The Use of Visual Artifacts in the User-Informed Development of an Educational Digital Library Collection


  • Michael Khoo Department of Communication, University of Colorado at Boulder


Digital libraries are complex sociotechnical artifacts. As such they will be understood and treated in different ways by the different groups that interact with them. The different understandings of these groups will be rooted in the differing tacit, underlying 'technological frames' that they will have of digital libraries as technologies. In cases where developers and users are both involved in the development of digital library collections, and where the frames of developers and users differ significantly, this can result in difficulties in the collection development process. It is important, therefore, to acknowledge that such differences can exist between developers and users, and to find ways to identify, describe, and mediate them. The paper describes the case of the Digital Water Education Library (DWEL). DWEL was an example of community-led collections development, in which users - in this case educators - were involved in the design and development of its collection. An ethnographic and communications-based analysis of DWEL's organizational communication revealed the existence of different technological frames among the developers and the users of DWEL, differences which impeded the progress of the project. These differences were exacerbated by the project's distributed organizational structure and reliance on network communication technologies for the bulk of its organizational communication. The paper describes how these differences were mediated, in part through the sharing of 'boundary objects' - graphic representations of the project's structures and processes - among the developers and users, and how these representations subsequently informed the development of an online tool that represented some of the developers' knowledge to the users.