Recognizing Cultural Diversity in Library Interface Development

Article Synopsis
This article explains how library digital infrastructures lack diversity to its various users and further investigates how to remedy that problem by using the Division of Libraries at New York University. With the current increase of independent users, there are pupils and staff who are using the online features of the library on and off campus who may not be getting the best user experience due to their cultural background. For this study, culture is defined as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices”. This study focuses on the current plans that hope to enhance how those in an academic discipline, university role, and cultural background get their information. In the past two decades, there has been research about the influences of cultural background has on user experiences. The most well known researcher in the field is Aaron Marcus. Marcus’s approach to a cross-cultural design is based upon five dimensions of culture proposed by cultural anthropologist Geert Hofstede. These five dimensions are power-distance, collectivism vs. individualism, femininity vs. masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long vs. short-term orientation. Using a team-based approach as the first strategy for addressing cultural diversity, they found that an overall reimagining of the libraries’ web presence was needed. Another strategy that was found was localization, which users could use to customize the library website to their personal location so they can see relevant information in their area. With the joint effort of library staff and focus groups, different approaches to website design and feature implementations are being focused solely on the user which in turn would adhere to their diversity. The current state is still in its trial periods but there has been some great progress that can be seen so far.

Core Research Questions:
The questions raised in this study were (1) how the relatively new implementation of dedicated user experience staff can accommodate challenges and provide equitable access to resources for each of its users since user diversity can be difficult to identify or perceive and (2) should web presence defer to the understanding of the user, or seek to support them in a transition to an environment with a different value system?

Methods Used to Answer the Research Questions:
NYU has implemented several different methods to answer the two research questions. Since NYU identified user-centered practices as foundational, they created a Department of User Experience. Using a committee as diverse and representative of their users to develop the library site is the first strategy to address the problem; NYU also implemented measures to localize the site; and reinvigorated their commitment to a user-centered process with a user-centered design.

Web Presence Group:
Represents multiple library departments
Led by the Head of User Experience
Makes sure members can “share their perspectives and can advocate for their staff and users” (pg. 3)
Has subsections with specific responsibilities
Regular participation from global members via face to face synchronous virtual meetings
Supplemented by Google Drive, Gmail, a wiki and workspace
Emails with group progress are distributed to all library staff
Library departments are visited to:
Discuss needs
Obtain Goals
Get Feedback
Uses an iterative process
Means that elements, instead of entire platform can be:
Swiftly developed
Incremental changes can be tested and adopted quickly

Customizes the library site so that relevant local information is easier to access
Reduces complexity from trying to address multiple institutes and practices
Is more holistic
Accommodates cultural diversity
Host priorities
Ties into conceptual framework of how different users approach the interface
Has cohesive and workable sections
User testing is tied to specific site functions and findings are implemented under Agile Scrum
Accommodations made
Which specific functions are fixed in relation to the user
Seamlessly implemented

User-Centered Design:
Personas which are generalized personifications of data from research
Identify needs and motivations of users
Has developed 4 personas
2 global, and 4 local
Developed with attention to differing policies and services
User stories
Are based on personas
Address a particular need
Direct work with users
User testing (interface interactions)
Focus groups
With both students and staff, separately
Guerrilla testing
Student participants are recruited from central library locations

Findings and Conclusions:
Since the idea of a renewed web presence is still in the early stages, the results from Marcus’s theory are still pending. However, Marcus’s ideas “show promise for the kind of all-embracing development advocated by leading researchers in the cross-cultural user experience realm” (p. 4). According to Dragovic, “progress has already paid dividends by improving the experience for a diverse pool of constituents” (p. 4). The user-centered design process will allow libraries to gain the perspective from the diverse community of users; therefore, it will represent modes of access (physical and digital) to information; and the approaches taken by other academic disciplines and cognitive frameworks. Once Web Presence Group work is done, the New York University libraries will provide their users with customized information that meets their needs.

Unanswered Questions and Future Research:
A natural question that may come to mind may be– “What would the resulting interface(s) look like?” We may be familiar with interface elements created for visually-impaired users or users who speak a language other than English (e.g., options for self-checkout in either English or Spanish). But other aspects of culture, such as those related to the dimensions mentioned in the article, may be more challenging to visualize. When discussing the use of Scrum methodology, Dragovic states that “several functions have already been deployed…and assessment has shown that even minor tweaks have paid dividends in the usability of the site” (p. 5). Including a pre and post example of this could have helped with visualization. The same curiosity may arise with personas. The reader may want to check out the article the author referenced by Tempelman-Kluit & Pearce (2014), which helps to answer part of the above questions. It describes the creation of the first four personas and provides detailed descriptions of them, including user demographics and user frustration (e.g., not able to easily find a resource).

Not every persona (e.g., long-distance/e-learners) has been created at NYU, which can be addressed in future research. Because most of the research discussed has been with corporations and universities, future research can address designing culturally diverse interfaces for other information organizations. Surveys of user satisfaction or experience with the interface could be created, exploring factors such as demand characteristics, which may vary from culture to culture. Cultural limitations encountered in creating a user-centered interface and the similarities and differences between user needs of diverse constituents could also be examined.

The Group’s members represent various library departments across NYU campuses. One other avenue for research is this kind of collaboration, such as a case study on how committees consisting of global members from academic libraries use Scrum methodology, a team-based approach, to effectively work toward specific goals. With multiple global sites, NYU’s goal is large-scale—a “complex endeavor” (p. 3) and “labor-intensive” (p. 6). Dragovic acknowledges that “directly addressing cultural dimensions and framing of…user interface” (p. 5) can be costly even for corporations that have the resources, which NYU addressed by using Scrum methodology. A question that may come to mind would be how an organization, such as a public library with limited funding and staffing, can implement cultural dimensions in their website interfaces. Perhaps the organization can fall back on what they know about particular needs of specific populations served and use current research and their own assessments to create a more culturally-responsive interface. Though not the scope of NYU’s, questionnaires, observations and focus groups can be utilized toward this goal.

For those interested in user experience, check out User Experience Professionals Association’s (UXPA) ( magazine “User Experience (UX)” ( and peer-reviewed, international open-source Journal of Usability Studies, (

Using the critical incident technique to evaluate the service quality perceptions of public library users: an exploratory study


Anna Ching-Yu Wong from Syracuse University conducted a research study evaluating the service quality of public libraries through the reports of participants who regularly use the library. The “critical incident technique” was used in gathering information from the participants. The critical incident technique is different from the traditional approach in surveying participants in that it relies upon actual events which offer insights of the subjects, rather as a blanket set of questions with a very limited number of open-ended questions. The critical incident technique has been verified by previous studies to be an effective research approach for user-centered studies in library science. This exploratory study further adds to the body of research surrounding the use of the critical incident technique in LIS by attempting to answer this question: is using the critical incident technique a good way to determine how serviceable a library is to its patrons? The study also focuses on public library services and evaluates participant’s positive or negative experiences at the library, attempting to answer the question: are patrons happy with the service quality at their public library?

Method of Research:

To answer both of these questions, emails and unstructured interviews were used to measure the experiences of eight frequent library visitors (aged 20-80) and data was conducted using SERVQUAL, a model that has been used by many libraries for evaluating their public services. The SERVQUAL model, developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1988, uses the patrons’ responses and categorizes them into the following domains in order to be evaluated later:

Tangible, effect of service: library staff attitudes, library collection and access

Reliability, the promised service; dependably and accurately

Responsiveness: The willingness to assist and provide prompt service to library users

Competence: Possession of the required skills and knowledge to perform the service

Courtesy: Respect and consideration of contact personnel

Credibility: Trustworthiness and honesty of the library staff

Security, library as a place: No risk

The process of the data went through two stages. First, the researcher sent out a message to participants, asking them to record the incidents — either negative or positive — while being given examples of standard critical incidents from other library users. After all of the surveyors’ responses were recorded, two coders classified them into categories and examined their validity (the degree of the agreement between two coders was over 95%), and the collected critical incidents were grouped into the seven categories listed above.


The participants of the study found online resources to be helpful because it was easy to locate materials and user friendly. The study shows that 48% found the resources available to be tangible considering how user-friendly the catalog is and also how patrons able to easily locate books. Based on the study and results of participants found that the public library is not reliable. In this particular category no participant provided a positive response about the reliability of library. Another category in which the library failed in is that of courtesy. Only one participant suggested the things that transpired within library showed a lack of respect for patrons. An example of such is people speaking loudly and library staff not having authority to change their behavior. Participants felt insecure about the library due to the number of homeless people surrounding the area panhandling. Activities such as this and patrons using profanity made participants feel unsafe.


The participants of the data is reliable considering they are regular users of the library. In order to conduct the study data was collected via email and in person interviews. The study shows that the library should create a safer, reliable, and courteous environment for patrons. In order to create a larger study and compare other libraries a large population should be considered. Also, further research and a diverse populations should be considered as well.
Results showed that positive incidents were slightly higher than negative ones. Also, women library users had more positive experiences than men.
The study also showed that even though participants resided in different states, their positive and negative incidents revealed similar situations.
Of 47 recorded incidents, library access issues accounted for more than one-third of all incidents, approximately 36.17% which represented 48% of the positive related critical incidents and 22.73% of the negative ones.

Unanswered questions/ Ideas for future research:

Clarification was needed as to how the participants were selected for this study? Was this the best sample of patrons that represent library users? How diverse was this sample? This study would benefit from a larger base of participants and consider including non-library users.
A clarifying point could be made to address the discrepancy to the statement of initially having 12 participants, but later stating that there were a total of 8. Did the drop in participants impact the results of 19 positive and 16 negative incidents, yet on the table provided it states 25 positive and 22 negative. While this study provided valuable information for public libraries, there needs to be transparency as to how the results were obtained.

Possible answers to these questions:

Perhaps selecting a non-user would give the researchers valuable input.
More patrons would have given the researchers more data to work with.
Replicating this test 2-4 times a year may provide more insight as to how patrons use the library and the services provided.

Health Information Ties: Preliminary Findings on the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of an African-American Community

Article Summary for Health Information Ties: Preliminary Findings on the Health Information Seeking Behaviour of an African-American Community

by Allison Murphy, Marcia Seaton-Martin, Randi Brown for SJSU INFO 275(10)


This article focuses on a study of the health and information seeking behavior of African Americans. The study, which was published in 2007 in the journal Information Research, used Granovetter’s “strength of weak ties” theory as the basis for research. To conduct the survey, 200 random citizens of the Near East Side of Buffalo, New York, were asked specific questions via phone interviews.

The results of the survey showed that most African Americans relied on health professionals for information, rather than using an Internet search or website. The majority of those surveyed looked for information for themselves, but 22.2% looked for information for other family members or friends. The article concluded that health professionals are very important to underserved populations.

Core Research Questions

One of the core research questions is whether Granovetter’s strength of weak ties theory can be applied to this survey and information. Sociologist Mark Granovetter defines strength of weak ties as “a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and the reciprocal services that characterize the tie. The stronger the tie between individuals is an indication that they are part of the same social network” (Morey, 2007). Granovetter believes that if individuals have a close relationship, they will be part of the same social group.

Granovetter also attests that if individuals do not have a strong relationship between themselves, they will be “more useful sources for obtaining information and other resources” (Morey, 2007). This article mentions that library and information sources have not previously studied the health information seeking behaviors of minority groups. The study is one of the first to raise the question of how a specific African American population looks for information regarding health and wellness.

Methods Used

Information gathering for this study was completed via a telephone survey. The researcher purchased a directory of random listed household telephone numbers that corresponded to the target census area of Buffalo’s Near East Side. Using the MS Excel Rand() function, arbitrary telephone number pools were selected three times until at least 200 interviews were completed.

The telephone questionnaire used original questions along with others from “The online health care revolution” and “The strength of Internet ties’” (as quoted in Morey, 2007) that investigated the health seeking behavior of African Americans and the relationship closeness of persons from which they seek medical information or help. The survey was designed using the following type questions:

1. Which members of their social networks do participants interact with the most when seeking consumer health information? How do the participants define the ‘closeness’ of this relationship?
2. Where do participants seek and obtain consumer health information?
3. Which age group is more likely to seek and obtain consumer health information?
4. Which sex is more likely to seek and obtain consumer health information?
5. Did the participant look for consumer health information for himself or herself or someone else? (Morey, 2007)

The survey was tested and revised before implementation. To eliminate bias and ensure a diverse gender and age response demographic, the survey introduction was modified when half of the surveys were completed. Nine hundred forty telephone numbers were called to complete 216 surveys.

Findings and Conclusions

Two hundred sixteen African American men and women between the ages of 18-74 were surveyed who searched for medical information in the past six months. Most often, respondents looked for information from health care workers (45.3%), the Internet (14.5%), or other sources (9.8%). Older participants were more likely to look for additional information, but younger partakers were more likely to use the Internet.

A major source of health information seeking was from health care professionals, despite a predominantly weak relational tie. Family and friends with whom those surveyed had strong ties were also important sources of health information for themselves and as sources for proxy information gathering, even though the value of the information may be questionable. Respondents did not replace traditional sources of information gathering, health care workers or family ties, with the Internet.

Further Questions

After reading this article on health information seeking behavior, there are several questions that come to mind.

1. Is seeking information from the youngest male or female over 18 truly going to give an accurate representation on health information seeking behavior?

Many students just out of high school are in great shape and health, therefore they are less likely to have health issues.

2. Why turn to family members for health information?

There has been a history of African Americans being treated differently in hospitals, not being given medicine for pain, or being given minimal drug doses. Economics could also play a role. Sometimes the elderly are more comfortable with their family members.

3. Can results of a survey from a small number of people give an accurate representation of health information seeking behavior?

The answer is no. According to the 2010 quick facts census, there was a population of 261,325 people in Buffalo, and 38.6% of that group were African Americans living alone, which is approximately 100,000 persons (United States Census Bureau, 2015). If it was assumed that the 2007 census had similar demographics, then the surveyed African American population represented less than one percent of the targeted demographic.

4. What could contribute to such a percentage gap with those who used the Internet versus those who sought out a health care professional?

The article points out that this is an underserved area of Buffalo, so one could assume that respondents had no access to the Internet at home, did not know how to use the Internet, or did not have transportation to a library.

For future research, as shown by the numbers above, there should be more people included in the survey. It may cost more, but the results or findings would be more accurately represented.


Morey, O. (2007). Health information ties: preliminary findings on the health information seeking behaviour of an African-American community. Information Research, 12(2). Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau. (2015 September 3). Buffalo (city), New York. Retrieved from