What do users need?

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Lately I find myself pursuing clarity on how we should efficiently and effectively provide primary source materials online. Without a better feedback loop, how can we possibly address this issue?

The panel I chaired (Exploring the User Experience with Digital Primary Sources at the Society of American Archivists 2013 annual meeting on August 15th was very well received. Here’s more information about it:

More and more, many of us are focusing on providing online access to special collections and archives materials. At the same time, funding is dropping, so we need to ensure what we’re doing is effective and efficient.

There are multiple questions that we need to answer, such as:

  • Who are our users?
  • What are they doing on our sites?
  • What do we need to change, in order to meet their needs?

Each of our presenters approached one or more of these questions in a different way:

(My report on this conference is available here.)

My last few forays into user studies, complete with lit reviews, have left me certain that we need best practices for how best to perform our assessments. So I contacted some folks I highly respect and proposed a working session at the upcoming 2013 Digital Library Federation (DLF) Forum. Our proposal, “Hunting for Best Practices in Digital Library Assessment,” will take place on Monday, November 4, 2013, from 1:30 to 3:00 PM. Here’s the session description:

Research and cultural heritage institutions are increasingly focused on providing online access to digital special collections and archives. Since funding to these institutions is simultaneously decreasing, we need to strategically focus our efforts, and better understand and measure their value, impact, and associated costs.

However, methods in digital libraries are not yet standardized for identifying user groups; measuring usage, impact, cost and value; obtaining feedback; or analyzing results. As a result, findings cannot effectively be generalized.

What strategic information do we need to collect in order to make intelligent decisions? How can we best collect, analyze, and communicate that information effectively?

Examples of efforts to address these questions will be shared by panelists, along with problems encountered. Audience participants will be asked to help brainstorm how best to standardize evaluation methods. We are testing the waters for the potential of a collaborative effort to build community guidelines for best practices in digital library assessment. By the end of the session, we hope to have consensus on the main areas of need for establishing assessment best practices, as well as at least one actionable idea for moving towards this objective.

My esteemed co-presenters for this working session include:

  • Sherri Berger, California Digital Library
  • Joyce Chapman, State Library of North Carolina
  • Cristela Garcia-Spitz, University of California, San Diego
  • Lauren Menges, University of North Carolina

If you are interested, I hope you will join us there!

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