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Cross-Cultural Issues in User Learning and the Design of Digital Interfaces --Sponsored by SIG III, SIG DL, SIG USE

Dania Bilal (organizer and speaker)

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


Dania Bilal [Organizer and Speaker] School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee, 1345 Circle Park, Knoxville, TN 37996.

Nadia Caidi Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto, 140 St. George St., #646. Toronto, Ontario M5S 3G6.

Anita Komlodi Interactive Systems Research Center, Department of Information Systems, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County. 1000 Hilltop Circle Baltimore, MD

21250. Email:

Marija Dalbello Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, 4 Huntington Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Email:

Bharat Mehra School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee, 1345 Circle Park, Knoxville,TN 37996.

Hall (1976) believes that culture is a selective screen through which we see the world; and that the basic differences in the way members from different cultures perceive reality are responsible for the mis-communications of the most fundamental kind. Hofstede (1997) concedes that cultural orientations are deeply embedded in cultures over hundreds and thousands of years and modern media have not dislodged these cultural orientations. What role does culture play in the use and design system interfaces? How does culture impact the education and training of information professionals? The panelists present analyses from their current research on culture and its impact on information seeking, user interface design, usability, digital library development, and library and information science education.

Cross-Cultural Use of Digital Libraries by Children in Arabic-Speaking Countries Dania Bilal)

Dr. Bilal reports on cross-cultural issues that emerged as Arabic-speaking children in Alexandria, Egypt used the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL) to find books in the Arabic language. Children, ages 6-10, identified the meaning of iconic features of the ICDL interfaces and their associated metaphors and found books on given tasks. A digital library such as the ICDL embodies the values and experiences of its developers within certain cultural contexts. Arabic-speaking children have their own values and assumptions about the ICDL’s organization, content representation, and interface design. Bilal will discuss cross-cultural usability issues, the impact of culture on children’s information seeking behavior, and the cultural aspects of the design of the ICDL interfaces.

Digital Libraries as Cultural Ambassadors (Nadia Caidi and Anita Komlodi)

Digitization has made it possible for individuals, institutions, and communities to create and disseminate digital representations of their cultural heritage in the form of digital libraries (DLs). Such DLs often play the role of 'cultural ambassadors' by serving users from other cultures. New and challenging issues emerge with this role, such as the definition of the targeted end users, biases in content selection (how and why certain materials constitute "shared" knowledge), access versus ownership issues, and user interface design. We seek to identify elements constitutive of this ownership issues, user interface design, and the 'cultural ambassador' function of DLs. We examine and compare a variety of DL initiatives aimed at representing and showcasing the cultural and historical heritage of their countries. We will discuss the broader issues of intermediation and knowledge translation, technology diffusion, local knowledge, cultural practices, and national identity.

Examining the Culturalist Perspective in the Context of National Culture and Digital Library Development (Marija Dalbello)

Is it possible to have a culture-free perspective when considering digital library innovation in the national library context? From a “culturalist perspective,” can the resulting organizational variability be attributed to cultural differences (Child, 1981)? Dr. Dalbello will explore the “culturalist perspective” by focusing on national culture and its impact on organizational variability in the area of digital library development. She will report the results of a recent study that included policy makers and library developers at five national libraries that were developing digital libraries (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Biblioteca nacional de Portugal, Scottish National Library, the British Library and Die Deutsche Bibliothek). She will discuss these constituents’ views on cross-cultural usability of these digital libraries (memory collections in particular). She will elaborate on the following: How can culture be typified cross-nationally? To what degree is culture as an environmental contingency meaningful in relation to other organizational contingencies (e.g., technology, organizational change)? What are the theoretical and methodological requirements for applying a “culturalist perspective”?

Socio-Technical Development of Digital Libraries in the Cross-Cultural Learning Process: A Critical Perspective (Bharat Mehra)

Dr. Mehra will discuss international dimensions in cross-cultural learning and identify socio-technical implications for digital library development that may strengthen cultural bridges across global distances and synergize multicultural efforts in LIS-related research and practice. Such an approach emerges from a critical perspective in LIS that propounds two-way learning strategies to tap into the cross-cultural experiences and knowledge base of international constituents in the discipline. Two-way learning is understood in terms of multidirectional exchanges between American and international participants where people from different cultural and disciplinary backgrounds equitably contribute and learn from each other to develop mutual trust and cross-cultural communication; two-way learning also furthers global understanding, world knowledge, and international LIS practice. Mehra will discuss the impact of cross-cultural learning on building appropriate social and technological infrastructures in digital library development that supports the internationalization of both teaching and research initiatives in LIS and that reflects greater international equity in global representation.


Bilal, D., & Bachir, I. In review. Cross-cultural user interfaces: A study of Arabic-speaking children’s interaction with international digital libraries. Proceedings of the Association of Information Science and Technology 2005 Annual Meeting.

Caidi, N., & Komlodi, A. 2003. Digital Libraries across Cultures: Design and Usability Issues. SIGIR Forum, 37(2), 62-64.

Child, J. 1981. Culture, contingency and capitalism in the cross-national study of organizations. L.L. Cummings, & B.M. Staw (eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, pp. 303-356.

Dalbello, M. 2004. Institutional Shaping of Cultural Memory: Digital Library as Environment for Textual Transmission. Library Quarterly 74 (3): 265-299.

Druin, A. In press. What children can teach us: Developing digital libraries for children with children. Library Quarterly.

Hall, E.T. 1976. Beyond Culture. Doubleday: Garden City, NY.

Hofstede, G. 1997. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. London: McGraw-Hill.

Mehra, B. 2004. The Cross-Cultural Learning Process of International Doctoral Students: A Case Study in Library and Information Science Education. Unpublished dissertation. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, December.

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