UX research: balance and iterate

Interesting food for thought in this article published in the Weave Journal of Library UX:

The goal of user experience work, as I see it, is not a purity of methods but a balancing of these methods with a practical effectiveness of outcomes. If ethnography and service design can be understood as poles on a spectrum, with methods on one side and outcomes on the other, then user experience would be my term for the spectrum itself.  – Andy Priestner

I’m not sure I get much out of the idea of user experience as a spectrum between ethnography and service design, but I wholeheartedly agree that the goal of UX work is a balancing of methods more than a purity of methods. This view came up frequently in talks at both this year and last year’s IA Summit. FJ van Wingerde did an especially nice job of synthesizing how all the UX research tools we have are basically problematic, but we still have to use them:

We can do it

I’ve been tracking IT and web design-related jobs in libraries for a while now, but this is the first one I’ve seen that stands out as being so focused on user experience, they even want a terminal degree in HCI or a related field. And just yesterday I was reading the most recent issue of Library Hi Tech (v.29:no.2), which focuses on usability testing. One of the articles in that volume discusses the quality of research being done on user needs in the LIS field. The author, Elke Greifeneder, concludes:

These papers show that the quality of user research in our field is rising, that researchers know how to label and use methods appropriately, and that they are using a greater variety of methods. Finally, researchers seem to acknowledge that user research requires one small step after another. Instead of painting a big picture with a single user study that has many research questions, they do multiple smaller in-depth research projects, which can be interconnected like one big picture puzzle that might, in the end, give a better impression of how our users actually behave and what they really need.

Isn’t this exciting? I hope to see more jobs like the one Purdue has posted. To me, it’s a sign that libraries are finally moving towards seriously integrating UX into all our digital products and services. Maybe one day more than 28% of the major databases we subscribe to might even be accessible to people using adaptive technology?

UX and libraries, HCI and e-readers

This paper offers a nuanced and thought-provoking analysis of e-readers from an human-computer interaction standpoint:

Pearson,J., Buchanan,G. & Thimbleby, H. (2010). HCI Design Principles for eReaders. BooksOnline’10, October 26, 2010.

And this article in the most recent issue of College & Research Libraries News is succinct but  packed with crucial advice for managing library website redesign projects and really, actually focusing on users needs:

Fullington Ballard, A. & Teague-Rector, S. (2011). Building a library Web site. College & Research Libraries News. 72:3, 132-135.

I know I’ve searched for articles on these topics before, but I think the stuff I found must’ve gotten lost in my email. There have to be lots of articles on UX and library websites, right?  If not…I will write one.  One day.  And if I find some nuggets of gold in my email I’ll update this post with citations.  Maybe I should do some research on personal information management too.  :-/

Update: look out for this paper from the CSUN 2011 conference

Things I wish I could attend

ASIS&T 2010‘s conference theme is “Navigating Streams in an Information
Ecosystem”. The full-day SIG CR workshop detailed below will “give participants a chance to reflect on essential questions related to information classification, representation and organization while exploring the future of the field.”

The morning session will include papers from theoreticians and practitioners
in the field, including:

Molly Tighe, Time Capsules Project Cataloguer, the Warhol Museum,
Pittsburgh, PA. Ms. Tighe will describe her work at the Warhol Museum, where
she is involved with a project to arrange and describe over 600 boxes of
items contained in the Andy Warhol Time Capsules.

Grant Campbell, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media
Studies at the University of Western Ontario. Professor Campbell will
present a paper “New Life for an Old Theory: Italo Calvino, the Future of
the Web, and the Theory of Integrative Levels” This presentation will use
Italo Calvino’s analysis of creativity and cybernetics to suggest that the
growth of sophisticated semantic networks in the Web of the future depends
on a process that Feibleman identified years ago with his theory of
integrative levels.

Joe Tennis, Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the
University of Washington. His paper “Form, Intention, and Indexing: The
Liminal and Integrated Conceptions Work in Knowledge Organization” will
propose a dual conception of “the work” in knowledge organization.

Tim Spalding, Founder of LibraryThing. In this presentation, Mr. Spalding
will discuss the intersection of traditional and social cataloging,
specifically how LibraryThing for Libraries allows librarians to harness the
“wisdom of the crowd” in unprecedented ways. Traditional library OPACs
currently lack the mechanisms for collecting the knowledge and preferences
of library patrons. Although the traditional cataloging and classification
model – where a small group of specialists describe materials for the
general public – works well enough for the job for which it was designed,
the expectations of users have changed with the advent of web 2.0
technologies like Wikipedia, flickr, and Amazon recommendation systems.
(*Note: this is a change from the original speaker from LibraryThing)

The afternoon session will build on the ideas presented in the morning
session and will be devoted to small group and general discussion regarding
the limits of classification research.

Specific questions include:

– Where is classification research headed?

– How can we best communicate our ideas and theories to researchers,
students, and practitioners?

– What are some of the strengths of our current research methods, and what
are our weaknesses?

– Are we working under any unexplored assumptions or biases?

– What are the goals of classification research?

Attendees will be asked to break into small groups in the afternoon to
discuss these questions, then return for general discussion towards the end
of the workshop.

Important Information:

EARLY REGISTRATION ENDS: September 17, 2010 (register and make hotel
reservations by this date)

( http://www.asis.org/asist2010/index.html )

For more information:


waking up to Google custom search engines

Maybe I’m the last person to find out about this, but a friend recently told me how he uses Google custom search engines to tailor his searching to sites that he knows contain content that is good and/or useful to him. This is especially relevant when you want to do targeted searching in a specific subject area, or for a specific type of content, like film reviews or recipes. The one million benefits of creating custom search engines were immediately obvious to me, and I’m still wondering why I haven’t really heard of anyone using this before. I’m sure people do. They were probably just keeping it secret?

Anyways, I started my first custom search engine today. It’s called “la France en ligne” and currently searches a number of French cultural sites, library webpages, email list archives, digital exhibitions and online collections hosted at various universities and museums. I’m planning on adding more to it, but I was so anxious to try it out I had to stop after 20 URLs. Still, the results are pretty impressive as far as relevance goes. I did two sample searches, one for “George Sand” and another for “Robespierre” and got pretty great results. Try it and tell me what you think?

I definitely want to create one for recipes, where I can limit my searching just to the blogs I know post good and healthy foods I’m likely to want to make. And I’m also thinking an image search engine could be really great. I would be interested in hearing about any custom search engines others have used and what makes them special!

Things you can learn in business databases

I was looking at an industry profile of the US hot beverage industry, and noticed that one of the leading companies, Altria Group Inc. (MO), reportedly was a parent company of both Philip Morris USA (formerly with ticker PM USA, now not so sure) and Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT). This created a shocking mental image of money paid for Lunchables going into the same proverbial pockets as money paid for Marlboros. But when I looked up Philip Morris and Kraft Foods in another database, Altria Group was only listed as the parent company for the former…sort of. There’s Philip Morris International, Inc. (PM) which is listed as “public–parent” in Lexis-Nexis. Then there’s Philip Morris USA Inc. which doesn’t have a ticker, and is listed as a subsidiary of Altria Group. My curiosity was officially piqued.

If I regularly read the Financial Times or Forbes I would probably have known about this, but as a regular ol’ consumer, it is news to me. In 2008 Altria separated Philip Morris International from Phillip Morris USA. Why? According to a January 30, 2008 article from Forbes:

“the separation of Philip Morris International would yield higher shareholder value because it allows Altria to separate its faster-growing international arm, Philip Morris International, from its smaller American business, and the legal and public image problems it faces in the United States.[…] The spin-off will allow Philip Morris International to avoid pending legislation to give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to restrict tobacco advertising, regulate warning labels and remove hazardous ingredients.”

Nice. Real nice. It’s weird though, because I can’t imagine the regulation of warning labels in the US could surpass the warnings they already have in Europe. (wow thanks Wikipedia for that compendium of warning labels in numerous languages!) The article continues:

“The spin-off will leave Altria with Philip Morris USA, its domestic cigarette business, and a 28.6% stake in London-based beer company SABMiller, which makes Miller Genuine Draft, Pilsner Urquell and Snow.”

These corporate interminglings never cease to amaze me. But what about Kraft? Apparently, on March 30, 2007 Altria “divested” Kraft Foods. There’s even an NPR interview about it, though the title is a bit misleading. I wouldn’t say the CEO really explains the spin-off so much as she discusses hot dogs and how much people love mac ‘n’ cheese. Despite that, this seems like a pretty good moment of journalistic inquiry:

INSKEEP: The basics first, why split off from what was once known as Philip Morris?

Ms. ROSENFELD: Well, it’s a terrific opportunity for us to be able to make better use of some of our financial capabilities, as well as to pursue some new growth opportunities for the company.

INSKEEP: May I try to put that in layman’s terms. When you say make better use of your financial capabilities, do you mean make sure that Kraft’s money is not tied up in tobacco lawsuits?

Ms. ROSENFELD: No, I wouldn’t – certainly wouldn’t express it that way.

Of course not!

So, lessons learned in this little research adventure:
1. Don’t assume industry profiles have accurate information. The one I was reading was from a highly respected source, published in October 2008…many months after these spin-offs/divestments etc. took place, but it indicated nothing about all the aforementioned shapeshifting.

2. Don’t assume the profits from your Toblerone or candy pagers aren’t going to one of the worlds largest tobacco companies. (they might not be, anymore…for now, in this case only. maybe. hrm.) Back in the days when I was vigilant about finding this stuff out, I used the website Responsible Shopper (now “Green America”) a lot. I haven’t used it for years but from what I can tell it’s still got good info.

What a weird world we live in.

Snapshot from the “products” section of Business & Company Resource Center’s info on Altria Group:

Learning about digital archaeology collections and metadata

Update 3/11/2010: This post is getting a lot of traffic so I thought I could at least mention a recent related blog post on open data in archaeology from the Open Knowledge Foundation Blog. I’ve collected more links to resources on this topic in my delicious bookmarks, and will hopefully be adding more soon (I have to integrate them from another delicious account I was using while working on the paper discussed in this blog post).

I spent my stay-cation this past week trying to plow through all the articles and books I’ve amassed for my term paper on metadata for digital collections of archaeological materials. I use the vague word “materials” because one of the things I need to decide is whether I’m going to discuss things like datasets and 3D models and other fun things that might differentiate archaeology collections from art collections. I thought I was going to focus on descriptive metadata for images. It could be interesting to consider the differences between images of artifacts and “art” images. Usually if an artifact is important enough to get its own metadata, it’s probably moved into the realm of “art”, right? But what about all the photographs and other imagery generated during excavations? I need to figure out how people are currently putting this stuff online, how it fits in with the hard data, and whether there are any standard practices for describing these things, either as a unit or individually.

Everything I’ve read so far indicates that there’s a lack of standards (both for digital and physical collections) partly because there’s no consistency in the types of data collected by various archaeological projects, and because of differences in recording protocols, terms, measurement units, and language (Styliadis et al., 2009; Snow et al., 2006). The March 2009 issue of the Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Record has numerous articles devoted to the topic of international curation standards for archaeological collections. In her article, “Creating Digital Access to Archaeological Collections,” Julia A. King writes:

…while most archaeologists now use digital technologies in their work (for report production and image capture, for example) minimal consideration has been given to the long-term preservation and accessibility of the materials generated through this work (and, by accessibility, I don’t mean just the ability to ‘find’ objects or records within a repository. I also mean the ability to get relatively quick access to the data represented by these materials for research and interpretive purposes). The archaeological collections management literature, which has enjoyed considerable growth covering a wide range of topics in the last 20 years, has yet to consider the challenges of managing digital collections in the kind of detail afforded physical collections.

Earlier in the same issue, in an article entitled “From the Dust to the Disk”, David Bibby writes that each excavator collecting data in their own way “has lead to a myriad of variations…The key to successful data preservation is structured data collection. There has to be some common denominator, even if at only a very basic level — safeguards to ensure data integrity and security as well as some guarantee that future users of the excavation data will have an approximate knowledge of what to expect.” (17). He goes on to describe a recommended data structure designed to work with any sort of excavation data.

The most interesting articles I’ve read address the problem by proposing the use of concept ontologies and mapping to avoid requiring archaeologists/curators/anyone to use a single data model. The goal is “cyberinfrastructure”. Snow et al. advocate developing database mediation services that would encompass the various perspectives in archaeology, but would also “facilitate future efforts within the archaeological community to establish common, minimal standards for metadata descriptions of artifacts, sites, maps, and other academic resources”. Kintigh (2006) and Sugimoto, Felicetti, Perlingieri, & Hermon (2007) discuss semantic data integration for archaeology using an ontological approach.

I am just scratching the surface of this, and I wonder how much not being an IT person is going to impede me. I have many many things to investigate:

  • what sort of metadata is required to facilitate semantic data integration?
  • which thesauri and classification systems best support data interoperability, and are those systems being used on archaeological data?
  • I need a better understanding of XSLT, OAI-PMH, and RDF (and, let’s face it, XML too).
  • I need a better understanding of CIDOC-CRM, MIDAS, SPECTRUM (UK Museum Documentation Standard) and other museum data standards.
  • I need to look at the websites of FISH, EPOCH. I need to look more deeply at the ADS website.
  • I need to play around with any online collections of archaeology data I can find. tDAR (prototype?), ADS catalog?, …
  • What is the most recent work that has been done on this? What is the current status of the much hoped-for archaeology cyberinfrastructure?
  • Check out some links from the page of this Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Application Working Group.
  • Find some of the papers that were presented at VAST 2009.

Can I please move to Europe?



Bibby, D. (2009) From the Dust to the Disk: Collection and Preservation of Digital Excavation Data in Baden-Württemberg. The SAA Archaeological Record, 9 (2), 17-20.

King, J. (2009). Creating Digital Access to Archaeological Collections. The SAA Archaeological Record, 9 (2), 25-30

Kintigh, Keith. (2006). The Promise and Challenge of Archaeological Data Integration. American Antiquity, 71 (3), 567-578.

Snow, D., Gahegan, M., Giles, C. L., Hirth, K. G., Milner, G. R., Mitra, P., & Wang, J. Z. (2006). Cybertools and Archaeology. Science, 311 (5763), 958-959.

Styliadis, A.D., Akbaylar, I. I., Papadopoulou, D. A., Hasanagas, N. D., Roussa, S. A., & Sexidis, L. A. (2009). Metadata-based heritage sites modeling with e-learning functionality. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 10 (2), 296-312.

Sugimoto, G., Felicetti, A. Perlingieri, C. & Hermon, S. (2007). CIDOC-CRM Spider: Stonehenge as an Example of Semantic Data Integration. In D. Arnold, F. Niccolucci, A. Chalmers (Eds.), VAST 2007: 8th International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology, and Intelligent Cultural Heritage. (pp. 47-54). Aire-La-Ville, Switzerland: Eurographics Association, 2007.