Tuesday, April 08, 2008

"The sheer pleasure of bouncing": best practices for scholarly information-seeking behaviour

CIBER's David Nicholas had the unenviable task of following Herbert van de Sompel onto the podium. "I'm going to be talking about users rather than use: that's quite an interesting distinction, and one I want to make quite strongly." We need to translate information-seeking behaviour into outcomes and best practices - to see if our investment in digital resources is worth it.

We're still carrying baggage from the paper era, but we have come a long way in terms of our information-seeking behaviour - and it does now different from the models we still tend to have in place. There is a risk of disconnection with the user when we monitor their activity rather than their behaviour. The composition of a digital audience is different to that of a paper audience. It is anonymous and autonomous (likely to use substitute/competing services). As we hear a lot these days, the user is now king.

The Virtual Scholar programme developed at CIBER is assessing thousands of students to assess the impact of massive digital information availability on the scholarly community. The project's scale has seen it assess 22 million transactions, and not just from scholars. The net is now wider both demographically and geographically; David suspects that if we can identify scholarly outcomes associated with good information-seeking behaviour, then usage will grow further.

The team estimates that at least half of all visits to a site are made by robots [this doesn't, to my knowledge, match our own experiences at Ingenta, where I think it's more like 20%]. Robots try to mimic scholarly information-seeking behaviour and to do so
  • they must be promiscuous (shopping around a variety of sites)
  • they must bounce (in and out of sites very quickly, a page or two at a time) - "for the sheer pleasure of bouncing"
  • they must flick (channel-hopping - keeping half an eye on all of it)
  • they must view (short viewing windows; more time spent viewing short articles than long ones)
  • they must power-browse (hoovering up multiple pages, quickly)
  • they must navigate (we spend HALF our time doing this - is "arriving" a bit of a chore compared to "journeying"?)
  • they must diversify (huge differences between different user groups)
David cited a Guardian article - "the web is having a profound impact on how we conceptualise, seek, evaluate and use information". We feel that providing information 24/7 is *good*, but do we need to reconsider the framework within which we evaluate ourselves? Do we have a sufficient sense of what constitutes *good* information-seeking behaviour? Digital literacy will not proceed unless we can demonstrate that such behaviour leads to valid research outcomes.

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