The class I enjoy the most this semester at Indiana University is Information Architecture. It is a class where theory and practical application are blended so that we can create something tangible, but also understand the approaches – my favorite kind!
As usability.gov defines it, Information Architecture (IA) “focuses on organizing, structuring, and labeling content in an effective and sustainable way.” While the class doesn’t necessarily focus on Library Science since it is offered through the Information Science courses, this concept may sound a bit familiar to those working in a library.
In the class, we have chosen a small website we believe could benefit from restructuring. Some students chose public library websites, and others websites from the private sector. Regardless of each website’s purpose, the process of restructuring is the same. The emphasis is placed on usability and user experience (UX), which the ALA Reference and User Services Association defines as “employing user research and user-centered design methods to holistically craft the structure, context, modes of interaction, and aesthetic and emotional aspects of an experience in order to facilitate satisfaction and ease of use.”
Basically, it means structuring content so that a user can use it to a high level of satisfaction.
Keeping usability and UX at the forefront, much of our semester has been focused on user demographics. We developed personas of specific users by highlighting the tasks they need to carry out and the kind of behaviors they bring to the computer. For example, one of my personas is a working mother who wants to find the best dance studio for her daughter, but doesn’t have a lot of time to spend looking up information and gets frustrated easily with technology (may or may not have been influenced by my own mother).
We also developed a project brief to keep the main benefits of restructuring in mind, and we analyzed parts of the current websites that work for users, and parts that could be improved. We did not (and could not) begin proposing our restructured website until we had a solid understanding of the users and their needs.
While learning about usability, I thought back to my graduate school application essay. I discussed focusing on digital libraries and archives in order to improve accession of materials, which is my goal throughout my career. As I’m learning, I realize that accession doesn’t mean digitizing to digitize, it means digitizing then presenting the materials in an accessible way. Even though the material may be released on the web, that doesn’t always imply that a user will find it and be able to use it.
As technology increasingly evolves, keeping the goals of the library in sync with the skills and needs of the user is crucial. This is where information architecture and user experience meet library technology.
How do you integrate usability and user experience with library technology in your institution? If you are an information architect or usability researcher, what advice do you have for others wishing to integrate these tools?