Sometimes More Is Less

This year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about search boxes on library home pages. I’m gearing up to present a plan for redoing the one at my library in the next year and have spent a lot of time looking at how other libraries have solved this design problem (I’ve also been looking closely at search on lots of commercial websites, such as Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart, etc.). One thing I would love to test with users is whether you can get away with “____ and more” as a search scope label.

Many library sites let you focus your search to the catalog, the e-journal lookup system, a discovery layer, the library site search, etc., and label them with some name that identifies the kind of search tool it is: Library Catalog, Site Search, A-Z Journals, etc. Other libraries go the route of deprecating the name of the tool and instead focus on labels that identify the format of information to be found with that search scope: books, media, articles, journals, etc.

When libraries label the search scope by the format of what can be found there, they find that a single format label may not always accurately identify what you can find there. So instead of a label for “Books,” which searches the library catalog and will actually yield records for journals, DVDs, etc., it’s common for libraries to use the label “Books and more.” Often, you’ll see clusters of the “________ and more” labels on one site:

  • Books and more
  • Articles and more

Sometimes you’ll find that the label still uses the tool name (e.g., “Library Catalog”) and offers in smaller letters explanatory text (e.g., “books and more.”)

I’d be willing to wager that if you were to ask your users what they think might be included in the “more” category, you’d be let down by their wild, very off-base guesses. This is of course a testable claim I’m making. I don’t know if anyone’s written up anything about this very question of “what does and more mean to you” but would love to read it if it’s out there. Until I find such evidence or do my own testing, consider me skeptical about the value of “____ and more” as a link label or explanatory text.

Troubleshooting Electronic Resource Problems Reported by Students

Although my job title is user experience librarian, I help out quite a bit with managing electronic resources in my library. Over the past few years, I’ve gone down deep in the weeds countless times trying to figure out what went wrong when a user reported being unable to access an electronic resource. Some times it’s just one article, some times it’s an entire database. The possible points of failure (or confusion) for the user are many. Here’s an exhaustive list (for me, at least) of what commonly goes wrong for our users.

user names and passwords

  • entering the wrong user name and/or password (e.g., typos, misremembered logins, etc.)
  • not knowing what their user name and password is
  • not realizing that the resource requires you to create your own username and password
  • trying to access the resource by going straight to the resource via web search instead of using library’s link (that goes through some sort of authentication system)
  • user has logins for more than one institution in a consortium and uses the wrong one

authentication systems

  • trying to access the resource by going straight to the resource via web search instead of using library’s link (that goes through some sort of authentication system)
  • resource hasn’t been listed correctly in the authentication system (URL for the resource has changed)
  • resource requires some new special set up in the authentication system
  • user is from another library (that may be part of a local or state consortium) but doesn’t realize that resource is strictly limited to users at that specific library
  • authentication system is blocked by firewall/security settings on user’s computer or network

browsers

  • database requires specific browser (often Internet Explorer)
  • browser settings need to be changed to allow for specific functionality in the resource

licensing issues

  • user is now an alum and doesn’t realize off-campus access is now gone
  • license doesn’t allow walk-ins and/or alumni to use database

problems caused by the vendor

  • resource is down for all subscribing institutions
  • database is searchable but full text links no longer working
  • vendor has mistakenly shut down access for the library
  • vendor has intentionally shut down access for the library because of suspicious use or expired license
  • vendor hasn’t communicated changes in its holdings to services that rely on that information (such as knowledgebases that help libraries keep track of online journal access)
  • database has agreed to an unusual restrictive license from a publisher whose content is aggregated (e.g., EBSCO and Harvard Business Review)
  • library has cancelled subscription but forgot to remove all links to it on their website, catalog, discovery layers, knowledgebases, etc.

availability options

  • user doesn’t notice the full text links on a record
  • user unaware of interlibrary loan as a service option
  • user has found content that isn’t part of a library’s subscription in a database
  • user unaware that resource might be available elsewhere as open access (e.g., in an institutional repository, on the author’s website, etc.)
  • user has found book or periodical record in the catalog but doesn’t recognize that the resource is print only

out of date info in knowledgebases

  • library has incorrectly listed a resource as something that is subscribed to
  • journal publisher or database publisher hasn’t communicated to the knowledgebase vendor changes in holdings (I’m looking at you Gale)
  • knowledgebase vendor hasn’t yet updated their system with latest info from journal publishers or database vendors

OpenURL linking

  • database where citation-only record was first found failed to create a properly formed OpenURL
  • database that the link resolver menu sent the user to is unable to properly interpret incoming OpenURL
  • user didn’t notice link resolver option in the database (usually labeled locally as “Find it at [name of institution]“)
  • user didn’t understand what to do in the link resolver menu

URLs

  • user is trying to re-visit a URL saved from a previous session (instead of using a permalink)
  • permalink that the user got from the database results previously didn’t include URL syntax that would route it through the library’s authentication system
  • permalink that the professor put on the course website or the learning management system isn’t proxied

problems specific to ebooks

  • user expected full book could be downloaded
  • user didn’t realize complexity of getting started (such as registering for an Adobe ID)

problems specific to articles

  • user has a found a short article but mistakenly believes it’s not the whole article

Being Leaderly in Team Environments

A recent interview of UX expert Leah Buley by Jared Spool on Spoolcast included an interesting discussion of leadership and collaboration. Buley was expanding on ideas she covers in her book, The User Experience Team of One. In the interview, Buley talks about how it took her a while to get comfortable becoming that person that might get up in a meeting and start drawing on a whiteboard or using post-it notes to help move the conversation along. When you do that kind of thing, she notes, you command attention but in a helpful way that she calls “leaderly.”

I really like the sound of that word, as it seems more collaborative and non-egotistical than saying you are “showing leadership” in a meeting. It may be a subtle distinction that only works for me, but that’s fine. At my library, I’m the only person with UX as part of my job title and core job focus (which isn’t to say that my colleagues don’t do UX work, as they do but may not think of it as such). In meetings for various projects–some local to my college’s library and some for projects that are shared across the system of CUNY libraries–I find myself wanting to contribute in ways that draw on my UX perspective. The last thing I want to do when I speak up is make it sound as though I am the expert that all must bow down to. I think if in my mind I frame my efforts as being “leaderly” I’m more comfortable with speaking up or contributing in other ways.

How the Mobile Web Affects Perceptions of the Traditional Web

This fall, I’m going to be working with some colleagues from other parts of CUNY to do some research that will allow us to explore the how perceptions of the web on mobile devices and on desktop/laptop browsers affect the user experience. Specifically, we want to look at an interface where there is a mobile web version that is notably different from the traditional web interface. How distinct can the interfaces be before the user experience is notably degraded? And which interface will suffer more in the way it’s perceived?

I realize that one way to get around the problem of forked interfaces (one for desktop/laptop browser dimensions and one for mobile browser dimensions) is to focus instead on a responsive design that shifts content around depending on the device being used. But I still wonder where the break point is for responsive design, too. How much shifting of content on a page in a responsive design can be done before the user who visits a site on different devices regularly gets thrown off by the altered layouts?

It may be the case that most users have minimal issues in adjusting themselves as they use different devices to visit the same site. I’m interested now in finding literature that addresses these questions and hopeful that the research my colleagues and I are about to  undertake will offer evidence with respect to interfaces in library resources.

Source of Information for Understanding Your Academic Library Users

As a user experience librarian, I need to make sure that I am considering all the sources of information that will help me better understand our students and faculty as library users. I want as much as possible to make keep in mind the mantra that “the user is not me.”

As an exercise in making a list of the main ways that I can learn about our users in the college library where I work, I put together this little mindmap that delineates between those sources where we are actively soliciting responses from our users and those sources where were are sifting through the traces of the users’ interactions with our services and systems. Did I miss anything important?

Usability Testing Basics

The kind folks who run the Carterette Series Webinars for the Georgia Library Association invited me to do a presentation on usability testing basics. I just finished up an hour ago and wanted to share my slides as soon as possible. The webinar recording will be archived and freely available soon (check the archived sessions page). In the meanwhile, here are my slides:

If you want to see my slides with my notes, you can get the original PowerPoint slides, too.

During the presentation, I read aloud from a script we used this past January when we were testing a draft of the library website. Here’s that script:

Test Script

First of all, we’d like to thank you for coming. Before we get started, I’m going to start a recording here so that we can document this session. Please don’t worry, as this session will be kept private and you’ll remain anonymous.

[Test moderator hits CTRL-F8 on the laptop keyboard to start the audio and screen recording]

As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the process of redesigning the library web site. In order to make it as easy to use as possible, we’d like to get some input from the people who will be using it. And that’s where you come in. We’re going to ask you to perform a very simple exercise that will give us some great insight into how we can make this web site easier to use.

I want to make it clear that we’re testing the site, not you. You can’t do anything wrong here. We want to hear exactly what you think, so please don’t worry that you’re going to hurt our feelings. We want to improve it, so we need to know honestly what you think.

As we go along, I’m going to ask you to think out loud, to tell me what’s going through your mind.

If you have questions, just ask. I may not be able to answer them right away, since we’re interested in how people do when they don’t have someone sitting next to them, but I will try to answer any questions you still have when we’re done.

Do you have any questions before we begin?

[initial questions for the test subject]

Before we begin the exercise, I’d like to ask you a few quick questions:

What year are you in school?
Approximately how many times have you used the library web site? (sample responses: several times a day, once a day, once a week, once a month, less than once a month)
Can you give me a list of 3-4 things you would expect to find or be able to do on the library’s website?
What type of information or services have you looked for or used on the library web site?
Is there any information or services you have had trouble finding on the library site?

OK, great. We’re done with the questions and we can begin the exercise. Here’s how it works. First, I’m just going to ask you to look at the home page of the test library website and tell me what you think it is, what strikes you about it, and what you think you would click on first.

And again, as much as possible, it will help us if you can try to think out loud so we know what you’re thinking about.

[Test moderator opens browser to test page]

OK. Is there anything that interests you on this page that you might click on?

Before you click, can you tell me what you expect to find when you click on the link?

[after clicking] Did you find what you expected?

[Three main tasks that test subject will complete]

I’m going to ask you to try to complete some tasks using the test library site. Please keep in mind that some of the interior pages of the library site don’t have all the text or links that ultimately will. And as you can see from the library home page, there are some open spaces that we haven’t put content into yet.

[First task; make sure the browser is back to the home page]

OK, beginning at the library home page, pretend that you want to know what the hours are for the library next week. Where would you go to find that information?

[Second task]

Great. OK, now let’s say that you’ve checked out a book that is due back soon. You’d like to extend the loan period. Can you see a way to use the library site to help with that?

[Third task]

Great. Now let’s say that you want to find a textbook titled “Brief Calculus.” Can you see a way to do that?

Thank you so much for your time. Your help today is going to be fed right back into our redesign efforts.

[Test moderator presses CTRL F9 on the laptop keyboard to stop the audio and screen recording]

Please feel free to reuse this script without attribution.

Usability Testing Our New Website

This past week, I’ve been working with with two colleagues from campus IT to run a first round of usability tests on library site redesign. Over the course of three days, we watched ten different undergraduate students perform tasks we had designed in advance (see our testing protocol if you’d like more details on what we did). We used CamStudio to record the screens and to capture audio from a USB mic and relied on one of us from the team to serve as an observer who would take notes during each test using this form.

I’m in the middle of re-reading the observer notes and watching the videos of the screen recordings as I try to write up a report summing what needs to be tweaked in the new site and what seems to be working. In the process of doing the tests this week, I learned a few things that will help us for the next round of usability tests on the redesign:

  • Make sure the testing situation is completely ready for the next test subject before they come in to the room. We asked students to run searches in a catalog search box on the home page. We realized after a while that we should have been clearing the browser cache after each subject was done; we noticed that the previous test subject’s search query was visible in the drop down list below the search box once the next test subject starting typing the same query.
  • Use more stable screen recording software. Although CamStudio offers two great features–it’s free and it works fairly well–it isn’t the most stable software. I think we’re going to want to look into getting Camtasia Studio or Contribute, which I am pretty sure my college has a site license for.

Tonight, I stumbled on a great post by Matthew Reidsma about how he does usability testing at the libraries at Grand Valley State University. He had a great idea of doing monthly tests with just three test subjects. Even more interesting was his way to having colleagues from the library watch the test in a room separate from the one where the test subject is (the test subject’s computer and the computer in the room where the librarians are watching are connected via screensharing software). This sounds like a great way for the staff doing usability testing to get buy in from colleagues about the changes being made. It also seems like it offers great evidence about how our students actually use our sites, thereby curtailing arguments over design issues where everyone is making suggestions based on theoretical ideas about user behavior.

One final note about usability and libraries. There is a new mailing list getting started that will focus on user experience and libraries. Subscribe? Check.

My New Job as User Experience Librarian

This month, I ended more than ten years of service in the Information Services Division at the Newman Library at Baruch College and started a new position as a user experience librarian in the Collection Management Division. While I will continue to provide reference services and teach workshops and credit courses, I’ll be working on all sorts of projects in Collection Management that focus on improving access to and integration of the library’s online and on-site resources. The work will consistently be driven by user needs, which means that I’ll be involved in a lot of usability tests, focus groups, surveys, and more, as part of an effort to design a better experience for our students and faculty. So far, I’ve been hip deep in our link resolver (SFX), our ejournals lookup system (Serials Solutions 360 Core) our federated search tool (Serials Solutions 360 Search), and admin options for various databases. My supervisor and amazing colleague, Mike Waldman, and I hope to release a mobile-friendly website that links to mobile-friendly databases, a LibX toolbar, and a project involving QR codes in the stacks linking users to electronic resources and LibGuides.

I expect I’ll still be posting items at my other blog, Digital Reference, but will also be active over here at Beating the Bounds, which is where I go when I want to talk about scholarly communication, open access, fair use, copyright, information literacy, databases, social media, and user experience.

(cross posted at Digital Reference)