Socially grounded user studies in digital library development

Ann Peterson Bishop, Bharat Mehra, Imani Bazzell, Cynthia Smith


In order for public libraries to ameliorate the "digital divide" in their local communities, this paper presents a socially grounded and participative process for facilitating access to networked digital information for marginalized groups. Through the Afya Project, a participatory action research approach to digital library design is taken that targets the barriers in access to health information and services experienced by African American women in the community. SisterNet, a local grassroots social network of African American women committed to addressing physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health issues, is a partner for the Afya Project. SisterNet has played a significant role in recruiting African American women as community action researchers to participate in data collection and analysis related to the development, implementation, and assessment of Web-based resources. Use scenarios in socially grounded user studies are being employed as a key methodological technique to design culturally appropriate and usable Web-based health information services that will help African American women in the community achieve their vision of better health.

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