Design and Implement a Crowdsourced Help System

Method: Interface Design and Implementation, Usability Test
Tools: PHP, Morae, Google Analytics


Help information regarding library resources and tools is a critical part of library services, but existing help channels are often fragmented and under-maintained. Library help needs to have a centralized and engaging platform for users to receive assistance and experts including librarians, faculty, and students to share knowledge and experience.

We developed CrowdAsk, an open-source help system for academic libraries based on the concept of crowdsourcing. CrowdAsk supports voting of questions and answers by users as well as scores and badges for user motivation. Our implementation and evaluation with undergraduate classes at Purdue University showed that CrowdAsk is effective in meeting users’ information needs beyond traditional library reference help. Users have asked various types of questions and reached high levels of scores and badges in one semester’s time. We have integrated CrowdAsk with existing reference service and websites in Purdue University Libraries to continue developing the crowdsourcing community after the grant.

My Role

My role in this project was user interface design and technical implementation. I created the functional requirements and use cases for system development and directed the graduate student developer in the system design and implementation process. I conducted user evaluations of the system and analyzed the results. As part of the project assessment, I conducted content analysis of the questions and answers on CrowdAsk, and I analyzed data from Google Analytics regarding the system’s usage.

Project Presentation

Crowdsourcing Reference Help: Helping Users Help Each Other from Tao Zhang

This project was supported by a 2013-2014 Sparks! Ignition Grants for Libraries from Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS). The project report below has the project details and assessment results.

Download the project report.

CrowdAsk production site

CrowdAsk source code and documentation

Stonebraker, I., and Zhang, T. (2014). CrowdAsk: Crowdsourcing Reference and Library Help. In D. A. Tyckoson and J. G. Dove (eds.), Reimagining Reference in the 21st Century, 285-293. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Stonebraker, I., & Zhang, T. (2015). Crowdsourcing Reference Help: Using Technology to Help Users Help Each Other. Contributed paper presented at the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Conference, Portland, OR. March 25-28, 2015. Media coverage

Stonebraker, I., Zhang, T. (2014) Crowdsourcing Library Help and Reference Systems. Presentation at the Internet Librarian Conference, Montery, CA. October 27-29, 2014.

Stonebraker, I. R., and Zhang, T. (June 29, 2014). CrowdAsk: A Crowdsourced Library Help System. Presentation at the LITA Heads of Technology (HoLT) IG Meeting of American Library Association (ALA) Annual Meeting. Las Vegas, NV.

Updated on September 1, 2014