents four important case studies to illustrate some major issues and research on user and usability in the digital library domain.  The “Europeana” case study (Case Study 3.4: Europeana p.37-38) is a great example of challenging multicultural usability. In the following chapter, Petar Mihaylov examines the visual design challenges of digital libraries and concludes with some recommendations on how to improve user experience in a typical digital library development project. The last chapter of Part 1, Giannis Tsakonas, librarian at the University of Patras, Library & Information Center Patras, Greece, investigates users within the evaluation of digital libraries. The emergence of the digital world, the Internet revolution, and changing user needs have a significant impact on digital library development. This first part of the book provides a compelling and convincing evidence-based argument in favour of user studies for digital libraries.

User studies are essential as they are practical ways to assess, design, and improve the digital libraries for maximum user-friendliness. The five chapters in Part 2: “Methods Explained and Illustrated” deal with specific research and data collection techniques for user studies. The chapters’ combined strength is a clear, concise investigation of user studies in real-world digital library settings that are illustrated by case studies. The case study is an exploratory research craft and has been used successfully in various fields, especially in business education, to generate an in-depth understanding of a complex issue. A typical case study presents critical portions of the problem objectively and discusses the key steps involved in each unit of analysis. This pedagogical teaching tool is used in each section of Part 2. In the first chapter, Jillian Griffiths of Manchester Metropolitan University examines the most popular research methods, such as survey questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups. An investigation of expert evaluation techniques is presented by Claus-Peter Klas of FernUniversität in Hagen. Another powerful and relatively new technique, deep log analysis, is discussed by David Nicholas and David Clark of CIBER Research Ltd in the following chapter. Eye-tracking studies, a new and controversial approach to digital library evaluations, is addressed by Panos Balatsoukas of the University of Strathclyde. The use of personas in digital library evaluations is reviewed by Katja Guldbaek Rasmussen and Gitte Petersen of the Royal Library of Denmark. These outstanding chapters in Part 2 teach us how to diagnose and get a better grasp of usability problems by examining current digital library projects.

The term “digital library” now signifies almost any type of digital collection. The seven chapters in Part 3: “User Studies in the Digital Library Universe: What Else Needs to be Considered?” seek to explore complex issues which digital library designers face, and present examples from a variety of digital library domains towards a sustainable future. In the first chapter, Paul Clough of the University of Sheffield, UK, discusses the challenges regarding multilingual access to multimedia collections. The value of bringing children into the design and evaluation process of digital libraries is studied by Ian Ruthven and Andreas Lingnau of the University of Strathclyde, UK, and Monica Landoni of the University of Lugano in Switzerland. Jeffery K. Guin examines user engagement and the significance of social media and Web 2.0 in the context of five digital libraries, including case studies on the Library of Congress, Miami University Library, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), The National Library of Australia’s Trove Initiative [1], and the University of Houston Library. These case studies are all of a superior quality, and I would recommend them warmly to those willing to delve into them. Similarly, the case study method is used here to provide a deeper understanding of evidence-based digital library design practice. In the following chapters, Kathleen Menzies and Duncan Birrell discuss user studies and digital preservation, and Lina Petrakieva of Glasgow Caledonian University, UK, addresses the challenges of using mobile devices for accessing and manipulating data available from digital libraries. She underlines the importance of mobile devices as the key to enhancing user experience and igniting innovation, as they are capable of facilitating constant interaction between the user and digital content.

Traditional libraries have been at the centre of providing access to educational resources for centuries. However, the boundaries of library services have been progressively expanded as the knowledge universe has experienced the advent of technology and particularly the World Wide Web. Digital libraries are playing a significant role at the centre of this new and demanding scholarly communication context. Zsuzsanna Varga of the University of Oxford examines the importance of using digital libraries in tertiary education by giving examples from the collections containing digitised East European travel writing. Nicola Osborne of the University of Edinburgh also discusses digital libraries in the developing educational or e-learning context.

Part 4: “User Studies Across the Cultural Heritage Sector” has six chapters that present user studies in different contexts. Derek Law examines user studies in libraries; while Wendy M. Duff of the University of Toronto presents user studies in archives, and Susan Hazan of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem discusses user studies in museum settings.  The importance of context in facilitating user-centred design is illustrated in these different settings. Within a more specific domain, Leo Konstantelos of the University of Glasgow offers a compelling investigation on the perspectives of users regarding digital art online. In the same vein, Andy O’Dwyer of the BBC examines user-related issues regarding audiovisual collections within digital library development. Open access or public access to information has become more important and constitutes a major trend, particularly for digital cultural heritage resources.  In the last chapter of Part 4, Harry Verwayen  of Europeana and Martijn Arnoldus of Creative Commons Netherlands offer a business model perspective on the benefits of open sharing and open distribution of cultural heritage  resources. This is an important chapter for those readers interested in open access and open distribution of digital library content.

The concluding chapter in Part 5: “Putting it All Together” is written by the editors and offers a cross-sectional look at user studies in digital library settings by touching upon all the nuances mentioned by the chapter contributors. In particular, the editors provide guidelines shaped by their real-world digital library design experience that can foster better and more powerful research designs practice. Furthermore, table 24.1 (p. 250-251) is an excellent outline for research design for anyone who is planning to conduct a user study. From methodological, theoretical, and empirical perspectives, it serves as a superb model for researchers in user-centred frameworks.

Digital libraries work at multiple layers and the user is the most important component of the overall design process at all levels. In this book, the 17 case studies are the obvious strong points linking theory with practice. These case studies acknowledge real-life challenges in designing usable digital libraries and provide readers with specific examples to analyse.

To sum up: I commend this book strongly, particularly to those readers who want to improve their understanding of user studies and digital library development from a real-world perspective. This is a significant contribution to the field.

List of Chapters

Chapter 1 Introduction: user studies for digital library development

Chapter 2 Models that inform digital library design
Chapter 3 User-centric studies
Chapter 4 Design issues and user needs
Chapter 5 Users within the evaluation of digital libraries

Chapter 6 Questionnaires, interviews and focus groups as means for user engagement with evaluation of digital libraries
Chapter 7 Expert evaluation methods
Chapter 8 Evidence of user behaviour: deep log analysis
Chapter 9 An eye-tracking approach to the evaluation of digital libraries
Chapter 10 Personas

Chapter 11 User-related issues in multilingual access to multimedia collections
Chapter 12 Children and digital libraries
Chapter 13 User engagement and social media
Chapter 14 Significant others: user studies and digital preservation
Chapter 15 The shift to mobile devices
Chapter 16 Resource discovery for research and course design
Chapter 17 Support for users within an educational or e-learning context

Chapter 18 User studies in libraries
Chapter 19 User studies in archives
Chapter 20 User studies in museums: holding the museum in the palm of your hand
Chapter 21 Digital art online: perspectives on user needs, access, documentation and retrieval
Chapter 22 User studies for digital libraries’ development: audiovisual collections
Chapter 23 A business-model perspective on end-users and open metadata

Chapter 24 And now … to the brave real world


1. Rose Holley. "Trove: Innovation in Access to Information in Australia". July 2010, Ariadne Issue 64 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue64/holley/

Author Details

Dr Selenay Aytac
Associate Professor
Library Faculty
Long Island University

Email: selenay.aytac@liu.edu

Dr. Selenay Aytac is an associate professor at Long Island University, NY. She is also an adjunct professor for the Knowledge Organization courses at Pratt Institute, NY and Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain.