Following experts at work in their own information spaces: Using observational methods to develop tools for the digital library

Paul Gorman, Mary Lavelle, Lois Delcambre, David Maier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Digital libraries allow information access to be integrated into work processes rather than separated from them, but also have the potential to overwhelm users with excessive or irrelevant information, impairing their performance rather than improving it. With the opportunity to create new models of what a library is and how it can be used comes the challenge of improving our understanding of its patrons, their work, and the circumstances under which they perform it. In this article we offer an overview of our experiences using observational methods to learn about one class of users, expert clinicians treating patients in hospital settings. We describe the evolution of our understanding of the users and their informational tasks, and how this evolving understanding is guiding our efforts to create digital library technology. The multidisciplinary composition of our team has enriched our observations and improved the validity of our analysis and interpretations. The multiple observation methods we have employed, including "think-aloud" scenarios in the laboratory, participant observation in the field, key informant interviews, and focus group sessions, have enabled us to enrich the data set, gain greater insight, and verify findings with informants. The relatively tight cycle of observation, analysis, development, and repeat observation has enabled us to iteratively and more rapidly refine our "user model" and "task model," improving, we hope, the usefulness of the technologies we are developing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1245-1250
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Dec 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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