Tefko Saracevic pointed out that “users have many difficulties with digital libraries.” As a librarian or a librarian to be, how would you address Saracevic’s concerns?
– they usually do not fully understand them
– they hold different conception of a digital library from operators or designers
– they lack familiarity with the range of capabilities, content and interactions provided by a digital library.
– they often engage in blind alley interactions.
Saracevic brought up these concerns specifically as examples of the versus hypothesis. This hypothesis states that digital libraries and digital library users are on opposite sides of a fence with their assumptions about the other side going unchecked. So any needs from one side are not being addressed by the other simply because the “other” is unknown.
The chapters in Evaluating Digital Libraries: A User-Friendly Guide mentions user focus groups as a survey method used for answering questions about user perspectives and recommended enhancements, it might also help to understand the public preconceptions about the library. It also mentions usability inspections (using real world terms rather than jargon, making actions visible, ensuring that there is help text and basic documentation about the site) which would help to bridge the gap between the two sides. One of the things that I’ve learned from using databases and other online portals to information is that having an introductory paragraph about the purpose and contents of the site and help text in plain English that is specific to page the user is on really helps to set expectations and to assist the user in using the site.
The importance of making sure to evaluate your work as you go is outlined well by Morse, and making sure to involve users and evaluate as you build can help to mitigate the alienation of your audience. Once the library is live; the librarians could monitor usage, and to ensure that you’re getting the truth rather than the reported use, you could track a user through their interactions with the site. The users chosen would have to be anonymous and picked at random, but it would help the library to determine what users are coming to the site to find and whether or not they’re finding that item. It would also help to determine true user workflows for testing after enhancements or upgrades.
Three popular methods for usability evaluation are focus group, ethnography, and survey. Please describe your experience in any of these, if any. Otherwise, please describe their pros and cons of each method within the context of digital library evaluation.
I have a lot of experience with focus groups when it comes to IT implementations. Focus groups are excellent, but they’re difficult to control. People with strong emotions about a topic will overpower the group and potentially shut out people with dissenting opinions. I’ve found that it’s best to get individual opinions through surveys so that you can address specific concerns or opinions with the group. It is also really easy to get sidetracked with a focus group, so having an agenda and specific questions for the group is very important, you can’t just allow it to be a free-form conversation.