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Library Website Usability Study: The study begins

Why a usability study?

During summer semester 2010, the Library at York County Community College became a LibGuides library.  We were so happy with our new “toy”!  We spent the summer making subject guides, creating guide templates, and shifting our entire website over to LibGuides.  We used the subject guides as teaching tools in library instruction classes all year and students loved them!  We proudly emblazoned our new web address on promotional pens and publicized our subject guides on stickers which we gave to our students in class.

We were utterly pleased with the product, the new look of the website, and ourselves.  Smug even.

That’s when I started to get nervous.  Could the site really be as good as we thought it was?  We needed to find out for sure, so we began researching about how to do a library website usability study.

This guide documents our usability study and includes the forms, scripts, surveys, readings, and results of the entire process.  It is not meant to be a formal research article, but more as an aid to anyone else who would like to do a do-it-yourself study without reinventing the wheel.

We chose to do a scenario-based study, having participants perform certain tasks within the site.  This necessarily focused on local content and navigation.  However, we also tried to get feedback on specific aspects of LibGuides.  There is no question that LibGuides is immensely usable from the librarian perspective, but how do the special features of LibGuides serve the students?  In the post-study questionnaire, we asked questions about columns, boxes, visual appeal, etc.  Interestingly enough, we did not ask questions about the Resource Icons in the questionnaire, but they were mentioned during the study by several of our participants.  More on that later.