The experience of end users has received a great deal of attention from libraries and publishers in the last few years, with the understanding that knowledge of the user experience (UX) will effectively inform the evolution of academic services and products. For example, libraries are adding new UX positions and functions and publishers are adopting software development methodologies to design user interfaces to optimize the user experience (UI/UX). Applying UX best practices to library services can increase access to digital resources and user-friendly study rooms. And these methods applied to academic publishing can simplify the visitor flow and grow usage of online platforms.
Tuning our focus to the information experience of our readers and patrons is indeed important – and we must place our developing UX knowledge in a wider context. In the last few years, our industry has produced a rich set of studies and research papers into the academic information experience, or researcher experience (RX), which remind us of the perspectives of those who consume the resources we publish. Beyond the day-to-day tactical decisions of libraries and publishers, we must keep in mind that we are not offering singular destinations for academic information needs – instead, we are all outposts along the scholarly journey.
Today’s emerging scholars move across the mainstream web and institutional resources to achieve their research tasks, jumping in and out of the products and services we hope will provide a positive user experience. Many student-researchers today see the act of research as omnipresent in their academic careers, as a consistent set of fairly ordinary tasks – such as searching for and citing scholarly materials. During the course of their studies, researchers establish their own routines for downloading, storing, organizing, and retrieving many megabytes of digital research materials.
The researchers I’ve spoken to amass large volumes of relevant citations, articles, and artifacts quite quickly – building up what can be seen as a “personal digital library.” Some achieve this via web-based or software applications, such as DropBox, EndNote, Zotero, RefWorks, Mendeley, etc. Some track citations in spreadsheets or word processing files. Some still use analog methods. And some use a combination of tools and methods, depending on whether they’re working solo or as a group.
These realities illuminate many opportunities for streamlining the academic workflow and driving collaborative RX improvements. Establishing a holistic view into RX extends and enriches our UX knowledge with this broader perspective. This perspective casts a new light on our collective development priorities, illuminating that what matters is empowering researchers to fulfill their core information tasks of information discovery and usage of scholarly content.