Proof-of-Concept: Shadowing

In the last post, I described stakeholder interviews and some of the main issues drawn from those conversations. I ended that post by mentioning some steps taken while designing the checkout system to address these issues. In this post, I would like to discuss further a second method used in the design process: shadowing Briscoe staff.

During my time here at the Briscoe, I was able to shadow both staff members at the Reference desk and Pages as they reshelved materials and serviced researcher requests. I wanted to see 1) how the Briscoe operates during normal business hours; 2) what resources staff use to help locate materials, and 3) any potential pain points for the checkout system. In addition, I underwent a training session for newly-hired Briscoe pages to get a better understanding of their workflows and procedures.

If you recall an earlier blog post, shadowing can allow one to see and understand the Briscoe’s social context. The Reference Desk is the first point of contact for researchers in the Reading Room and the first place they turn should something go wrong with the UTVA hardware. And pages will likely be the ones to retrieve and assemble gaming systems.

I’ll start by talking about some of the experiences from the reference desk. As noted, the reference desk is the first point of contact for guests while in the Reading Room. How can we help when UTVA-related issues arise? Game systems are similar to A/V equipment found in the Reading Room. The Briscoe has dedicated stations for researchers to interact with phonographs, DVDs, VHSs, microfilm, and other media. Written instructions and guidelines have been prepared by Briscoe staff and are available at these stations for quick reference. I mentioned in the last post about taking digital images for identification purposes and we also plan to write a set of console-specific instructions for the test runs. As we look towards the future for the UTVA, similar instructions for each console will hopefully be generated. At the same time, the A/V equipment is non-collection material and, as such, remains in the Reading Room. The UTVA hardware is collection material and will have to be stored at the end of the day and then reshelved.

One researcher interaction raises an interesting issue for UTVA materials. A guest had a question about proper citations after coming across an unlabeled folder within a labeled box. This represents a granularity question: How close can a citation direct a person to a resource? The consoles and peripherals will likely be described and cataloged at an item level. But how to cite actual gameplay? Emulation research represents a popular use for consoles and a researcher might need to be able to cite the gaming experience: the artifacts plus the activity. We are working on a tentative citation format.

The Briscoe allows guests to bring in cameras and take pictures provided they sign a camera agreement. With respect to emulation research, I can imagine a researcher wanting to record gameplay. This consideration raises copyright issues. Do fair use exceptions apply to video games used for research? Do copyright protections apply to the computer code? Or the visual presentation of the program? Or both at the same time? Or both separately? Fortunately, this lies outside the scope of my project.

Shadowing the pages and participating in page training helped me fully appreciate the need for clearly written procedures, complete floor-by-floor indices, and labeled navigational maps. I plan on creating written instructions for console setup and troubleshooting suggestions to accompany the digital images and the generalized step-by-step instructions for checkout.

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