to Ed Fox, May 27, 1998, from Gail McMillan, Director, Scholarly Communications Project, University Libraries, Virginia Tech

Scholarly Communications Project
University Libraries' Participation in Virginia Tech DLI2 Grant Application

The Scholarly Communications Project has been designing and implementing enhancements to traditional library resources and services since its creation in 1989 and serves as an early model of how digital libraries enhance traditional library resources and services, in many cases paralleling the physical library.

Libraries want to have an active role in DL development in order to adapt to evolving needs and expectations of the user communities. The Scholarly Communications Project would collaborate with university researchers so that information seekers select resources in the environment that best meets their needs and desires (i.e., 3Qs: quality, quantity, and quickly). SCP resources would be available simultaneously in a variety of settings (e.g., textually, such as lists and hierarchies) graphically (including 3D), aurally, etc.). Usability studies would focus on the freshman class of 1998 because they are the first to be required to have computers, and we would track them through their careers at Virginia Tech. Monitoring the freshman class of 1998 is a unique opportunity; rather than selecting an artificial though significant statistical sample, we will work with information users in real time in authentic situations.

Based on these studies, SCP would change the way it presents information resource and provide new access options to improve teaching and learning for the benefit of students first, but also to benefit the whole university community, providing models for other libraries. (Students and the university community include both distance and local information seekers.)

Librarians, as knowledge professionals, would teach about doing research to this new clientele who have the technology at hand and many of whom have been seduced by how easy it is to browse the Web. They have heightened expectations but not necessarily the skills to frame questions and narrow their searches effectively, to find answers, and to evaluate the sources and interpret the reliability of the information retrieved. We will serve our new clientele best by educating them to understand and relate data and to do original research (including putting information in context and organizing subfiles instead of merely amassing multiple hits.

Librarians will educate today’s casual web browser who will become tomorrow’s serious researcher, from undergraduates cruising the web to sophisticated graduates submitting electronic theses and dissertations, to powerful members of the academy publishing electronically. Prior to the grant period, we will survey (designed and tested summer 1998) the freshman class early fall semester. It will also monitor information resource use, expand and assert its teaching role for the benefit of information seekers needing to do research with the abundance of resource options available on the Web.

Throughout the grant period, the library will contribute to systems engineering and design. We want to enhance one aspect of the electronic world in academe by adding DL's human-computer interface designs to the human-to-human reference interview to improve the retrieval and usability of information resources. Not only do we want systems that are more user friendly, but also we want systems to return the best, most usable results to information seekers. The library will implement real changes based on direct user input and results from system monitoring of client information resource use.

Libraries staff will collaborate with other grant participants to design and test systems to monitor the ability for information users to:

A recent survey showed that … "despite increasing competition from other information sources available … libraries continue to be a primary source of information and education for the American public." [LJ 11/15/97, p. S4] Study methodology included this info:

Such a project could lead to draft guidelines for academic libraries, including how to teach about information resources to support teaching and learning through non-traditional queries of online resources. While it is assumed that students will profit from selecting the user-friendliest interface, we will have the opportunity to provide evidence through survey results as well as monitoring SCP systems use and specific students’ search/find/use activities over a significant time period.


Use grant award to

Hire students (graduate and undergraduate) to:

write programs that
design system interfaces
monitor online information resource use
handle surveys
design, distribute, compile, analyze
train new freshman class and monitor their online information resource use

Upgrade SCP hardware and/or software to be able to appropriately monitor individual client use

In-kind library contributions to grant efforts

SCP publications

SCP hardware and software (in-house programs, scripts, etc.)

GMc 10% and SCP programmer (10%)

Possible survey questions [from LJ 11/15/97, p. S6]

What kind of information are people seeking and where are they finding it?

Inquire about their interest in a variety of subject areas

What sources they used to find that information

Perceived success rate

Do you use the library for your information needs?

Did you go to the library in person?

Did you search without help?

Did a librarian direct you to the information?

Did the librarian find the information for you?

Do you telephone the library for help and information?

Did you find the information in a book, journal, or newspaper?

Did you find the information online?

How did you find it?

Did you go through the library's homepage?

Reasons for unsuccessful searches
July 9, 1998 (GMc)