Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Where Do We Start and What Do Our Users Really Want?

Thanks to everyone for commenting. It is important to acknowledge that people begin searches differently and that these processes change according to the task at hand. Searching for information is personal and so we definitely want to select tools that can be customized by our users.

I asked you to describe how you begin a search for information to stress the importance of focusing on the user and making decisions based on their needs. The comments revealed two common threads in how you search for information. Many start their searches with a search engine and many value recommendations from trusted peers in social networks. Let's take a look at some recent studies to give us a rough idea of how our students might compare.

According to OCLC's 2005 report, College Students' Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources, 89 percent of college student information searches begin with a search engine. Library Web sites were selected by only 2 percent of students as a place to begin an information search. Search engines were rated higher than libraries in the areas of reliability, cost-effectiveness, ease of use, convenience, and speed. So it seems that many of our users might agree with Sue in that whatever they use "it's got to be simple and FAST."

Only 2 percent of college students are starting searches at library Web sites, but this doesn't mean that the aren't using libraries. The recent PEW Internet study, Information Searches that Solve Problems, found that young adults (18-29) are the heaviest users of libraries when looking for information to solve problems. They are also the most likely visitors to the library for any purpose and especially value access to computers and the Internet.

So, if we know we have young adults in our libraries (I sure know they are in College Library!), how do we get them to use library resources? Well, we can start by asking them how they would improve library tools and by paying attention to what they already use.

Researchers at Idaho University Libraries conducted focus groups with undergraduate library users and asked them to describe a "dream information machine." The students imagined a machine that was a "mind reader," that was "intuitive," and could determine information needs without them having to verbalize them. The "dream machine" would be able to solve all of their information needs by searching a comprehensive collection of information resources. The ideal information source would also be portable and always available. What would your ideal information source look like?

Where does social networking fit in to all of this? Many of you reported that you start a search for information by consulting with a respected peer either in person or online. Does this mean that librarians should be in social networking sites or that social networking should be in the catalog? There will probably never be a consensus about whether or not librarians should be in Facebook and MySpace. The recent University of Michigan Library Web Survey found that 23% of library users would be interested in contacting a librarian in Facebook or Myspace, nearly half wouldn't be interested in contacting a librarian this way, and the rest don't use social networking sites. Many librarians in the blogosphere took this to mean that we shouldn't be in social networking sites. To me, this means that I should be in social networking sites for the 23% interested in talking to me (as long as I'm not stalking those that don't). Let's wait and see how our users feel about enriching the catalog with user reviews and ratings before we make any assumptions there.

The Resource Discovery Task Force does plan to conduct user surveys and focus groups to get a better idea of what our users value. Let's talk more about user needs and how to fill them at our open forum on Thursday, January 31 from 12:30 - 1:30 in Memorial 126.

Happy first day of class!

1 comment:

Amanda Werhane said...

Forwarding a related message:

The Duke University Libraries are preparing a proposal for the Mellon Foundation to convene the academic library community to design an open source Integrated Library System (ILS). We are not focused on developing an actual system at this stage, but rather blue-skying on the elements that academic libraries need in such a system and creating a blueprint. Right now, we are trying to spread the word about this project and find out if others are interested in the idea.

We feel that software companies have not designed Integrated Library Systems that meet the needs of academic libraries, and we don’t think those companies are likely to meet libraries’ needs in the future by making incremental changes to their products. Consequently, academic libraries are devoting significant time and resources to try to overcome the inadequacies of the expensive ILS products they have purchased.

Frustrated with current systems, library users are abandoning the ILS and thereby giving up access to the high quality scholarly resources libraries make available.
Our project would define an ILS centered on meeting the needs of modern academic libraries and their users in a way that is open, flexible, and modifiable as needs change. The design document would provide a template to inform open source ILS development efforts, to guide future ILS implementations, and to influence current ILS vendor products. We would use the grant to fund a series of planning meetings, with broad participation in some of those meetings and a smaller, core group of schools developing the actual design requirements document.

At this stage, we're seeking feedback on our ideas and finding out who might be interested in participating, prior to our formal submission of the proposal to the Mellon Foundation in early March. We would greatly appreciate your responses to the following questions.

1) Does designing an open source ILS seem like something worth exploring for academic libraries?
2) Given the information above about the proposed project, is your institution interested in:
-- staying informed of our progress? -- contributing time and effort to the planning process, even if only through the first or second workshops?
-- possibly being one of the core schools that participates throughout the full planning and writing process?

3) If you have any initial feedback on our ideas, we would love to hear it!

Thank you for your interest and considering this opportunity to work with us on this project. If your answer is yes to number two above, we will be contacting you to further explore participation. Please respond to openlib@duke.edu