Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Lessons Learned: A Primo Usability Study

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Lessons Learned: A Primo Usability Study

Article excerpt


Index-based discovery systems have become commonplace in academic libraries over the past several years, and academic libraries have invested a great deal of time and money into implementing them. Frequently, discovery platforms serve as the primary access point to library resources, and in some libraries they have even replaced traditional online public access catalogs. Because of the prominence of these systems in academic libraries and the important function that they serve, libraries have a vested interest in presenting users with a positive and seamless experience while using a discovery system to find and access library information. Libraries commonly conduct user testing on their discovery systems, make local customizations when possible, and sometimes even change products to present the most user-friendly experience possible.

University of Houston Libraries has adopted new discovery technologies as they became available in an effort to provide simplified discovery and access to library resources. As a first step, the Libraries implemented Innovative Interface's Encore, a federated search tool, in 2007. When index-based discovery systems became available, the Libraries saw them as a way to provide an improved and intuitive search experience. In 2010, the Libraries implemented Serials Solutions' Summon. After three years and a thorough process of evaluating priorities and investigating alternatives, the Libraries made the decision to move to Ex Libris' Primo, which was done in May of 2014.

The Libraries' intention was to continually assess and customize Primo to improve functionality and user experience. The Libraries conducted research and performed user testing, and in May 2015 a redesigned Primo search results page was released. One of the activities that informed the Primo redesign was a "think-aloud" usability test that required users to complete a set of two tasks using Primo. This article will present the method and results of the testing as well as the customizations that were made to the discovery system as a result. It will also discuss some broader implications for library discovery and its effect on information literacy instruction.


There is a substantial body of literature discussing usability testing of discovery systems. In the interest of brevity, we will focus solely on studies and overviews involving Primo implementations, from which several patterns have emerged.

Multiple studies have indicated that users' responses to the system are generally positive; even in testing of very early versions by a development partner users responded positively overall. (1) Interestingly, some studies found that in many cases users rated Primo positively in post-testing surveys even when their task completion rate in the testing had been low. (2) Multiple studies also found evidence that, although users may struggle with Primo initially, the system is learnable over time. Comeaux found that the time it took users to use facets or locate resources decreased significantly with each task they performed, (3) while other studies saw the use of facets per task increase for each user over the course of the testing. (4)

User reactions to facets and other post-limiting functions in Primo were divided. In one of the earliest studies, Sadeh found that users responded positively to facets, (5) and some authors found users came to use them heavily while searching, (6) while others found that facets were generally underused. (7) Multiple studies found that users tended to repeat their searches with slightly different terms rather than use post-limiting options. (8) Thomsett-Scott and Reese, in a survey of the literature on discovery tools, reported evidence of a trend that users reacted more positively to post-limiting in earlier discovery studies, (9) while the broader literature shows more negative reactions in more recent studies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.