Why Reinvent The Wheel

When we decided to redesign our old library homepage and create a new one, we talked about usability and design features quite a bit. But rather than exhaust considerable time conducting local studies to learn more about use of specific features or to identify potential design ideas we turned to the library literature. We found quite a few academic libraries sharing the outcomes of their usability, card sort and other studies of user experience and preferences for websites. For example, we were able to more efficiently identify appropriate terminologies for our tabs and links. Learning and adapting from existing usability studies can really pay off.

So I thought it would be worthwhile to take a closer look at the results of OCLC’s usability studies for Worldcat Local, especially since they provide some insights related to faculty and students. Here are a few of the highlights:

* Both undergraduate and graduate students highly value search systems that allow them to retrieve both books and journals. However, those who searched Worldcat Local wrongly assumed it contained all of their library’s journal content.

* Faculty praised it as “Googly.” Very few participants demonstrated any concern about whether surnames should precede forenames. Repeatedly, academic users expressed appreciation for a search box where they can “just type anything.”

* Only half of participants ever used the advanced search screen, and in fewer than half of the total searches—nine times in 66 searches.

* In this and other tests participants stated a preference for searching by author to avoid works about a person, or title to avoid finding common title words as subjects.

* Some language adjustments were made for academic users, saying “journal” instead of “serial, magazine, newspaper.”

* For both students and for scholars, in both the known item case and the topical search case, the expected and preferred order was relevance.

* Participants said and demonstrated that they noticed facets. They sometimes used facets, and facets generally worked as expected. However, facets were more often praised than used.

* In subject searching in particular, facets were not often used by undergraduate test participants.

* Navigation past the second or third page of search results did not happen often, even for scholars. Although participants did topical searches in their areas of expertise, we could not get them to look past the first two pages of search results.

Academic librarians thinking about ways to modify the search interface or results display of their online catalog may want to explore this study in greater depth. You may want to pay more attention to the need for a single search box. Using relevance as the default search technique seems to make good sense. But does it makes better sense to invest less time finessing the advance search if no one seems to use it much (unless we perceive advanced search as primarily a librarian’s tool). I think the main benefit of a study such as that reported here, is that it allows academic librarians to save time by drawing on the findings of someone else’s usability study. Why reinvent the wheel with a local usability study; it’s likely that our user populations, when it comes to using e-resources, have relatively similar expectations and search behaviors.

I recommend you take a look at this usability study. Compared to others I’ve seen this one is pretty readable.