Back to Inquiry Page Home Join in Inquiry Page Log in as Inquiry Page MemberInquiry Page short menu bar Inquiry Unit banner Ask Investigate Reflect Discuss CreateInquiry Cycle
  Search other Inquiry UnitsAdd an Inquiry UnitDelete this Inquiry UnitEdit this Inquiry UnitSpin off this Inquiry Unit

How do I evaluate the Information Architecture of digital music libraries? How does this evaluation affect my collection development decisions?

Erin Mullen ( (not ready to use)

Subject Areas
Information Science

Grade Levels
Graduate, Continuing, Informal

Unit Keywords
LIS 380, Module III, Fall 2001, Information Architecture, Digital Music Libraries

Rationale of the Unit
Digital music libraries are becoming very valuable resources for both public and academic libraries. In the past my attempts at evaluation have been focused on content. I would like to be able to evaluate the design of these site and how they are serving their user population. With these skills I will better be able to fully evaluate digital libraries and their fit with my library.

  INVESTIGATE Go to Topgo to top
Background and Resources
Although I am starting to feel more comfortable using Internet resources, I have never evaluated them from an architecture point of view. Because of this I had to start from the very beginning. I wanted to equip myself with the tools to evaluate websites and to learn how people are adapting the traditional sense of structure we had with paper sources to a web environment.

1. DeRose, Steven J. "Structured Information: Navigation, Access, and Control." Berkeley Finding Aid Conference, April 4-6, 1996.
This article gives a great overview of why we need to be concerned with structure, the kinds of structure we need, and how SGML can be used to provide structure.

2. Kristine R. Brancolini, Jon W. Dunn, and John A. Walsh, “Digital Star Dust: The Hoagy Carmichael Collection at Indiana University, ” First Monday 5, no. 6 (June 2000)

This article gives an excellent overview of the construction and issues surrounding the Hoagy Carmichael digital library.

3. Morville, Peter and Rosenfeld, Louis. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Cambridge and Paris: O'Reilly, 1998.

This excellent source discusses in detail evaluating and designing good websites. Chapters 1-4 were especially relevant to this project.


1. Internet Detective:
This interactive website provided me a "walk through crash course" in evaluating websites. From this site, I chose two main areas of evaluation: Form and Process.
In this section I will evaluate navigation features, user support, and appropriate technologies.

In this section I will evaluate information integrity, site integrity, and system integrity.

2. Quality Selection Criteria for Subject Gateways
This website contains a very comprehensive list of selection criteria that reinforces the work on Internet Detective and treats many of the categories more comprehensively. This site also approaches the topic from a collection development perspective which is one of my primary concerns.

  CREATE Go to Topgo to top
Activities and Open-ended problems

The Hoagy Carmichael Collection at Indiana University is a multi-media collection of materials pertaining to the life of the musician Hoagy Carmichael. The collection was traditionally very difficult to access since in its traditional paper form was held at three different locations on the Indiana University Bloomington campus: the Lilly Library, Indiana University Archives, and the Archives of Traditional Music. Different finding aids were used for different sections, from the OCLC cataloging of sound recordings in the Archives for Traditional Music collection to the alphabetical title lists employed for their musical scores. Such access difficulties seriously hindered the use and awareness of this collection; together with preservation issues, they lead to the digitization of the collection.

The digital library has two user populations in mind: public and academic.
1. Public
Many casual users will be interested in this library and Indiana University has acknowledged that interest. Many of his tunes are well known classics. Being from Indiana, many people in that geographic area are very interested in learning more about Hoagy; specifically tracing his genealogy.

2. Academic
Valuable personal information and possible musical influences are in abundance in this collection. Because of this wide cast, this collection assists many research areas including: Hoagy Carmichael, Twentieth Century popular music, Twentieth Century music reception history, early music industry research, creative process, and bibliographical work.


The site uses a textual navigation bar as its global navigational system. I like the fact that the bar is textual since it relay's its contents immediately without having to understand an abstract concept such as a graphic. This navigation bar is at the bottom and top of all pages except for the main page where it is only on the bottom as it duplicates the primary options listed on this page. This navigation bar helps prevent users from "getting lost" in the site. Its location at the top an bottom is ideal since it provides immediate access as well as access after you have scrolled down the page. The bar remains consistent throughout the site and shows you by a change in color of the link (from blue to black) which page you are on.
Also on the main page there is a pop up menu. If you know how to access this menu, it allows you to skip one step in accessing materials. The most important feature of this menu is that it is not necessary to use it. I think this is an important point since many users many not even notice this option unless they happen to move their mouse over it. The pop up menu is effective since the main page is very straightforward with an exact organization scheme and is not too cluttered.
Sub-sites exist within this site such as the browsing areas and the searching sections. These areas have their own local navigational systems that are consistent with each other. The global navigation is always available.
Embedded links also exist on each of the pages providing ad hoc navigation. These links are often the same as links provided by the navigation systems provided yet another way for users to find what they are looking for.
Remote navigational elements such as a table of contents, index, or site map is not available. The closest the site has to offer is the "Web Site Overview" which is accessible directly off the main page through the pop up menu or can be accessed by clicking on the "Introduction" link. This page offers a text description of the page with embedded links to the features it is discussing. The down side to such a page is that a certain ability of the user to understand the usage of embedded links is assumed.

This digital library is assuming a certain amount of user knowledge. No help on-line is available to users. An e-mail address is given, however, it is there for comments.
There is a "help with viewing this site link" that provides information to the user about which technologies are best for viewing this site. Although helpful for experienced computer users, it simply lists the technologies and may be confusing to inexperienced users.

This site does require additional software to take advantage of all of its features. The good news is that it is free to download the materials. A direct link with instructions is offered to users off the main page called "What you need to view this site." This link is not in view from the main page without scrolling down which may cause some users to miss it. Both RealPlayer and QuickTime are required.
One disadvantage to the site is that it cannot be used keyboard only. Users must have and be able to use a mouse.
People with disabilities will have difficulty using the site. Photographs (not including those in the collection that should not be altered) do not have enough color contrast to be easily viewable by the sight impaired.
Text captioning is not available for audio material there are no tags for images.

Most of the information on this site is not time sensitive as most of the materials are historical.
Some areas of the website do contain time sensitive materials such as the "What's new" page. This page has not been updated since January 20, 2000.

All links are active showing good site maintenance. A working e-mail address is given at the bottom of each page. However, last revision dates are not current. This lag may be due to the nature of the collection. The collection is very specialized and is not growing quickly. Materials are historical and updating is not necessary here.
One area of the site however does require more attention: the what's new page. This page has not been updated since January 20th, 2000. The pages list "upcoming" Hoagy events from around the world with the most recent event dated February 26, 2000.
The site has proven to be durable. The library has regularly been accessible from this location since its appearance in 1999.


The technical performance of this resource is good. All links on the site work and pages load quickly. The site operates off of the Indiana University server and is regularly maintained.



The Aria Database is a collection of arias and information about operas. The site was created and is maintained by a music graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder. This site fills an information need as it provides access to individual arias which are very difficult to search in traditional catalogs. Arias are usually published in operatic scores or in collections. Cataloging records for these publications usually do not contain contents notes making it very difficult to retrieve the information when the patron does not know the opera to which the aria belongs.
The site provides general information about individual arias as well as translations, texts, and in some cases MIDI files for listening.

The author states that his user population includes singers and opera fans. It is easy to see how this site would also benefit a student of opera. Beginning to explore the world of opera can be overwhelming and keeping composers and titles straight, especially in foreign languages can be very difficult. This site can help people access materials when they can only remember a portion of the citation. Translations are also very important to the young singer when trying to convey the right emotional context. The MIDI sound files will serve as the students first aural introduction to a work.
Sound files and translations will also be of great interest to the general opera lover. Favorite arias can be searched and their meanings determined. New recordings can be listened to on-line. Searches can be done by composer to introduce new works by a favorite composer.
The most important thing to note when assessing the user population is that the population does not necessarily include people who are web savy. This calls for a very easily navigational site.


The main page of the site does not offer any global navigation features. This page looks unlike any other in the site making it a bad introduction to the site. No help, instructions, or list of site contents is given on this page. The page does have search capabilities which is great for people already familiar with the site and just want to use it as a reference source however the searching does not have as many options as the searching link available after entering the database. To officially enter the database users must click on an embedded link requiring the use of a mouse.
In general this main page is poorly designed. All of the features of the site are not made available. The one feature that is available (searching) is not available in its fullest form.
After clicking on the link "Ënter the Aria Database" you arrive at a page that looks more like the main page should. The page offers links to all of the various features of the database and offers some explanation of the contents of the site. This page also marks the appearance of the global navigation system. This system consists of the following textual navigation bar: Main Index, Search, Browse, New, Links, Comments. None of these links point to the main page showing its relative unimportance to the site and I believe the site would be more effective without it.
The use of a textual navigation bar is a good idea since it is easy to understand, and it matches the website which is graphically sparse. The placement of the navigation bar is at the bottom of the page which in some case requires scrolling. A better placement would be at the top of the page.
Ad hoc navigation is used extensively throughout the site. Embedded links can be found frequently on almost every page. A certain level of user computer education is expected to use this site.
Navigation is not always easy since the navigation bar is not immediately visible upon viewing a page and embedded links are the only other navigation option and no instructions are given.

No user assistance is offered off the main page. Help is not available until the index page which is the first page after the main page. The help section is divided into two sections: help with using the database and an introduction to opera called "Opera 101".
The link "help" gives no indication that an opera 101 lesson exists. This is a case of poor labeling.
In addition, the help provided about how to use the site is not extensive. This section simply explains what information is in the database, lists the fields searchable by the database, and explains how to search by "range" (meaning voice range). No specific information is given on how to navigate the site, what kinds of search terms to use or any other specific instructions.
No contact number or e-mail address is given on this page to ask questions, or to report problems. This help section is extremely weak because of its location on the site (the second page, its lack of useful information, and its lack of contact information.

All searching and viewing of translations can be done without any extra software. Listing to the sound files requires RealTime. There is no explanation of how do get this software or the fact that you need it on the website.
An alternative listening option is available in downloadable zip format for those people who have difficulty listening on the Internet.

Much of the information on this site can be considered durable. The arias, the operas they come from and their translations can all be considered stable information that is unlikely to change.
Parts of the site does contain information that requires updating such as the operatic books, operatic companies, and operatic companies pages. There is a link on the site called "New on the Database" and the text on this pages implies that changes are made to the database every two weeks. Last updated dates are very current.
I do not see any archived information.

The site in general appears to be up to date. Last up dated links are very recent (7 days ago). Most links are active on the site however I did find one that is dead in the "Miscellaneous Opera Links."
Although this site is new to me, it does appear to have been a stable useful site for some time now. This site has been the recipient of many awards such as the 2000 Golden Web Award, and the Quatec Web Design Award.
One concern with the administration comes from the idea that a single individual student is the administrator.

The technical performance of this site is good with the exception of a couple of links. The system appears to be stable and so far I have not experienced any down times.


This collection is part of Special Collections at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of The Johns Hopkins University. The library collects popular American sheet music from 1780 to 1960. The digital library provides access to a descriptive record of each of the items in the collection and to an image of the cover and each page of music if the music was published before 1923 and is in the public domain.

Although no user statement is provided on this site it is easy to predict who the user population would be for such a collection. Both researchers and performers of popular American music would be interested in this collection. Researchers will be particularly interested in the different editions available as images on-line to compare with copies they may have. This is a very specialized user population.


This site is very easy to navigate due to its global navigation system and the little amount of scrolling that is required.
The main page offers a short paragraph explaining what is in the collection, a table of contents, and a textual global navigation bar. The navigation bar offers the following links: Home, Browse, Search, Subject Headings, How To, Contact Us. This navigation bar is present at the bottom of all pages. More effective placement of the navigation bar would be at the top of the page - especially after a search has been performed and the scrolling is extensive.
Embedded links provide the rest of the navigation through the site. These embedded links are used effectively since they are not embedded within lines of text but rather in tables of contents.

User support is provided through two links on the navigation bar: "How to" and "Contact us".
The How to link leads to a page with extensive instructions for users of the site. Instruction topics include: how to use the site, how to search, subject headings, and frequently asked questions. Every line of text on this page is an embedded link leading to the full text of instructions. This allows for the entire page to be in full view so that the navigation bar is still viewable at the bottom of the page.
"Contact us" leads directly to an e-mail address.

This site does not require any proprietary software and uses validated HTML.
The sight may be difficult for the visually impaired. The design of the site uses a background and type color that do not have a high level of contrast. The font is also difficult to read.

The information in this site is historical and can be considered stable. As new pieces become free of their copyright restrictions, more images can be added. It is difficult to know how often things are added to the site since no dates are given.

The site's affiliation with John Hopkin's University gives the user confidence in its stability. The site appears to be adequately administered. Problems such as the blurriness of some photographs have been addressed in the frequently asked questions. Even more confidence in this site could be provided through the use of a "last updated" date.

Technical performance of the site is acceptable but not perfect. Problems with broken links and blurriness can be seen and the university has said they are addressing them. This collection has been consistently available and appears to be stable.


  DISCUSS Go to Topgo to top
Dialogues, Discussions, and Presentations
As libraries start adding digital resources to their collections, decisions about how the sites work will undoubtedly affect their collection development decisions. I have looked at three digital libraries and they are all very different. Some require additional technologies that libraries may or may not want or can afford. For instance the music library here at the University of Illinois does not have speakers on their computers making the Hoagie Carmichael Collection a bad choice for them.
Discussions with librarians about how they are dealing with the huge amount of digital resources is necessary. Librarians also need to discuss how they are developing the skills to analyze these sites or if they are going to develop collection development teams to help with these decisions.

  REFLECT Go to Topgo to top
Assessment, Related Questions, and Story of the Unit
From my exploration of these three digital libraries I have discovered the overwhelming differences among sites. Many factors have to be considered in evaluating sites that are going to be added to a collection. Content and usability are the most important factors to me.

How much time are librarians devoting to evaluating new sites to link to? Do librarians evaluate the more technical aspects of the sites themselves or do they focus on content?

STORY OF THE UNIT -- How did it go?
Learning to look at websites critically is no easy task. I have often dismissed bad websites without much thought into why I didn't like them. This exercise forced me to think about what works and why it works.
The Internet Detective was the first step in the right direction for me. The interactive nature of the website was very effective in bringing many issues to light.
As I browsed the websites I was looking at them with the idea that I was considering adding them to my collection. More and more I see digital libraries linked from a university library website. I have often wondered how librarians decide which ones to include. Content is of course very important but usability as well. If nobody can use the site, why have it in the library? Librarians have traditionally worked very hard to provide easy access to materials and good patron service in the physical library and there is no reason not to extend this philosophy to the digital world.


  If you want to add your comments on this Unit, please login first.

Search other Inquiry UnitsAdd an Inquiry UnitDelete this Inquiry UnitEdit this Inquiry UnitSpin off this Inquiry Unit
Questions or comments? Contact us External link
Copyright 1998-2010, Inquiry Page Version 1.35
594,184 visitors between November 4, 2001 and October 27, 2010 when the website was archived.