Designing tools for the 21st century workflow of research and how it changes what libraries must do

Document Type


Publication Date

October 2012


With the emergence of new tools and technologies, information practices have changed radically. Libraries, which previously served an information warehousing, dissemination, and search role now serve patrons whose information habits are radically different. Increasingly, the work of scholars focuses more on just-in-time retrieval, quick bootstrapping to learn new disciplines, online collaboration throughout the research process, and knowledge construction and dissemination activities unlike traditional publishing. Although there are many tools to support research, there are profound disconnects between libraryoriented resources and tools, and the other tools scholars use to do their work. Scholars increasingly turn to online tutorials, Internet search engines, and collaborative sharing and writing environments. Libraries are becoming increasingly marginalized in the workflow of scholars, where ‘going to the library’ whether virtually or physically, can be seen as disruptive within the larger context of scholarship and the activities of learning, collaborating, and writing. While online services and tools have attempted to decrease barriers to using library resources, the fragmentation of the tools for library work and the tools for the rest of research instead serves as a disincentive. From the perspective of research libraries, how should we support scholars within the entire lifecycle of the research process? What types of tools do researchers need to conduct work and how can libraries integrate library tools within the research process? We turn to the sociotechnical systems perspective and human-computer interaction design techniques to begin to answer these questions. Information systems design often relies heavily on user research, in particular workflow analysis and development of use cases, to help identify needed information supports. Use cases are simply descriptions of sequences of events that, taken together, lead to a system doing something useful (Bittner & Spence, 2003). Use cases can be empirical records of actual user behavior, hypothetical activities of prospective users, or an abstraction or generalization of typical behaviors. In this paper, we share generalized use cases and workflow diagrams constructed through discussions with university library patrons, and identify areas where library tools could be better integrated to support library resource use throughout the lifecycle of research.