Introducing Academic Patrons to Image Resources on Your Website

Krystyna K. Matusaik tells us that while students and faculty see the academic library’s website as a valid source of textual information (books and articles), their go-to for visual resources remains the web.[1] Matusaik’s study demonstrated that although students and faculty alike perceived that library sources were associated with associated with quality and reliability, the web was perceived as a source of an infinite number of current visual resources (Matusaik 142). Why is this? The answer may lay in patron perceptions of ease of use and usefulness of digital libraries.

Matusaik’s study revealed that participants reported that they found the library website “difficult to navigate and insufficient in providing clues about the wealth of resources that it offers” (140). She concludes that student’s experience using the library website negatively impacted on their perceptions of ease of use for the library’s digital collection. They saw the library’s website a difficult to use and the web was associated with ease of use.  Matusaik stated that if users perceived the resource as difficult, “they may not even try to use it, despite its potentially useful content” (140). She concludes that this perception of difficulty of use related to the fact that the library’s website was composed of multiple parts, like the online catalog, article databases and digital collections, and that each section utilized a different user interface and had to be accessed separately. This element of complexity was perceived as a barrier to content.

So, what are Matusaik’s recommendations to battling the perception that the web is the premiere source for images? The author points out that academic libraries should be doing more to promote their digital collections. I’ve found that often Digital Collections are really hidden on Academic Library websites. The average user will not go hunting to the archives section for images, and fairly so probably does not know these collections exist. Furthermore, academic libraries need to recognize the fact that the library website is not a primary stop for students and faculty in their information quest. In order to compete with Google Images, Matusaik recommends that Academic Libraries develop strategies and digital tools that are visible in spaces where students are already searching and interacting with information. This would include search engines, Wikipedia, and social networking sites. She also asserts that Academic Libraries should increase their efforts in metadata harvesting and search engine optimization to uncover their collections for those searching the web especially through Google and other search engines. Furthermore, Matusaik advocates that libraries need to “provide more integrated and seamless resource discovery tools that allow users to search across multiple online components” (Matusaik 144).

Digital collections are still a fairly new phenomenon on Academic Library websites. Obviously, more work needs to be put into promoting them and making them easy to use. Centralized searching utilities like the University of Alabama’s SCOUT almost live up to patron’s expectations, but could still use some improvements. As digital collections are expensive resources in terms of the labor required creating and maintaining them, libraries cannot afford to have them underutilized due to patron perceptions of ease of use.

Davina Harrison

[1] Matusiak, Krystyna K. “Perceptions of Usability and Usefulness of Digital Libraries.”  International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 6.1-2, 2012, pp. 133-147. DOI: 10.3366/ijhac.2012.004. Accessed 26 October 2018.

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Ask Jeeves and User Experience: The Rise and Fall of an Internet Icon

                                          The original Ask Jeeves launch page                                          Source: mentalfloss.com

Introduction

One of the most important aspects of website navigation is “user experience.” According to Norman and Nielsen, user experience, “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” The average user undoubtedly takes this for granted as they glide effortlessly from one webpage to the next until they stumble upon a website that is poorly designed, aesthetically unappealing, or difficult to navigate. This extends to web search interfaces as well. Confronted by the sheer diversity of users from all walks of life, web search interface designers have had to maintain a simple model to minimize the chance of confusion for their diverse users. As Hearst astutely observes, the design and arrangement of search result listings have undergone very little change over time. The example of the juxtaposed images of Infoseek listings from 1997 to those of a 2007 Google query demonstrates this assertion. In comparing the latter to today’s search interface, it is apparent that little has changed over the course of the last decade as well. 

While search user interfaces have changed little from that original simple format, the search engine industry has evolved drastically. While user experience may have prevented any major transformation of search user interfaces, that same factor has been a catalyst for change among competing search engines. Several companies rose and fell as a response to users’ perception and experience with their search engines over the course of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The early turbulent career of the classic Ask Jeeves website provides an insightful study into the power and influence of user experience.   

The Early history of Ask Jeeves

Ask Jeeves was a search engine launched in 1996/97. The website was personified through a middle aged, balding butler named Jeeves. Though the search engine’s founder Garrett Gruener denies any connection, it is widely accepted that cyber Jeeves was inspired by the valet who appears in several books written by British author P. G. Wodehouse. Over the next few years, the website enjoyed a meteoric rise. When the company went public, stock prices started at $14 a share. That price soared to $190.50 per share. The company capitalized on its icon by using Jeeves to raise awareness about their information service. This included featuring the affable butler as a float in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and producing a variety of promotional products with his congenial expression. The search engine soon became one of the top 25 most trafficked sites in 2000.

Getty

                                    Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float                                       Source: mentalfloss.com

Despite its initial success, Ask Jeeves was not destined to dominate the internet in the 21st century. For starters, the Wodehouse estate argued that the website’s icon infringed on copyright law. Both parties reached a non-disclosed settlement in 2000. By the end of the year, however, Ask Jeeves was in serious trouble. There are multiple theories about the website’s rapid decline. TheStreet staff reported that the company was a victim of the search engine wars of the early 2000’s. Rossen, however, asserts that the company was one of many that took a hit when the dot-com bubble bust in 2001. In the end, the company was spared the indignity of going under. A new CEO was named, drastic cuts were made, and the company reported a profit in 2003. In 2005, InterActive Corp (IAC) purchased the company/website and rebranded their new investment as Ask.com.

There seems to be merit in both of these theories that help explain the roller coaster ride of success and failure for the company. Yet, examining the rise and fall of Ask Jeeves through the lens of user experience will help bring the fate of Ask Jeeves into clearer focus. We can better understand the company’s tumultuous start through the website’s use of natural language, the personification of the website through its icon, and its overall effectiveness as a search engine.

The User Experience Factor

First, it is important to understand that Ask Jeeves was not always a general search engine. The company began as a question answering service. Prior to the launch of the website, Gruener and his team prepared a library of answers to questions they believed would be the most frequently asked. The website was designed for users to employ “natural language” in the form of asking questions (e.g. “How to get rid of skunk smell?”) in order to obtain answers to the information they sought. In 2018, users still overwhelmingly use Google by asking the service a question in natural language. Gruener’s natural language format may very well help explain why Ask Jeeves had a million searches a day by 1999.

Personifying the website through the iconic Jeeves was another user experience factor that contributed to the company’s early success. It is important to remember that in the late 90’s, surfing the internet and using search engines were very new and foreign concepts to most people. Adding the dutiful, eager butler provided a very human element to the face of a search engine. Allowing people the opportunity to “ask” a question to a welcoming, friendly face was more appealing than typing a specialized string of words into one of the other impersonal search engines of the time.

As Gothard best states, “It was in that late 1990’s period when suddenly everybody had discovered the power of the internet and found the whole idea of putting direct questions to a friendly P. G. Wodehouse butler a more human experience.” Indeed, many of us millennials still remember the butler with nostalgia (the 90’s were a golden age!). One reddit user reminisced that, “Ask Jeeves was one of the first interactions I had with a computer. I remember me [sic.] sister telling me that I could talk to a magic Butler who could answer any questions I had.”

Despite the natural feel of using Ask Jeeves, however, the website was far from perfect. Though Rossen may be correct in stating that the website had devoted users, it also had no shortage of critics as well. In recounting the company’s history, the New York Times described the early quality of its search results as “uneven” prior to adopting an algorithm model like Google had. Yet commentary on urbandictionary.com reveals that the quality of Ask Jeeves’ service was still wanting after the turn of the 21st century. For the entry “Ask Jeeves,” the top four definitions (of a total of six) are unfavorable of the website. All four definitions were posted in 2004.*

“Kung-Fu Jesus” suggested that the search engine did a poor job of providing relevant information at the top of its results list. He elaborated that, “Jeeves has an annoying tendency to hide the most popular and information-filled results several pages back while giving you fanboy websites and advertisements that merely mention the subject first.” “GirlSkater” suggested that users, “can’t get a straight answer from [J]eeves.” “Cloud” declared Ask Jeeves the “lamest Search Engine Ever.” Both “Cloud” and “The All Knowing Amy” argued that Ask Jeeves was not as efficient as Google. The fact that these four contributors have received a combined total of over 1,100 votes in favor of their definitions demonstrates that Ask Jeeves had more than a few critics. For all of the his charm, the internet’s favorite butler frequently failed to deliver to his users.  

It is clear that Ask Jeeves took a beating from the dot-com bubble collapse. Ask Jeeves reported a staggering loss of $425 million in 2001. In 2002, company shares were a mere 86 cents. The dot-com crisis alone, however, does not explain Ask Jeeves’ fall because the company was on the rebound by 2003. The key to understanding the website’s transition from being one of the internet’s most trafficked websites to one of its more relatively obscure search engines is recognizing the fallout from the search engine war.

In 2012, the company’s CEO threw in the towel and declared Google the victor. The search engine war was lost, at least in part, because of Google’s superior user experience. As illuminating as the Urban Dictionary entries are, statistical evidence reinforces this theory. In 2003, Google dominated the search engine market with 32%. Ask Jeeves had a meager 3%. By 2012, the gap had widen even further. In September of that year, Google controlled 66.7% of the market compared to Ask.com’s 3.5%. Over time, more and more people chose Google over Ask Jeeves because the former had a superior user experience.

*Reader discretion is advised when perusing this page as there is a liberal use of profanity and sexual innuendos.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Ask(tm), who killed Jeeves?!?

Source: mattcutts.com

In 2005, InterActive Corp (IAC) bought the Ask Jeeves website for $1.85 billion. Under this new management, the website’s name was changed to Ask.com. Despite this leadership change and rebranding, Ask.com failed to regain its former glory. With the writing on the wall, Ask.com announced in 2010 that it would abandon its quest to dominate the search engine industry and return to its roots as a question answering service.

The iconic Jeeves evolved with the company he symbolized as it responded to changing circumstances. In 2004, the butler was removed from the website temporarily for a “world tour” and reappeared with a slender figure. On April 1, 2005, the butler made his debut as the Jeeves 9000 robot. Did these redesigns perhaps reflect the company’s optimistic hopes for the future? Did slender Jeeves symbolize a leaner company poised to recover its momentum after emerging from its earlier setbacks? The obvious light-hearted April Fools Day shenanigans aside, was Jeeves 9000 a wishful vision of the company’s future as an innovative search engine industry leader in the new millennium? We can only surmise.

With ownership of Ask Jeeves transferred to IAC, speculation arose concerning the butler’s job security. When asked about the future of the icon in August 2005, CEO Steve Berlowitz stated that Jeeves was “safe for the moment.” IAC’s Barry Diller, however, had other plans. The following month, he announced that the website’s icon would “retire.” Why? To rebrand and improve the website for user experience. The new owners of the company believed that Jeeves was a throwback to the 90’s that was no longer an effective marketing tool. In his own words, Diller teased that he didn’t “see many tears on the floor” over this decision. After spending nearly a decade serving internet users, the aging butler disappeared from the website in 2006.

Branding consultant Rob Frankel described Jeeves as a relic of the “playful, early days of the Internet.” This is an intriguing observation because it shows how an icon’s appeal to users can change over time. When Jeeves first appeared, he provided a welcome, “familiar face” for users who were new to the internet and search engines. This human element that the icon brought to the world of search engines, however, could not make up for the imperfect service provided by Ask Jeeves. This unreliability resulted in negative user experience, which in turn ultimately drove many into the arms of faceless search engine competitor Google.

Yet Jeeves’ departure was not welcomed by all. Many bid the butler a fond farewell on discussion boards. Jeeves has since become a symbol of nostalgia. As the aforementioned quote by the reddit user suggests, Jeeves now represents a memory of a simpler time to those who are old enough to remember using the internet in its frontier days. In terms of user experience, we associate Jeeves with a time of safer internet exploration prior to the rampant spread of malicious software programs such as ransomware and computer viruses. He has become a symbol of the quaintness of early user experience.

Aside from some brief reappearances since 2006, Jeeves remains retired. We wish our former internet butler well on his well-earned rest.

Sources

Berr, J. (2005, September 21). Diller sacks the butler [Website article]. Retrieved from https://www.thestreet.com/story/10243688/1/diller-sacks-the-butler.html

Cloud. (2004, November 27). Ask Jeeves [Def. 4]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ask%20Jeeves

GirlSkater. (2004, February 3). Ask Jeeves [Def. 2]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved October 27, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ask%20Jeeves

Gothard, P. (2016, June 8). 7 search engines lost to history: Where are they now? [Website article]. Retrieved from https://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2460810/7-search-engines-lost-to-history-where-are-they-now/page/4

Hearst, M. A. (2009). The design of search user interfaces. In Search user interfaces (1-28). New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from http://searchuserinterfaces.com /book/sui_ch1_design.html

Kopytoff, V. G. (2010, November 9). Ask.com to return to old service. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/technology/internet/10ask.html?scp=1&sq=ask.com&st=cse

Kung-Fu Jesus. (2004, May 9). Ask Jeeves [Def. 1]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved October 27, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ask%20Jeeves

Norman, D., & Nielsen, J. (n.d.). The definition of user experience (UX). [Website article]. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/definition-user-experience/

nuckingfuts73. (2017). Ask Jeeves! [Msg 1]. Message posted to https://www.reddit.com/ r/nostalgia/comments/679gry/ask_jeeves/

Rossen, J. (2017). Why everyone stopped asking Jeeves [Website article]. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/94784/why-everyone-stopped-asking-jeeves

Ryan, K. (2010). The long, sad story of Ask.com [Website article]. Retrieved from https://adage.com/article/digitalnext/long-sad-story-jeeves/147091/

Sherman, C. (2003). Happy birthday, Ask Jeeves! [Website article]. Retrieved from https://searchenginewatch.com/sew/news/2063934/happy-birthday-ask-jeeves  

Sherman, C. (2006). Jeeves Retires [Website article]. Retrieved from https://searchenginewatch.com/sew/news/2066941/jeeves-retires

Sterling, G. (2012). Ask CEO Doug Leeds proclaims search wars ‘over,’ says Yahoo can be great again [Website article]. Retrieved from https://searchengineland.com/ask-ceo-doug-leeds-proclaims-search-wars-over-says-yahoo-can-be-great-again-136263

Sterling, G. (2012). September search share: Yahoo continues downward slide [Website article]. Retrieved from http://mentalfloss.com/article/94784/why-everyone-stopped-asking-jeeves

The All Knowing Amy. (2004, May 7). Ask Jeeves [Def. 3]. In Urban Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Ask%20Jeeves

TheStreet staff (2018, October 23). Famous brands that have disappeared [Website article]. Retrieved from https://www.thestreet.com/personal-finance/famous-brands-that-have-disappeared-14747284

Giving More Than A Look

It is always interesting to me to see how people, businesses or organizations plan how to approach a project. I have worked for companies that decided that something need to be created or fixed and just proceeded to do it from only that viewpoint and with little information to support it. The problem also included how they chose to do what needed to be done. Many times, just like making the decision of what needed to be created or changed was only as they saw the issue or need to be, it was all about how they wanted to fix it. Sometimes there wasn’t a problem until they started making changes. They seldom made inquiries as to how the clients felt.

In the articles regarding the user experience, it was great to see how much work went into these projects. In the article on the California Digital Library, a lot of thought, effort, and ideas were used to approach a positive and useful website design. There were different techniques used to collect various kinds of data to enhance usability. Each technique had a purpose and brought its own specific type of information. CDL didn’t just have a thought on what needed to be done and chose a way to do it that seemed appropriate then just went with it. It was important to them to get it right and make a truly usable website.

Users must battle so often with attractive sites that prove to be inadequate in providing an experience that may or may not elicit the appropriate information and completely stresses the user out in the process. When techniques are implored like the use of focus groups, interviews, questionnaires, and the all-important usability testing many of the challenges are done away with and a user positive website design is created. As stated previously, each of these tools gathers diverse types of information that are important to getting a user-friendly site and provide a quality user experience. To see this much effort put into a design is fantastic. It shows the importance of the user to this organization.

You cannot undervalue the voice of the user. To not hear the concerns brought forth by the user, I believe, becomes a loss for the website owner. When users are frustrated, stressed out, or just unable to successfully navigate a website, they are going to move on or be a constant source of complaints, and bad publicity. It’s not worth it to ignore their needs.

Usability in website design is a critical area that is often overlooked. I believe this is a significant error. The website created may be a beautiful work of art, but the user wants more than an attractive space to admire. The user needs for the site to be easy to navigate and understand or it is basically useless. It is best to just use the available tools to get the best and diverse data and then test it out. The time is not a loss but an investment. But don’t leave it at that. Hear the voice of the user and try to incorporate the ideas received and correct the areas of complaints. This is how you keep users coming to your site repeatedly.

Although to be fair, I did come across a study that considers the impact by the aesthetics of a website on the user. In 2016, Jiang, Wang, Tan, and Yu conducted a study that revealed that aesthetics had a larger effect on the user than did the usefulness of the website. While this may be true, I would not put all my eggs in that basket. In a time where so many things are digital the competition for users is increasing steadily it seems. The user experience can no longer be ignored in the planning and implementation of website design. More and more reluctant or inexperienced, along with expert computer users of online resources are making choices as to where they will spend their time and money. It is time for the online experience to become as seamless as possible and bring about a positive and productive encounter.

 

References

Hearst, M. “The Design of Search User Interfaces.”

Jiang, Z. (Jack), Wang, W., Tan, B. C. Y., & Yu, J. (2016). The Determinants and Impacts of Aesthetics in      Users’ First Interaction with Websites. Journal of Management Information Systems, 33(1), 229-259. https://doi-org.libdata.lib.ua.edu/10.1080/07421222.2016.1172443

Lack, R. (2006). The Importance of User-Centered Design: Exploring Findings and Methods. Journal of       Archival Organization, 4(1), 69–86. Retrieved from  http://libdata.lib.ua.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&htdb=eric&AN=EJ885104&site=eds-live&scope=site

Frustrations of Designing a Digital Library

Anybody that has incorporated usability into their digital library or other projects knows just how frustrating it can be. Often, we know exactly how we want our projects to look and work, and those pesky users (and our colleagues) always end up having their own opinions—for better or worse. Those opinions ultimately lead to a stronger and more user-friendly product, but it would be a mistake to assume that any well-designed digital library discovered on the internet manifested itself without significant challenges and frustrations to the project managers responsible for it. To that end, I present to you all a digital library that I had the pleasure of helping a former colleague create in celebration of Alabama’s bicentennial, with frustrations left intact.

After reaffirming through teacher surveys that Alabama’s elementary educators lack both the training and the time to find primary sources to use in their classroom lessons, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission embarked on an ambitious project to compile curated sets of resources. The commission, through the work of Caroline Gibbons, surveyed teachers to identify gaps in the curriculum and began collecting primary sources from multiple institutions in four to five sets of fifty resources a year while matching each item to the relevant 2010 Alabama Course of Study, Social Studies content standards (Gibbons, 2018, p. 25-26). Resources in the sets include photographs, documents, and artifacts on topics such as World War I, Native American life and removal, and the Space Race.

Through a tremendous amount of work from Caroline, which included a small-scale traveling digitization program, the commission finally had its first few sets of resources—in a spreadsheet. While the spreadsheet contained all the necessary metadata, including content standards and links to items in their digital repositories, teachers found the format unappealing, difficult to understand, and overwhelming. While staff dreamed of creating an attractive and accessible online database of resources, the project remained at a standstill while the commission went through the lengthy and complicated process of redesigning their website from scratch as they transitioned from one design firm to another.

Primary Source Spreadsheet
Original primary source spreadsheet

Finally, after finishing the main redesign of the website, Caroline and I (the staff “webmaster” and liaison to the design firm) began working to integrate the spreadsheet onto the website. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that the content management system lacked the required features needed to create a visually pleasing and accessible digital library. We began working with the design firm to implement the features, but the project languished with communication issues and delays. We found that the design firm had difficulty understanding exactly what we were trying to do, that those misunderstandings were compounded by the fact that we were not allowed to work directly with programmers, and that their response rates and implementation times further complicated the issues. In the end, the delays cost us six months’ time.

In addition to the delays, a new grant award changed the design of the project midstream. Instead of allowing users to download the primary sources directly from the website, the new grant required the commission to drive traffic to the repositories’ websites instead (p. 26). After dealing with the problems as they arose, Caroline and I managed to get the first set of primary sources on the website in December of 2017. However, that’s when the real usability tests began. We continued to tweak the library as problems and ideas came about—including reordering and renaming the content sets multiple times—and I’m sure the commission continues to do so now that Caroline and I are gone.

Primary Source Page
Item-level view of primary source packets

Despite the frustrations and delays, and understanding that usability tests and corrections are ongoing, I am proud of the digital library we managed to put together.

Gibbons, Caroline. (2018). Hungry for History: Bringing Social Studies Back to Alabama. History News (Winter, 2018), 22-26. Retrieved from http://download.aaslh.org/history+news/2018/Winter+2018+FINAL.pdf

Teaching with Alabama Documents. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.alabama200.org/educators/primary-sources/

 

The Costs and Benefits of Open Access

 

Open access is described as the state in which online research outputs are not hidden behind barriers of cost or other limitations that prevent access.1 Of course, open access would be universally great for libraries that wish to provide this information and users that wish to access this information, but if there were no negatives, then every research article would be available for use by now. However, this is not the case. Thus it is important to examine both the reasons for open access and the reasons against open access to reasonably determine if it should accepted universally, accepted under certain circumstances, or denied outright.

 

The main case for open access is often cited as ‘helpful to everyone.’ Users can freely read materials for interest or research, authors are cited nearly six times more often (on average) than if there is a pay barrier, and there aren’t as many (or none at all) fees associated with publishing.2  Articles hidden behind such a barrier are likely not read or cited as often due to the subscription/membership cost associated with journals and online databases. In fact, scientific progress might even find this to be a great obstruction when it comes to real-word development due to the lack of information sharing. In open-access, articles are often found through Google Scholar searches or directly in open-access journals. Despite having potentially useful information for users to read or researchers to cite, any sort of barrier can cause people to look elsewhere for sources, even if the source is not as high-quality. If the goal of an author is publicity or providing helpful information to others, open access seems to be the way to go.

 

So, why with the benefits above might an author chose NOT to participate in open access? The answer tends to come down to publishers, prestige, and profit margins. Many reputable journals charge college campuses exorbitant prices for print copy and electronic access, some going as high as $10,000.3 These publishers can put prices so high, even universities are unwilling to pay for access, effectively making these articles out of reach for users. However, many authors are willing to put research into such journals for the sake of prestige. Imagine having your work published in ‘Science,’ which is guaranteed to be read by thousands and cited by many. Such an accomplishment is the envy of many. However, why can this not be the case with open access journals? Certainly some open-access journals may be incredibly selective and prestigious without requiring fees. The problem here seems to simply be perception. These subscription journals have been around much longer and market themselves as ‘more professional,’ despite there being little real difference.

 

 

Suber, Peter. (2004, June 21). Open Access Overview. Retrieved from http://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

Enago Academy. (2018, May 21). Who Benefits from Open Access? Retrieved from

https://www.enago.com/academy/benefits-open-access/

Suarez, Andrew V. and McGlynn Terry. (2017, November 15) The Fallacy of Open Access. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Fallacy-of-Open-Access/241786

Pyrite in Two Libraries

This post is a response to the prompt to compare metadata in two different digital libraries. The two libraries are Colorado School of Mines – Mineral Specimens and System for Earth Sample Registration. Each library and it’s metadata will be discussed and towards the end we’ll look at a pyrite sample from each collection.

To begin with, we’ll examine the Colorado School of Mines – Mineral Specimens project, which involved the library, institutional repository and geology museum all of whom collaborated to promote a themed mineral collection focusing on the historical mining district of Creede, Colorado (Dunn, 2018). Minerals in this collection are on virtual display. For example a pyrite (54072) shows users a brief overview of the mineral, in addition to a full metadata record. From the element names it’s clear that the schema is Dublin Core, indicated by the prefix ‘dc.’. Elements include: contributor, coverage, date, identifier, description, publisher, relation, rights, subject, title, and type. However there are variants to these elements too. Dublin Core was intentionally created to be simplistic, so as to be widely used, but over time has adapted to become more specific when needed by adding in quantifiers (Riley, 2017). Looking at the record for pyrite (54072), the contributor, coverage, date, identifier, description, relation, and subject have quantifiers.

Below is a summary of the elements used for this collection. It’s worth pointing out that Dublin Core is a flat schema.

  • contributor.author
  • coverage.spatial
  • date
  • date.accessioned
  • date.available
  • identifier
  • identifier.uri
  • description
  • description.abstract
  • publisher
  • relation.ispartof
  • rights
  • subject.lcsh
  • title
  • type
  • contributor.institution

The second digital library, System for Earth Sample Registration, is an NSF funded project of the EarthChem Program and part of IEDA, Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance (SESAR, 2018). System for Earth Sample Registration is more than a digital library; it also distributes International Geo Sample Numbers (IGSN). IGSNs are similar to ORCIDs for people, in that they are unique IDs to help overcome the issues of ambiguous naming. IGSNs are equal to the identifier in Dublin Core. More element equivalents between the IGSN schema and Dublin Core, are in the table below (ISGN / Metadata Version 1.0, 2016). Before looking at the schema and its elements, please note there are in fact two schemas at work. Also of importance is that unlike Dublin Core, IGSN is a hierarchical schema.

dc:element IGSN Descriptive Element
dc:contributor N/A
dc:coverage samplingLocation
dc:creator sampleCollector
dc:date samplingTime
dc:description comments
dc:format materialType
dc:identifier IGSN
dc:language N/A
dc:publisher sampleCurator
dc:relation relatedResources
dc:rights N/A
dc:source N/A
dc:subject classification
dc:title sampleName
dc:type sampleType

Below is the IGSN registration metadata schema, which looks like administrative metadata (ISGN / Metadata Version 1.0, 2016). There are four elements, each containing at least one sub-element.

  • sampleNumber
    • identifierType
  • registrant
    • registrantName
    • nameIdentifier
      • nameIdentifierScheme
    • relatedResourceIdentifier
      • relatedIdentifierType
      • relationType
    • log
      • logElement
        • event
        • timestamp
        • comment

Below is the IGSN descriptive metadata schema (ISGN / Metadata Version 1.0, 2016). Here there are 17 elements, only one more than the Dublin Core example above, however if the sub-elements in the hierarchy are include there are substantially more.

  • identifier
    • identifierType
  • name
  • alternateIdentifiers
    • alternateIdentifiers
    • identifierType
  • parentIdentifier
    • identifierType
  • CollectionIdentifier
    • identifierType
  • relatedIdentifiers
    • relatedIdentifier
    • identifierType
    • relationType
  • description
  • registrant
    • identifier
      • identifierType
    • name
    •  affiliation
      • identifier
        • identifierType
      • name
  • collector
    • identifier
      • identifierType
    • name
    • affiliation
      • identifier
        • identifierType
      • name
  • contributors
    • contributor
      • contributorType
      • identifier
    • identifierType
    • name
  • geoLocations
    • geoLocation
      • geometry
        • geometryType
        • sridType
      • toponym
        • identifier
          • identifierType
        • name
  • resourceTypes
    • resourceType
    • alternateResourceTypes
      • alternateResourceType
  • materials
    • material
    • alternateMaterials
      • alternateMaterial
  • collectionMethods
    • collectionMethod
    • alternatecollectionMethods
      • alternatecollectionMethod
  • collectionTime
  • sampleAccess
  • supplementalMetadata
    • record

Comparing Dublin Core and IGSN schemas there are noticeable differences. The IGSN schema has two separate schemas that work together; Dublin Core has one. IGSN elements are very specific compared to Dublin Core’s. The elements in the Dublin Core are intentionally vague so as to be adaptable to a variety of resources (Riley, 2017). IGSN on the other hand, is tailored to geological samples and not easily adaptable to other resources, rather limiting its uses. Specificity and complexity can have benefits and burdens. With more tailored metadata, searching becomes more efficient for its specific audience and new relationships between resources can be identified. This in turn can result in new data creation, spurring further research. The burden is that this much metadata is very time consuming to input or may not be entirely known.

To make the comparison between metadata of these two digital libraries more concrete, let us look at a record from each; two pyrites, (#54072) and (IGSN HRV0005V9). These were chosen because they are the same mineral, therefore very similar, however the approaches to describing them are quite different. As discussed above, there are different schemas and elements describing each pyrite. The result of this is that pyrite 54072, is described as though it were a photo, and while a photo is included in the library record, the only element that describes the physical specimen is the dc.description which has the specimen size. The others appear to describe the photo of the pyrite, such as dc.type being photograph, the description indicating the photographer’s name and presence of rights element. Minerals, by definition, are not created by people, so can’t themselves be copyrighted. Pyrite HRV0005V9 however seems centered on the mineral itself despite the fact that not many of the elements have been filled in. There is no rights information here, but rather the current archive and curator. The geolocation in IGSN is comparable to dc.coverage.spatial, however the hierarchical level of detail in the metadata, implies a different philosophies, and users. Overall the description of the two pyrites and the comparison of the schemas and their elements are quite drastic.

 

References

Dunn, L. 2018. Library/Museum Partnership, Colorado School of Mines. in Geoscience Information Society Newsletter. Geoscience Information Society 278. (8). Published online.

Riley, J. 2017. Understanding Metadata: What is Metadata and what is it for?. National Information Standards Organization.  Published online.

ISGN / Metadata Version 1.0. 2016. GitHub, https://github.com/IGSN/metadata/wiki. Accessed Oct. 20, 2018.

SESAR. 2018. System for Earth Sample Registration. Interdisciplinary Earth Data Alliance, http://www.geosamples.org/. Accessed Oct. 20, 2018.

Accessibility, UX, and Digital Libraries

We discussed accessibility as part of our UX week in Digital Libraries, which is a topic that has interested me for a while. As I generally say about libraries and information resources, they are fairly useless if they remain inaccessible; this goes doubly for digital libraries, especially because digital technology has the power to make information more accessible for users with disabilities. Font resizing, captioning, alt text for images, formatting toggles to increase contrast–those are all things we can build into our digital libraries to ensure the information is accessible for all sorts of people. Many e-library resources house an “accessibility statement,” such as this one from the University of Louisville, which outlines how the pages are set up, various access keys patrons can use to browse the page, and information on how pages can be used without certain kinds of software. I wanted to get an idea as to what the current conversation is surrounding accessibility within digital libraries, and what sorts of studies are currently being done.

I found one recent case study by Michael Fernandez (2018) at American University. He decided to conduct a review of AU’s e-resources to see what sorts of commitments the vendors of these resources had to accessibility, how uniform these statements were, and if there was any room for improvement. Fernandez found that of the 528 e-resources subscribed to by AU, about 71% of all resources (376 total) had at least one accessibility indicator by means of a formal accessibility statement, Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT), or language within the license (Fernandez, 2018, p. 83). These findings left me somewhat surprised, mostly because I know that laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act are meant to provide legal protections for people with disabilities to ensure that resources remain open and accessible for them. I figured that by 2018, this would be language that would be used by every e-resource vendor. Then again, I know that truly ensuring that resources remain accessible for those with disabilities is perhaps an easier job said than done; while bigger vendors may use accessibility language more consistently (perhaps, one thinks pessimistically, to keep themselves from being sued), there may not be the same level of oversight for smaller e-resource vendors.

Fernandez (2018) also points out that larger e-resource vendors, such as ProQuest and EBSCO, are more likely to have designated manpower to examine issues of accessibility; a smaller vendor may have one customer service agent who may manage everything from sales issues to technological bugs (p. 84). It’s worth reminding ourselves that features that would make a website more accessible do not automatically pop up by themselves; they require separate coding and testing to ensure they work properly, which means time and money on the side of the vendor. It’s definitely money that is well worth spending, in my book, but some smaller vendors unfortunately may not have the budget to create accessible designs from the get-go.

Perhaps one of the more interesting features of Fernandez’s study for me was his suggestion that libraries should more actively advocate for vendors to confirm that they are committed to providing accessible resources by adding this wording into licenses and contracts. The author notes that vendors may end up using qualifying language to avoid fully committing to accessibility language so as avoid ending up in legal hot water, which is disappointing, but nonetheless the move remains one towards opening up a larger conversation between librarians and vendors on the subject (Fernandez, 2018, p. 86). I do hope that libraries take note of this suggestion and do not doubt their power in requesting these changes to be made. If more libraries begin using this verbiage and requesting (or even requiring) vendors to commit more fully to accessibility practices, sooner or later the industry will be pressured into changing more rapidly. Libraries owe it to their patrons to ensure that the materials they provide will be as accessible as possible so all parties can find the information they need. E-resource vendors may not be beholden to the public quite as directly as libraries are, but it’s definitely something I’d like to see them focus on overall. It’s not just smart for business; it’s the right move to make as library resources become increasingly digital. Ensuring equity of access to information is hugely important, and I hope that e-resource vendors, both big and small, keep this in mind moving forward.

References:

Fernandez, M. (2018). How accessible is our collection? Performing an e-resources accessibility review. The Serials Librarian, 74(1), 81-86. doi:10.1080/0361526X.2018.1430424