Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Analysis of Web-Based Information Architecture in a University Library: Navigating for Known Items

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Analysis of Web-Based Information Architecture in a University Library: Navigating for Known Items

Article excerpt

This paper presents a descriptive study of the Louisiana State University Libraries' Web site. The intent of the study was to gain some idea of user demographics and satisfaction with the site at a given point in time and to test the site's navigation system. We wished to find out who was using the site, why they were using it, and to what extent they were satisfied with the site's navigation. We then assigned tasks (searching for known items) to subjects to better determine the extent to which the site's navigation system facilitated locating information on the site. Evaluation of the navigation system was based on a ratio of correct clicks to the sum of incorrect and back button clicks. This ratio may be compared to some predetermined optimal number of clicks needed to retrieve a known item. The implications of this research are both theoretical and practical. These models of in-house, Web-based information seeking may be used by other institutions of a similar nature that seek to provide useful Web sites for their users as well as to provide a basis for further research on the problem of Web-based development of information retrieval systems.

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In fall 1999, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Libraries Web site contained more than six thousand layers: files ending with the extensions html, htm, or txt. The site provides access to databases, full-text journal articles and books, information about the library staff and hours, forms to reserve library classrooms, and more. With usage during the low time of day in 1999 greater than that for the peak time in 1995, it is obvious that the Web site is used more and more frequently for many purposes. In order to facilitate successful research through the libraries' Web site, it is necessary to analyze researchers' behavior when searching the Web site.

The LSU Libraries Web site was redesigned at the start of the spring 1999 semester. Prior to the redesign, the LSU Libraries Webgroup conducted library-wide forums open to all library employees. The Webgroup asked the forum participants to fill out a brief survey, discussing what they thought the major problems of the Web site were. Furthermore, the Webgroup presented various library Web sites to the participants, facilitating a discussion on the methods and styles of other library Web sites, and taking notes on the comments. Finally, the Webgroup presented the participants with several prototypes of a new Web site (first layer only) and solicited feedback.

Based on the feedback from the forums, five new prototypes for Web pages were designed, and the Webgroup asked the library employees for more feedback. The Webgroup research resulted in a new design for the LSU Libraries Web page, using a directory structure with seven headings: LOLA--online catalog, Electronic Resources, Key Links, General Information, Services, Library Department and Campus Libraries, and Search the Libraries' Web Pages.

The major problem specified at the forums was navigation: people did not always know where to click to find what they were looking for. The new design attempted to solve this problem in several ways: the new directory structure with related links under each heading made navigation more intuitive; a Search this Site feature, formerly available deeper within the site, was moved forward to the front layer; and an A to Z: Web Site Contents was added under the General Information heading to alphabetically list Web pages and topics likely to be searched for by Web site users.

Shortly after the new design was implemented, a link to the Web survey was added to the home page to survey users about the Web site design, initiating our research.

Problem

The ideal library Web site leads its patrons to whatever information they are seeking in a straightforward and efficient manner. The organization, wording, and content of the Web site are important in leading its users to desired information. …

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