In September 2017, Weave reached out to a number of academic and public librarians with the hope of instigating and documenting the conversation they might have with one another about the user experience issues facing collection development and e-resources librarians.

The conversation below unfolded over email between Monday, September 11 and Friday, September 15, 2017. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

Our participants:

  • Michelle Boisvenue-Fox, Director of Innovation and User Experience, Kent District Library
  • Galadriel Chilton, Director of Collections Initiatives, Ivy Plus Libraries
  • Daniel Dollar, Associate University Librarian for Collections, Preservation, and Digital Scholarship, Yale University Library
  • Mihoko Hosoi, Assistant Director for Systemwide Licensing, California Digital Library
  • Alison Kuchta, Collection Development Librarian, Kent District Library
  • Daniel Matsumoto, eResources Librarian, San Francisco Public Library

Moderated by:

  • Cody Hanson, University of Minnesota Libraries (Weave Board)
  • Matthew Reidsma, Web Services Librarian, Grand Valley State University Libraries (Weave Editor)

Matthew Reidsma:

What are the biggest challenges your users face in using electronic resources? How do you address those challenges in the collection development process?

Alison Kuchta, Kent District Library:

I order ebooks and e-audiobooks for Kent District Library. We're a public library system in the suburbs and outlying areas surrounding Grand Rapids, Michigan. We have a service population of 395,000. In 2016 we circulated 1,215,187 digital items, 7,045,551 physical items and had 3,537,857 website visits. (Here’s the KDL 2016 Annual Report with more fun facts!)

Some of the biggest challenges our users face using electronic resources are: the digital divide, lack of awareness of resources, certain items not being available to us for purchase, and long wait times for popular materials.

Digital Divide

In some of our communities a digital divide still exists. Individuals may not have their own computers and in some cases reliable and affordable internet access is not available. To combat this we provide computers at our branches, tablets for checkout, classes, and Wi-Fi hotspots. Demand for our Wi-Fi hotspots has been extremely high.

Device Issues

To address device issues our staff has access to various popular digital devices and goes through training with them. iPads have also been purchased for each of our frontline staff members. We also have a group of individuals called Tech Trainers who create handouts to help patrons and staff with troubleshooting common issues. These FAQs and Tips and Tricks for our various digital platforms are available in our branches and on our website. This group presents to staff throughout the year, gives classes, keeps handouts current, and provides outreach and "Speak to a Geek" services to several senior centers in our service area. We also have a Patron Services department that answers questions by phone for all of our 18 branches. Some of our service providers provide tech support resources to our staff and patrons.

Michelle Boisvenue-Fox, Kent District Library:

We looked at putting a digital kiosk at the airport but when we tested the kiosk it required a library card to access the free stuff. We ditched the idea because we didn’t want to cause frustration for travelers or those without a library card.

Alison:

Lack of Awareness of Resources

To combat lack of awareness our Communications staff promotes our electronic resources by highlighting them in our newsletters, social media posts, events, and on our website. Our staff also creates many booklists that link to our catalog where discovery of many of these digital materials is also possible.

Items Not Being Available to Purchase

Lack of availability of ebooks and e-audiobooks to libraries is getting to be less and less a problem these days. However, occasionally there are still materials I receive requests for that are not available to us. In some of these cases I'm able to communicate the request to our providers. Sometimes they are able to get us these materials depending on the publisher. Patrons are able to recommend materials to us through staff in our branches, our Recommend a Purchase form on our website, and directly from our main ebook platform.

High Wait Times for Popular Items

High wait times for popular digital materials is an inconvenience for our patrons at this time. We have experienced 12 percent year-over-year growth in digital circulation and wait times are now averaging almost 40 days. We do our best to keep our holds ratio at a reasonable level, however, higher demand, high prices of ebooks and e-audiobooks, and budget constraints do not always allow for this. To help our patrons find something while they are waiting we promote many alternative items through booklists on our main ebook site and in our branches. We also provide access to an additional ebook platform that has items that are available for simultaneous use, and we are always on the lookout for new products and services that will help us save money and meet user expectations and needs.

Michelle:

Some additional training tips we are looking to share with patrons is how to return digital items. We find many people can’t see how to do this and it may help our holds ratios. Another tip we are looking to share is how to search for items that are available, as well as building a wish list.

Daniel Dollar, Yale University Libraries:

Alison, I am impressed by how well you know your community, and your ease in citing key statistics. At the Yale University Library, we have been working to build a culture of assessment over the past few years which includes having a better handle on our usage data. Still, I am speculating when it comes to the biggest challenges our users face in using electronic resources.

Patron Preferences for Formats

For starters, our users want what they want. We purchase an e-version of a book, but then get a request for a print copy or vice versa. We cannot duplicate content at scale, although the trends are clear as we see physical circulations decline and e-resource downloads continue to climb. (I understand you cannot do a straight comparison of circulations and downloads—we are talking apples and oranges. It’s the orders of magnitude that stands out when you have millions of downloads—call them oranges—and few hundred thousand circulations—or apples.)

Lack of Awareness of Resources

Another challenge, which was also noted by Alison, is the lack of awareness of resources. My library provides a resource rich environment, and it’s a challenge informing our user community about all that is available. Outreach and instruction is a focus of our librarians. They invest significant time in Libguides, offer classes, hold one-on-ones, and communicate through various channels. It is also essential for e-resources to be easily discoverable. We have invested significant resources into our Blacklight discovery platform, which we have branded as QuickSearch, and prominently placed on our homepage.

Support

We strive to be very responsive when users report problems or ask questions about e-resources. We have a very capable e-resources troubleshooting team that is run by my colleagues in technical services. Recurring issues we try to flag through FAQs (see examples for FAQs about off-campus access and accessing a specific newspaper). And while it may not always factor into license negotiations, we regularly raise UX issues with publishers and vendors. For example, we are in discussions with a publisher who’s default setting on their publication platform is to show all their content regardless of whether Yale has subscribed to it. Our expectation is for subscribed content to be limited to what we license.

Partnerships

Finally, we are not in this alone. We work closely with other academic institutions through consortia, such as NorthEast Research Libraries (NERL) and partnerships like the Ivy Plus Libraries. We have been in recent conversations through NERL, and led by colleagues at Columbia University, about institutional branding of and advertisements on publisher/vendor content platforms.

Alison:

We also find many of our users are open to using different formats, and will take whatever is available first. However, in some cases our digital users have to be reminded about the physical collection, and more and more I’m finding people who just want the e-audio. We duplicate a lot of our materials and this is becoming less and less sustainable, especially when costly e-audiobooks are added into the mix.

Matthew:

Alison, I was really interested in your last point, on hold times. It’s not often that we in the UX community think about licensing agreements as a user experience issue, but it really is! Do the discussions with vendors around licensing ever move into discussions of user satisfaction, usability, or ease-of-use?

Alison:

Our vendors are aware of our user experience issues. As far as our wait times, OverDrive has suggested we might use simultaneous use plans on specific targeted items with high holds that are available in this model.[1] However, this wouldn’t make a dent in our wait times at this point. They also offer us many themed booklists that we rotate regularly on our ebook landing page. They have an interest in making sure our patrons are happy and become return users. Just like us, they don’t want anyone to leave empty handed. The Cost-per-Circulation model will be an option on some titles in the near future with them, too. We meet monthly and make development requests with our patrons in mind. Some examples of development requests: make foreign language materials more obvious, be able to customize the message our patrons receive when they recommend an item, and be able to customize the message for when our patrons reach their limit of recommendations.

Galadriel Chilton, Ivy Plus Libraries:

The biggest challenges that I see users in academic communities facing when it comes to electronic resources are:

Impediments to Use: Clunky Interfaces and a Maze of Steps to Access

Online content available through libraries does not offer users the same sleek functionality or brand recognition of online content marketed directly to end users, especially for ebooks. For example, using Kindle ebooks, Audible.com audio books, Netflix or Hulu streaming, and Google images all have user interfaces where the user accesses content quickly and intuitively, with little questioning of how to get content.

By contrast, library resources such as Overdrive for audio or ebooks, Ebrary for ebooks, multiple interfaces for streaming content, and image sources like Artstor are not as well known to users and have user interfaces that are complicated enough that, as Daniel and Alison noted, libraries spend significant amounts of time marketing and creating guides for how users can access the rich content available to them.

For example, if I want to access a Kindle book on a device other than my computer, I download the Kindle app and login with my same Amazon credentials, and the option to send it to my smartphone or tablet is available with one click on the checkout screen. By contrast, to download an Ebrary ebook requires a user to download Adobe Digital Editions for use on their computer. To read the book on a device, users must download a separate app and then create a separate Adobe ID first (http://proquest.libguides.com/ebookcentral/download).

When I worked at a large state university, users seeking help accessing an ebook would hear all the steps required before they could access a DRM-encased ebook via Ebrary or EBSCO and they would choose to buy the Kindle edition of a book instead. While this might work for those with the means to do so, there are many users on the other side of the digital and economic divide who do not have the device or the funds to buy the content they need.

Different Formats, Different Content, Different Uses

Print and electronic formats of supposedly the same content are different: an ebook may not have the images, charts, and tables of its print counterpart, and while a print book can be acquired for a user via interlibrary loan, most ebooks cannot. Like Daniel noted, users seek access to books in print and online. This seems to be because they are using print to read at length, and online for quick access as well as to skim and search content, yet libraries do not have the human or fiscal resources to buy duplicate content.

So Many Choices!

Between what is available on the open web and what is available online through libraries, users have an overwhelming amount of access entry points to choose from and then information available to them which could lead to analysis paralysis. So many choices likely lead users to seek out the path of least resistance in terms of access: familiar access points like Google, intuitive and familiar interfaces like Netflix.

Libraries can/are address these challenges in multiple ways:

Selection & Negotiation

Whenever possible, libraries select content not just for the content itself but also based on the usability and intuitive interface. For example, ebooks available on some platforms such as ProjectMUSE and JSTOR offer users access to ebook chapters as downloadable PDFs analogous to how users access journal articles. By not buying content because of a poor interface, libraries can over time, change the market, but this can be challenging when users seek content and online options are limited.

Libraries can strive to select content that includes the same content as the print content and/or aspire to negotiate with vendors for online content that stipulates that content includes all components of the print edition. For instances when the online content is different due to copyright limitations, negotiate with the vendor that their interface must include a clearly visible note of what content is missing.

When it comes to working with information providers to improve the information landscape for users, libraries have a long history of working cooperatively; library consortia and partnerships are consistently looking into ways that resource selection, resource sharing, and negotiation can both provide users with the information they need, and improve access and usability.

Ease Access Impediments & User Support

Work with vendors to push access authentication out to where users are. For example, if a user lands on a content access page from Google search results page, users should be able to select their library and authenticate immediately (e.g. https://www.jstor.org/logon) without having to re-access the content provider’s user interface through the library’s website. Libraries can also continue their longstanding efforts to be a bridge between users and information by continuing efforts that Alison and Daniel describe around communication and discovery.

Although developing new models of e-resource acquisition and access is slow and very time-consuming, it is important to acknowledge, celebrate, and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of small changes so that library resources are both relevant and accessible. With the multitude of platforms, interfaces, and devices that are now part of the information access equation, it is fundamentally unacceptable for libraries to provide relevant information to their academic communities without also making sure that the user experience accessing those collections meets or exceeds the users’ expectations because library collections become irrelevant if users cannot easily access them.

Daniel Matsumoto, San Francisco Public Library

It’s great to be part of the conversation and to read about parallel issues and challenges in both academic and public library environments.

To provide some background, San Francisco Public Library serves appropriately 860,000 San Francisco residents, of which 49 percent are card holders, and the greater Bay Area of 7 million people. Additionally, any California resident can get an SFPL card, so we have some exclusively remote users. The Main Library is located in Civic Center Plaza and is accessible by all transit lines. We have more than 900 employees in 28 locations throughout the city.

Keeping Up

The greatest challenge for our staff and patrons has been keeping up the constant updates and changes to the platform apps. It is particularly challenging for our patrons who do not upgrade their devices or operating systems on a regular basis. We offer access to three major ebook platforms: OverDrive, Axis360, and Hoopla; and a handful of secondary platforms: Enki, UDN (United Daily News - Chinese ebooks), Safari Books, and Books24x7. With requirements and variations to each platform, it can be a tricky delivering consistent information and instruction.

To better serve our patrons and increase staff awareness of these electronic resources, we have:

  • Required three-hour ebook training for all new staff members
  • Created three “go to” brochures that describe step-by-step how to get started with library ebooks
  • Populated our LibAnswers FAQ with relevant ebook information
  • Invited struggling patrons to attend our “Digital Device Drop In” and “Book a Librarian” sessions for one-on-one assistance.

Of these activities, we have found the dedicated staff training and one-on-one assistance to be most effective, at least anecdotally.

As others have mentioned, we invested a lot of time and effort in marketing these resources, which has paid off. Check out of ebooks and other digital content has kept our year-over-year circulation in the plus column for many years at an average increase of 5 percent per year. Print circulation continues to decline at a rate of 4 percent per year.

While we have strong relationships with each of our vendors, we have conceded that there is only so much that they can do to provide an optimal user experience; though OverDrive has produced some favorable results with their new, streamlined Libby app.

Lately, we have been encouraged by the work of the New York Public Library’s SimplyE app and the Digital Public Library of America’s Exchange, who have been working hard to deliver digital content that leverages the power of libraries. We have been monitoring their work.

We recently created the Research, Strategy and Analytics Unit, which will coordinate the library’s performance measures, statistical data tracking, and reporting and customer intelligence activities. Our Collection Development will work closely with this new department to better understand who are patrons are and how they are accessing our resources.

Mihoko Hosoi, California Digital Library:

It’s interesting to see that we have similar and different challenges.

I work at the California Digital Library (CDL) and serve mostly University of California (UC) faculty, students, and staff. My primary role involves UC systemwide licensing contracts for 10 UC campuses, and I don’t get to interact with end users very much. In fact, I work in an office building, not on campus, and rely heavily on my UC campus colleagues’ input in understanding the needs of our faculty and students. In my previous roles at other academic institutions, I worked more directly with faculty and students. My responses will be based on my observation as the licensing manager in my current role.

In terms of the biggest challenges in using electronic resources, the first thing that came to my mind was our users’ desire to use our licensed content for computational analysis. They seem to be thinking of our collections as data, not e-journals or ebooks. We recently updated the CDL Model License to support UC researchers and author’s research needs. For example, we updated the Text and Data Mining (TDM) section of our model license to clarify that authorized users may not only engage in text and/or data mining activities for academic research purposes, but also share the results with others so long as the purpose is not to create a product for use by third parties that would substitute for the licensed materials. We started using the new language late last year, and have been negotiating with vendors for each new license. Some vendors are more flexible than others. We are pleased that we are making some progress. At the same time, having appropriate licenses is one thing, and providing the service is another. It takes much communication with vendors, campus librarians, and end users to support our users’ needs.

We are also committed to support the needs of our users with disabilities, and list our accessibility requirements under the Warranties section of our model license. Vendors are sometimes surprised that we do not sign our licenses without them. We advocate for our users so that they can make full use of the licensed content.

We sometimes get questions on “click-through” licenses and see that they create confusion for our users. To prevent any potential issues, our model license states that, if there is any conflict between the click-through or online terms and the CDL signed license, the terms of the CDL license prevail. We also negotiate with vendors and try to get such online terms removed as much as possible.

Additionally, we make sure that watermarks, if any, will not reduce readability of content and will not degrade image quality, and that digital rights management (DRM) technology is not implemented by licensors in such a way as to limit the usage rights of our users. I haven’t directly received any complaints on these matters, but we address them at the licensing stage to prevent any issues.

Unlike print materials, usage rights of electronic licensed content are complicated. To clarify what’s been negotiated, we indicate terms of use via our ERMS Portal so that our users and librarians will know what’s permitted, e.g. interlibrary loan, course reserves, scholarly sharing, perpetual access, etc.

We negotiate UC systemwide licenses as much as possible to obtain favorable discounts and terms when resources are needed at all campuses. We promote our resources in different ways so that they get utilized. For example, we publish articles through CDLINFO News describing key features and contents, and promote them through Resource Liaison Program where campus librarians serve as Resource Liaisons and work closely with vendors on interface changes/development and technical issues and provide training to other librarians and users. It sometimes takes time and coordination to work in a big system like UC, but I feel fortunate to be able to collaborate with talented and skilled colleagues.

Cody Hanson, Weave:

I found Mihoko’s account of electronic resource usability challenges from CDL’s perspective fascinating, and it raised a couple of questions for me.

First, prompted by Mihoko’s mention of computational analysis of electronic resources, it would seem that we can’t always anticipate the uses to which our resources will be put. Do any of you attempt any proactive assessment of how users interact with licensed resources? Or do you primarily rely on users raising issues?

Second, Mihoko’s discussion of various aspects of the license agreements CDL signs made me wonder if there’s work that could be done in the library UX community to attempt to define standards for usability that would be appropriate for inclusion in licenses. Aside from the examples Mihoko mentioned (TDM, Accessibility Warranties, watermarks, DRM), are any of you aware of license language that addresses usability?

Mihoko:

Some of my CDL and UC Santa Cruz colleagues recently conducted a user survey on print and ebook usage behaviors at UC Santa Cruz. They found that participants, especially in social science, arts and humanities, preferred print books over ebooks, and that ebook access restrictions (watermarks, limited number of pages that can be downloaded, limited number of simultaneous users, etc.) and usability challenges can make ebooks frustrating to use. The summary of the study, webinar recording, and other usability reports by CDL staff are available on our website. My team handles mostly licensed content such as ebooks, e-journals, and subscription databases. CDL has a separate UX design team that addresses overall UX issues.

In terms of the standards for usability, we consulted our CDL and UC colleagues in updating our Model License. Some of them have UX design background, and their input was helpful. The University of California also came up with UC libraries E-Book Value Statement in 2013, and we observe the guidelines as much as possible when we license ebooks. At the same time, ebook interlibrary loan in a manner analogous to the loan of physical books has been challenging. We are curious to see what happens with the Capital Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc. case, which involves the doctrine of digital first sale and might affect the way we handle interlibrary loan with digital licensed content. Other items in the UC E-Book Value Statement such as the ability to navigate content through table of contents, print, copy, save, annotate, and to export bibliographic information to citation management software, all seem like reasonable expectations. We use the UC E-Book Value Statement to inform staff, faculty, and students, but also to communicate our expectations with publishers. CDL also publishes various technical guidelines for vendors and update them regularly. Our internal document refers to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Usability Guidelines which seem helpful for web design and broader digital communication issues. We’ll need more specific usability standards for ebooks though.

Daniel Dollar:

It is interesting to note the similarities between public and academic libraries in providing access to electronic resources. Cody, you raise an intriguing question about being more proactive or reactive in assessing UX for e-resources. Experience is critical. The development of a digital humanities program at the Yale Library helped drive our discussions around text and data mining (TDM). It went from an abstract concept to one where we had an actual use case with a request to mine the Vogue Archive. It was an excellent learning experience for both the library and vendor. Like CDL, we have a TDM clause in our model license, and have had several extensive, mostly successful, discussions with vendors regarding computational analysis of their licensed e-resources and how such use is in accordance of copyright (i.e., the right to read is the right to mine). Accessibility, which Mihoko mentioned, is another key clause we push for inclusion in our licenses.

You need to build an assessment program before you can start to take more proactive steps. A few years ago, some of my colleagues conducted an ethnographic study of the research practices of humanities doctoral students. The research did not change collection development practices but it did inform outreach efforts, such as the creation of a Libguide for students traveling outside the country to do research for the first-time. Following on CDL, we created an ebooks value statement and went on to form an ebooks advisory group. The advisory group last year created an internal document to aid subject librarians purchasing one-off and small ebook packages by noting several key factors, which were: No DRM (Digital Rights Management), Unlimited Users, PDF Downloads–Chapter/Sections, PDF Downloads–Book, EPUB Downloads, E-Reserves–Stable Links, ILL, Index in Articles+ (our SUMMON discovery app), Accessibility–W3C WCAG 2.0. We then ranked our top ebook platform vendors in three tiers: Excellent, Acceptable, and Problem (use as last resort).

We continue to purchase ebook content from 'problem' vendors. UX is important, but it is not a showstopper, as is the case with key licensing terms, such as indemnification or foreign legal jurisdiction. I get the Purdue librarian's perspective about 'content' considerations prevailing over the 'container' it comes in. However, as our conversation has highlighted we are moving toward more holistic understandings about e-resources, and working to better leverage the large amounts of data we have or can collect about them and our user communities interaction with them. Of course this brings up privacy considerations, which is deserves its own conversation.


    1. Since this discussion KDL has transferred our digital collection over to Bibliotheca’s cloudLibrary. Their cloudLink and Pay Per Use (PPU) services are features that make cloudLibrary a practical platform. We are working to stretch our budget, reduce wait times and increase selection for our patrons. CloudLinking acts like a digital consortia, but only allows us and our partners to borrow available/on shelf materials. The PPU service offers a wide range titles our patrons can borrow simultaneously at a fraction of the cost of purchasing. While our partnership with Bibliotheca is new, and there are many factors involved, we have seen some encouraging results: Wait times have gone from roughly 40 days to 20 days.return to text