Surveys are structured questionnaires that can be completed on paper or online, typically through a form created by specialized software.
In the case of the assessment of digital object use/reuse, a survey would typically be distributed in an online format, either to known users (if an institution has access to a list of email addresses for a subset of their special collections or digital collections users) or to unknown users (such as a point-of-use survey).
Surveys are an excellent method to gather large quantities of quantitative data, as well as qualitative data in the form of free-text comments, with minimal time and effort required from staff. Because cultural heritage institutions typically allow free anonymous access to digital materials, one of the advantages of surveys over other methods is the ability to collect data from these unknown users. In the case of assessment of digital object use/reuse, surveys may ask respondents questions such as whether they have used/reused digital objects and why or why not; about their habits, intentions, and goals using and reusing digital objects; the impact the use may have; or demographics questions about themselves.
The D-CRAFT project team has compiled these samples of survey privacy language to assist practitioners in conducting this method.
Practitioners should follow the practices laid out in the “Ethical considerations and guidelines for the assessment of use and reuse of digital content.” The Guidelines are meant both to inform practitioners in their decision-making, and to model for users what they can expect from those who steward digital collections.
Gather as little identifying information as possible. If possible, separate identifying information from survey responses after data collection and follow recommended practices for storing and protecting personal data. If Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are automatically collected and stored by the survey software, discard the data. IP addresses are widely considered to be personally identifying information. Explain your privacy practices to participants upfront, including whether the survey is anonymous and how personal data and other survey data will be protected, shared, retained, and managed.
If you work in a college, university, or other institution for higher education and intend to share the results of your survey beyond solely internal review and use, then you will likely need to contact your campus research board for human subjects research, frequently called “Institutional Review Boards” or IRB for short. The IRB is a critical resource and enforcing authority for ensuring that researchers follow ethical guidelines and protocols for human subject research. The IRB will review your survey plan and then authorize your survey. They also provide detailed guidelines for responsible practice, such as the aforementioned practices for gathering minimal, if any, identifying information. This IRB process only applies, however, if you work in higher education.
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