Mapping the Role that Technology Plays in Your Life: The Visitors and Residents App

Do you ever wonder about the role that technology plays in your life and what services and apps you use? OCLC began collaborating on the Digital Visitors and Residents (V&R) project with funding from Jisc in 2011 to investigate how US and UK individuals engage with technology and how this engagement may or may not change as the individuals transition through their educational stages (White and Connaway 2011-2014). Since that time we have broadened the research to include interviews with individuals in Spain and Italy to include a comparative analysis to identify any geographical or cultural differences. The OCLC team also has conducted an online survey with approximately 150 high school, undergraduate and graduate students and college and university faculty. We hope to have these data analyzed so that we are able to share our findings.

We also began conducting mapping sessions with students, librarians, and faculty using the Visitors and Residents framework and differentiating between engagement in professional/academic and personal contexts and situations. Participation in the mapping exercise is a way for individuals to become aware of how they work, play, and interact with others in a digital environment. If the maps are shared with others, it can help individuals better understand why communication seems to work well with some, but not with others.

These mapping sessions were conducted using paper and pencil or pen. Examples of these maps are included in the EDUCAUSE Review paper, “I always stick with the first thing that comes up on Google…” Where People Go for Information, What They Use, and Why (Connaway, Lanclos, and Hood 2013). In order to collect and analyze these handwritten maps we had to ask the creators of the maps to take photos of them and to email them to us.

After much discussion with my colleague, William Harvey, PhD, OCLC Consulting Engineer, he developed an app that can be used on most smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. William co-led the usability testing of the app with Mike Prasse, OCLC Lead User Experience Researcher. High school, undergraduate, and graduate students, faculty, and librarians used the app on different devices and provided feedback on what was fun, what worked, and what functionalities they thought we should add. Based on their feedback, the app was enhanced and now is available at, with comic book instructions. A video also was created by Carey Champoux, OCLC Video Content Manager, and Andy Havens, OCLC Manager, Branding and Creative Services, to explain how to use the V&R mapping app.

VR app


Once individuals complete their maps, they may share with others and they may submit to OCLC Research. If submitted to OCLC Research, we will add the maps created using the app to the other maps collected and analyze them in the aggregate, anonymizing any individual’s identifying information. Those who map their patterns of communication and engagement with technology and submit to OCLC Research will help us make informed recommendations to library staff for the development of services and technologies that are a better fit for library users’ and potential users’ personal and academic lifestyles and to position the library in the life of its users.

As part of the research, I have been conducting V&R mapping sessions with students, faculty, and librarians. After the individuals complete their maps, we display the maps of those who are interested in sharing and discussing them with the group. I conduct the sessions in much the same way one would conduct a semi-structured interview.* The individuals talk about what they included in their maps and I probe and ask more questions based upon their discussion.

Some of the students have been very surprised at the amount of time they spend online. One doctoral student at a US university was very surprised that she was able to draw every icon for every app or social media site from memory. She commented, “I spend way too much time online and using social media than I ever thought I did.”

Others have discussed work-arounds for the library web page and catalog, which I have been able to share with the library staff so that they can make changes to the system or interface. Several doctoral students said that they could not figure out how to email or text themselves bibliographic citations that they found in the university online catalog so they took photos of the display on the library computer screens and texted or emailed the information to themselves. They said they wanted to use their smartphones since they are more convenient than having to take out their laptops or tablets. This also has implications for evaluating how the library web page and catalog display on smartphones, which is the preferred device for many individuals.

Conducting the mapping sessions as semi-structured interviews in a group also has made me aware that not everyone understands the definitions that we have used for Visitors and Residents. We define the visitor mode as one in which “people treat the web as a series of tools. They decide what they want to achieve, chose and appropriate online tool, and then log off. They leave no social trace of themselves online. In resident mode, people live a portion of their lives online and approach the web as a place where they can express themselves and spend time with people. When acting as residents, people visit social networking platforms, and aspects of their digital identity maintain a presence even when they’re not online through their social media profiles” (Connaway, Lanclos, and Hood 2013). However, some individuals, who participate in the mapping exercise, relate the terms visitor and resident to the amount of time one spends engaging with a device, app, etc. This equates to a visitor not using the device or app much and to a resident using the device or app most or all of the time, which is not the intended definitions of the terms. Based on this misconception, I have been thinking about and talking to colleagues about changing the terminology. However, none of the terms suggested seem to be descriptive enough. I welcome any ideas, discussion, and thoughts on new terminology for visitors and residents that would more accurately describe the online presence or lack of online visibility.

This brings up something else that I have been pondering about the visitors and residents framework. That is the fact that we are missing the opportunity to capture individuals’ engagement with the physical environment and resources. I had thought of this early in the individual semi-structured interview data collection stage when the importance of the face-to-face and human contact emerged from the data and were included in our code book and analysis. However, these are not captured in the mapping exercises, which became more evident as I began structuring the group mapping sessions as semi-structured interviews. I am struggling with how to depict the physical environment and resources in the V&R map. Again, I welcome any ideas, discussion, and thoughts on this.

*Connaway and Radford (Forthcoming) define semi-structured interviews as an interview “in which control is shared and questions are open-ended.”


Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, Donna Lanclos, and Erin M. Hood. 2013. “’I always stick with the first thing that comes up on Google…’ Where  People Go for Information, What They Use, and Why.” EDUCAUSE Review Online (December 6),

Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, and Marie L. Radford. Forthcoming. Basic Research Methods in Library and Information Science. 6th ed. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

One Comment on “Mapping the Role that Technology Plays in Your Life: The Visitors and Residents App”

  1. Regarding terminology I wonder whether “observer” would be more accurate than “visitor” for those of us who might spend a lot of time in a particular app but not want to leave a trace. For “resident” maybe “practitioner” or “contributor”?

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