Tales of a Guinea Pig Library: Testing the User’s Experience of a Subject-Based Digital Collection

Kathryn Gucer


In recent years, brick-and-mortar libraries have produced numerous online digital collections with a specialized focus and user set. For instance, the National Agricultural Library (NAL), where the author of this paper works and conducts research, launched the Historical Dietary Guidance Digital Collection in 2014 and will launch the Animal Welfare Act Historical Digital Collection (AWAHDC) this year. These and other small- scale projects, which are usually the brainchild of specialized research and information centers, are often seen as side shows to their host libraries’ main digitization programs. Consequently, these projects and, especially, their users’ experiences of them are at risk of being forgotten the moment after they are launched.
My presentation will treat the design and early implementation of a user study of the AWAHDC as a test case in transforming these digital collections from disposable pet projects to models for digital preservation. Taking up where the technicians and web developers often leave off, I will focus on the user’s agency in the life of these projects and their host libraries. Core questions I will examine are: How can a focused study of a digital library’s frontend be designed with larger backend concerns in mind? How can a consideration of the user’s experience make these projects agile, replicable, and scalable?



Kathryn Gucer is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Curation at the College of Information, University of Maryland, College Park. She received her Ph.D. in Early Modern English Literature and Culture from Northwestern University in 2001 and has published on the history of information and information technology, the history and sociology of the book, political discourse, and reading practices in seventeenth-century England and Europe. Her currently book project, Web of Exiles, examines cross-cultural information exchange among displaced peoples in England and Europe from 1572 to 1685. Her postdoctoral work for the University of Maryland is based at the National Agricultural Library, where she builds and researches digital information resources, including the Animal Welfare Act History Digital Library for the National Agricultural Library (http://archivescollaboratory.umd.edu/).