• Digital collections and the User

    Hi, everyone.  Here was my original submission:

    “I’m deeply interested in how researchers (undergrads, grad students, independent scholars, adjuncts, faculty, you name it) access and use resources within the digital humanities (e.g., NINES, Victorian Women Writers Project), and what the implications are for libraries, in terms of organizing and making these resources more accessible, as well as the implications for researchers and their work.  What affect will the digital humanities have on the nature, medium, and reception of future scholars’ work?”

    Updated post:

    While I am still keenly interested in exploring the questions above, for purposes of time and my sanity, I’m directing my questions toward college and university researchers–undergraduates, graduates, and faculty–within the field of English literature.  The reasons for my focus are my educational background (I have master’s degrees in English and library science), the existing multitude of free digital resources in English literature, and the fact that I have a ready/semi-captive audience (I coordinate the undergraduate research program at my institution and am currently a part-time doctoral student in English).  Ultimately, however, I’m interested in extending my questions about usage to researchers in other areas of the humanities as well.

    The actual questions I’m interested in are as follows:

    1. how do researchers within the field of humanities (esp. English literature) find and use free digital collections (e.g., Victorian Women’s Writers Project, Google Books, Wikipedia)?
    2. what do they use these collections and websites for? (e.g., for background research, teaching preparation, as sources in final papers)?
    3. what implications does this usage have for teaching and for scholarly communication? As websites and digital collections become a greater part of teaching and learning, to what extent are they migrating into the arena of scholarly communication?  What is the relation (if any) between the pedagogical and scholarly use of digital collections?  Are these online collections good enough for undergraduate students to use, but still largely unacceptable in the ‘higher’ circles of academia?
    4. and finally — coming at this from the other direction — how much usage (i.e., website hits and comments) do free digital collections currently receive?  What implications does this usage have for usability studies pertaining to those digital collections?

    In addition to consulting case studies, I’ve surveyed approximately 30 undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty (thus far), asking them questions 1 and 2 above.  (Since I’m still in the beginning stages of this study, I haven’t gathered as much for  questions 3 and 4.)  At my talk I will happily share both my survey and my preliminary data, and am very willing to collaborate with anyone whose interests/sessions dovetail with mine.


  1. Aditi says:

    Your data and the questions you ask sound great.

    As a computer scientist working on user interfaces, I think that before we can make the next big step towards making the information in digital collections more useful, we really need to understand how humanities researchers use these collections and what their workflow is.

    I’ve been talking to some history students about their processes – but not specifically about how they use digital collections. I hope a lot of active researchers attend your session, so I can hear everything they have to say!

    • meiman says:

      Thanks, Aditi! I’m glad my questions don’t seem too unwieldy, and am looking forward to talking more about the relationship between researchers’ habits and user interfaces, and how they play off each other.

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