User-Centered Design of a Web Site for Library and Information Science Students: Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Testing

Article excerpt

This study describes the life cycle of a library Web site created with a user-centered design process to serve a graduate school of library and information science (LIS). Findings based on a heuristic evaluation and usability study were applied in an iterative redesign of the site to better serve the needs of this special academic library population. Recommendations for design of Web-based services for library patrons from LIS programs are discussed, as well as implications for Web sites for special libraries within larger academic library settings.

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User-centered design principles were applied to the creation of a Web site for the Library and Information Science (LIS) Library at the C. W. Post campus of Long Island University. This Web site was designed for use by master's degree and doctoral students in the Palmer School of Library and Information Science. The prototype was subjected to a usability study consisting of a heuristic evaluation and usability testing. The results were employed in an iterative redesign of the Web site to better accommodate users' needs. This was the first usability study of a Web site at the C. W. Post library.

Human-computer interaction, the study of the interaction of human performance with computers, imposes a rigorous methodology on the process of user-interface design. More than an intuitive determination of user-friendliness, a successful interactive product is developed by careful design, testing, and redesign based on the testing outcomes. Testing the product several times as it is being developed, or iterative testing, allows the users' needs to be incorporated into the design. The interface should be designed for a specific community of users and set of tasks to be accomplished, with the goal of creating a consistent, usable product.

The LIS Library had a Web site that was simply a description of the collection and did not provide access to online specialized resources. A new Web site was designed for the LIS library by the incoming LIS librarian who made a determination of what content might be useful for LIS students and faculty. The goal was to have such content readily accessible in a Web site separate from the main library Web site. The Web site for the LIS library includes:

* access to all online databases and journals related to LIS;

* a general overview of the LIS library and its resources as well as contact information, hours, and staff;

* a list of all print and online LIS library journal subscriptions, grouped by both title and subject, with links to access the online journals;

* links to other Web sites in the LIS field;

* links to other university Web pages, including the main library's home page, library catalog, and instructions for remote database access, as well as to the LIS school Web site;

* a link to JAKE (Jointly Administered Knowledge Environment), a project by Yale University that allows users to search for periodical titles within online databases, since the library did not have this type of access through its own software.

This information was arranged in four top-level pages with sublevels. Design considerations included making the site both easy to learn and efficient once users were familiar with it. Since classes are taught at four locations in the metropolitan area, the site needed to be flexible enough to serve students at the C. W. Post campus library as well as remotely. The layout of the information was designed to make the Web site uncluttered and attractive. Different color schemes were tried and informally polled among users. A version with white text on black background prompted strong likes or dislikes when shown to users. Although this combination is easy to read, it was rejected because of the strong negative reactions from several users. Photographs of the LIS library and students were included. The pages were designed with a menu on the left side; fly-out menus were used to access submenus. …