Since we’re in the business of providing online access to primary source (unpublished!) materials, it only makes sense to wonder how effectively researchers can use our content. However, since most digital library interfaces share many commonalities — search, browse, results lists, display of content, etc. — we might as well generalize the study, so our results can be useful more broadly in the field.
With this in mind, we designed a qualitative user study for which we are now seeking faculty researchers as volunteers. We will ask each participant to identify 1-3 online databases (of primary source materials) that he or she uses for research on a regular basis. For each one, we will ask the participant to show us how he or she uses it, and tell us at each step what he or she likes, and what just doesn’t work. We’ll be watching to see what other software he or she uses and how. For example, does she have to key in information to another document, because she can’t export what he needs in the right format? Is he copy/pasting content into some other software, so he can search across materials he’s collected from multiple sources?
We hope our discoveries will suggest useful, helpful modifications that can be made to online databases of primary source materials, and perhaps tools that need to be developed to make the researcher’s work easier and less time consuming.
We don’t know what we’ll find, but stay tuned! This should be interesting! This study takes place in the spring, and we hope to have results analyzed by the end of May 2013.