The MLBN project team has been in a flurry of activity over the last 6 months. This post is a broad overview of our research progress, and moving forward we hope to post more regular public updates.
Participatory Design Workshop
In October, we held a successful participatory design workshop in Chicago with library and IT staff from nine out of ten of our year 1 public libraries. The workshop helped us create a more robust understanding of how public library staff from across the country approach broadband and patron support, as well as to identify ideas about how broadband measurement can help public libraries develop a better understanding of the relationship between their network infrastructure and digital services.
(MLBN team members Georgia Bullen and Chris Ritzo pictured above presenting at our October 2018 Workshop in Chicago, Illinois)
Prior to the workshop with year 1 participating libraries, we asked each library to complete a pre-workshop questionnaire. First, we sought to understand the library’s public access environment, including the ISPs used for Internet service, whether the library maintains separate public and internal networks, details about the types of devices the library provides for patron access, and whether the library hosts an ILS or other content on-premise.
Pre-Workshop Survey Findings
Of the 9 libraries that completed the survey, we learned that about half received Internet service from a commercial business ISP; with others getting service through their city or state, from a research and education network, a cooperative, or through purchase of commercial transit directly. All library participants in our year 1 cohort have fiber service except one, which uses a satellite Internet service. Just over half of the libraries also maintain separate networks for public and internal use. Three libraries currently host their integrated library system (ILS) on site, and one of those will be moving to a cloud provided ILS service in 2019.
As we might expect, all of the libraries in our year 1 group provide public access computers. However, about one fourth of the libraries do not track usage statistics on session use by patrons, and another fourth reported manual or estimated tracking. Half of the libraries use a commercial or self-developed service to manage and report on public computer sessions. All but one library provides ebook readers, laptops, or tablets for users inside the facility. Similarly, all of the libraries provide WiFi to patrons, but about a third of the libraries do not track WiFi usage statistics. Of the libraries that do, some use a vendor software system to manage WiFi and get daily or monthly reports from those systems while others depend on an external provider to send reports.
(Odriod XU-4 device pictured left which our team will be deploying at each of the participating public libraries as part of our broadband measurement system)
We also learned from our participant survey that those respondents that do not track WiFi usage statistics or rely on external vendors or providers indicated that having this information would be helpful. Others indicated that improving their existing metrics would be helpful, some indicating a skepticism about the accuracy of the reports they do receive. For example, one library wished that their reports were more reliable and more accurately reflected the number of WiFi uses per month. Regarding their wired public workstations, libraries mentioned the need for better tracking of wired public computer sessions, knowing how often public internet stations are not being used, or how often are there waiting lists to use a public computer.
We asked all of our respondents to tell us about who manages their network and about the network management practices and products in use. While most respondents rely on vendors or IT groups external to the library to manage their network services and connectivity, only two libraries manage their networks with internal staff. The open ended responses about network management practices and products were wide ranging and provided useful information for our research team to understand the operating environment of each library in advance of our on-site deployments in the coming months.
Various network management practices mostly fell along the lines of libraries with different levels of staffing expertise and scale. While some respondents discussed tools such as firewalls, DNS filtering, Intrusion Prevention Systems, antivirus scanning, vendor WiFi management systems, and network monitoring systems, the wide range of responses indicates a potential area for information sharing on best practices and products for network management and assessment across libraries. Many of the libraries already occasionally run various speed tests, but indicated that an automated tool to collect this data over time would be helpful. Across the board, respondents expressed interest in how automated testing from the system will support their library.
Research Next Steps
Our research team is still analyzing the qualitative data produced during our October participatory design workshop. In the coming months, we will produce an in-depth report that describes the major themes and findings from the workshop, which we will also use to inform the development of our broadband measurement platform with our year 1 libraries. The report will also be used to describe the methodological approach that we used incorporating participatory design techniques to study the design of sociotechnical infrastructure in library and information science.
Building on the outputs of our participatory design workshop (see post-it notes photo right), our team has been updating the broadband measurement system, and in the coming months we will be visiting each of the 10 libraries participating in year 1 of our project. During these field visits, we will install broadband measurement devices, interview library and IT staff, and conduct focus groups with patrons where possible. As early measurement data is collected, our team will use it to continue the participatory design process by building initial data visualizations and analyses, sharing them with participating libraries, and iterating and improving them as we receive feedback from library and IT staff.
The project team will also launch a Discourse community website in early 2019, where we will continue discussions with our research participants on the broad range of issues around broadband service in libraries. We also hope the Discourse site will be a place for participating libraries sharing ideas, tools, and best practices with one another as the research program scales up to 50 to 60 libraries in 2019.
If you’re interested in getting involved or receiving updates on our research project, please email [email protected].