Usability in digital library

For the definition of usability, I think that learnability is an important part which is mentioned in both Nielson’s article and Blanford & Buchanan’s article. I remember that many libraries have used think-aloud protocol to test the usability of their websites. I think it is a good way to test the learnability in the usability. Like it said in Nielson’s article, learnability means “how easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?”  It will be very helpful for the librarians to know what the users are thinking when they first use the digital library and search for resources in it. For example, users can tell librarians how they want to get started and what kind of result they expect to get after some clicks.

What effect does a site/system’s usability have on information seeking?

Whether users are satisfied with their information seeking in one digital library depends a lot on the site’s usability. Users will not continue searching in one digital library if it is hard to use. I want to recommend Mestre’s article about the student’s preference for tutorials in the libraries. (Mestre, L. (2012). Student preference for tutorial design: A usability study. Reference Services Review, 40(2), 258-276.) It tests the usability of the tutorials instead of the websites and digital libraries, but some users’ opinions are helpful to other studies,too. The students like the static web page with screen shots more than screencast tutorials. “The difficulties these participants encountered with the screencast tutorials were mainly that they did not feel they could easily go back and find the spot that would help them with a step, even with chapter markers, and that it was difficult to do the steps along with the tutorial.” So, for digital libraries, if it is not very easy to be used, users will just leave and stop their information seeking.

What about librarians? What role do they play in a digital library’s usability and in the overall user experience?

For librarians, they need to design their digital libraries, develop their expertise, teach their users and test the usability. They may search and use their digital libraries as users to test the usability first.


4 responses to “Usability in digital library

  1. I agree on the issue of learnability, it is an interesting way to describe how users interact with a library’s digital content. For those of us building digital libraries we are often assuming a level of understanding of the project and building it into the website. We may not even realize our bias because we are so familiar with the collection we forget what it is like to be new and trying to find information. Taking unfamiliar users and letting them walk through the process of finding information is a great way to test a program’s strengths and weaknesses.

  2. “…for digital libraries, if it is not very easy to be used, users will just leave and stop their information seeking.” So true. We came up against this in our ERM class last semester with all of the differences between vendors and online databases, “yiwenw” and how even the best of marketing efforts cannot sustain a healthy user base if the content is hard to find or the site is difficult to navigate.

  3. I was asked by my boss to look at what would be the prototype of the upcoming Civil Rights Era websites and I have to say, I was horrified. If I was having difficulty navigating it, then those who are not comfortable with the technology would surely be confused. Take a look at see what you think:

    PS – don’t try to load it on a phone or if you have limited bandwidth. The site is extremely image heavy. Which leads me to something that none of the articles conveyed very well – make sure you (as the manager of digital content) are revisiting the usability of your digital collection at least once in a while! The way people access information is continually changing and while your site may work wonderfully with IE or Firefox, does it worth with Chrome? On tablets? What about mobile devices?

  4. Thanks for your comments! And yes, the site has loaded for a while, even when I have loaded it on my laptop. 🙂 When I work on the e-reserve page in the Mills Music Library, some resources we uploaded can be accessed through all the browsers, others have troubles with Google Chrome. I don’t think that learn@UW works very well with tablets.

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