Eval & Assessment

“Tefko Saracevic pointed out that “users have many difficulties with digital libraries.” As a librarian or a librarian to be, how would you address Saracevic’s concerns?”


While I imagine it’s true that users continue to have difficulties with digital libraries (as referenced in the studies Saracevic points to in his article), I would also guess that DLs today are easier to navigate than they were nine years ago. That being said, this is still a major concern in terms of access and usability in the development of DLs.

As for addressing these concerns, it’s important that we as information professionals are aware of usability issues encountered by our patrons. If we don’t take the time to listen to feedback about what works and what doesn’t, DLs will cease to be relevant to our patrons and their needs. This in turn will ultimately force them to look elsewhere for the information they seek or to give up all together. In terms of addressing user feedback, two useful and straightforward options are to provide short surveys and/or prominent links on web pages that take users to a site to give feedback. This is a direct way for DLs to receive input from users. From there, decisions can be made based on the needs of a DL’s actual audience, and can determine if the issues are technical, design-based, or something else.**

As the articles by other authors this week show us, the evaluation of DLs over the years have been attempted to varying degrees of success. What comes across through all of them, though, is that evaluation and assessment are indeed an important part of establishing a viable DL.


**Quick note aside: I personally believe that a huge issue for DLs is the visual design of sites (full disclosure – my mother is a graphic designer). I don’t think people realize how important design actually is, and I find the field of library/info science tends to ignore it in their mission to provide information/materials to users. Most people don’t recognize good design when they see it because, really, that is what successful design is all about. I realize this issue may be cost-related, but I also think that libraries can often end up with sites that are more user-friendly for librarians than the actual patrons, and I believe there are ways to incorporate good design with ease of use while remaining optimally functional.


9 responses to “Eval & Assessment

  1. I liked that you brought up aesthetics. If I can propogate a stereotype for a minute, we tend to focus as a profession on the quality of the information. Yes, customers want information, and a lot of it. But they want an experience that’s designed attractively and they want systems that incorporate what they see as “standard.” It’s kind of an “if you build it, they will come” situation — make an attractive site that functions, and people will use it. Make a site that functions but doesn’t beckon users, they won’t care.

    • I totally agree with you, Stevie! I think there are a lot of libraries out there that are scratching their heads and wondering why they don’t get more hits on their sites…. It’s funny that you bring up ‘if you build it, they will come’, because I was thinking about that while writing my post as well. I think a lot of libraries tend to assume this and then are surprised when sites don’t get as much use as they want…

  2. Thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and say I also feel that site design issues still loom large as a problem with many DLs. Some of this is aesthetics and some is just plain clarity of organization and intuitiveness of navigation.

    Cost (time and money) is surely a major culprit though another, pointed out by Saracevic and others, is a disconnect between the assumptions, goals and language of designers and the assumptions, goals and language of users. In my own realm of research, traditional folk song, there are some digital collections that seem to be labors of love that, after an initial push, have fallen into disrepair and are unsupported by any institution that might fix their crippling design flaws!

  3. I remember that I have done an assignment related to the design of library’s web site. We found that many libraries do not have a good design on their introduction page or other pages that describing their collections or giving instructions. For example, it is hard to find the “ask a librarian” tab for the patrons to ask for help in some libraries’ main page. So I also agree that it is important for libraries to improve their design of sites, especially DLs.

    • yiwenw, Your mention of the “ask a librarian” tab made me think of how patrons feel asking for help. In the area of digital libraries, where searching if often done outside of the physical location of the collection, how realistic is it for us to expect a patron to call or come in for help? How much feedback do we miss out on due to off-site accessibility of digital collections. Having an “Ask a Librarian” is a fast and convenient way for patrons to get assistance in using a DL. It also serves as a record for usability, accessibility and other issues. A patron might ignore the pop-up survey as he or she enters or exits a digital portal, but use the live chat capability.

  4. I agree on the importance of good design. Having looked/used a number of digital libraries I think they often try to do too much. Think of something like Google; a blank page with a box. Not that DLs can be that simple but too many buttons is just as bad as not enough. People want to be begin searching right away, that is why they are on the website. They don’t want to search just to find where they should be searching. It is hard for librarians not to toss everything up online because, well, we’re excited and we want to show off what we have. But we’ve got to keep it simple or users can easily click to another site.

  5. I appreciate a.d.m.n.’s last comment about simplicity. In a course in Info Architecture last semester our group project focused our redesign efforts on removing tabs, buttons, links, etc. and endeavoring to distill the site down to the functional basics. I’ve seen far to many library websites that overwhelm with adding and augmenting when, In my opinion, they should strip their aesthetic presentation down to the essentials, especially on the home page.

  6. I really agree with you and everyone else that the design of a digital library is really the key to its success. I also really liked your point about the importance of gaining feedback and listening to what our patrons want and expect out of the DL. Obtaining feedback is also one of the only ways that we know about the design faults in the DL. I am not so sure though that the links to surveys are the best method for obtaining that feedback. They may be beneficial but just from my own experience they tend to be largely ignored.

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