User Needs Assessments–Woohoo!

I really enjoyed 2 of this week’s articles in particular, “Designing a music digital library: discovering what people really want” and “The people in digital libraries: multifaceted approaches to assessing needs and impact.” I like that both articles had a practical, real-world focus when examining prototypes of digital libraries and trying to analyze what users are really looking for.

By examining a popular music forum website and comparing it to the Meldex digital music library, the authors of the first article discovered elements of the user component that the Meldex digital library didn’t offer: interaction and information exchanges with other music fans. I thought it was especially interesting that the Meldex system offered a search-by-humming feature that users were not taking advantage of, and that the authors found many users preferred to browse or ask other people when trying to track down a particular song.

In the second article, the needs assessments for the three prototype digital libraries also revealed some interesting themes. The second case study featured, the Baltimore Learning Community, revealed that teachers really didn’t have the time to invest in creating and sustaining the digital library. The third case discussing user needs assessments for the National Digital Library project also showed gaps between what media-specialists and teachers thought would be most useful for them. I think this just goes to show that while DL designers and creators may think they are filling a need for a particular user group, confirming this with a wide variety of potential users in the community can save a lot of time and money!

I loved the quote from the “People in digital libraries” article, “An inherent limitation in directly assessing the human needs for an innovation is the fact that potential users must imagine what the innovation can and will do for them. This is very difficult to do and innovators often justify adopting a “build it and they will come” policy based on their own imaginations of needs and applications” (Marchioni, et al).

My takeaway from these two articles was that DL designers need to balance “build it and they will come” with a thorough understanding of what users really say they need and want.

Evaluating Digital Collections

After this week’s course readings by the DELOS Working Group, Ying Zhang, Tefko Saracevic, and the NISO Framework, I am excited to learn more about Nielsen’s heuristic evaluation methods and start evaluating a few collections.

After examining resources and background information for this week’s Information Package, the idea of defining digital library criteria in a way that many researchers can agree on and, more importantly, specifying how those criteria will be measured or assessed, seems to be the biggest challenge.

The Information Retrieval aspect of digital libraries is relatively well established, but the User-Centered approach is filled with criteria that, until now, have been seen as largely subjective.

Some of the criteria discussed in Zhang’s article, “Developing a holistic model for digital library evaluation,” such as “ease of use,” “courtesy,” and “attractiveness” could vary enormously among individuals.

How can researchers ensure, when discussing these concepts with users, librarians, or designers, that everyone is talking about the same thing?

Perhaps detailed surveys with numerical rating systems (such as a 1-5 scale) and a definition of each criteria before each question would be one way to begin to define these criteria more narrowly.

More Digital Library Challenges: Preservation and Standardization

In my first discussion post, I touched on some questions I have regarding the maintenance of digital libraries—specifically who is trained to maintain them or migrate them as technology evolves.

In this week’s readings, Suleman and Fox (2001) write, “Most DLs are intended to be quick solutions to urgent community needs—so not much thought goes into planning for future redeployment of the systems.” This is understandable given how exciting new technologies can be—every organization wants to have a flashy webpage and start putting content on the web. Yet as we are quickly discovering, electronic formats do not necessarily mean an item is preserved! You could even argue that in some cases it takes more man-hours to care for digital items that it does for low-tech books and periodicals, since electronic items need to be migrated and webpages can disappear after a few years.

A prime example of this: in reading the articles for our week 3 Info Package project, I wanted to check out some supplementary material the author, Ying Zhang refers to in her article “Developing a Holistic Model for Digital Library Evaluation.” The links to this supplementary material no longer work, however, though the article was only published in 2010.

The technologies behind building a digital library are fairly similar, but as we can see from Pyrounakis and Nikolaidou’s article, “Comparing Open Source Digital Library Software,” there are still some significant differences among DL software systems, especially at the conceptual level of how they allow an “object” or “item” to be constructed and defined. These differences seem to indicate that standardization has not yet been agreed upon in this still-young field.

One reason for this, as the “DELOS Manifesto” points out, is that the various disciplines contributing to or using DLs have varying perspectives on what they want from a DL, tinged by the perspectives in their particular discipline. This isn’t a bad thing—but it does make creating standardization across the field more challenging.

Finally, a little plug for our student ASIS&T group: this past week’s Tech Bytes talk was given by Beth Tillinghast of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, whose digital repository uses DSpace. You can view the recording of her talk here: .


Candela, L., Castelli, D., Pagano, P. & Thanos, C. (2007). Setting the Foundations of Digital Libraries. D-Lib Magazine 13(3/4).

Pyrounakis, G. & Nikolaidou, M. (2009) Comparing Open Source Digital Library Software. Handbook of Research on Digital Libraries: Design, Development and Impact. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Suleman, H. & Fox, E. A. (2001). A framework for building open digital libraries. D-Lib Magazine, 7(12).

Maintenance of Digital Collections, or “I built this awesome digital library…Bye!”

Now that I have read some of the introductory material in How to Build a Digital Library for LIS 4804: Digital Objects and Collections, I am really excited about all of the potential applications digital libraries could have—there are so many useful bits of information, audio recordings, videos, etc. that could be made available to the public. Particularly at the level of local communities, you could have a digital library of chamber of commerce meetings, or media snippets about your organization, or a digital library of kids’ performances at a particular elementary school. There are so many possible applications.

But this begs the question—who is going to take care of all of this? I can see a lot of useful applications that are separate from library contexts. It’s easy to imagine a motivated person setting up a digital library for a non-profit or school and then no one else knows how to update or maintain the system. This happens pretty regularly for websites—and we can all attest to how frustrating it is when you encounter an outdated “shell” of a website.

I have been brainstorming some possible uses for the digital library project we will create for LIS 4804. But a lot of the ideas I have for useful, practical projects mean we students would either have to continue to update the library for free, or teach someone how to maintain the digital library.

Here are the ideas for our final project that I have had so far:

Create a digital video library for the ASIS&T@DU recordings of TechBytes talks. The videos from TechBytes are currently posted on the club’s Portfolio page, but as more talks are recorded, it would help to have them better organized and preserved! Here’s what it looks like now:

Create an online collection for DU’s Anthropology Museum. The museum website has a couple of little things online right now: but there is no comprehensive way to look at pictures of the holdings. I toured the museum’s back room a few months ago and they have some incredible fabric and ceramic pieces. It would probably be too much to try to post something for each item (they have thousands of artifacts), but I think it would be possible to build a digital collection of artifacts from a particular donor or field project.

Create a library for the DU Creative Commons Flikr stream. Take a look at it here: These are photos submitted by study abroad students or taken by students in photography classes or working for University Communications. Almost all of the photos can be freely distributed and many campus organizations use them for their websites and social media sites. They are not very well organized, though!

Create a digital collection of some holdings from the Cable Center or the Lamont music library. Does the music library have video or audio of student performances?

It seems to me that for larger projects, like institutional repositories, automation would be essential to a successful digital library, especially as the project grows in popularity. For smaller digital libraries, there needs to be easy documentation for others to maintain, add, delete, and update the library. There might need to be several people with administrative privileges to be able to make changes and updates. But the system would need to be easy enough that a well-meaning “admin” doesn’t accidentally break it.

I am very curious to see what the Omeka experience is like. If a completed library could be as easy to update or maintain as Google Sites, or Weebly, it would be a huge step forward for small, understaffed organizations!

Let me know what you think!