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:

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