a Middlesex University website - Info


IDC Major Themes


Social Impacts:




Middlesex University

School of Computing Science

IDC convenor: Paul Curzon

Research in Digital Libraries (RIDL)

The Social Impacts of Digital Libraries

Project overview

This project, has worked closely with the Whittington Hospital, Middlesex library, the Archway Healthcare Library, the London Library Information Development Unit and Barnet PCT. Research has focused on the social impacts of DL introduction. In particular, the project had studied the ways in which technological developments influence social structures, roles and working practices and supporting technologists in identifying and accommodating user needs.

Social and organisational factors can have a dramatic impact on the success or failure of technological developments. To fully understand the impacts of digital libraries (DL) an in-depth evaluation is required of the introduction and later development of these applications within their specific social and organisational settings. Three studies have identified digital libraries implementation and usage issues within two contrasting organisational settings:

1. Longitudinal clinical study within the Whittington hospital

This study reviewed ward-accessible DLs for clinicians within a large London-based hospital. In-depth interviews and focus groups with 73 clinicians (from pre-registration nurses to surgeons) were conducted, and the data analysed using the grounded theory method. Clinicians were identified from wards across the hospital, apart from A&E. Although various electronic resources were reviewed three main DLs were discussed; Medline, Cochrane and the NeLH (National electronic library for health). The findings were fed back into the organisation to support the development of their digital resources, training procedures & internal policies.

Findings The results identified at a high-level that clinical social structures interact with inadequate training provision (for senior clinicians), technical support and DL usability to produce a knowledge gap between junior and senior staff, resulting in information - and technology - hoarding behaviours. Findings also detail the perceived effectiveness of traditional and digital libraries and the impact of clinician status on information control and access. One important conclusion is that increased DL usability and adequate support and training for senior clinicians would increase perceptions of DLs as support for, rather than replacement of, their clinical expertise. Usability issues were also identified with regard to DLs inability to support some information management and reciprocal tasks.

2. A HE study across 3 disciplines and 4 university campuses

This study, within contrasting departments (Humanities, Computing and Business) of a London university, reviewed the social and organisational impacts of DLs across these disciplines. Although various electronic resources were reviewed three main DLs were discussed; the ACM DL, PROQUEST and LEXUS. In-depth interviews and focus groups with 25 lecturers and librarians were conducted, and analysed using the grounded theory method.

Findings: Web-accessible DLs are identified as changing the roles and working patterns of academic staff (i.e. lecturers, librarians and computer support staff). However, poor accessibility due to inappropriate implementation strategies, access mechanisms, searching support & DL usability reduces the use of these resources. Consequently, web and personal collections without guarantees of quality are widely used as an accessible alternative. One conclusion is the importance of implementation strategies (e.g. giving feedback on document context, collection boundaries, ownership, accountability and support) in informing DL design.

3. Clinical library evaluation within a London based PCT

This evaluation was commissioned by LLIDU and documents the 'outreach clinical librarian project' that was piloted at a London based PCT. The project sought to support evidence-based medicine with clinical librarian support for digital library introduction at a team level. In total 26 In-depth interviews with clinicians (doctors, consultants, nurses social workers, physiotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists) and key stakeholders (e.g. project co-ordinators, project librarians and IM&T) were conducted and one observational study (i.e. one team's drop-in-session).

Findings: The project was identified as supporting and encouraging a positive motivation towards evidenced based medicine (EBM) that without this support was perceived as a chore. The clinical librarians' role within the team acted as external force and guidance for support and social pressure to adhere to these initiatives. It also resulted in more positive interactions with regard to team cohesion, goals, knowledge management and patient interactions. This in turn provided higher job satisfaction, as the clinicians perceived professional and knowledge development both for themselves and the team.


The following people worked on this project:

  • Ann Blandford (now at UCL),
  • Anne Adams (now at UCL)


DL Usability issues
1. Adams, A & Blandford, A (2001) "Managing or reciprocating with digital library information in a clinical setting" in Proceedings of IMH HCI'01, Lille pp 139-143
2. Adams, A & Blandford, A (2003) 'Security and online learning: to protect or prohibit' in Ghaoui, C. (eds.) 'Usability Evaluation of Online Learning Programs.' Ideal Publishing.

DL Social impact issues
3. Adams, A. & Blandford, A (2001) "Social issues can impede the provision of even innocuous information provision" in proceedings of the 1st 'Dependability in healthcare informatics' IRC workshop. pp 51-58
4. Adams, A & Blandford, A (2001) "Digital libraries in a clinical setting: friend or foe" in proceedings of ECDL'2001, Damnstadt. Springer, pp 231-224
5. Adams, A & Blandford, A (2002) "Digital libraries in academia: Challenges and changes" in Proceedings of ICADL'02, Singapore. Springer pp 392 - 403.
6. Adams, A. & Blandford, A. (2002) "Acceptability of medical digital libraries" Health informatics Journal. Vol 8 (2). pp. 58 - 66.

Method & other issues
7. Adams, A (2000) "Multimedia information changes the whole privacy ballgame" in proceedings of computers freedom and privacy 2000: challenging the assumptions. pp.25 - 32 ACM Press.
8. Adams, A & Sasse, M. A (2001) "Privacy in multimedia communications: protecting users not just data" in Proceedings of IMH HCI'01, Lille. pp.49 - 64
9. Adams, A (2002) "Grounded Theory a theoretical perspective in HCI" Workshop on Understanding User Experience: Literary Analysis meets HCI. London at HCI'02.