Using digital libraries non-visually: Understanding the help-seeking situations of blind users

Iris Xie, Rakesh Babu, Soohyung Joo, Paige Fuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Introduction. This study explores blind users' unique help-seeking situations in interacting with digital libraries. In particular, help-seeking situations were investigated at both the physical and cognitive levels. Method. Fifteen blind participants performed three search tasks, including known-item search, specific information search, and exploratory search, using the selected digital library. Pre-questionnaire, pre- and post-interviews, transaction logs and think-aloud protocols were used to collect data. Analysis. Open coding analysis was used to identify help-seeking situations the physical and cognitive levels. Results. The study identified seventeen help-seeking situations that blind users encountered while using digital libraries, including nine at the physical level and eight at the cognitive level. To be more specific, physical help-seeking situations were categorised into 1) difficulty accessing information, 2) difficulty identifying current status and path, and 3) difficulty evaluating information efficiently. Cognitive help-seeking situations were classified into 1) confusion about multiple programs and structures, 2) difficulty understanding information, 3) difficulty understanding or using digital library features, and 4) avoidance of specific formats or approaches. Conclusion. The identified help-seeking situations reveal a gap between current digital library design practices and special needs of blind users. Practical implications for the design of help features for more blind-friendly digital libraries are suggested based on the findings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, University of Sheffield. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Library and Information Sciences


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