Usability needs Librarians and Librarians need Usability

The way that I see it is that if usability is the name of the game the librarians are the coaches and the users are the players. The coaches help guide, encourage, and support the players so that they can achieve and excel. One of the hurdles that my library has struggled with when it comes to usability is getting everybody on board and comfortable enough to promote whatever digital service is available. The way that I saw Morville’s three circle graphic is that Users need to presented with the Content in Context for it to be understood and there by usable.

My example of this is my library’s Overdrive website, a highly contested service that has enabled us to offer ebooks (and eaudiobooks) to our patrons. To help them develop and establish their usability of the website Tip Sheets were created to guide them through the process. We give out a lot of tip sheets but I often find them to be ineffective in establishing usability on their own, people frequently look at them like they are written in some foreign language. If I see the look of confusion I will usually offer to demo the instructions on the tip sheet, and few people have ever said no. By providing a demo of the overdrive website I am giving the User the Content, in Context and therefore creating usability.

Expanding to the honeycomb and to digital services in general librarians are the Credible sources that promote digital services by making them Findable (where they can be found) and Accessible which makes the library and its resources Usable, Useful, and Desirable to the user who then sees the service as Valuable. It reminds me a lot of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you need to be able to support Users at each level so that they can then achieve Usability of Library Services.

All that considered usability is not as easy thing to achieve even with simple analogies and well-trained staff. An area of usability that I feel needs a lot more development is mobile web pages. When phones first started going on the web it was important to have mobile-optimized websites that could simplify a website to make it load faster, now with smartphones and tablets my dream is that mobile-optimized websites are retired. In my experience they are clunky and limited so I often will decline using a mobile optimized page. Admittedly I do have an older android phone (Droid X) but the LibAnywhere App (my library’s mobile optimized catalog) has not offered very good usability; I’ve found my library’s actual catalog page, while very small, to be much more effective and supports my usability of that library resource.  So as easily as usability can be established in some case it can also be destroyed which is why it is up to the librarians to ensure that a service continues to be used, because you either use a service or you lose a service.

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