Researching Usability

Posts Tagged ‘digital library

Thank you to everyone who managed to attend the Scottish Usability Professionals Association event last night. We hope that the presentation was informative and look forward to the possibility of presenting the project findings next year. The presentation slides are now available below:

Any additional questions can be asked by leaving a comment below.

As mentioned in a previous blog, a review of how libraries are currently engaging with Web 2.0 was proposed as part of the ongoing research for Workpackage 2. This is not currently top priority for the project which means the blogs will be published over a period of time. However, this first part of the review introduces the data gathering method and some of the current theory of attitudes towards Twitter.

MinXuan Lee  wrote about the 5 Stages of Twitter Acceptance in her side-show, ‘How Twitter Changed My Life’. She effectively describes the range of behaviours typically displayed by people to represent their experience of Twitter. Each stage, Denial, Presence, Dumping, Conversing, and Microblogging, map attitudes towards Twitter before using it, through to its use for ‘true microblogging’.  Users can often identify with these stages at some point during their experience. Rightly or wrongly, some users may only aspire to ‘dumping’ and not have the desire to ‘converse’ or write a microblog. This review hopes to find out what stage of acceptance Twitter libraries are currently at. Furthermore, the findings will suggest which libraries are more successful on Twitter and the reasons behind it. This will provide other libraries with an idea on how to get the best from Twitter and ensure that it meets their needs.

Information was gathered on a random sample of libraries with existing Twitter accounts. The accounts were predominantly provided through the Libraries and Web 2.0 Wiki and CILIP’s Twitter Libraries List. Thirty libraries were selected which had their own dedicated Twitter accounts. Any accounts which served a wider audience such as a council were not included. Data was gathered on each library using between 22nd and 26th March 2010. Using this tool in addition to Twitter it was possible to gathering the following information:

  • Number of followers
  • Number following
  • Number of lists user’s have created
  • Number of tweets to date
  • Does the library retweet content created by others?
  • Does the library reply to tweets?
  • What Twitter clients does the library use to create tweets (in order of use)?
  • Date joined Twitter (month/year)
  • Does the library have a Facebook page?
  • Does the library have a Flikr page?
  • Does the library have any other social media accounts, if so what?
  • Does the library have their own blog or news feed with comment facility?

The initial data was gathered and placed on the UX2 wiki page for everyone to access.

A number of questions arose while conducting the research which will be discussed in future blog posts. More questions will hopefully be added as they arise:

  • Do libraries advertise their Twitter account (and other social media pages) elsewhere e.g on the library website?
  • If libraries have few followers, is there a reason for this? If so what?
  • What are the most popular Twitter clients used among libraries?
  • Is the level of engagement among libraries related to the type of twitter client they use?
  • To what extent do libraries ‘Converse’ using Twitter?
  • Which level of ‘Twitter Acceptance’ are most libraries aligned to?
  • What should libraries do if they want to engage more with people on Twitter?

Some initial findings are that many libraries are using Twitter mainly as a broadcast medium and less as a microblogging medium. Also that a high number of libraries are still using to communicate and not 3rd party client managers.

Re-visiting the definition of a digital library

This week has been pretty busy, filled with lots of meetings and preparation for the project meeting which we are hosting on the 15th December. This week ux2 have been re-visiting the definition of the digital library and came to the (perhaps obvious) conclusion that it is something which cannot be tied down to one definitive version.  I’ve been reading ‘Evaluation of Digital Libraries: an insight into useful applications and methods’ Edited by Giannis Tsakonas and Christos Papatheodorou. The definition by Jesse H. Shera mentioned in the introduction was one which resonated with me as it seemed to touch on what we are trying to achieve in our project:

…contributing to the total communication system in society…

Though the library is an instrumentality created to maximise the utility of graphic records for the benefit of society, it achieves that goal by working with the individual and through the individual it reaches society.  (Shera, 1972:48)

Too often it feels like definitions concentrate on the technical parameters of a digital library and in differentiating it from the traditional library. This idea describes a common goal of both traditional and digital libraries; the interaction with individuals and society. Including users in the evaluation of a digital library is something which we hope to do at each stage in the project because social and individual benefits and feedback between them are important criteria to evaluate. Whatever definition used, there seem to be four critical elements which should be present in addition to the digitised format for a digital library to be correctly labelled: curation, preservation, archiving and cataloguing.

Interactive Information Retrieval (IIR)

Another term which was discussed during the meeting was Interactive Information Retrieval. It came up during the Designing User Interface tutorial which ux2 attended at ECDL09. Some of the examples discussed involved multifaceted ways of retrieving information. I started to think that there might be a better term for describing these particular interfaces because IIR can describe most forms of interaction with digital libraries from simple to complex and unique. A term was floated which might better describe IIR which uses multi-faceted/web2.0 interaction: Immersive Interactive Information Retrieval (I²R)? The dictionary defines Immersive as “pertaining to immersing or plunging into something”. I think this could describe the synchronous interaction that takes place when using web2.0 technology because the interaction is immediate and does not have to stop and start, keeping the user’s experience fluid and continuous. If there is an existing term for the type of interaction I am talking about I would be interested to find out.


For some Friday fun I thought I would share a few word clouds that I generated through the services Wordle and Tweet Cloud. I’ve known about Worlde for a while but never used it in anger. Earlier this week I heard people at the Online09 conference tweeting about the idea of using it in conjunction with a CV which seemed like a good idea. This got me thinking about it as a good way of quickly communicating information to someone to give them a snapshot of someone’s ideas and interests. I therefore decided to create one for this blog and for my delicious links to see what patterns were emerging. I’ve provided the resulting images below.

Twitter Cloud does the same kind of thing, grabbing data from all your tweets over a specified period (day/week/month/year). The clouds aren’t quite as impressive as the Wordle ones and you can’t customise the design yet but its a great idea and something which I imagine will grow in interest as people seek to analyse their tweets. As I will be marking my first anniversary using Twitter on the 9th Dec, I thought it would be appropriate to include a cloud from a year of tweets to see what it looked like. I was pleased to discover that the three most used words were: usability, thanks and blog! 🙂

Wordle blog

Wordle delicious links

Twitter Cloud: a year of tweets

Scran Background

Scran is a multimedia digital library providing a database of items from museums, galleries, archives and media across Scotland. It provides limited access to users for free. Those who pay a fee to subscribe can have full access to all services including the social network, Scribble.


Resource discovery

Scran provide another search feature in addition to the advanced search called ‘Fielded’ search. This appears to be similar to the advanced search but it is not made clear to the user what the purpose of this search is and how it differs from advanced search.  This does not meet Heuristic 2: Match between the system and the real world which recommends that words and phrases should be used that are familiar to the user. In addition, the links within both search forms that start a new search are not clearly identifiable. The design of the ‘Go’ link means that it does not look like a link and could be overlooked (see image). The close proximity of a ‘Clear’ link could cause users to accidentally wipe their search and force them to start again. The design of the forms are not forgiving for the user as highlighted by ISO heuristics and do not prevent potential errors from happening as recommended in Heuristic 5.Scran design


Scran also does not use faceted navigation, instead providing paginated results which users can navigate. This alternative system does not allow users to manipulate the results in the same way as other navigation systems, limiting user control (Heuristic 3). Scran does allow users to re-order results and increase the number of results presented per page. This helps to speed up time on task and therefore meets the ISO heuristics which recommend controllability and customisation.

Presentation of search results

The results are displayed in a ‘gallery’ presentation style with thumbnail images and text displayed in a grid formation. Where images are not available a replacement graphic is provided to categorise the type of information e.g. pathfinder pack. Unlike WDL and Europeana, Scran does not provide users with the option to change the view of results from gallery for list. Instead, drop-down menus are provided to allow users to alter the order of results. However, these options are hidden beneath a link titled ‘Search options’ and could therefore benefit from being more visible. Providing this service means that it meets Heuristic 3: User Control and Freedom but does not meet ISO heuristic which asks if it is clear what the user should do next.

Presentation of results in a gallery format can speed up time spent searching but DLs should be weary of a possible disadvantage to this system; the hierarchy of results is less clear, meaning that users may be unsure which results are most relevant. This can potentially conflict with Heuristic 2 (Match between the system and the real world) if the information does not appear in a logical order. Where possible users should be given to choice to display results by list if they wish.

Help and guidance

The help section within Scran can only be located via the Site map when a user is not logged in. Even for members who are logged in, the help section is difficult to find. This makes it harder for users to get help when they need it. This does not meet Heuristic 10: Help documentation which states that help information should be easy to search.  However, if a user does locate the help section, Scran provides useful video tutorials which communicate information in an engaging way and reduce the size of help documentation as also suggested by Heuristic 10.

When a search returns no results, Scran provide sufficient help for users to complete their task. Suggested spelling is provided as well as advice and tips on recovering from an error (see image). As a result, Scran provide a forgiving dialogue (ISO heuristic) which is successful in helping users diagnose and recover from errors (Heuristic 10).Scran tips

Interactive tools

Scran provide a ‘Create’ link next to each image which allows users to interact with images in a unique way. Users can manipulate the image to create a variety of media such as calendars, posters or greeting cards. A step-by-step form allows the users to step through the each option and customise their design (as recommended in Heuristic 3). Creations can then be saved to the site or downloaded in a PDF format. Providing such interactive tools helps to engage the users and allows users to customise information to suit their needs as recommended by the ISO heuristic on individualism.

Social Interaction

The online community service provided by Scran is called Scribble. It is not immediately recognisable from the title what Scribble is and there is very little information for users  to explain Scribble and how it benefits users. Limited information on labels and services means that Scribble does not meet Heuristic 4: Consistency and standards.

Access to Scribble requires a separate password to that used to log in to Scran. It currently uses the login details from ‘Stuff’ which is the service for creating calendars etc.  A link is provided to allow users to do register for Stuff if they have not already done so. However, if a user is already registered and logged into My Stuff, they are still required to log in again for Scribble. This is potentially confusing for users. By conforming to a minimalist design as recommended in Heuristic 8, a streamlined service would be created with one log in required for all Scran services.

Finally, if a user forgets their Scran ‘Stuff’ login a ‘Forgotten Password’ link is provided. However, when this is selected a message is returned that password changing has been disabled. No other information if provided to help users remember their user name and password. This makes it very difficult for those users to be able to log in to Scribble and does not meet Heuristic 9: Help users diagnose and recover from errors.

Personalisation and customisation

My Stuff is the users’ personal section of Scran and opens in a new window. This is potentially confusing for users, especially those using assisted technology such as screen readers. It can cause disorientation for those who are unaware that a new window has opened and prevent them from navigating back to the previous page. Limiting control for the users conflicts with Heuristic 3 (User control and freedom) and providing insufficient feedback to keep users informed of what is going on conflicts with Heuristic 1 (Visibility of system status).

When a user wants to save what they are working on in Scran, they must select the ‘Save’ link below the relevant item. However, when this happens a new window opens and if the user already has the Stuff section open in another window, nothing appears to happen. Users are not provided with sufficient feedback to indicate a change has happened so are less likely to know if their action was completed. Visibility of system status should be maintained to avoid confusion (Heuristic 1). It should also be made clear to users what they should do next (ISO standard: self descriptiveness).

On the whole, the  customisation tools provided by Scran are engaging and increase the usefulness of the material available.  Making some changes to improve the interface would ensure that the tools are intuitive to use and consequently encourage more members to utilise them. bookmarks

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