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Cognitive styles within an exploratory search system for digital libraries

Paula Goodale (Information School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Paul David Clough (Information School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Samuel Fernando (Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Nigel Ford (Information School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Mark Stevenson (Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 7 October 2014

Issue publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effects of cognitive style on navigating a large digital library of cultural heritage information; specifically, the paper focus on the wholist/analytic dimension as experienced in the field of educational informatics. The hypothesis is that wholist and analytic users have characteristically different approaches when they explore, search and interact with digital libraries, which may have implications for system design.


A detailed interactive IR evaluation of a large cultural heritage digital library was undertaken, along with the Riding CSA test. Participants carried out a range of information tasks, and the authors analysed their task performance, interactions and attitudes.


The hypothesis on the differences in performance and behaviour between wholist and analytic users is supported. However, the authors also find that user attitudes towards the system are opposite to expectations and that users give positive feedback for functionality that supports activities in which they are cognitively weaker.

Research limitations/implications

There is scope for testing results in a larger scale study, and/or with different systems. In particular, the findings on user attitudes warrant further investigation.

Practical implications

Findings on user attitudes suggest that systems which support areas of weakness in users’ cognitive abilities are valued, indicating an opportunity to offer diverse functionality to support different cognitive weaknesses.


A model is proposed suggesting a converse relationship between behaviour and attitudes; to support individual users displaying search/navigation behaviour mapped onto the strengths of their cognitive style, but placing greater value on interface features that support aspects in which they are weaker.



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 270082, relating to the PATHS project. The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of all partners in the PATHS project, and all participants involved in the reported data collection activities.


Goodale, P., David Clough, P., Fernando, S., Ford, N. and Stevenson, M. (2014), "Cognitive styles within an exploratory search system for digital libraries", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 70 No. 6, pp. 970-996.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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