A library or just another information resource? A case study of users' mental models of traditional and digital libraries

Stephann Makri, Ann Blandford, J Gow, J Rimmer, C Warwick, George Buchanan
in Journal for the American Society of Information Science and Technology, Journal article


A user?s understanding of the libraries they work in, and hence of what they can do in those libraries, is encapsulated in their ?mental models? of those libraries. In this paper, we present a focused case study of users? mental models of traditional and digital libraries, based on observations and interviews with eight participants. It was found that a poor understanding of access restrictions led to risk-averse behaviour, whereas a poor understanding of search algorithms and relevance ranking resulted in trial-and-error behaviour. This highlights the importance of rich feedback in helping users to construct useful mental models. Although the use of concrete analogies for digital libraries was not widespread, participants used their knowledge of Internet search engines to infer how searching might work in digital libraries. Indeed, most participants did not clearly distinguish between different kinds of digital resource, viewing the electronic library catalogue, abstracting services, digital libraries and Internet search engines as variants on a theme.