Friday, 28 August 2009

Beyond the Repository Fringe 2009

Sally and Ben were in Edinburgh last month attending the Beyond the Repository Fringe 2009, an event for repository developers, managers, researchers, administrators and onlookers.

They shared central stage when they gave the opening keynote speech. This is what they said:

Ben O’Steen and Sally Rumsey (Oxford) – “A sneak preview at the A-list stars of future repositories: blockbuster technical developments and the cultural drivers behind them”

Sally opens by explaining that she and Ben will be handing back and forth with Sally looking at the more library view of repositories whilst Ben will be talking about the more technical whizzy end of affairs.

Sir Thomas Bodley set up the library in Oxford and Sally is taking us through the history of the library including a lovely quote from Francis Bacon that the Bodley "is an arc to save knowledge". We're are also looking at search, 1620 style: a paper list.

The original library building fast ran out of space and the Radcliffe Camera, the Radcliffe science library and the new Bodlien library were all built. By 1914 the library received a million items a Year. It continues to grow and grow and Sally shows us a preview of the storage facility in Swindon which will be helping the Bodley deal with the volume of material by 2010.

Source: DataShare Blog

Click here to read the whole transcript.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

BluePages - User Tests 1

Anusha, Monica and I have finished a first (short) round of user tests. We got very interesting feedback from them which we will use to design a first online version of the BluePages. We will have a second round in maybe a month time.

In the mean time I am going to give you a brief overview of the process we designed for the user tests.
  • We recruited a small number of testers from within the Library Services unit plus 2 external voluntiers. Most of these testers do not necessarily belong to any of the groups identified in the Stakeholder Analysis ("researchers", "administrators", and "strategists and disseminators".) As this was the first round and as we had a basic mockup we first needed general input.
  • We designed a script which had 2 main objectives: (1) to refine our initial design and (2) to identify and embed clear purposes and uses of Research Activity Data in the BluePages. Note: I am aware that this last objective involves more than one or more sets of user tests. However we are using these interactions with testers to start making sense of the features that need to be enhanced to make the BluePages transmit ideas such as collaborations, connections and membership. With this I think we can get acceptance which is an important part of the embedding process.

Introductory Questions
1.Ask tester to browse the site for 1 minute (or just to see the frontpage?). From looking at this site, what kinds of information do you think you could get from this site?
2.Who do you think this site is designed for? Why?

1.Name the sponsor for one project run by Prof. AAAAA.
2.Obtain a list of collaborators of Prof. BBBBB and email that list to a friend
3.You are an academic in the area of statistics who wants to explore new areas of research. For that you are looking for some reading material. You are looking for information about genome-related diseases particularly from studies that use big samples (over 10000).
4.You are the Head of the Management department and are going to build a new Decision Making Support laboratory as part of a program to boost research among your staff. As you or your staff do not have any experience with building laboratories that need special computers and software you need to find someone in Oxford who could offer you some guidance. That person could be someone who is an expert in computers and/or works in laboratories.
5.You just set up your new project’s website and would like it to be listed in the BluePages. What do you need to do?

1.Ask again: what kinds of information do you think you could get from this site?
2.What is your overall opinion of the BluePages?
3.Would you use a site like this? What kinds of information would you be interested in?
  • We always had two observers during the tests (either Anusha and I or Monica and I) We took turns to ask the questions. We had copies of the script and wrote notes separately. We also gave testers the list of tasks on a sheet of paper.
  • When we finished I transcribed all the notes and classified them by task or question. I then wrote a summary which highlighted main issues under each task or question.
After this we met to discuss our next strategy. This involves a clearer idea of the data "objects" that are searched for and browsed in the BluePages and the way these objects can be presented and connected. But I won't say more because this is a topic for another post.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

BluePages - User Tests

Anusha and I are running a first round of user tests. For this we are using a mockup of the BluePages that Monica made with Balsamiq. Nice tool by the way, you can see some screenshots of a previous version of our mockup here.

I am using the term user tests as we are aiming to do a bit more than just asses the usability of our initial design. With these tests we are also trying to assess the perception of usefulness of the BluePages. That is, how useful a tool like the BluePages and/or the information that it offers is to its users' work. I think perception of usefulness plays an equal or perhaps more important role than usability in the acceptance of a technological tool. If a tool is user friendly but users do not think is useful for their work, they will not use it.

The stakeholder analysis revealed that people around the University already deal with research activity data by using their own systems (manual, computer or mixed). These systems are sometimes not as efficient as they could be but people trust them becasue they work for them. Therefore new tools like the RII and the BluePages should allow users to:
  • do what they are already doing in a more efficient and faster way (less rekeying, less duplication of data,)
  • do things they could not do or struggled to do before (collect a list of experts in one field from across the University,)
  • discover new uses to this information (find connections between people and between projects through their keywords.)
Anusha and I designed a user test script, comprised of some questions and tasks. In one of the tasks, for example, we ask testers to find someone with a particular expertise who can guide them in the design of a laboratory.

At the end of the tests we have informal conversations (with tea/coffee and buscuits!) We ask testers their overall opinion of the site and if they would like/need to use a tool like this for their work.

Tests have been very useful so far to refine our initial design but most importantly to define clear purposes and uses for the BluePages. With this we want to position the BluePages within our stakeholders work environments and with that to improve user acceptance.

Main points we want to emphasise in the BluePages are collaboration, connections (networks) and membership. These are ideas that we want to emerge from the BluePages through its use. In other words we want people to think that the BluePages is a tool for collaboration, for making connections and for improving membership.
  • Collaboration means that users can find who is collaborating with whom in Oxford. It also means that people listed in the BluePages are potential collaborators for whoever is browsing them. Therefore if anyone would like to collaborate in or outside Oxford they would probably like to be in the BluePages.
  • Connections means that the BluePages can allow people to discover connections which were not clear before. For example connecting people who did not know each other by their research interests, or connecting research activities by their keywords or themes.
  • By emphasising the concept of Membership we would like encourage Oxford research staff to contribute their data to make their research community more visible and more accessible within and outside the University.