Friday, August 6, 2010


While studying e-publishing at UCL, many important issues and questions regarding human information behavior were raised. Below is a journal recounting my experiences as well as a literature review and paper which concern the way in which we seek out, consume and read content in the digital environment. These questions have always been of much interest to me and this course was able to illuminate some of these issues.

My Journal

Week 1
Day 1

Upon arriving to UCL we were greeted by Professor Watkinson and Professor Dawson. They oriented us with the campus and went over our busy two week syllabus. Later in the afternoon we heard from Dr. Ian Rowland and learned about his work with CIBER, the Centre for Information Behavior and Evaluation of Research. His discussion on information behavior in regards to who and how digital resources are used really engaged me. My notion of how we read in both the print and digital environments was both challenged and expanded.

Week 1

Day 2

Dr. Claire Warwick’s presentation on digitization and the humanities was quite interesting. I loved the multitude of possibilities she presented on how to further engage the public in via social media. The way collections can be explored and interpreted is greater democratized in the digital environment. I thought she made a great point by mentioning that engagement with digital collections often leads to engagement with physical collections and does not necessarily act as a replacement, as that was something I had been wondering about myself. One of her students Kathryn Piquette then spoke about various reader experiences and an how individuals cognitive process can affected in different contexts and environments.

Later that afternoon we visited and toured the British Library. I was immediately struck by the impressive display of King George III’s collection in the center of the building and the fact that it is still utilized by scholars today. Sue Aspitel gave us an overview of the library’s collection and mission while Ian Cooke told us about some of the technological advances in databases and archives. I was most interested in Sarah Evan’s presentation on various ongoing projects such as oral history collections and the archiving of zines. In regards to oral histories I loved that the library was helping in the creation of its own content, which represents the evolving role of the library in the twenty-first century.

Day 3

Ruth Jones from Ingram Press discussed trends in e-book publishing. It was interesting to learn about the changing marketplace with retailers expanding the presence of e-commerce operations and how Web 2.0 introduces new ways to drive content discovery and thus sales. Allison Jones from Palgrave McMillian also lectured about humanities and social science publishing in the digital age. I liked how she broke down the different mediums (i.e. journals, monographs, textbooks etc) and how the nature of each lends itself to different formats (i.e. static or dynamic XML or HTML and PDFs) and the different ways each are offered based on how they’re being used.

Later that afternoon we visited SAGE publications where Marta Sedgwick and Huw Alexander continued the morning’s discussion on the many benefits of e-books (searchability, discoverability and the freedom to learn wherever you are). Based on all the day’s speakers, the publishing industry is clearly at an exciting and challenging time.

Day 4

We visited Oxford and I was taken aback by the beauty and history of the city. Our first stop was the Oxford University Press where Robert Faber spoke to us about the institution’s history and current ongoing projects. We then took a tour of the OUP museum and were lead by the highly entertaining and theatrical Marvin. I loved seeing the Alice In Wonderland print as well as the letter written by Tolkien about the origin of the word Hobbit. I was thoroughly impressed with the literary history on display.

Later that day we toured the Bodleian Library. Out guide Bill Clennel was extremely knowledgeable and gave us a thorough overview of the university library’s history and purpose. I was in awe of the rare and historical books and documents that surrounded us. I felt privileged to get such an insider’s perspective on not only the collections but the buildings as well. Following the library tour, we enjoyed a visit to the Ashmolean Museum. I was also impressed by the breadth and scope of their art and cultural artifacts on display.

Day 5

We enjoyed a great cultural day lead by Tula Giannini. We visited the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern. It was wonderful to explore the city I hadn’t seen before.

Week 2

Day 1

This morning we heard from Caren Miloy from JISC Collections who spoke about resources within academic libraries. Then Vanessa Lafaye discussed e-publishing with specific regards to e-journals. It was which prior to today we hadn’t discussed in much depth so I was quite interested in what she had to say. Later that afternoon Professor Watkinson gave us a brief history of e-presses and prepared us for the upcoming conference.

Day 2

We spent the day in Cambridge. First we visited the ProQuest offices where they discussed at length some of their collections and upcoming projects. I was extremely impressed by the depth of their many web-based research resources, especially their historical collections of early European books and the Vogue archive. I was also impressed with their new platform project, which allows for cross-searching. They stressed the importance of usability testing via student observation and surveys and it was interesting to see those methodologies in action after hearing about them in so many of my other SILS courses at Pratt. Following lunch we toured the quaint Pembroke library and campus. It was also interesting to learn about the difference between the American and British university systems since I was unfamiliar with the cultural differences.

Day 3
We visited the Office of Public Sector Information. While somewhat dry, it was still interesting to get a governmental perspective on electronic information distribution.

Day 4
Today began the first day of the Bloomsbury Conference on E-Publishing. The theme of this year’s conference was databases, datasets and the various ways they are organized, maintained and preserved in digital repositories. Welcoming remarks were made by Professor David Nicholas of CIBER/UCL, Dr. Joyce Ray and Professor David Baker. Kevin Ashley, director of the JISC Digital Curation Centre, Wilma Mossink and Dr. Eefke Smit helped frame the discussion and raised some important questions. The afternoon presentations drew from recent studies by leading information scientists Prof. Carol Tenopir, Prof. Carole Palmer on how data is being organized and used by scholars. The concept of context and archival presentation was also main component of the day’s lectures, especially during Ed Pentz, Adam Farquhar, head of Digital Library Technology at the British Library and Neil Beagrie presentations.

An issue that particularly alarmed me was the sheer amount of raw data that goes unpublished and thus unpreserved. The question of just who should be responsible for preservation was also fascinating. The role of researchers, publishers and librarians alike seems to often go undefined when it comes to the maintainence and preservation of raw data.

Day 5
The second day of the conference focused more on digital curation and various practices and content within different disciplines. I was most impressed with Dr. Claire Warwick’s presentation on digital humanities scholars and Dr. Peter Burnhill’s work in the social sciences. According to Dr. Warwick, humanities scholars use different information seeking techniques from scientists (including less keyword searches). Often time resources are not designed to meet their habits or needs. The needs and information behaviors of social scientists must continue to be studied via further usability testing so that resources can be tailored to the specific needs of their users.

Overall I found the course and conference to be quite informative and enlightening. My previous knowledge of e-publishing was quite basic, but I left the class with a much greater understanding of the many issues and challenges librarians and publishers face in this exciting and transitional digital age.

Literature Review

Agger, M. (June 13, 2008). Lazy eyes: How we read online. Slate.

Agger discusses how we read online materials as opposed to print resources. He claims the way we seek out and consume information in the digital realm greatly differs in that we are more likely to read less of more given just how much content is available at our fingertips.

Bailey T. (2004). Electronic book usage at a master’s level I university: A longitudinal study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 32(1): 52-59.

From 2000-2004 the Auburn University Montgomery Library measured the usage of electronic resources. There was an increase across the board in almost every subject matter, while print usage decreased. Bailey reports these findings while also noting what the implications are for the roles of libraries in the digital age, as long as their subsequent collection development policies.

Liu, A., Aamodt, S., Wolf, M., Gelernter, D., and G. Mark. Does the Brain Like E-books? (October 14, 2009) The New York Times.

The New York Times solicited and compiled the opinions of multiple scholars and experts on their views of the future e-books and reading behaviors. English professor Alan Liu states that digital media behaves differently than traditional book because of it inherently lacks a “containing structure” and as a result we consume it differently, often faced with distraction, yet with the greater possibility of content discovery. Meanwhile Sandra Aamodt, editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience, claims that while people have grown more accustomed to reading in electronic mediums, the usefulness for serious reading is ultimately dependent on the strength and persistence to focus on the content and not get sidetracked by distractions. Professor Maryanne Wolff claims that no one really knows the long-term developemental effects of immersive reading in the digital medium. David Gelernter however believes that technology with evolve in a natural, more organic way, integrating chips into books. Professor Gloria Mark discusses the duality of hypertext and how they can provide additional information to a text, but can also serve as a distraction.

Nicholas, D., Huntington P., Jamali, H., and A. Watkinson. (2006). The information seeking behaviour of the users of digital scholarly journals. Information Processing and Management 42 (2006): 1345-1365.

Deep log analysis (DLA) was utilized to study the research habits of three million scholar and their information seeking behaviour when using the digital library journals EmeraldInsight and Blackwell Synergy. The number of items visited and the number of visits were two of the main metrics used to analyze their usage. 91% of users used the “simple search” to field their query while only 9% used the expanded search option. Users are also more likely to “bounce” and spend shorter amounts of time on a multitude of pages as part of the search and browsing process.

Nielson, J. (July 2, 2010). iPad and Kindle Reading Speeds. Alertbox

This study of reading speeds of linear text found that people are reading on electronic tablets at faster speeds than in the past. However it is still not up to the speeds of reading print. The study reports that The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print and then speculates on the reasons for these findings via information behavior theory.

Rowlands, I., Nicholas, D., Williams, P., Huntington H., and M. Fieldhouse. (2008)The google generation: the information behaviour of the researcher of the future. New Information Perspectives 60(4): 290-310.

According to Rowlands et al. the google generation refers to the group of people born after 1993. This paper sought to determine their information behavior habits and compare and contrast them with earlier generations. They are thought to be digital natives, having grown up with greater availabilty and more advanced computer technology. They are often more comfortable using search engines than actual libraries services in terms of seeking out information Having been shaped by greater digital choice, there is a greater demand for instant gratification and 24/7 access and the ability to “power browse” through information. However the information literacy of young people has not improved with access to digital technology, which implies libraries are more relevant than ever in terms of helping people determine accuracy, relevance and authority of sources.

My paper

The role of libraries in the twenty-first century has greatly expanded and altered in the advent of the digital age. Given greater technological advances, more information than ever has been made available via the internet and electronic resources. However given the abundance of content, information literacy of users has not necessarily adjusted or improved.

According to one study conducted by Auburn University, print usage decreased by more than a third between 2000 and 2004 at the University’s Montgomery Library among undergraduates and masters students. The use of electronic materials however, increased three-fold. This includes e-books, e-journals and other internet sources. These findings seem logical given the increasing technological savvy-ness of the latest college-entering generations.

Since the way people seek information is rapidly changing, so is the way they read and consume it. As some researchers, including Slate write Michael Agger puts it, we are apparently “information foragers”. According to his research, in the earlier days of the internet, when it was more time consuming to switch between websites, we were more focused and would stay in one place and dig deeply into that information. Now we scan sites quickly, browse for key words and phrases and rarely stay in one place at a time.

However, this also raises the question should e-books and other electronic resources be treated in the same way as print materials when it comes to the way we read. When we read the web, we are actively engaged in a vast network of participation. It’s as if we have a buffet of information at our fingertips and we can pick and choose less of more. Whereas when we read print material, it’s as if we have been given one main course, left to consume more of less.

This theory has been the subject of many academic studies. Information seeking behaviour, especially that of younger users was the subject of a 200 study by UCL’s Centre for Information Behavior and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER). According to CIBER’s findings, the Google generation has been shaped by greater digital choice and 24/7 access to content, there is a greater demand for instant gratification. The ability to “power browse” through vast amounts of information and skim through multiple articles upon quick database or search engine searches has completely altered the way we consume information. This information seeking behavior was completely unknown and practically impossible outside the digital landscape.

However this raises a whole new set of concerns in regards to information literacy and comprehension. According to Maryanne Wolf, a professor of child development at Tufts, the “greatest concern is that the young brain will never have the time (in milliseconds or in hours or in years) to learn to go deeper into the text after the first decoding, but rather will be pulled by the medium to ever more distracting information, sidebars, and now, perhaps, videos (in the new vooks).”

I found that quote particularly alarming, from both a developmental and information science perspective. As an avid consumer of electronic content, I am well aware of just how many distractions loom at the user’s fingertips. According to Professor Gloria Mark, “When online, people switch activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes.” Now with the inception of the iPad, an e-reader with a multitude of potential applications, the ability to grasp and comprehend content at a deeper level seems more difficult than ever. The ability to check email, use social networks, and browse the web all on the same platform as an e-reader challenge the traditional ways in which we read.

These findings regarding both the increase in use of e-resources and concern for lack of deeper comprehension implies that the need for libraries is more pertinent than ever. Given then abundance of resources made available librarians must often aid users in finding content that is authoritative, accurate and relevant to their needs. This is especially necessary in academic libraries and other scholarly settings, as this is where the research skills of future generations of scholars are being shaped.

The implications for research libraries is vast. They clearly have to understand the habits of the behavior of today’s virtual scholar, and also design systems accordingly. According to the CIBER study, libraries “should also accept that much content will seldom or never be used, other than perhaps a place from which to bounce”. While it initially struck me as disheartening that content maybe neglected, it at least serves another purpose in regards to serendipitous discovery via “bouncing”.

But all of these findings about information foraging still left me wondering about how we read electronically once we find what it is we’re looking for, particularly within the context of e-books and e-readers According to one usability test findings conducted by Jakob Nielson, “The iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print. However, the difference between the two devices was not statistically significant because of the data's fairly high variability.” This test used linear narratives such e-books, rather than other applications in its methodology.

While the results may not be statistically significant, it still seems self-evident that we clearly read slower when not reading the print medium. After hearing Dr. Kathryn Piquette discuss how the individual’s cognitive process of reading can be greatly altered depending on the context and environment in which they read in, I feel a lot more aware and enlightened about this phenomenon. There is clearly an adjustment to be made for many reasons. I’m sure the comportment of the body and glare and orientation of the screen have something to do with it.

However I wonder if our cognitive process too will alter as we adapt to the increasing prominence and availability of e-readers. Professor Sandra Aamodt claims, “As technology continues to improve, we can probably expect to see electronic reading become as useful as paper for most purposes.” I can’t help but wondering if or when this predication may come to fruition and if it does how long do libraries have to prepare their services in this greatly evolving digital landscape.