Saturday, January 11, 2014

Introduction to User Studies P- 11. Library Use and User Studies By :achandel a

इस ब्लॉग्स को सृजन करने में आप सभी से सादर सुझाव आमंत्रित हैं , कृपया अपने सुझाव और प्रविष्टियाँ प्रेषित करे , इसका संपूर्ण कार्य क्षेत्र विश्व ज्ञान समुदाय हैं , जो सभी प्रतियोगियों के कॅरिअर निर्माण महत्त्वपूर्ण योगदान देगा ,आप अपने सुझाव इस मेल पत्ते पर भेज सकते हैं -

1.0 Introduction

Libraries are established with the objective of providing services to their users. While planning library services, users have to be always kept in view so that the services being proposed and introduced are valued and used to the maximum extent. Most of the patrons are infrequent users who make a few demands for the service. If the library focuses on the heavy users and their known demands and needs, it can achieve outstanding performance… (Evans, et al.1972). However, the philosophy of librarianship is not only to serve heavy and regular users but is also supposed to look after the interests of casual and infrequent users. Everyone whosoever visits library or ask for information should find his/her information conveniently. Everybody in academics; a student or a teacher comes across some or the other problem in finding and accessing information. You as students   of Library & Information and also as users of library and its services might be fully familiar with such day-to-day common problems faced in finding relevant information. To know as to what problems users face in locating and accessing information, paper on ‘User and User Studies’ has been introduced in the LIS curriculum so that the students of today and information professionals of tomorrow are able to understand and conceptualize users’ problems. Taking a simple example of a shopkeeper, who thinks of his consumers before opening of a shop and goes on adding items which have possibility of their use and salability. We notice shopping mall culture in all big cities, and small shops/stores in small cities and villages with different commodities to sell according to the requirements of the consumers. The same principle holds good in librarianship also with the difference that one earns profit and another provides ­­­services without aiming at any profit. The profit is earned and measured in the form of user satisfaction with the services being provided. The primary concern of the library profession has been to assess the information needs of the users and assist them in finding their information resources to solve their day-today problems relating to information access and use.
Information has been recognized as an important resource and commodity for overall development of individuals as well as nations. Today, the richness of nations is measured in terms of availability and use of information. Information poverty or the illiteracy is considered more dangerous than economic poverty. One of the differences between the developed and developing nations is that former makes good use of information than the latter. If we believe that information and knowledge is a power resource, then its holders obviously become powerful. Therefore, availability and use of information make the difference. The very purpose of information and knowledge generation is its use for overall development of humanity and the society. Right from the inception of libraries, serving the users to their utmost satisfaction has been the one and the only one objective.  

User study investigates the information requirements [of the users] almost entirely with how a user navigates a given system and what he or she could do with the data (rather than information) made available by information systems. ... (Wilson, 2006).  Information science firmly founded upon an understanding of information users in the context of their work or social life is also likely to be of more use to the information practitioners by pointing the way to practical innovations in information services, and to potentially beneficial association with other communication-information-related sub system,” (Wilson, 1981). Hollnagel (1980) also writes that information science is concerned with the use of information by humans ... and it is concerned specifically with the way in which humans search for information, systematically as well as unsystematically. The basis for information science is therefore to be found in our experience of using and searching for information by the users.

The scope of user study is  quite wide  and diverse which includes all the aspects of users as well as non-users  relating to use of information. This has been an intriguing area of research in which behavioural aspects of human beings are  to be studied which is ever changing according to situation and many other factors. Users are the consumers and library professionals are the producers, organizer and communicator of information and information products. Therefore, library has to be constantly in touch with its consumers (users) as their behaviours and needs go on changing from time to time. We can easily identify the difference between the users of 20th century and the present era. If a library is developed isolating its present and future readership, it is likely to fail in its objectives. Therefore, it is important that library is fully aware and acquainted with the needs and requirements of its community to be served. Taking the analogy of producers and consumer as cited above, it is important for the producers of the products to first make an assessment of the market as to what types and kinds of products are required in the market. Library should provide what its users want. After doing proper survey of the market, products are manufactured based upon consumers’ needs and behavior in order to yield maximum output in the form of use, salability, profit, etc. whatever the case may be. Similarly, library professionals also should adopt the same analogy to know and understand the customers’ (users) need and take necessary steps to meet them.  Library should always aim to identify and develop services to the maximum satisfaction of users. If there is any disconnect between the two, all effects, money, etc, being spent are going to be a big waste. In view of this, user study is the pre-requisite to provide need-based services and develop and modify information systems and services from time to time.

2.0 Scope of User Study

User means information user, patron, clientele of the library who seeks information from various sources available to him to remove his ‘uncertainty’, ‘inquisitiveness’ ‘ambiguities’ to meet out his/her information need and solve various problems at hand. In these studies user and user groups remain in focus to know and ascertain the facts about their information needs, information use and information seeking behaviours, etc. The scope of user study … can be expanded to include parts of computer science, communication studies and other disciplines (Wilson, 2008). Hewins (1990) called for increased interdisciplinary research in this area. She suggested that research in this area should integrate research being conducted in other disciplines (e.g., psychology, cognitive science and computer science). Wersing (1973) divides user studies into four areas: channels of communications, information receivers (users), data sources and information senders. The core of user studies have three main components; information needs, information seeking behavior and information retrieval, all studies revolve around these aspects. Let us broadly understand these two concepts since these are not precisely definable.  We need information when we feel that our existing knowledge is deficient or inadequqte to solve the problem at hand for the purpose of study and research. In such situation, users start searching information from various sources known to them. How users process their information need and retrieve and use information by going through different stages and steps. Krikelas (1983) states that ‘‘information seeking begins when someone perceives that the current state of knowledge is less than the needed one to deal with some issue (or problem).

These concepts would be discussed elsewhere in detail in different modules. Nicholas and Herman (2009) have devoted whole chapter to define these terms. These studies broadly include all interactions between users and their information products (sources of information), information seeking behaviours including searching and retrieval processes, cognitive process, barrier and intervening variables in information accessing and use (Chandel, 2011). Eithel (1981) states that user studies are composed of who reads what; and how these needs can be identified and satisfied. Tenopir (2003) identified the following areas of user studies:

i)        What people do?
ii)       What people prefer?
iii)     What people say they do?
iv)     What people say they prefer?
v)      What they may do or prefer in the future?

The author prefers the term people rather than user which means, involving whole community to be studied to ascertain the information need of whole population to be served rather than only library users. Needs of users and needs of the people are different. Non-users are to be converted into users or educated to use information. Therefore, identification of information needs of diverse population forming different groups of people in the community is required to be studied to serve them in a better way. Krikelas (1983) in his model identified four steps of information processing and use (1) perceiving a need, (2) the search itself, (3) finding the information, and (4)using the information, which results in either satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The thrust areas of these studies can be summarized as under:

i) To study the reading interests and the preferences of the various categories and groups of library and  information  users belonging to different disciplines and environments.

ii) To know what are the roles, activities, job profiles, academic background and social life, etc. of the users groups  and how these affect upon their information needs and information seeking behaviours?

iii)   To study the information seeking behavior of different categories of  users, how they search information and what  search strategies, browsing pattern they follow, and what problems and barrier they face in the process of finding  information?

iv)  To know what are the theories and models established  on information seeking behaviours and needs, and how  identification of the behaviours are useful in such studies?

v)      What channels of communication and sources the users quite often consult and use and with what frequency?

vi) To evaluate the services being provided with users perspectives and take their feedback to improve and make  services more effective and meaningful.

vii)   To go beyond whatwhy, how of usability of resources and find out the measures to educate and direct them to use  right resources which may not be known to them through educating users.

viii)  To study non-users to know as to why information available to them is not being used, and identify those factors  which are responsible for non-use or under-use of resources.

ix) To know the level of user satisfaction from the services being provided and take appropriate measure to improve  them, etc.

Wilson (1994) presented a model of user study covering the following components in his paper published as early as in 1981 which has as much relevance today as during the time of its proposal.
We may agree that most "user studies" have been about how people use systems, rather than about the users themselves and other aspects of their information-seeking behaviour (Wilson, 1994). These studies include:  who library patrons are, how they use libraries, and more recently, what the information needs of people  are and how various sources of information help or do not help them, independently of formal information delivery systems such as libraries  (Julian, 1996). Various literature surveys have also revealed that most of the studies have been conducted on sources of information being referred by the users. Now the question arises as to what follow up actions are required to be taken by the practitioners in the light of such findings. In such situation, when users were found to use e-resources more than printed material, and their preferences were found  more on Internet resources in full text form than  resources in the library in printed format. In view of such findings what measures have to be taken  as a follow up action to improve the existing services by the practitioners need to be ascertained and thoughtfully implemented. The recommendations and findings of most of these studies have not been implemented. The outcome and implementation of user studies remain questionable despite the fact that a lot of literature has been generated on the subject. Nevertheless, the importance of these studies cannot be undermined, provided appropriate research methodology is applied. Both users as well as non-users groups form the population of the such studies to be conducted with holistic approach relating to information communication, access, retrieval, transfer and exchange.

3.0 Brief Historical Account

Libraries were never established isolating their users. They have always been there in the background of establishment of any library. User studies have a long history; as long as the libraries themselves. Users have been always  in focus right from the inception of libraries all over the world. Libraries cannot be thought of without their users. It is a different matter that the formal studies began much later when need for such studies was realized and brought out at verbal plane. Before the initiation of these studies, librarians used to make assessment of users need for books and other material hypothetically based upon their perception, formal or informal interaction with the users and indirectly observing their behaviours while in the libraries and using resources. Users’ statistics might have been another indicator of users approach to library collection usage and users preferences in the beginning. Wilson (2008) traces its history  from  1916 whereas he also quotes the study by McDiarmid (1940)  on library survey  produced in 1940. Siatri (1999) states that the beginning of user study started since 1940’s. Till 1965, there were 676 user studies listed in ‘Bibliography on User Studies’ (David and Bailey, 1969). More studies started coming up after 1948 when Royal Society Scientific Conference was held. The first library surveys were designed to discover what categories of persons used libraries, not what those persons did when they were in a library nor what life or work issues were behind their library use. In earlier studies emphasis was on discovery and description of document usage  (Wilson, 2008).

During 1960’s two important studies were conducted by Menzel (1966) and Line (1971) in the field of science and social science respectively which deserve special mention because of their landmark contributions for further studies. These two studies made the impact and the need to conduct such studies was well realized by the professionals. INFROSS study started during autumn of 1967 with a large sample with multiple questionnaires, which led to the design of information system in social sciences. This was the first study conducted in the field of social sciences whose objectives were achieved by implementing its findings. However, such studies had been attempted earlier in the field of science but not in the field of social science since there was more awareness and consciousness of use of information among scientists as compared to social scientists. Menzel (1966) and Line (1971) made a good beginning of user studies and set directions for further studies. During 1963-1969) the American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a series of studies on users’ behaviours.  During 1970s these studies became quite popular and many research projects were funded by various organizations and association. In India, the feasibility study of establishment of NISSAT (National Information System in Science and Technology was conducted by Peter Lazar in 1970 assessing the information needs of scientific community of India on behalf of UNESCO on the request of Govt. of India.
The establishment of Centre for Research on User Studies (CRUS) in 1975 in the Department of Information Studies at University of Sheffield gave more emphasis on conducting user studies (Siatri, 1999). The Department had started user studies in early 1970s as reported by Roberts and Wilson (1988). These studies were   in the form of student dissertations and occasional research projects, but got further promotion under the project  funded by BLRDD (British Library R. & D. Department)  (Wilson, 1995). Earlier studies were limited to library surveys relating to library use, readers preferences and interests. Crawford (1978) estimated that there might have been more than1000 studies up-to 1978. More and more literature started coming up during 1980s and  1990s onwards, with broader scope of these studies. During 1990 there were only 9 papers which had appeared in Web of Science which increased to 200 by 2006 (Wilson, 2008). However, Web of Sciencedoes not cover all the journals of Library & Information Science. Therefore, some studies might have been not been covered in web of science. From 1990-1994, 588 articles were indexed in library literature under the terms ‘use studies’ and ‘information needs’ (Julian. 1998). During 1990s user studies became one of the main areas of research for PhD programmes in many universities in India and abroad. The courses on user studies were also introduced in many schools/Departments of Library & Information Science. 

It is now estimated that 200-300 articles are being published every year on the subject (Chang, 2011). Jarvelin and Vakkari (1990) estimated that research on information needs and uses constitutes 8% of total research in Library and Information Science. However, according to Wilson (1981), the progress towards some theoretical understanding of the concept of ‘information need’ has been slow, though literature growth was quite high. He supports his remarks by the statement that subject from Menzel to Paisley through the various authors in ARIST volumes to Ford review of 1977 did not show any significant progress in theoretical understanding mainly due to inadequate methodology and failure do research that is cumulative.  On the other side, he also mentions elsewhere that there is no other area of information science except information retrieval that has occasioned as much research effort and writing as ‘user studies’ (Wilson, 1981).

Literature growth in user studies has really been fast since 1990 onwards but regretfully as had been realized by many authors and the practitioners that the implementations of the findings of these studies have not been so significant. Despite the accumulation of vast literature including thousands of PhDs produced, there is hardly any theoretical foundation of these studies with a generalized findings and conclusions, perhaps because of lack of standard methodology and the nature of the subject which involves behavioural pattern of users which are ever changing from one situation to another. Nevertheless, there are some important contributions in the form of various  models of information seeking behavior which will be discussed separately in other modules of this course.

4.0 Why User Studies?

One of the topics discussed during the International Conference of Scientific Information held in 1958 was ‘Literature and reference needs of scientists… .’ This conference provided good platform to deliberate on information needs of scientists. Urquhart (1948) made the following statement during the conference, highlighting the importance of user studies:

“…a knowledge of the requirements of the different users of scientific information and the uses to which they wish to put the information they secure should be the ultimate determining factor in the designing of methods of storage and retrieval of scientific information."

Evans, et al. (1972) stated that determining user requirement is most important as an aid to evaluate, selection and weeding out needs which are not being met. According to Dewe & Deunette (1979) developers of information services should see to it that information from user is more actively involved in designing phase and that the environment within which the services are used in all their sociological and psychological are also taken into account.

Hood and Blackwell (1976) in their United States study identified  that significant meaningful pattern can be established [by conducting  user study], there would be at least a beginning basis for designing and redesigning information products and services in terms of different classes of users. Planning any functional and effective information system requires study of user behavior, which of course is not as easy as it appears to be. John Martyn (1974) while endorsing the opinions of many others, agrees that ultimate value of any information communication system should be thought of in terms of user, that are made of information and subsequent impact of information on users' scientific and technical behavior. Hale (1986) summarized the purpose of  user studies to:

i)        Optimizing the allocation of operating resources by customizing services to selected clientele
ii)       Fine tuning the delivery of information within existing systems.

It is unanimously agreed  that knowing your present and future readership is of paramount importance and  the prerequisite to design and develop any information system to provide need-based information services, failing which there is every possibility of mismatch and disconnect between producers and the consumers. It becomes increasingly important when practitioners think of marketing of information. This pre-supposes surveying the market (community) of users to assess the information needs  of the consumers fully well so that information products and services get their clientele. Belkin (1977) also realized that information users are often in  anomalous state of knowledge (ASK) this anomaly can be resolved by “the effective communication of desired information between human generator and human user.” This state of knowledge caused by ‘uncertainty and ‘inadequacy of knowledge’  prevailing in the minds of the users which needs to be resolved so that they can come out of the prevailing ‘problematic situation’ and find the solution through getting information.   This requires perfect communication between generator of information and the recipients and thorough cognitive analysis of the queries existing in the minds of the users. Most of the users even remain unaware of the some of the useful services being provided by the library and are not likely to make use of such services. This situation arises due to lack of communication between library and its users. The information science mainly deals with collection building, organizing and systematization, retrieval and use of information resources. A useful information output can only be created if the designer understands the product's intended users and their information needs (Landu, 1982). At every stage participation and involvement of users play an important role in introducing, improving and reinventing services.    
 In survey report of DLF, objectives of the user survey have been identified as under:

i)        Patterns, frequency, ease, and success of use
ii)       User needs, expectations, perspectives, priorities, and preferences for library collections, services, and systems
iii)     User satisfaction with vendor products, library collections, services, staff, and Web sites
iv)     Service quality
v)      Shifts in user attitude and opinion
vi)     Relevance of collections or services to the curriculum (Covey, 2002).

5.0. Research Methodology

There is unanimous opinion that studying the library use and the user is one of the important areas of study which has been well realized since 1960s. It is also true that research output has its value provided results are authentic and reliable so that the findings of these studies can yield desired results. Various literature surveys have revealed that there has been large number of studies on the subject. The question arises about the reliability of the data collected and the authenticity of the findings drawn out of these studies. The common methodologies applied in these studies have been: observation keeping ‘… our eye on user’ (Zweizig, 1976), analysis of documentary sources, library­­­­­ usage through library statistics, case study, citation analysis, interview, etc. (Chandel, Saraf, 2002). With the advent of new technology, new research methodologies have been evolved; such as data collection through E-mail, social networking, on-line interviews, virtual ethnography, log analysis, etc.

Application of strong research methodology is necessary for every research topic irrespective of area of research  and discipline. In these studies, it has been mostly a survey method based upon scheduled questionnaire. The authenticity of data collection through survey method has always been doubtful. It is a common observation that questionnaires are rarely filled up seriously and honestly by the respondents. When filled up and responded, there are bias opinions. However, it depends upon the researcher as to how reliable data is to be collected and which methodology is to be applied. Crawford (1978) has rightly made the following observation:

‘Sophisticated social science concepts combine with quantitative techniques produced both case report and field studies…utilizing well designed survey instrument, carefully selected. Stratified random sampling, and appropriate techniques of statistical analysis… slowly, valid and empirical data are being accumulated which in time will contribute to a unifying theory of information needs and uses. This accumulated  findings and data after scientific analysis lead to directly or indirectly to improvement of systems.’

The pertinent question before us is to know as to what these accumulated findings have given to the profession and how far these findings have been responsible to achieve the identified objectives. Most of these studies have been attempted only for sake of research not for implementation and arriving at some theoretical foundations and models.   Only a very few selected studies have made significant contribution to the profession. It is the choice of the right sample and the right methodology which matter significantly in these studies (Chandel and Saraf, 2002). Julien et al.  (2011) while analyzing methods used in studying information behaviour of users conducted during  the period of 1984-1998 reported that 58.1% of the studies were based upon survey method. The declining trend of using survey method from 58.1% to 44.7% was reported in another study conducted for the period 1998-2008 (Julien and Duggan, 2000). Applying content analysis method to analyze literature published on LIS from 1990-1994 found that  56% of research methodologies employed in research studies was based upon survey research the “other” category of research methods included content analysis, unobtrusive observation, and cluster analysis (Julien,1996).  The analysis further revealed that log analysis, ethnography, interview, citation and experiments methods were also used.

Survey method based upon questionnaire has its inherent limitations often criticized but hardly replicable. This means that the methodology must be used thoughtfully and carefully to collect factual data by applying single methodology or in combination with other method(s). Lyons (2011) while pointing out the limitation of research methodologies being applied observed that   “…often they employed deficient research methods or promote unjustifiable interpretations of data they have collected.” Greifender (2011) made an observation that library and information science education does not always offer librarians in-depth methodological education in social science, psychology, ethnography, and mathematics or computer science. But now teaching of research methods is being given due importance in almost all the teaching departments in Indian Universities at Master Degree and PhD levels. Over the years, there has been good progress in the improvement of research methodology and synergies and combination of methodologies are being applied for authenticity and reliability of data. Since user studies mostly deal with behaviour and attitudes of users, so complexity and intricacies in attempting these studies are quite obvious which can be solved by the combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies.   

6.0. Summary

The history of ‘user studies’ is now more than 70 years old and large numbers of research papers, PhD theses, dissertation, project reports, conference and seminar presentations have been cumulated. During 1970s and 1980s trend was to write on classification indexing and information retrieval. It was also realized that the studies of  users  behavior and identification of their need for information are pre-requisites to plan and develop information systems, improve existing services and evaluate the functioning of the library from users perspectives. In view of this, user studies represented an increasing proportion of information science research (Summers, 1984). Wilson (198l) had made this observation in the beginning of 1980s that "apart from information retrieval there is virtually no other area of information science that has occasioned as much research effort and writing as user studies."This trend continued during 1990s. Even today many studies are being conducted on the subject but with different approach warranted by new environment of digital age. Traditional settings of users have changed in the present environment. Users’ behaviours over the years have been changing, consequently, findings of these studies also lose their relevance with the changing attitudes of users.  Their dependence on libraries has tremendously gone down and they are satisfied whatever, they get on Internet which calls for conversion of print resources into digital which are  easily available and accessible to them. Libraries have to meet such challenges to attract users to use their resources within the library or outside by modifying and reinventing services according to their preferences and choicesRanganathan (1953) in his  Five Laws of Library Science have focused on uniting the users with their resource with the purpose to maximize the use and serving them to their utmost satisfaction. Menzel (1964) also in his study on ‘Information Needs of Current Scientific Research.’ emphasized the usefulness of these studies by stating that the guiding slogans must be speed, efficiency, and comprehensiveness [in the services being offered]. The overriding aim, in other words, is to bring information to the scientist promptly, to bring him all that is relevant, and to bring it to him with a minimum of waste motion, especially on the scientist's own part. We should not depend upon our experience, judgments and presumptions about users information needs, better ask them what they would like to read and for what purpose? This will enable libraries to serve them better.  


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        41. Zweizig, D. L. “Measuring library use.” Drexel Library Quarterly 13 (2001): 3-13.

        Did you know?


        “…Within information science, the terms "user studies", "information needs" and "information-seeking behaviour" are associated with a diverse range of problem areas, from studies that provide a basis for systems development or improvement, through bibliometrics, user education, readability of texts, studies of reading and readership, to information retrieval design and evaluation.



        "Apart from information retrieval there is virtually no other area of information science that has occasioned as much research effort and writing as user studies." 

        Wilson, T. D. “On User Studies and Information Needs. Journal of Librarianship37, no. 1 (1981)

        Interesting Facts

        Interesting Facts

        Much research in information science entails the study of human perceptions and behaviour. Often, data concerning behaviour are sought using questionnaires in which respondents are asked to report their perceptions, preferences, attitudes or behaviour. Users don’t provide factual data. Users’ behaviour is unpredictable and ever changing. Survey method of data collection is neither reliable nor authentic but not easily replicable with.
        Most of the information user remain in the state of Anomalous State of Knowledge (ASK) and need staff assistance to process their queries to remove their anomalies and ambiguities encountered during analyzing their information needs.
        “Research methodology that is ultimately tautological to the extent that, as a perspective, it may constitute a priori assumption that is not tested within the research. That is, it is not explicitly challenged; indeed, it may not be formulated in terms of a challengeable proposition within the research design.”

        "... a knowledge of the requirements of the different users of scientific information and the uses to which they wish to put the information they secure should be the ultimate determining factor in the designing of methods of storage and retrieval of scientific information."

        Points of ponder

        Points of ponder

        ‘The concept of information use is too broad, elusive, amorphous  and variant in its nature, 'it is less definable but definitely palpable.'
        Information seeking behavior can be defined as to how information user,  search and retrieve and use information, systematically as well as unsystematically

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