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, (