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|Museums and the Web 2005
Reports and analyses from around the world are presented at MW2005.
DigiCulture, A Study In User Behaviours With Digital Cultural Materials In Contemporary Art
James M Turner, Suzanne Bertrand-Gastaldy, Pierrette Bergeron, École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l'information, Université de Montréal, Michelle Gauthier, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Canada and Stéphanie Pouchot, Laboratoire URSIDOC, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France
This paper gives an overview of some of the research results from DigiCulture, part of a larger research project aimed at managing digital cultural content. The objective of DigiCulture was to study user behaviours in regard to Canadian digital cultural content. Six sub-projects were developed in order to study various aspects of this. The general results of the four sub-projects that are completed are reported here. The first is a meta-analysis of reports the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal had commissioned about its users from the founding of the museum in 1964 to the present day. The second project offers a profile of the clientele of the museum's Médiathèque, both on site and via the Web. The third project reported here is a typology of the data housed in various information systems at the museum. The fourth analyses the orientations, choices and perceptions of digital information by museum professionals who develop concepts for exhibitions and who carry out other mediation of digital information. The sub-projects carried out in the context of DigiCulture were a rich source of information that helped us learn a great deal about user behaviours in a museum environment.
Keywords: Cultural heritage, Contemporary art museums, User behaviour, Digital cultural content
This report presents selected research results from DigiCulture, part of a larger research project aimed at managing digital cultural content, which was financed by Canadian Heritage during the fiscal year 2003-2004. The larger project, entitled "Réseau de recherche pour la gestion du contenu culturel numérique" (Research Network for Managing Digital Cultural Content) was an initiative of CoRIMedia, a research consortium at the Université de Sherbrooke for developing tools and methods for managing multimedia content in a networked environment. The project was composed of three parts: user behaviours, metadata for multimedia data, and managing digital content. DigiCulture covered the part focusing on user behaviours.
The objective of DigiCulture was to study user behaviours in regard to Canadian digital cultural content. Information science researchers at the Université de Montréal, Dalhousie University, and the Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 developed six sub-projects in order to study various aspects of this. A collaborative agreement was signed between the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal (MACM) and the École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l'information (EBSI) at the Université de Montréal, in order to frame this project and future collaborative projects. The MACM was the first museum in Canada devoted exclusively to contemporary art, and for many years was the only one. It was used as the site for gathering data, and thus the study focused on user behaviours with contemporary art materials. The six sub-projects developed were:
In this paper we present an overview of the project, and of sub-projects 1, 2, 5, and 6. Sub-projects 3 and 4 are nearing completion; the results will be reported elsewhere. We report on the methodologies used and give a general view of the most important findings. The work was centred at the École de bibliothéconomie et des sciences de l'information (EBSI) at the Université de Montréal, but some also took place at other sites. The themes of the sub-projects were chosen to reflect the important facets of user behaviours with digital cultural materials.
Sub-Project 1: Meta-Analysis
Although most of the sub-projects involved personal interactions with real users, the meta-analysis project sought to mine the user studies the museum had conducted since 1964 to get a better understanding of their objectives, the methods used, and their main results. The approach adopted was to make an inventory of all documents related to user profiles at the MACM, create a descriptive record of each, include the record in the Médiathèque's catalogue, and make it available to the researchers. Next, we synthesised the methods used for the studies, traced the notions of information they contained, classified the questions formulated for collecting data, identified the user profiles obtained and the variables analysed for characterising the museum's user base, evaluated the frequency and level of use of these profiles and variables, and obtained data on the expectations of users of museum information.
User studies are conducted for a variety of reasons. These in turn influence the methodologies used. Contexts change too, and in the MACM's case, some of the user studies had been undertaken for particular reasons, such as a fundraising campaign or planning the move of the museum to a new site. However, no inventory of the studies of the museum's user base had been made over the years, nor had any ongoing review of the user base been undertaken.
The reports were scattered throughout the museum, and 13 were already included in the Médiathèque's database. Annual reports yielded references to almost as many more, for a total of 25. Because almost all were available only in hard copy, the parts of the studies we wished to analyse had to be digitised. These included objectives of the study, entity that had carried out the study, entity that had ordered the study, context, period covered, population studied, sample, number of respondents, response rated, methodology, language of the questionnaire, number of questions, list of the questions, average length of interviews, method of processing the data, conclusions and recommendations of the study, and data on user expectations. In addition, a record was made for each study to include a summary of this information, in order to provide an overview of the content of each study.
The digitised material needed revising since there were errors in the character-recognition files, most often one character being mistaken for another. Some data had to be adapted or eliminated, since the N6 software used for the analysis could only process files in .txt format. A series of codes was developed to categorise the parts of the reports according to their information content. Each document was coded into nodes of a tree structure developed for this purpose. The tree was revised a number of times during the process of coding, with nodes being added, subtracted, merged, or modified. One person did most of the coding, but in order to assure consistency, intra- and inter-coder tests were carried out at the beginning and throughout the process. After a number of tests and after refining the definitions of the nodes, the rate of inter-coder consistency went from 66% to 91%, and the intra-coder rate improved from 88% to 92%.
Some salient points from the meta-analysis are reported here:
To date, the museum has used four user profiles: sociodemographic data, data on users and leisure, data on users and the MACM, and data on users and the Internet. In the 2003 study, this last profile was only touched upon. Analysis of the questions in all four profiles helped to identify 29 variables they contained.
Since the approaches and the levels of precision vary greatly among the 25 reports, comparing and interpreting results require prudence. However, much groundwork was accomplished in the process of completing this sub-project, and the data can be further exploited as resources permit. The meta-analysis has highlighted the need to systematise the ongoing development of the inventory of user studies so that they can continue to be compared over the years. In addition, all the questions that users had been asked since 1964 were gathered, and these served as the basis for constructing the questionnaire used in the second sub-project.
Sub-Project 2: Profile
This project sought to get a profile of users of the Médiathèque. Two research methodologies were developed in order two study two types of clientele:
The average time for completing the questionnaire was 8 minutes for on-site visitors and almost 9 minutes for Web visitors. The data collection for the two methods was carried out on the same dates.
For the on-site survey, randomly-selected users forming a representative sample were invited to complete the survey as they were leaving the Médiathèque, on condition that they had not already done so on a previous visit. Professional interviewers from the consulting firm collected the data. The response rate was 75%.
For the Web-based survey, a survey page inviting users to complete the survey appeared when visitors landed on the Web site. Users who did not wish to complete the survey were able to go directly to the Médiathèque's site. In addition, cookies were used to identify users who had already completed the survey so that they were not asked to complete it again. The response rate was 42.9%, much higher than one can usually expect with a Web-based survey.
Of the clientele of the Médiathèque, 68% were women and 32% were men. Users were relatively young, with 39% of them under the age of 25. Almost all of them (95%) lived in the Montréal area, with a majority from the city itself. However, the Médiathèque's Web site had a larger number of users from outside the city, 40% being residents of places other than Québec. Of these, 16% were from France. French was the usual language of 75% of the visitors.
Visitors tended to be educated, 60% of them holding a university degree (compared to 24% of the population of Québec at large). A third of the visitors had a master's degree. Interestingly, more visitors with little formal education (29%) came in person than did those who visited the Web site (12%). The Médiathèque attracts visitors who have studied in art history and arts and letters, especially those who came in person, while the Web visitors were much stronger in the plastic arts.
The user profile indicates that the Médiathèque is heavily used, and that the typical user is a woman under 34 who is French-speaking and has a university degree. Users could be divided into two main groups of about equal size: workers (46%) and students (44%). About half of the workers used the Médiathèque as part of their work at the MACM itself. In contrast, most of the visitors to the Web site work for organisations other than museums.
Among both on-site and Web-based users, 59% said they had used the Médiathèque's Web site for over five years, and 92% said they were at ease with navigating it; 63% said they most often accessed it from home, 21% from work, and 10% from school. Users arrived at the site using a variety of methods: 42% came as a result of a query to a Web search engine, 21% entered via the museum's Web site, 14% used a bookmark they had already made, and 11% arrived because of a click they had made on another site.
User satisfaction was strong, with global scores of 64% of all users stating that they were satisfied or very satisfied. The main reason given was the quality and relevancy of the information found. For on-site visitors, 92% were satisfied or very satisfied, but the corresponding figure for Web visitors was only 50%, suggesting that it would be useful to make improvements to the Web site.
Those who completed the survey were asked to suggest improvements. The top three suggestions on-site visitors made were:
Sub-Project 5: Systems
This project sought to get a global idea of the MACM's digital resources, which are grouped into three categories: Web sites, databases, and audiovisual documents. From this, an attempt was made to identify which of these resources might be of interest to MACM users, whether the resources are already on-line or could be made available on-line.
Three Web sites are considered here.
A total of 84 internal databases were inventoried in this sub-project. These can be categorised as two types:
Of these, 79 of the databases are in the Médiathèque, most of which were built to house bibliographic information, using FileMaker Pro. The remaining databases are found in a number of other departments or as external databases housing information on the museum's collections that can be consulted at the museum, including Artimage, The AMICO Library, Artefacts Canada, Info-Muse, Société des Musées Québécois, and MultiMimsy. These contain information on the works in the permanent collection and on the documentation held at the museum. Their field structures are analysed further in the context of this project.
The audiovisual documents include audiocassettes; visual documents such as slides, negatives, and photos; and videocassettes.
In order to compare the fields in databases housing information about the museum's collections and its documentation, the Canadian Heritage Information Network's (CHIN's) data dictionary was chosen as a starting point, since it is the oldest and is widely used. However, it was developed for object and site descriptions, and this data dictionary has few fields relating to documenting works and events. To meet its own needs, the MACM has worked out its own data dictionary in conjunction with building a centralised database of museum information. This database has gone through a number of incarnations and mutations over the years, and since it has not yet come to fruition, in-house systems are still in use for the moment. Data is accumulating in a number of smaller databases built to respond to immediate needs, and although there are some incompatibilities among these databases, this ongoing temporary situation has been beneficial in forcing constant revision of and reflection on how these information resources meet real needs. This research project offered another reason to analyse these database structures. As a first step, each field in each database was compared against the CHIN data dictionary. Next, for each database, the fields that had no analogue in the CHIN data dictionary were compared against the field structure of the new centralised database.
Data about the permanent collection of the MACM were found in 8 internal and external databases. Data about documentary information were found in 4 databases. Of course, each database has a different data dictionary, and these were first compared against that of CHIN, then against that of the new centralised database. Despite their differences, several fields having to do with the description of works of art are common to the databases, albeit with different field labels for the corresponding entities. Over 75% of the databases had the following fields as part of their structure: accession number, title, artist, object category, width, height, depth, date production was completed, and transliteration of the inscription. Over 50% of the databases had the following fields as part of their structure: medium, support, name of the establishment, number of elements, date production began, unit of linear measurement, material, subject or image, exhibition title.
All the databases had some unique fields with no analogue in other databases because of the unique nature of the information each was built to house. Some held information only on documents, while others are image databases with fields built to include description metadata. The large collection management database has information about loans, insurance, and so on, but few fields for descriptive information about documents or events. Only about 10% of its fields are found in the other database structures analysed in the context of this study.
One of the benefits of this study was to make an inventory of existing systems. This helped highlight the differences in structures, in turn reflecting different and changing needs of various museum activities. Information systems need to be reviewed from time to time so they can be adjusted in response to changing reality. A broader perspective of information needs will clearly be of help in adjusting information systems so that they can better meet the needs of their users.
Sub-Project 6: Mediators
This project sought to get input from internal users, employees of the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, and had its origins in work of the museum's committee for computing, a group which hopes to build an internal programming tool that can be used by employees via the museum's intranet. The data analysis also constituted the preparatory stage of a study of information choices, orientations, and perceptions on the part of the museum's professional staff.
An initial list of information fields identified in the museum's project to build the internal programming tool was constructed. From this list, a questionnaire to be used as the basis for structured interviews was built, and pre-tests were conducted among members of the committee for computing, after which adjustments were made to the questionnaire. Next, the revised questionnaire was reviewed by DigiCulture researchers and further adjustments were made. Twenty-two of the museum's sixty-nine permanent employees, or 33,8%, were selected randomly to participate in the data collection for this project. These participants received the questionnaire in advance of their interviews, in order to help them prepare their responses, and some arrived at the interview with notes they had made. Two members of the museum's committee for computing conducted the interviews, one asking the questions and the other recording the responses and sometimes asking for clarification. Analysis of the data involved elaborating categories emerging from the responses, and then classifying the responses into these categories. A matrix was built to house this information and facilitate the analysis.
Six internal documents were used for the analysis. These are used in the course of producing public events. It was necessary to show them to the employees so they could recognise the documents, since the similar titles of the documents seemed to provoke a great deal of confusion. Nobody could name them all, but once the participants were presented with the documents, all were easily able to confirm which ones they used. Some used all six. These documents were:
Following are the principal results of the study that are useful to report in this context. Over 68% of the respondents said that the work they carried out frequently involved information seeking. In the six internal documents used, 15 information zones were identified that are not necessarily clearly or formally identified in the documents, or that are identified in different ways from one document to another. However, all these information zones are used to varying degrees, and access to the information they contain is variable. Information circulates in a wide variety of ways, as one would expect, especially in view of the fact that some of it has strategic value. It was felt that some kind of rights management should be undertaken relating to reading, writing, and consulting information. In conjunction with this, it was felt that there should be some method of validating information, such as by recording the initial date the information was created and what level of validation is applied.
Museum employees use a wide variety of information sources, largely digital. The preliminary findings of the study suggest that further research in this area would be useful. Nine new information zones were suggested by a range of museum employees (minimum 22.7%, maximum 77.2%). Respondents had strict criteria for selecting information, notably accessibility, currency, availability, relevance, accuracy, and reputable source. They felt that about 75% of the information related to public events at the museum was of interest to the public.
It is useful to note some limitations of this project. As we mentioned, the project was partly a response to a mandate of the museum's committee for computing. From the perspective of those who program public events, the study is rather exploratory. Thus some of the results should be considered as indicative only, and these should be examined further within the framework of a more elaborate study. Nevertheless, the results obtained are valuable as input in developing a tool which will help information to circulate in the context of the museum's operational activities. The results of the study are more than adequate in the context of its primary mandate, but as an exploratory activity to get insights into programming public events, it would have been useful to record the interviews and produce a transcript of them, as this would have permitted more qualitative analysis. Unfortunately, resources to do this were not available within the context of DigiCulture.
On the positive side, however, this was the first time the information needs of the museum employees were studied and analysed in a systematic way. This first study suggests how useful it could be to study some of these issues more closely. It is clear that there is a core of strategic information available, and improving management of it would be beneficial. Taking the users as a starting point to evaluate the performance of information systems often reveals the spread between theory and practice. The number of information zones users wished to have and their expectations regarding an "ideal" tool are far from extravagant. The project team feels making a programming tool available via the museum's intranet will have a positive impact on how information circulates within the museum. In addition, it will provide a solid basis for fostering cooperation and the development of more efficient practices.
The sub-projects carried out in the context of DigiCulture were a rich source of information that helped us learn a great deal about user behaviours in a museum environment. In sub-project 1, a great deal of work was required to complete the meta-analysis, but the project resulted in a rich mine of data that can be further exploited as resources are made available. In addition, no such analysis had ever been undertaken at the museum, and the new perspective gained from getting a view of users over the years will be very helpful in planning for the future. This project has highlighted the need for systematising ongoing development of the inventory of user studies to permit further comparison as time goes on. The methodology developed in the context of this project can be used beyond the needs of DigiCulture, and this constitutes another contribution of the project.
Sub-project 2 provided a clear picture of the Médiathèque's users, and pointed up both the degree to which some of the users leaned on the Médiathèques resources and the very high degree of satisfaction they expressed with its services. Workers and students in about equal portions make up this specialised, faithful clientele, the majority saying they had used the resources for over five years. The interviewers noted that a number of on-site users remained long hours, sometimes the entire span of the opening hours. One telling observation was that more comfortable chairs be installed. Two of their top three suggestions for improvements had to do with longer opening hours.
As we noted, almost all the on-site visitors were satisfied or very satisfied, but only half the Web visitors were. Undoubtedly some of this is due to casual search methods such as plugging a single keyword or a few keywords into a query on Web-based search engines, and another part is undoubtedly due to the unsophisticated way in which search engines process queries. However, this also suggests that improvements be made to the organisation of the Médiathèque's Web site, as well as to its content. A cursory look at the data from the logs reveals that artists' names and the titles of works were by far the commonest keywords to bring users to the site. One can easily imagine a user trying an artist's name as a keyword and hoping for pictures of works by the artist, only to find as a result of a query the mention of the artist's name in a bibliography. This is speculation on our part, but it serves to show how we might formulate research questions in order to study these logs in depth. We also need to consider the possibility that the information the user was looking for was available on the site but that it was not indexed in such a way that the query produced a match.
From a broader perspective, our results make us wonder whether we have a clear picture of just how accessible content is to users. Perhaps constructing a typology of digital cultural content is needed in order to see just what that content is exactly, what kinds of information it contains, why each piece of content is created, who uses it and why, and what types of access we provide to it. Such activity might give us valuable information we could compare against existing systems to improve our Web-based information systems. The unusually high response rate to our Web-based questionnaire is perhaps an indication of the interest of the networked user community in helping us improve our systems. Clearly this area should be explored further.
In sub-project 5, the fact that a number of in-house systems are still in use is an indicator of the dynamic nature of the needs of museum staff. Earlier thinking was that an inventory of holdings and the administration of them were the main reasons for automating museum systems. Such information is of course essential, but it is no longer enough. The results of our study support ongoing revision and reflection on the part of museum staff by highlighting the need to revisit information needs from a broader perspective. Clearly parallel and complementary systems serve real and immediate purposes, but finding ways to integrate their information content into a common system will ultimately pay off in better information sharing and more efficient work flow.
The needs of staff users were studied further in sub-project 6, and the results point to the benefits that could be obtained if some of the issues were studied more closely. We noted that employees use a wide variety of information sources, most of which are already in digital format. Since that is the case, emphasis might be placed on coordinating the management and use of digital information. We also noted that finding better ways to manage the core of strategic information available would be beneficial. In addition, since staff members interviewed felt that about 75% of the information related to public events at the museum was of interest to the public, it might be helpful to look at ways some of the information created in conjunction with the museum's programming activities could be shared with the public. In this way, when the tool being built becomes operational, further economies might be realized
This report on the general results of four of the six sub-projects of DigiCulture already gives an indication of how fruitful our efforts have been. Reports on the remaining sub-projects will strengthen this notion, and more detailed reports on the results obtained will further indicate how fertile the terrain we exploited for this project was. Clearly much can be done to improve the use of Canadian digital cultural content, and we hope we have pointed out some of the paths that might be explored. Museums are not the only institutions worthy of study, but they are very important as repositories and centres of culture.
The first sub-project, providing a meta-analysis of the MACM's user studies since the museum first opened, was ground-breaking in that it unearthed some information which had lain dormant for almost forty years, giving it new life as an element that informed other parts of the study and that provides the basis for continuing analysis of user needs and behaviours as the museum enters the next stage of its existence. The second sub-project, providing a portrait of the clientele of the museum's Médiathèque, showed just how valuable this service is to those who study contemporary art, how much on-site users appreciate its resources, and yet how much work remains to be done before Web-based visitors will be entirely satisfied with it. The fifth sub-project highlights the need for improving information systems so that the museum can carry out its mandate and gives a strong indication of how difficult it is to do so. Finally, the sixth sub-project highlights some of the difficulties involved in harmonising information systems and in sharing information both internally and externally.
Some of the research paths our work has highlighted deserve to be explored for their potential to offer substantial improvements to information management and use. Clearly much remains to be done, but we hope our work has shed some light on what that might be.
The authors wish to thank Canadian Heritage for financing this project, CoRIMedia for coordinating it, and the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal for its most generous contribution of resources. We are grateful to co-investigator Elaine Toms, post-doctoral research assistant Christine Dufour, doctoral student Inge Alberts and master's students Sophie Caron, Isabelle Jameson, and Suzanne Mathieu, all of whom contributed to this work.
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