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Editorial Introduction to Issue 63: Consider the Users in the Field

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Richard Waller introduces Ariadne issue 63.

For those who can either remember or are battling still to make the technology work, be it coding, integration or test, it is easy and understandable enough if the technology assumes an overwhelming profile on the horizon of one's project and daily work. It is very understandable when they privately grumble that colleagues unburdened with the minutiae of such work display a breath-taking insouciance to the consequences of asking for a change in spec because there has been an unexpected development in the requirements of the users. Of course, the more philosophical among them will sigh and say the latter is what they are trying to deliver, though naturally they are right to ask why the change was not raised 14 iterations ago.. The ideal is to capture them from the outset and consequently understanding the users' behaviour and needs, all of them, is a crucial time-saving approach. The theme of the user, or more widely the stakeholder, is one that has emerged quite strongly in this issue. Diana Massam, Andrew Priest and Caroline Williams are clearly very occupied with the needs of the users of the online Internet Detective tutorial and clearly applaud the approach JISC is taking towards community building in its Rapid Innovations projects, of which theirs is one. They also indicate that expectations of providers concerning students' degree of use of mobile technologies in their work may be in advance of the actual usage for a variety of very understandable reasons. In the area of Archives 2.0 Marta Nogueira demonstrates the moves among a number of high-profile institutions, with particular reference to the Iberian Peninsula, to meet users' interest in social networking sites as a means of better engagement and she points to some of the tensions and mis/perceptions that exist in that area and the increase in the involvement of enthusiastic 'non'-experts. The contribution by Lorraine Paterson and Boon Low is of course completely focused on usability as you would expect from a description of their JISC-funded project Usability and Contemporary User Experience in Digital Libraries (UX2.0). Likewise John Paschoud's contribution points to the greater complexity of granting access to libraries in the digital age than in the days when, if users were not students, then they were staff. I am particularly indebted to Brian Whalley, Professor of Geomorphology at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queens University, Belfast, who, having already reviewed for us a work which helps library and information science staff at Higher Education institutions to support their research students but then manages to deliver a review of how the new iPad can be employed by educators literally in the field like himself to support the work of their students. In an entirely different context, but still warm to this theme, is the landscape of stakeholder interests depicted by Monika Segbert-Elbert and David Fuegi in their article on planning the future of the National Library of Mongolia. Perhaps most significant of all is how the integral consideration of stakeholders was not only a central issue in the project described by Jim Ridolfo, William Hart-Davidson and Michael McLeod but was also instrumental in creating a far better understanding of the community behind that project and its varying needs, an understanding which ensured that they did not design a solution based, as it were, on the wrong questions.

In Mobilising the Internet Detective, Diana Massam, Andrew Priest and Caroline Williams identify a concerted move towards mobile technologies in libraries. The aim of the Mobile Internet Detective Project was to adapt Intute's well respected and popular online Internet Detective tutorial to develop a prototype application suitable for access on a mobile device. Building on previous experience among their colleagues at Mimas, the project team soon identified very differing needs and behaviour demonstrated by mobile surfers and by desktop surfers. The authors welcomed the new approach JISC was applying to its Rapid Innovations projects, with an emphasis on community building sustained by blogging with tagged posts and code sharing. In conducting investigations into users' behaviour, they discovered through their survey that students used their mobiles for academic activity only infrequently, for want of large screens, mobile-compliant sites and free Internet access. Furthermore, Mobile surfers expressed a preference for displays limited to 1 page. Given that the authors point to the usefulness of audio podcasts and video files, it is not surprising that the initial response of the project was to offer a podcast version as a low-cost access option. In considering the response to mobile users' needs, they realised that even where Web sites are well-formed, the pace of change means that the option to do nothing will not serve projects for very long. The project's decision therefore (from a range of options) was to opt for a mobile-specific Web site, designed to re-direct users to the relevant device-specific location. The authors provide some key tips on how to adapt sites to mobile phones. In conclusion, when reviewing the lessons learned, the authors noted drawbacks such as the difficulty in obtaining feedback; and the tendency of the original content to become disconnected from the new mobile-specific sites, for example with respect to outbound links and the need to suppress images. They were forced to consider that they might have done better to start from scratch but note that much was learnt from the process on how to organise online material both for mobiles and more traditional platforms.

Asking Don't You Know Who I Am?, John Paschoud takes us back to the days when granting access was a very simple face-to-face process and reveals some of the complexities that pertained even then. He goes on to identify the problems that persist in digital authorisation. In describing the role of digital identity management, John explains that, as with physical identification, it is the exceptions to the general rule of admitting an institution's students and staff that create the difficulties. Given these complexities in the digital context, JISC has funded research in identity management, funding the Identity Project which identified the tools, guidance and standards that even the larger HEIs would need. As a result the online Identity Management Toolkit was established to provide HEIs with just such support. John highlights the Toolkit's advice for dealing with institutional delays to setting up staff or student accounts by shifting responsibility closer to the relevant administrative department, and also the role of the library in handling the people who do not readily conform to the usual access profile. In its advice the Identity Management Toolkit has also addressed other issues such as provision of wi-fi to the entitled users who are neither students nor staff and notably that of the emerging role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO), a development many HEIs may see as a necessary response to changing times in their environment. In his conclusion John sets out how an aggregation of ID management processes could not only cut down duplication of effort but also remove the overpowering to cry, 'Don't you know who I am?'

As Lorraine Paterson and Boon Low point out at the beginning of their article Usability Inspection of Digital Libraries it is yet to be a commonplace event that usability studies and digital library development naturally go hand-in-hand. Part of their JISC-funded project Usability and Contemporary User Experience in Digital Libraries (UX2.0) has involved usability inspection and research on contemporary user experience techniques. Their article highlights the findings of the usability inspection work recently conducted and reported by UX2.0. They offer discussion points as a general resource which may be 'useful for the JISC Community and beyond'. The core of their inspection rests on a process of heuristic evaluation which exploits the criteria derived from the Usability Heuristics by Jakob Nielsen and ISO Heuristics 9241. In addition they consider such aspects as advanced search , interaction design patterns, navigation, and no doubt of considerable interest to many, the associated developments with regard to social networking.

Engaging with stakeholder communities on their Samaritan Digital Archive Project at Michigan State University soon emerged as a priority for Jim Ridolfo, William Hart-Davidson and Michael McLeod and they came to recognise that Archive 2.0 technologies would have their part to play. Describing the beginnings of the project in their article Balancing Stakeholder Needs: Archive 2.0 as Community-centred Design, they explain how desk research led Jim Ridolfo to contact with an elder of the Samaritan community and collaboration on a digitisation project. The authors' description of the Samaritan community and its background does much to inform readers of the complexities of establishing effective communication. They saw the work of Archive 2.0 as more about questions of procedure, methodology, and fieldwork. They identified two distinct groups, the cultural stakeholders and Samaritan or biblical scholars. By engaging in detailed communication with them, they learnt important information about the cultural and religious significance of the collection to the Samaritan people. They began to see two kinds of stakeholder emerging, cultural and scholarly stakeholders. By paying close attention to their needs, they were able to advance work on the scope of the project which would ensure that 'the digital archive would help to promote Samaritan studies by making a geographically remote collection widely available. For example, MSU Samaritan scholar Robert Anderson told us that increased access to the MSU collection may have the real potential to attract another generation of scholars to Samaritan studies'. Balancing stakeholders' needs soon emerged as an important strategy in this initial work. The project team recognised that the project fitted well into the WIDE Research Center's mission of investigating 'how digital technologies change the processes, products, and contexts for writing, particularly in organisational and collaborative composing contexts.' Their standard use of user-centred design worked well with the way the project was heading and would allow them to tailor the archive to the needs of each stakeholder community. It soon proved that this approach avoided some erroneous assumptions taking hold at the design stage. Similarly, close consultation with the Archive's future users enabled them to identify the first and telling selection of content. This issue of balance even had a role to play in the creation of metadata, developing metadata sets in line with stakeholders' needs. To implement this and make use of the wider community, they developed the Culturally Centered Metadata Acquisition Tool (CCMAT), a tool which served the needs of that informed amateur stakeholder community. In designing the tool, the team does not underestimate the value of their fieldwork, or face-to-face consultation. They agree with Joy Palmer [1] that Archive 2.0 is 'less about technological change than a broader epistemological shift which concerns the very nature of the archive.' The authors are in no doubt of the value of Archive 2.0 as a means of sharing different perspectives on handling a text. And while they accept 'Negotiating issues of balance in collaborative Archive 2.0 projects is messy, time-consuming work,' they recognise that 'the technology of Archive 2.0 provides the opportunity to build relationships through collaboration and fieldwork'.

I am pleased to be able to welcome Dave Thompson of the Wellcome Library back to our pages; Dave has been keeping us abreast of developments at the Library in handling born-digital materials [2][3]. In this issue he describes the Wellcome Library's approach to the complex subject of the policy to adopt regarding acquisitions. In doing so he highlights the dangers of allowing the tail of technical requirements to wag the dog of a proper archival approach to acquisitions. His article A Pragmatic Approach to Preferred File Formats for Acquisition offers nine principles that the Library has currently adopted in its approach and which may prove of interest to other organisations faced with the competing issues of cost and acquisition value.

I am most grateful to Monika Segbert-Elbert and David Fuegi for describing the intricate task of Planning the Future of the National Library of Mongolia and the work and role that their organisation eIFL.net undertook in the venture in collaboration with a wide range of Mongolian stakeholders. eIFL.net's approach was to work with libraries organised in national consortia and which share many goals; and needed to speak with one voice. The catalysts for the development of the National Library of Mongolia (NLM) was the decision by the Emir of Kuwait in late 2007 to gift a new national library building to the country, together with the development of the eIFL-supported Consortium of Mongolian Libraries in Mongolia. The Emir's generous offer surely concentrated political minds in the land while the Consortium worked to provide a forum and a voice for the nation's library professionals. Monika and David provide a panorama of the interests represented in this project and the importance of working to engender an environment for high-level planning and co-operation. Much of eIFL.net's contribution in the opening stages centred on appropriate planning to this particular context. They also detail the efforts of the NLM and other stakeholders to advance the project. Through a series of workshops the project advanced the composition of a strategic plan for the development of the NLM, engaging with stakeholders along the way. With not inconsiderable effort the national professionals hauled together and refined the Strategic Plan to the point where it could not only be submitted to government for detailed consideration but that it could also be deemed as meeting international standards. The authors emphasise that the Plan was very much the product of the national professionals' work. They also provide a view of the context in which this work was undertaken and the events which surrounded it. They identify not only the importance of establishing strong national partnerships but also that of strengthening links between the NLM and its foreign peers. These developments have generated a number of benefits already, not least of which were a range of new training opportunities. Another major outcome was that 'the National Library of Mongolia has established for the first time an English language Web site to help raise its profile abroad.' Monika and David point equally to the progress that has been made in partnership building in Mongolia but also the lack of certain structures which we in the UK perhaps take for granted. Moreover, this development work has highlighted the need for far-reaching reform of the library sector. Another area in need of input is the inevitable modernisation of services in the digital age and consideration will be required as to how they sit with current IP laws and other legislation in Mongolia. The chief outcome, the Strategic Plan, represents an enormous effort of consultation, decision-making and design, but now speaks with one voice for the shared goals of the library consortia in Mongolia.

Jane Stevenson and Bethan Ruddock explain that Moving towards Interoperability: Experiences of the Archives Hub is about data interoperability, 'the ability to exchange or share information and use that information,' but they point out that such a definition applies equally well to collaboration among individuals and organisations. Indeed their Archives Hub team has been working on a JISC-funded Enhancements Project to promote interoperability through practical means for encouraging data sharing and working collaboratively with colleagues. The authors point to the benefits of interoperability in the archives context and how they will prove very advantageous to researchers, saving them time and resources. In terms of sharing and cross-searching data, however, the authors describe a variety of difficulties including the need to convince stakeholders to prioritise such work. Consequently they welcome the UK Archives Discovery network (UKAD) and explain its aims. They identify some of the problems encountered ranging from lack of resources to solve the difficulties inherent in the integration of data to a continued need for consistency and standards. They also describe collaborative efforts with organisations such as AIM25 and how work with the latter has led to improving workflows in the handling of large volumes of records. Co-operation over the development of an export routine has reduced duplication of effort. From April 2009 work began on improving export from the two most used archival software systems, CALM and Adlib. The team was determined to use real data in order to address as many idiosyncrasies that were thrown up as possible. The aim was to make the export process as widely used as possible without significantly altering repositories' workflows. A useful strategy was to enlist the support of volunteers to contribute a variety of descriptions. It was agreed that the latter would be tidied up only sufficiently to permit export. These contributed data allowed the project to identify the most common problems. The authors mention the problem of index terms in particular. In their response to these problems, the team members visited the contributors of these data and also communicated with the software providers. They have provided both software providers with specifications for a revised and improved version of their specification, to be used both for the Hub and AIM25. Equally they have used the knowledge obtained in the process of handling these data to produce guidelines on export with CALM to the Archives Hub as well as tools to aid export to the Hub. The authors conclude that aggregation services need to 'strike a balance between solidity and flexibility, innovation and reliability,' and that 'in an environment where archive repositories are increasingly stretched and where creating archival descriptions is time-consuming,' they need to ensure the Archives Hub is an effective means of dissemination and cross-searching.

In her article Archives in Web 2.0: New Opportunities Marta Nogueira states that her aim is to describe how Web 2.0 can work as a virtual extension for archives and other cultural organisations, by identifying impacts and benefits resulting from the use of Web 2.0 applications together with some goals and strategies of such use. She lists the benefits of increased registration to channels as well as simple visits. They represent a means of increasing and diversifying audiences as well as raising organisational profiles. Moreover she also points to less quantifiable benefits from usage such as improvements in service to and communication with users as well as improved internal communications. Marta also identifies a 'domino effect' in that adoption by reputable high-profile institutions has a tendency to persuade other organisations to follow their lead. Conversely, she indicates that while adoption among archives and libraries is growing, resistance on the part of some organisations remains, which she attributes, in part, to issues of institutions' perceptions of Web 2.0 technologies. One aspect of the perception issue relates to whether institutions recognise Web 2.0 applications' potential role in organisational promotion. Other objections such as risks to data protection and abuse of information are more concrete in nature. One particular instance Marta supplies is the appearance of institutional pages on Web 2.0 sites without full organisational support. She also identifies factors for the successful adoption of Web 2.0 applications by institutions, indicating that they are similar to those for individual users, but which are best operated under a clear institutional strategy rather than just following a 'fashion.' Marta points out that Web 2.0 apps sit very usefully in any institutional policy on diversification. She highlights how Web 2.0 applications can lead to archives benefiting from concerted interest by engaged and often semi-expert users. She then goes on to provide a description of three high-profile social networking sites, Facebook, Flikr and YouTube, and how institutions in Portugal, Spain and worldwide are making use of them. Of these, Flikr has generated considerable interest among institutions through its creation of the Commons Project whose objectives are detailed by the author. As she states in closing, 'Each application represents an individual context of use and allows a set of specific functionalities within a new rationale of democratisation in the production of content and access.'

As usual, we offer our At the Event section, as well as reviews on 97 things every software architect should know, information science in transition, library mashups, a work which helps library and information science staff at Higher Education Institutions to support their research students and a very welcome late addition from Brian Whalley who has therefore review ed twice for Ariadne this issue, initial impressions of the new Apple iPad in the first three weeks since its release in the USA and what it has to offer the mobile educator. In addition of course we provide our usual section of news and events. In addition of course we provide our usual section of news and events.

I hope you will enjoy Issue 63.

References

  1. Palmer, J., "Archives 2.0: If We Build It, Will They Come?", July 2009, Ariadne Issue 60 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue60/palmer/
  2. "Collecting Born Digital Archives at the Wellcome Library", Christopher Hilton and Dave Thompson, January 2007, Ariadne Issue 50
    http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue50/hilton-thompson/
  3. "Further Experiences in Collecting Born Digital Archives at the Wellcome Library", Christopher Hilton and Dave Thompson, October 2007, Ariadne Issue 53
    http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue53/hilton-thompson/

Author Details

Richard Waller
Ariadne Editor

Email: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/

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Date published: 
30 April 2010

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How to cite this article

Richard Waller. "Editorial Introduction to Issue 63: Consider the Users in the Field". April 2010, Ariadne Issue 63 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue63/editorial/


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