Since the last post here about this project things have moved along significantly, so it seemed like a good time for a quick update on the progress. Over the last six weeks or so, the research has amassed an enormous amount of data which has given us some real insights and opportunities to improve the iDiscover user experience.

As always, the project has taught us much more than just how the platform itself is used. We’ve learnt a lot about the lives of students and staff at the University, including (but by no means limited to) their approach to and use of digital and physical ‘library’ spaces.

iDiscover is undeniably an important tool, which has a significant role to play in the work that members of the University are conducting every day. It is, however, one of many tools that people use. A large focus of the project has been working towards finding out exactly where iDiscover fits in the approaches people have to searching for and interacting with sources of information and data. This knowledge is invaluable as it gives us an opportunity to focus efforts and resources on improving the aspects of the system that people value the most, to hone in on and prioritise what is (forgive the management speak) its USP, or Ps.

Futurelib HQ

[Analysis work (colourful as always) in progress at Futurelib HQ]

To the eagle-eyed amongst you: peeking out from the corner of the photo above are the four personas arrived at based on the project research data. More information about personas can be found at the link below, but to give a brief explanation of how they work: personas are fictional characters who represent people who use a product or service. Created based on evidence gained through work with real users, personas provide an opportunity to focus design and development. They are a constant reminder of who a website or other service is being developed for.

In addition to uncovering these wider insights about our users, a great deal of time has been spent concentrating on the ‘nitty gritty’, i.e. recording in detail which aspects of the iDiscover interface are used, how and when people are using them in their search processes and the extent to which they are, or are not, intuitively understood. Icons and buttons, terminology and links: finding out what does and doesn’t make sense to the people using iDiscover has been a fascinating experience in and of itself. This is the stuff that has the potential to have an influence on the evaluation and re-configuration of the platform; we have the opportunity to tailor aspects of the interface to better suit the preferences and behaviours of our users.

Natalie observation

[Above: Natalie Kent conducts an observation session with a PhD student using iDiscover]

Alongside the Futurelib project, there has been a large amount of effort, by the Digital Services team in the University Library, dedicated to improving the overall iDiscover user experience. The interface is an important part of this, but a lot of what the platform relies on to be successful is the way in which it interacts with and relates to the underlying metadata and its (complicated) retrieval mechanics and algorithms. Serious, concentrated work is being done in these areas and without giving too much away, if you’re working in a Cambridge library you should see real changes to iDiscover in the coming weeks and months, which we hope will result in significant improvements for your users.

Back on the Futurelib side of things, there is still work to do on analysing the data gathered during the project, with the aim of producing a number of outputs:

  • Recommendations to inform re-configuration and development of the iDiscover user interface.
  • Documentation to send to Ex Libris (the supplier of the discovery system Primo, branded iDiscover in the Cambridge instance), i.e. an evidence-based account of current experiences of the underlying Primo platform in Cambridge.
  • Educational tools which can be used when communicating with users of the iDiscover platform.
  • A full public-facing project report, outlining the research methodology and narrative, the analysis process (including the personas mentioned above) and the outcomes and outputs.

Watch this space!