Data, Decision-Making, & Design: Measuring Internet Performance for Libraries and the Public Sector

Learn how we helped a group of libraries to make better decisions about their own internet services through the development of an independent data visualization tool.

With the world changing around them, public libraries are working on the front lines of a fraying social safety net, supporting at-risk adults and children with everything from housing to criminal justice. This new role - relying heavily on web access - requires strong digital infrastructure, from internet speed to computer performance, from internet speed to software performance.

However, public institutions like libraries don’t have access to data about their infrastructure as the private telecommunications companies that serve them. Without transparency of information, how can they ensure they’re making the most of their often-limited resources?

This is where Simply Secure stepped in to help. Through tight collaboration and research with the group, our team set out to design a visualization tool that would allow users to access, understand, and ultimately make positive decisions based on the measurement data.

Read on to learn more.

Project overview

To consistently and automatically measure internet performance, participating libraries installed small measurement devices — called ‘MLBN Murakami Devices’, developed by Measurement Lab — connected to wired and wireless ports in the library.

The work

Research

The team held an in-person workshop with 30 librarians from across the US, learning about the infrastructure, services, and providers at the libraries. Over the first year of the program, the research team conducted ten site visits to libraries across the US, engaging in focus groups with the community and interviews with the library staff.

These sessions allowed us to see the overview of librarians’ jobs, patron needs, and the models of libraries, giving us the crucial context needed to create a more useful tool. It also taught us to leave our assumptions at the door - where we’d expected the tool to be most beneficial in cases of troubleshooting a poor connection, we learned that most libraries have quality internet connections. This allowed us to shift our scope of the tool’s development significantly.

Development

Whenever there is collaboration — especially remote — communication is vital and the design deliverables make an impact on the efficiency of communication. This is where personas, user flows, and sketches come in handy.

We crafted personas and user flows to communicate the various account types (admin, editor, viewer), define system goals, and plan for features.

Next, we drafted and analyzed initial sketches, adding further scope of the tool until we were ready to create our first wireframes.

From here, we worked with some libraries to test a prototype, collecting feedback and identifying key findings.

The Impact

With version 1 of the MLBN Visualization website going live in Summer of 2020, libraries in the pilot program have the ability to view their internet performance data.

Key positive applications of this tool include empowering libraries to:

  • Monitor their performance day-to-day for a better experience for their users
  • Understand their current service capacity, and when to make the decision to spend more on an upgraded service
  • Enhance their reporting when it comes to transparency with stakeholders, from taxpayers to donors, to help build trust and make a case for greater investment when needed

It’s rewarding to give our users something that will not only improve their jobs, but also help the community that they serve. We are excited to see the uses of the data in the future and make improvements through future phases and research. Finally, we learned that library workers are a wonderful group of people to work with and we look forward to future collaborations!

This work was supported through “Measuring Library Broadband Networks for the National Digital Platform,” a grant (award #LG-71-18-0110-18) from by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant for Libraries program. The research is led by Dr. Colin Rhinesmith, Assistant Professor and Director of the Community Informatics Lab at the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science, along with Measurement Lab (M-Lab) and Internet2 to examine how advanced broadband measurement capabilities can support the infrastructure and services needed to respond to the digital demands of public library users across the U.S.

Related

On Trust and Transparency: Perspectives from Luminate's portfolio

In June 2018, Luminate commissioned Simply Secure to conduct human-centered design (HCD) research focused on uncovering grantees’ experiences of the funding process. The report highlights insights, feedback — including anonymized quotes and comments, and recommendations synthesized from 20 interviews + 53 survey responses.