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Study to track students' digital research journey

Discovering and navigating digital information is part of the everyday work of today’s researcher, but what is that user experience and how could it be improved?

In a unique collaboration, Taylor & Francis is working with Loughborough University’s Library, Graduate School, and Senior Lecturer in Publishing to examine users’ experience in the digital library.

The University has recruited ten PhD researchers to this project from a wide range of disciplines. The students are also at different levels in their PhD completion - from those just embarking on research to those about to complete.

Charlotte Jais is one of the students involved and she outlines her experience of digital research: “Trying to find the information that you need can be one of the most challenging things. It can be quite difficult sometimes to know where to start looking and searching for information can be time consuming if you have several pages of search results to work through!”

Every month between November 2015 and June 2016, students are being asked a series of standard questions about the type of information they needed that month. This includes where they started it, what resources they used, and crucially the “journey” that they took to reach the resources. They are also asked to describe good features, advantages, disadvantages, frustrations, ideas they had about the information seeking experience.

An open question on a different theme is added each month; themes such as the continued relevance of print, how to develop information seeking behaviour and a comparison of three publishers’ websites. Students are assigned a mentor from the University to provide guidance and support. A focus group will also be held with participants and a wider group of researchers in March.

Graham Walton, from Loughborough University Library and a member of the project steering group said: “Unless we understand the experiences the users have when they search for information, we will really struggle to provide the right services. It is easy to get statistics on downloads and site hits but that only gives a small part of the picture. This project will give us insight that has long been needed.”

Max Gabriel, Head of Group Digital Strategy at Taylor & Francis, comments: “As part of our commitment to supporting academic and library communities we intend to understand how researchers are accessing information. By working together with Loughborough University, we hope to improve the user experience of online resources in terms of discoverability, accessibility and usability.”

Tracy Roberts, Publishing Director at Taylor & Francis explained the value of this project to publishers, librarians and universities: “As publishers, we want to provide the best user experience to facilitate the research process, and we want to work with librarians and universities who are focused on improving the experience for their students. We are very pleased to be able to work with Loughborough University on this project and anticipate the outcomes being of value to all those with an interest in the wider academic, library and research communities.”  

Outcomes from the project will be disseminated in various ways during the course of this year. Meanwhile, for more details read Graham Walton’s blog post and the first of several researcher profiles of the participants.

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