Which Services for User Participation? Representing Cooperation and Collaboration in a Participative Digital Library

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Elina Leblanc

    Université Grenoble Alpes

Work text
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This poster will present the cooperative and collaborative services defined by a French-Italian Digital Library (DL) founded on the principles of public engagement

Public engagement is intended as “the myriad of ways in which the activity and benefits of higher education and research can be shared with the public. Engagement is by definition a two-way process, involving interaction and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefit”
(National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, s. d.).

. Cooperation and collaboration are often confused with each other, but our experience leads us to distinguish them in order to better achieve the purpose of our project.

We define a DL based on the public engagement model as a
participative DL. Such a library offers a set of services that encourages expert and lay users to work together to enrich pre-existing content and disseminate their knowledge, all the while acquiring new skills. Public engagement within a DL can take different forms, defined by the ways users are encouraged to contribute. First, the public engagement can result in a
cooperative participation. Users perform a task that helps the DL to enrich its collection, but during the realization of this task the DL in return passes on knowledge to them, as is done with the citizen sciences, such as the
Old Weather project



According to a cooperative model, only the results are mutualized
(Misanchuk et Anderson 2001; Choi et Pak 2006; Kozar 2010); the DL defines the way users can contribute, that is to say in a way that can potentially benefit both library and users: the DL gains new content and the users, new skills.

If cooperation is often the way of public engagement that is encountered in DLs, a second model is the one of
collaboration. With this latter, the library and the users co-construct services and digital contents. It is the results
and the working process that are mutualized and shared among the participants
(Hord 1981; Misanchuk et Anderson 2001; Choi et Pak 2006; Kozar 2010) – as seen in the
The Social Edition of the Devonshire Manuscript


or in many projects developed within the
Cambridge University Digital Library



We have applied those principles to our DL, which aims at becoming a participative digital library, where the users are both readers and authors of the content they access. To define our participative services and to allow the coexistence of cooperation and collaboration within the same interface, we relied on an exhaustive state of the art of participative services in digital heritage projects and on the results of a user study (2016-2017). This user study took the form of a questionnaire (67 answers) and interviews (8 participants), centered on the behaviour of users on DLs, as well as on the notion of participation. The poster will focus on the collaborative and cooperative services we have chosen for
Fonte Gaia, thanks to this user study and this state of the art.

collaborative services allow users to carry out digital projects focused on Italian studies, with the help of the DL managers: digital scholarly editions, edition of ebooks, creation of reading paths or digital exhibitions. The scholarly community behind our DL (Digital humanities scholars, philologists, librarians, computer scientists) supports users in the realization of their project, from the definition of common objectives and working methods to the publication on our DL. They work together at each stage of the project.

These projects are carried out in the back-office of our DL, which is based on Omeka S


. Some of these user-driven projects, such as virtual exhibitions, rely on standard tools (in the form of plugins). Others, such as digital editions, are currently developed using external tools, and simply linked to the DL. Collaboration thus leads to a diversification of user intervention spaces: users are not only associated with the front-end interface, but also with the back-end interface.

At the same time, we have defined
cooperative services, for instance the adding of tags, of bibliographical references or of comments, all of which performed in a controlled way. This will allow users to share their knowledge with others, while being initiated to a specific librarian skill. For instance, in the case of participatory indexing, we want the user to add keywords from controlled vocabularies: on one hand, it will ensure a harmonization of the contributions; on the other hand, it will initiate users to librarians’ indexing methods and help them better understand the vocabularies used by librarians, in order to improve their further research on the DL. The contribution process of cooperative services is entirely defined by the DL: those services will therefore be only accessible to the users from the front-end interface.

The development of these services is ongoing and is itself based on a collaborative process. Most of the services are developed by our DL’s transdisciplinary team. Other services will benefit from a special treatment, such as the indexation, which will be the subject of a hackathon in March 2019. Through a hackathon, participants with varied professional backgrounds will experiment several solutions to design a cooperative service in line with the librarians’ missions, as well as with the principles of public engagement.


Choi, B. C. K. and Pak, A. W. P. (2006). P.
Clin Invest Med,
29(6): 351–64.

Hord, S. M. (1981). Working Together: Cooperation or Collaboration?. Communications Services, Research and Development Center for Teacher Education, Education Annex 3 https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED226450 (accessed 11 October 2017).

Kozar, O. (2010). Towards Better Group Work: Seeing the Difference between Cooperation and Collaboration.
English Teaching Forum,
48(2): 16–23.

Misanchuk, M. and Anderson, T. (2001). Building Community in an Online Learning Environment: Communication, Cooperation and Collaboration. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED463725 (accessed 11 October 2017).

National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement What is Public Engagement ? http://www.publicengagement.ac.uk/about-engagement/what-public-engagement.

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