by Ceci Jones
Andrew Dillon doesnt deny the power that digital libraries possess.
(Digital libraries) are a revolution potentially as important as the emergence of the printing press, says Dillon, IU Bloomington associate professor of information science in the School of Library and Information Science and associate professor of informatics in the new School of Informatics.
But how beneficial is all that information if users cant navigate their way around a digital library (DL) and log off in a frustrated huff?
people start interacting with a digital library, . . . in just six or
seven links, they may be, in effect, on the other side of the world.
Getting back proves very difficult for many people.
The world of digital libraries is in a state of chaos at the moment, says Dillon. Lots of people are building DLs, but theyre driven mainly by technological concerns. Many developers think they can scan all this information in, link it up, and call it a digital library.
In Dillons opinion, what really matters is what a user can do with the information. Creators of digital libraries need to be concerned with how information is organized and presented, he says, so that meaning and inherent structure are made apparent to the users.
Dillon will be examining all this and more as co-investigator of a new four-year, $3 million grant (funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for Humanities) to improve upon the IU School of Musics digital library, VARIATIONS.
Were hoping to build a state-of-the art music DL for instruction and research, which will extend VARIATIONS way beyond its current capabilities, Dillon says.
He imagines the future library this way: A student could access and listen to a piece of music by Bach, then suddenly decide to look at images of Bach because she wants to put a face to this great composer, he says. She then decides to listen to what other contemporary musicologists say about Bach and his music. So she starts reading some critical essays, and within those essays are links to lectures. When she calls up one of those links, shes taken to footage of a 1958 lecture given by a famous composer.
|Indiana University students currently have access to more than 6,000 digital recordings through VARIATIONS, IU's digital music library. With a recent $3 million grant from the federal Digital Libraries Initiative, IU researchers will be developing a much expanded and enhanced version of VARIATIONS over the next four years.|
Dillon continues, this (digital music library) would be the realization
of hypermedias historical promise: seamless integration of the world
of information, driven by user interest and need.
While Dillon is excited about the potential of a new and improved VARIATIONS, he commends IUs existing Digital Library Program.
We have a tremendous technological infrastructure and a superb digital library program, Dillon says of IU. Bringing all that together and actually building something thats not just technologically interesting but actually humanly usable is what its all about.
Dillon is particularly interested in the human response to information technology. I want to know why some people learn to use systems easily while others seem to struggle, he says. What forces shape human behavior at the interface? How we can best study humans in order to envision technologies that enhance our lives, and how we can improve the evaluation of technology designs to attain more usable and acceptable tools?
Generally, Dillon says, people are excited by the concept of a digital library. After all, whats not to like about a technology that allows, for example, English professors to search the complete works ofShakespeare within minutes for all references to flowers as a metaphor for love?
The downside of digital libraries, says Dillon, is that the user interface frequently lacks basic principles of good design.
People experience tremendous disorientation and navigation problems in a digital environment where the cues and structuresthe rules of engagement for informationare divorced from any sort of physical reality, he says.
In other words, they get lost in cyberspace.
Once people start interacting with a large digital libraryopening the links, following trails, looking at images, reading texts, and scrolling down the screenthey start exploring a space that places few boundaries on what they see and is subject to little authority or quality control, Dillon says. They might find themselves having to go outside to another site, linked to a document in another digital library. In just six or seven links, these users are, in effect, on the other side of the world. Getting back, relocating previously seen information, making sense of it all, proves very difficult for many people.
Dillons research asserts that even if these users find the information they initially sought, it often takes them longer to do so, resulting in increased frustration and annoyanceboth of which may considerably lower comprehension levels.
Dillon hopes his usability research will influence not only todays digital library architects, but tomorrows as well.
The majority of the world doesnt have a Web page or access to a computerso they have all this ahead of them, he says. What gets developed and standardized now will have tremendous impact on the rest of the worlds information systems. We want to make human factors a driver of these technologies.