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Library Website Usability Study: Conclusions

General observations


1.      Students don’t like that “black stuff”: words.  They don’t read.  They scan for links (especially blue links) and for search boxes. 

We will play with ways of making scanning easier.  We may vary the colors, as suggested in one of the comments.  Not sure what latitude we will have in increasing heading sizes of the boxes or if that is even a good idea, web design-wise.

Graphics and icons assisted the testers in their scanning.  They liked the pictures that illustrated what they were looking for (the Minerva owl, the password key, and the Resource Icon hearts)

2.     Students don’t like to scroll. 

As anticipated, we will be reducing the amount of verbiage on each page, as well as eliminating jargon.  We are cutting down on the number of boxes, so when possible, each page is fully visible on one screen with no scrolling.  It won’t be easy.  We’re wordy people.

3.      Students didn’t notice the horizontal nav tabs across the top part of the page right away.

This is concerning since it’s the main navigational tool to our more in-depth library curriculum.  I don’t know why they didn’t scan those tabs immediately.  Not sure if we need to increase the contrast, vary the color, give it more white space, or make them bigger.  This is not a LibGuides function that I’m aware we can tweak.  

Once they *did* notice them though, several testers would try to use them exclusively and sometimes ran into trouble.  For example, the search box for articles is right on the front page, but one tester, after discovering the tabs, seemed to become blind to search boxes, went for the Articles tab, and then the database dropdown menu, even though the search box they needed was right on that page too.  Selective and adaptive blindness.

4.     Students interact with the website in a surprisingly personal and emotional way.

Some of our testers approached the website with a sense of being in a hostile environment.  They were anxious about going to unfamiliar places (i.e. the jump from the library site out to the Minerva catalog).  The colors and the formatting of the page changed very dramatically and the tester, realizing they were somewhere new, backed right out.  One tester said that he would prefer to ask for help from a librarian than go somewhere unfamiliar on the website.

Back to the Resource Icons:  In particular, the hearts seemed to function as more than a visual cue; one tester told us she liked them because they created a sense of personal connection that was important to her.  Another tester saw the heart next to the link she was looking for and, laughing, said “Paydirt!  The heart is a dead giveaway.  I love the hearts!”  She was having fun and reducing her anxiety at the same time.  We plan to make greater, though restrained, use of Resource Icons.  We also may reconsider including photographs of the librarians on subject guides for that increased personal presence.

The article, "Practical Website Improvement Face-off", pointed out that personality and a little humor is good for a site.  Our in-class library instruction classes, on a good day, are humorous and energetic.  It’s a conscious branding of our teaching style that we hope brings students into the library.  It might be interesting to carry this over more into the website.  If LibGuides is a fun toy for the librarians, why can’t it be a fun toy or game for the students?  We do learn by playing.  Food for thought.

Good news, bad news?

In the end, we realized that the library website cannot be all things to all people all of the time.  That’s a little worrying, but also reassuring.  When our testers ran into a wall with the website, they clearly indicated that they would seek out a librarian in person.  This is an indication of our offline success: students value the library and the personal services they receive there and they’re not afraid to ask for help.

And thanks to the versatility of the LibGuides platform, our web site is a living, growing, changing work-in-progress.  We have been able to quickly and easily address many of the usability issues that our study uncovered.  It's already a better site than it was last week.  Better than yesterday.  Better even than it was an hour ago.