THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

21 January 2019

Can you help us with user experience testing for books designed for mobile devices?

On 7- 8th February, we’ll be running some user testing sessions, to help us understand how people might want to use new types of digital publications in our collections. We are interested in understanding what the user needs are for books published as apps or written specifically for use on mobile devices. If you use such publications in your work, or for reading for pleasure, we’d really like to hear from you.

We are carrying out these user testing sessions at the British Library in London and at the library of Trinity College Dublin on Thursday- Friday 7- 8 February. If you are interested in taking part, please follow the relevant link and complete the short form to sign up:

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The British Library and the other five UK Legal Deposit Libraries have been collecting various types of born-digital publications since 2013, as outlined in The Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations. These publications mainly comprised eBooks and eJournals, as well as archived UK websites. Over the past couple of years, we have started up the “Emerging Formats” project, to investigate new forms of digital publications whose structure and interactive features are more complex and pose new challenges in terms of collection and preservation.

The Emerging Formats project focuses on three formats: eBook mobile apps, web-based interactive narratives, and structured data.

EBook apps are digital books published as mobile apps, incorporating storytelling into the interactive functionality of mobile technology. They often rely heavily on the specific hardware and software they were created for, strengthening the relationship between content and device. They cover many genres, from poetry and academic to cookery and children’s fiction. They are often compared to games, as they require a significant level of interaction and readers’ engagement for the story to progress. Inkle’s 80 Days, Faber&Faber’s T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Nosy Crow’s Goldilocks and Little Bear are all relevant examples of eBook mobile apps.

Interactive narratives are text-based stories which rely on the reader to make decisions to determine how the narrative unfolds. While sharing interactive features with eBook mobile apps (as well as dependency on device functionalities, such as cameras and location tracking), this format is web-based and not packaged as an app. The genres of writing are again quite varied, although fiction seems to lend itself well to this particular format. Editions at Play, a collaboration between Visual Editions and Google’s Creative Lab, has published a number of interactive narratives, spanning from a ghost story personalised to the surrounding of the reader (Breathe) to a Google Street View-based love story (Entrances & Exits).

The British Library held a workshop last November for internal teams as well as external stakeholders to better understand what content has been created, why it is complex and what the challenges are in preserving these complex digital objects.

The next step for the Emerging Formats project is to understand users’ expectations and their requirements when accessing this type of publications. In order to achieve this, we are running some onsite user experience testing with the help on an external agency, Bunnyfoot Ltd.

We are looking for participants who have some familiarity with using mobile devices to read and interact with eBooks created for mobile platforms and/or web-based interactive narratives. However, there’s no requirement that they are “expert users” of any kind. We’d like to include people who use these types of publication in their research (e.g. Digital Humanities, experimental literature, Human Computer Interaction, Digital Media, education specialists etc); people who create publications of this type as part of their practice; as well as people who read these types of publications for pleasure.

We have two days of testing booked in, for Thursday 7th and Friday 8th February, at the British Library in London and at Trinity College in Dublin. The sessions will last for about 1 hour, and Bunnyfoot will offer a £50 incentive for anyone taking part.

If you are interested in taking part in our user experience testing, please complete the brief screening survey linked at the beginning of the post (make sure you select the one relevant to your location).

To find out further information about the Emerging Formats project, please see our project page.

This post is by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Publications, on twitter as @IanCooke13 and Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator of Digital Publications on twitter as @giugimonogatari.