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Feb 04 2016 - 07:00 PM
Research From the Inconvenience of Your Phone

As digital libraries become the norm, there is a need to understand user experiences with digital collections. In particular, what does it mean to get lost in the stacks—to experience the "flow" state of research—in digital library formats? This research study seeks to understand users’ perceptions of flow experience in digital and mobile libraries, keeping in mind the consequences for the design of such collections and practices.

While mobile libraries increase access to digital collections, the small screen, clumsy input and output interfaces, and limited functionality disrupt the flow of browsing through a mobile library. The researchers characterized flow as the optimal gap between skills and challenges that results in deep engagement with a task. They operationalized attention focus, control, and enjoyment as measures of flow.

The researchers conducted a large-scale study of web and mobile digital library users at a university in China. They administered a questionnaire asking participants to rate their attention to focus, feeling of control, and enjoyment in using mobile and web digital libraries on a Likert scale. They find that users’ flow experience is diminished in using mobile libraries.

The survey is limited in its measurement of flow—both in terms of its operationalization and methods of measurement. Significantly, the authors do not question the users’ perceptions of challenge and skill in engaging in research through digital collections via a web browser or mobile device. However, their findings that people experience less attention focus, control, and enjoyment in using mobile libraries matches common sense expectations and provides useful data for designers of user experience. What frustrations and feedback might you give to designers of mobile libraries?

Zha, X., Zhang, J., Yan, Y., & Wang, W. (2015). Comparing flow experience in using digital libraries.Library Hi Tech 33(1), 41-53.

Image: Smartphone Teen by Pabak Sakar via Flickr