VisInfo: a digital library system for time series research data based on exploratory search—a user-centered design approach


To this day, data-driven science is a widely accepted concept in the digital library (DL) context (Hey et al. in The fourth paradigm: data-intensive scientific discovery. Microsoft Research, 2009). In the same way, domain knowledge from information visualization, visual analytics, and exploratory search has found its way into the DL workflow. This trend is expected to continue, considering future DL challenges such as content-based access to new document types, visual search, and exploration for information landscapes, or big data in general. To cope with these challenges, DL actors need to collaborate with external specialists from different domains to complement each other and succeed in given tasks such as making research data publicly available. Through these interdisciplinary approaches, the DL ecosystem may contribute to applications focused on data-driven science and digital scholarship. In this work, we present VisInfo (2014) , a web-based digital library system (DLS) with the goal to provide visual access to time series research data. Based on an exploratory search (ES) concept (White and Roth in Synth Lect Inf Concepts Retr Serv 1(1):1–98, 2009), VisInfo at first provides a content-based overview visualization of large amounts of time series research data. Further, the system enables the user to define visual queries by example or by sketch. Finally, VisInfo presents visual-interactive capability for the exploration of search results. The development process of VisInfo was based on the user-centered design principle. Experts from computer science, a scientific digital library, usability engineering, and scientists from the earth, and environmental sciences were involved in an interdisciplinary approach. We report on comprehensive user studies in the requirement analysis phase based on paper prototyping, user interviews, screen casts, and user questionnaires. Heuristic evaluations and two usability testing rounds were applied during the system implementation and the deployment phase and certify measurable improvements for our DLS. Based on the lessons learned in VisInfo, we suggest a generalized project workflow that may be applied in related, prospective approaches.

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The authors would like to thank Gerd König-Langlo, Rainer Sieger, Hannes Grobe, and their group at the Alfred Wegener Institute for generously supporting the project and kindly providing data and expert feedback. Special thanks also to the Baseline Surface Radiation Network for providing the research data. The usability tests were also conducted with scientists from the BSRN community. The participants provided helpful insights and feedback. This work was supported by a grant from the Leibniz Association as part of the “Joint Initiative for Research and Innovation” program.

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Correspondence to Jürgen Bernard.

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Bernard, J., Daberkow, D., Fellner, D. et al. VisInfo: a digital library system for time series research data based on exploratory search—a user-centered design approach. Int J Digit Libr 16, 37–59 (2015) doi:10.1007/s00799-014-0134-y

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  • Information visualization
  • Visual analytics
  • Exploratory search
  • Research data
  • Time series analysis
  • Digital library system