An Ongoing Relationship Takes Work (Take 2)

With over 250 conference-goers in attendance, the Searching Digital Resources: Designing Usability into Digital Interfaces session sponsored by the LITA Electronic Publishing/Electronic Journals Interest Group on Saturday, June 25 was bound to have some good energy flowing, even with the 8:30 am start time. The room hummed with conversation as people clustered about the door while more chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd.

The User

The user quickly took center stage in this discussion about the usability of library web pages, online catalogs and search protocols. “People don’t read, they scan,” said Frank Cervone, and user interfaces must be designed accordingly.

And, noted Steve DiDomenico, if the students and faculty you’re surveying are not retrieving the desired results, “something is wrong with the site, not the person.” This point provoked laughter from the crowd and hinted, once again, that librarians need to remember that the digital interfaces we design are not for us, but instead the patron who wants the information they need in a quick, easy and accurate manner.

“All good software needs a good interface,” stated Mike Visser, Endeavor Product Manager, who sees usability testing as a cycle:

Understand -> Design -> Evaluate

Which leads us to what libraries like those at Northwestern University are doing…

The Libraries

Active maintenance of an ongoing culture of assessment is key. Such practices enable an institution to remain relevant and meet their users’ needs. But, as one audience member questioned, how much does incorporating usability studies cost in terms of time, resources, and $$$? With an institutional shift in priorities recognizing the importance of such studies, Frank says, these factors will not be barriers.

The Northwestern library web site- with changes implemented based on a series of comprehensive usability studies discussed by Frank Cervone, Steve DiDomenico and Jeannette Moss- will be well-worth checking out once it’s up and running: http://www.library.northwestern.edu

What you see will not be a final product; this digital interface is designed for change.

One thought on “An Ongoing Relationship Takes Work (Take 2)”

  1. First let me say that I was not at the conference – so if the context of my comment are off a little, I apologize.

    A little comment on this; Steve DiDomenico if the students and
    faculty you’re surveying are not retrieving the desired results,
    “something is wrong with the site, not the person.”

    Although user studies are a must for better design, and he is correct
    to some extent, I’m not certain that “desired results” (not clear on
    this phrase) are always achievable to a high degree. This also depends
    on the degree of difficulty and complexity of the reference question.
    That’s where we come in. That is why we study this stuff. It is our
    job not only to design good w-pages and interfaces, but also make it
    very clear that help is only a click away. For us as information
    professionals it will still bring, at least for me and I assume many
    others, an exhilarating feeling of helping people find what they need.
    I believe people will always have to be guided by information
    professionals. This was always the case, ever since Hector was a pup,
    and will continue to be.

    Eugene M. Sawa
    Head: Microforms, Current Periodicals,
    & Stark Listening Center
    G49-A Hillman Library
    University of Pittsburgh

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