Create Guidelines

IMLS project – Creating Guidelines

Creating digital library (DL) design guidelines on accessibility, usability and utility for blind and visually impaired (BVI) users


The project goal will create digital library (DL) design guidelines on accessibility, usability and utility by incorporating the perspectives of key stakeholders. Most importantly, the guidelines will address the help-seeking situations that blind and visually impaired (BVI) users experience in DL interactions. A help-seeking situation is characterized by a user engaged in information seeking within a DL in order to achieve his/her tasks/goals, and needing some form of help in the process.

Project products. This project will generate three final products: 1) DL design guidelines organized by types of help-seeking situations associated with accessibility, usability and utility based on the WCAG structure; 2) report on the current status of how DLs satisfy BVI users’ help needs and support DL interactions; 3) methodology that can be applied to other underserved users to develop similar guidelines.

Filling the gap. DLs are increasingly becoming the preferred resource for searchers, replacing or supplementing physical interactions with traditional libraries. The proposed project innovatively addresses the issue of DL accessibility, usability and utility for one of the key underserved groups by creating design guidelines to address BVI users’ help-seeking situations.

Evidence of the project success. The interdisciplinary nature of this project team and its incorporation of different stakeholders of DLs —involving scholars and experts, digital librarians, and end users—will produce an impact far beyond the immediate success of the project itself.

Impact beyond BVI users and DLs. This research is at the forefront of the National Digital Platform movement to provide access to engaging and meaningful digital content, and services, to all Americans. The issue examined in this research is universal, as all users can potentially utilize DLs. Methods employed in this project can be applied to generate guidelines for other types of users.


The proposed project consists of four stages.

Stage 1 Build a foundation for DL design guidelines (6 months)

A thorough and comprehensive literature search for the last 20 years and document analysis [49] will be conducted to identify a list of help-seeking situations that BVI users encounter in their Internet interactions since very little research has been conducted in the DL environment.

Two types of analyses will be conducted to identify the current status and problems with the existing guidelines as they relate to accessibility, usability and utility: 1) analysis of existing accessibility and usability guidelines and 2) analysis of associated research on the topic.

Stage 2 Develop draft of DL guidelines (15 months)

Participant recruitment will occur for three different communities participating in various stages of the DL design guidelines development.

The team will develop an understanding of various help-seeking situations 60 BVI users encounter in DLs when performing specific search tasks, and the types of help needed to resolve these situations.

In order to develop the draft of guidelines, the research team will analyze and re-analyze the results of the user study using open coding and compare findings to the existing guidelines. The key DL design principles will be identified in association with the three overarching areas of accessibility, usability and utility.

Stage 3 Refine DL guidelines (6 months)

Two-round Delphi surveys will be administered to 150 participants representing four groups of stakeholders to provide feedback for the draft of guidelines.

Stage 4 Test and finalize the guidelines (9 months, Research Questions 4, 5, 6)

At this stage, the guidelines will be used to assess 15 DLs representing different types of DLs. Each of the thirty (30) DL developers, selected from Stage 3, will be instructed to assess two (2) of the selected DLs based on the guidelines. In total, each DL will be evaluated by four DL developers.

Following the DL assessment, four focus groups with 7-8 participants in each group will be formed to discuss participants’ experience in assessing the DLs according to the new guidelines.

The research design, sampling, multiple data collection and data analysis methods employed in this project can be applied to generate design guidelines to support different types of users in different types of systems. The final products include the DL guidelines, current DL status in supporting BVI users as well as methodology for the creation of the guidelines.


The project is in progress.

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