Testing an Academic Library Website for Usability with Faculty and Graduate Students

Judith Z. Emde, Sara E. Morris, Monica Claassen-Wilson

Abstract


Objectives - This usability study was developed to observe faculty and graduate students’ reactions to a recent redesign of the University of Kansas (KU) Libraries’ website. The redesign included new navigational features, introduction of a federated search tool, a quick search box on the front page, and research subject pages. The study also provided the opportunity to observe the practices of faculty and graduate students in locating and retrieving information on the Libraries’ website.

Methods - Ten participants (five faculty and five graduate students) representing diverse disciplines were solicited for the study. Participants were required to access the Libraries’ website to answer a series of questions regarding new and updated features of the website. Observational analysis using Morae™ software was conducted and interviews with each participant provided details of their opinions on how these new features would influence their research and teaching activities.

Results - Most of the participants either did not notice or ignored the major website changes. Links to and locations of commonly used resources (e.g. catalogue; databases; e-journals) had been changed minimally, and the faculty and graduate student participants gravitated to those familiar features to complete tasks. Prior to the study, participants had not accessed the new discovery tools; however, once previewed, responses to the tools’ utility were generally favourable. After using the federated search tool on a familiar topic, several participants noted that, when directed to databases they had not previously considered, they were able to locate citations they had missed in the past. Observers noted pitfalls in navigating the site such as inconsistent underscoring of links, ambiguous terminology, and unclear icons meant to expand subject heading lists. Unexpected searching behaviours were observed, including inconsistent and lack of conceptual understanding in searching for e-journal content.

Conclusions - This study provides evidence regarding the usability of a library website with a population already familiar with library resources. It demonstrated that faculty and graduate students are not interested in experimenting with new discovery tools but are amenable to their potential value to undergraduate students. The recent trend toward minimizing content and links on websites satisfies this population, one which is already comfortable with the basic attributes of a library’s website.

Keywords


usability; Web design; faculty; graduate students; federated searching

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