User experience of access points: Eye-tracking, metadata, and usability testing



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The emergence of the Digital Age has provided cultural memory institutions, including libraries, museums, and archives, with the capability to scan and create digital avatars of primary source artifacts. These institutions can then perform long-term preservation on the digital files through a series of technological steps and then can also make them publicly available. Thus, preservation is accomplished in two ways: 1) digital access to artifacts preserves the physical primary source objects through decreased physical handling by researchers; 2) digital access also builds public awareness of the existence of these objects, along with building public expectation that the digital primary source objects will remain available online for access by future generations of researchers.

        In the process of digitization and digital preservation, multiple types of textual information are attached to primary source artifacts, in the form of metadata, which is loosely defined as data about data.  Cultural memory institutions utilize digital preservation management systems and hosting technology that are intended to ensure long-term access to and file integrity of the digitized objects, which serve as avatars of the physical objects. The metadata attached to these objects is intended to accompany them objects for long-term access, representing these objects to target audiences that include the cultural groups who originally created them. The metadata builds access points that tell the story of these primary source objects to current audiences and future generations.  To accurately represent the context of primary source objects, cultural memory institutions must create high-quality metadata that serves the widest and most accurate possible target audiences, while also ensuring the integrity of the inherent meaning of these digitized objects. 

Current complex systems theory emerging from Technical Communication open promising avenues for user experience research into metadata as a complex system. Item-level metadata, which is metadata created for individual digitized objects, functions system-wide to open access to objects by users searching with internal and external search engines, as well as to reflexively connect users to information within the larger system and to the narrower, single objects. This dissertation applies user experience and complex systems theory, combining eye-tracking data with verbal and observational data from user test instances, to study the effectiveness of metadata records that accompany digital primary source objects available on The Portal to Texas History. Free access to these objects is intended for the long term, and the results of this study call for a reexamination on the part of metadata creators in terms how they describe primary sources that represent the various cultural groups to better serve the target audiences of these digitized objects. Although the specific site location for testing was The Portal to Texas History, the actual results apply to metadata design considerations for any primary source object from any other digital library repository.



User experience, Metadata, Eye-tracking