Friday, July 26, 2013

Article Note: On LibGuides and Usability Testing

Citation for the article:

Sonsteby, Alec, and Jennifer DeJonghe, "Usability Testing, User-Centered Design, and LibGuides Subject Guides: A Case Study." Journal of Web Librarianship 7 (2013): 83-94.

 Read via: (my boss sent me a copy. She got it via ILL).

The article looks at work done at Metropolitan State University's work in testing usability on their library LibGuides. LibGuides have become a very popular option for libraries to do a range of things from putting up research guides to running or managing parts of their websites. As a disclosure note, we do use LibGuides here in my library. In fact, a reason I read this article is that my boss sent it over to the instruction team to spark discussion as we work to update our own LibGuides. When testing their website, the folks at MSU observed that students often struggled finding articles on a topic. They attributed the failures to LibGuides, thus their usability testing.

LibGuides are not perfect. The literature review does summarize some common issues with LibGuides such as too many pages, boxes, links, inconsistent labels, etc. However, other usability tests have been contradictory: what works well in one place turns out to be terrible in another. I think for us here we'll have to test things out and just learn as we go. MSU tested five participants. They felt that they had enough information from that early round of testing. The article then goes on to describe the testing process.

As I make notes, I will be commenting on some of the things we are doing here with our LibGuides, mostly a way for me to reflect on the process.

Some of the issues the authors identified include:

  • The visibility of a search box and being confused about the search box. They found that users often want a search box, and they want it to, in essence act like a discovery tool (or, let us be blunt, to act like Google). This is where the built-in box in LibGuides comes in. It can be confusing to students who expect it to do "everything," only to find frustration when it does not. That is certainly an issue we have identified here. I understand that we can customize what the search box does somewhat, but it may never be close to perfect, and for different subjects you may want a box that does different things. We are leaning towards removing the built-in box, and instead adding other search options within our LibGuides, say a customized EBSCO widget for a specific database or other tools. 
  • Language is always an issue it seems. We have discussed language, and we are working to make things a bit more consistent in that regard. This document on "Library Terms That Users Understand," which the authors cite, has proven helpful in some of our discussions as well. 
  • Inconsistencies in terms of tab names. We are solving this by making our subject guides have a standard. Now, for class-specific guides, the development could be more flexible in order to tailor the guide to the class' needs. This goes to one of the lessons that the authors mention: making the guides focused on meeting user's information needs.
  Some lessons they learned (and that we may apply or expand upon here):

  • Focusing on meeting the user's information needs and building on that. As I mentioned, we are making a standard template for our subject guides. However, for class-specific guides, we are leaving things a bit more open so we can tailor them to classes. On the subject guides, part of the idea is to focus on what students need, yet we also have an interest in making them into true starting points for research on a topic. For me at least, they should also be good enough and clear enough for "someone off the street"to be able to use them as well. 
  • The authors suggest having table of contents pages. We went back and forth on this, and we decided to have a basic TOC that can also serve as a navigation tool on the left side of our subject guides. Basically, for us, our landing page on a guide would serve as a sort of "quick start" space to get students quickly and efficiently to what they may want, then use other tabs (or pages as LibGuides calls them) to provide additional resources. As of this writing, this is a work in progress. 
  • They suggest focusing on electronic resources, since after all, LibGuides are an online tool. This was subject to some debate as some of us think that we should at least list some print sources as well. There are some reasons for that. For one, we are a residential campus, and while a lot of students do work at their residences, many will still come to the library. Two, our reference print collection does get a good amount of  use, and we wish to continue promoting that alongside our electronic reference offerings and other resources. Also, the LibGuides are as much for us and for our reference student workers as they are for the rest of the college students. Therefore, if a reference worker needs to find some basics on, say, biology, and goes to our Biology LibGuide, he or she should be able to find a few reference sources be they in print or electronic. 
The article is not the "be all, end all" when it comes to the topic of LibGuides, but it does provide material for discussions in libraries about how to best use LibGuides in libraries. The references list includes various resources, such as other usability test articles and other reports that may be of interest and that people may want to read side by side with this article as they work on their own LibGuides as well. I know I will be keeping this article handy for a while as we continue our work here.

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