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IDC Major Themes


RIDL People

RIDL Projects

RIDL Workshops

Middlesex University

School of Computing Science

IDC convenor: Paul Curzon

Research in Digital Libraries (RIDL)


IDL conducts research on the design and use of Digital Libraries. It forms part of the Middlesex University Interaction Design Centre (IDC). Digital Libraries offer great potential benefits but are currently hampered by, among other things, poor usability. Existing libraries provide the core essential functionality: they serve as structured repositories of multimedia documents, and documents can be added to and retrieved from the library. The quality of the interaction depends on such systems also satisfying various non-functional requirements that relate to usability.

Some of work in RIDL is focusing directly on Digital Libraries, and is particularly concerned with designing for usability. Other research is on core computer science, but using Digital Libraries as a challenging and valuable test domain.


The principal local participants working on research in Digital Libraries are (in alphabetical order):

In addition, the following former members of the group have contributed to our Digital Library Research:

  • Ann Blandford (UCL)
  • Norliza Mohd-Nasir
  • Yin Leng Theng (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Harold Thimbleby

We are working or have worked with a variety of people and organisations including the University of Waikato, BT, St Alban's School and Childnet International and are running a mirror site for the New Zealand Digital Library.

Digital Library Projects

Usability Evaluation Techniques for the Design of Interactive Digital Libraries

This study is investigating the usability issues of digital libraries and the potential for known usability evaluation techniques to identify those issues. The relationship between the evaluation techniques and the specific usability issues provides the theoretical foundation for specifying a suite of usability techniques that designers can use to improve the usability of digital libraries.
Following the successful pilot study of the BT Digital Library, this study continues to use that environment to develop an understanding of the users and developers needs. The strategies of the expert intermediaries conducting a search utilising multiple iterations only served to highlight the difficulties faced by less skilled users who lacked strategies to take up the search refinement tools on offer. Significant modifications are being made to the usability evaluation methods, particularly to Claims Analysis, to incorporate an understanding of the information seeking task. The developers meantime find it difficult to know how to best support users and to predict the effect of changes made. The context within which the developers work is providing critical insight into their needs in relation to evaluation tools. Validating these methods with our collaborative partners at New Zealand Digital Library, and subsequently California Digital Library should help to ensure improved usability of both the interface and the evaluation methods.
This three-year study commenced January 2001. This work is supported by EPSRC Grant No GR/N37858

Developing Digital Libraries for Small Specialist Museums

his project is investigating an approach to the development of Digital Libraries for small specialist museums in which the librarian plays a central role in interaction by users with the library. The key problem to be solved is how to develop the library with limited resources when the user group is potentially unknown. Richard Butterworth is working closely with various small museums and libraries in London.

Cultural Problems with the Library Metaphor

etaphor is used widely in the design of computer systems to aid usability. Digital Libraries explicitly use the Library metaphor. By drawing on the user's knowledge of physical libraries and the way they work, the intention is that they should find a Digital Library system more comprehensible and easier to use. However, the Library metaphor is not shared by all cultures and is alien to some. Elke Duncker, in collaboration with Waikato University in New Zealand, has investigated the problems of the Library metaphor for Maoris.

Cultural Aspects of Online Journal Collections

ournals can be prohibitively expensive for universities and libraries in developing countries. Online journal collections have great potential to fill the information gap between the developed and developing world. Sara Gwyn is investigating cultural issues with respect to such collections.

Usability Studies of Music Digital Libraries

usic collections could become a killer application for digital library technology. To achieve their potential however, interaction design issues must be addressed. Hanna Stelmaszewska and Ann Blandford (at UCL) are testing a variety of usability evaluation techniques with respect to the design of musical Digital Libraries. The work has led to recommendations that are being incorporated into the design of the New Zealand Digital Library Music Collection developed at Waikato University. This work is being done partially at Middlesex and partially at UCLIC.

Design and Evaluation of User-Centred Digital Libraries

he focus of this project is to investigate fundamental design and usability issues underlying digital libraries. A prototype digital library collection on international children's stories and poems will be built to understand design issues faced by designers. Insights gained will be used to draw up a framework for an application development model to help designers to build user-centred digital libraries. Yin Leng Theng's project involves collaboration with Noel Cassidy and his students (St.Albans' School), David Bainbridge (Waikato), Childnet International and Edward Fox (Virginia Tech.).

This project is funded by EPSRC (GR/M72098).

Social Factors in the Introduction of Digital Libraries

his project, working closely with Middlesex library and the Archway Healthcare Library, is focusing on change management; in particular, we are studying the ways in which technological developments influence social structures, roles and working practices and supporting technologists in identifying and accommodating user needs.

This project is funded by Middlesex University.

Interaction Modelling for the Design of Digital Libraries

he focus of this project is on extending and testing an Interaction Framework (IF) that defines requirements on the interaction between users and computers in an interactive system. IF provides a way of describing and reasoning about processes within a multi-agent interaction. It explicitly aims to take a high-level view, and to draw on more focused approaches (that will yield predictions about, for example, network performance or user perception) as needed. In this way, it is designed to integrate user, device and domain considerations.

The aims of the work are to achieve a better understanding of the design of digital libraries from a usability perspective, to develop IF from the existing prototype method, and to apply IF in the design of the interface to a digital library so that its utility can be assessed.

This project is funded by EPSRC (GR/M81748).

Meta-data Design for Educational Digital Libraries

his project focuses on an ontological modelling approach for the meta-data level design of Digital Libraries of Educational Materials. This is a one-year project bringing together existing research in the area of pedagogical knolwedge represention, and working towards the development of an ontology, a prototype Educational Digital Libray whose meta-level design is based on the ontology, and an evaluation of the library with both contributors (i.e. curriculum authors and designers) and users with information retrieval and learning goals (i.e students).

This project is funded by Middlesex University.

BT Digital Library Review

his six month, internally funded project produced a broad-scoped review of the BT Laboratories digital library system. The review addressed a range of issues: analysing management expectations of the library, how those expectations are realised by the design team, and how the library impacts on the work of its users.

This project is funded by Middlesex University.


e have organised a series of workshops to provide a forum for meeting and exchanging ideas on the wide spectrum of digital libraries research and interests. The Middlesex University one day workshop on Digital Libraries (July 2000) had the objective of aiding in establishing inter-departmental links and collaboration between those with similar digital library interests. We also organised a workshop on Usability for Digital Libraries at JCDL'02 and a further Middlesex University Digital Libraries Workshop, 28th June 2002.

Last updated 21st November 2002