Usability as a Method for Assessing Discovery

Article excerpt

The University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries engaged in three projects that helped identify areas of its website that had inhibited discovery of services and resources. These projects also helped generate staff interest in the Usability Working Group, which led these endeavors. The first project studied student responses to the site. The second focused on a usability test with the Libraries' peer research coaches and resulted in a presentation of those findings to the Libraries staff. The final project involved a specialized test, the results of which also were presented to staff. All three of these projects led to improvements to the website and will inform a larger redesign.

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Usability testing has been a component of the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Libraries Web management since our first usability studies in 2000. (1) Usability studies are a widely used and relatively standard set of tools for gaining insight into Web functionality. These tests can explore issues such as the effectiveness of interactive forms or the complexity of accessing full-text articles from third-party databases. They can explore aesthetic and other emotional responses to a site. In addition, they can provide an opportunity to collect input concerning satisfaction with the layout and logic of the site. They can reveal mistakes on the site, such as coding errors, incorrect or broken links, and problematic wording. They also allow us to engage in testing issues of discovery to isolate site elements that facilitate or hamper discovery of the Libraries' resources and services.

The Libraries' Usability Working Group seized upon two library-wide opportunities to highlight findings of the past year's studies. The first was the Discovery Summit, in which the staff viewed videos of staff attempting finding exercises on the homepage and discussed the finding process. The second was the Discovery Mini-Conference, an outgrowth of a new evaluation framework and the Libraries' strategic plan. Through a poster display, the Working Group highlighted areas dealing with discovery of library resources. The Mini-Conference allowed us to leverage library-wide interest in the topic of effective information-finding on the Web to draw wider attention to usability's importance in identifying the likelihood of our users discovering library resources independently.

The Usability Working Group engaged in three projects to help identify areas of the website that inhibited discovery and to generate staff interest in the process of usability. All three of these projects led to improvements to the website and will inform a larger redesign. The first project is an ongoing effort to study student responses to the site. The second was to administer a usability test with the Libraries' Peer Research Coaches and present those findings to the Libraries' staff. The final project was requested by the dean of libraries and involved a specialized test, the results of which also were presented to staff.

* Student studies

The Usability Working Group began its ongoing evaluation of UNLV Libraries' website by conducting two series of tests: one with five undergraduate students and one with five graduate students. Not surprisingly, most students self-reported that the main reason they come to the Libraries' site is to find books and journal articles for assignments. The group created a set of fourteen tasks that were based on common needs for completing assignments:

1. Find a journal article on the death penalty. (Note: If students go somewhere other than the library, guide them back.)

2. Find what floor the book The Catcher in the Rye is on.

3. Find the most current issue of the journal Popular Mechanics.

4. Identify a way to ask a question from home.

5. Find a video on global warming.

6. You need to write a bibliography for a paper. Find something on the website that would help you. …