This spring, Emily Daly and I conducted a usability study of subject and course guides using the LibGuides interface at Duke. Emily and Alice Whiteside had completed a usability study in 2010 and made recommendations for guide design. We were interested in evaluating the guides again and seeing whether the guidelines needed updating.
How we did it
For this round of testing, I selected four subject guides and four course guides, attempting to cover a broad range of subject areas and guide design. Subjects completed two tasks for each guide, then were asked to rate the ease of use of the guide, as well as elaborate on features that made the guide difficult to use and easy to use, and make suggestions to improve usability of the guide.
We used two different methods of data collection. First, we went to the Bryan Center and randomly asked people to participate in the study. Emily facilitated while I observed and took notes. Subjects were asked to think aloud as they completed the tasks. The screen capture and audio were also recorded in Morae for later analysis. Only subject guides were tested in this way.
Next, we adapted the subject guide and course guide test instruments into worksheets. Emily took them to meetings of the Undergraduate Advisory Board and asked students to go through the tasks and answer the questions, writing their processes and thoughts on the worksheets.
In total, 20 students participated in the testing; 13 tested subject guides and 7 tested course guides. We had each student look at two guides, so each subject guide was tested by at least six different people, and each course guide was tested by at least three people.
- Users prefer short, targeted lists of resources and few tabs, though they expressed appreciation for having the guide organized into several tabs, rather than listing all resources on one page
- Users find succinct descriptions of resources helpful, but do not seem to use descriptions that appear upon mouseover
- Most users found the tabbed navigation easy, but were confused by ambiguous or unclear tab naming
- Users appreciated the organization of resources into boxes, but were again confused by unclear box naming
- Users will focus on the top center of the first page and generally will not scroll all the way down a long page
- Users who are unfamiliar with the LibGuides interface want some sort of guidance or orientation
- Users found RSS feeds of recent books from the library catalog confusing or not useful and expressed a preference for a link to a catalog search on a topic
- Limit the number of resources, or highlight a few to give students a starting point
- Provide short in-line descriptions of resources indicating what information can be found using a particular resource
- Provide an introduction to the purpose and organization of the guide on the first page (this can be a table of contents with a short blurb about the contents of each page)
- Take care when naming tabs and boxes, making sure they clearly describe content they contain in language users can understand (i.e. avoid library jargon)
- Rather than creating an RSS feed for recent library materials on a topic, provide a list of suggested books or search terms, or link to a catalog search on a topic
I presented the study and findings to Duke librarians last week. They had great questions, and even did some brainstorming on how to implement some of the recommendations. If you’re interested in learning more, Emily or I can provide you with the full report, including the script and worksheets.
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