Introductory Comments by Chris Jasek
In a study of library users’ requirements for a successful digital library, “almost all the participants considered usability as the most important criterion for a useful digital library” (Xie, 2006). Today’s librarians truly understand the importance of usability and recognize the importance of making sure library websites are easy to navigate, so users can find their way quickly to e-resources. But where’s a busy librarian to begin?
This pamphlet offers a short set of simple-to-implement guidelines to help librarians design usable library websites. The guidelines are based on a survey of literature on library website design and usability testing, results of usability reviews conducted by Elsevier for library customers and established best practices in website usability.
Working with library website usability is at the core of the business of Elsevier’s User Centered Design Group. Whether we are reviewing usability of specific library websites to help individual customers, or assisting in design of electronic services and products offered by Elsevier, usability is at the center of our attention.
Since 2003, Elsevier’s User Centered Design Group has conducted usability reviews of academic library websites including the University of Manchester library site (www.man.ac.uk) and Queen’s Medical Center Hawaii Medical Library site (www.hml.org). Elsevier’s information technology experts headquartered in Europe have also performed usability reviews of selected library websites, such as the Red de Bibliotecas del CSIC site (www.csic.es/cbic/cbic.htm) and the University of Pretoria site (www.ais.up.ac.za).
In all usability reviews Elsevier conducts on behalf of library customers, we use heuristic evaluation. In this technique, usability experts review a website according to established usability heuristics and identify positive and negative factors influencing usability of the site. Each expert does an independent analysis and then results are combined into a single report.
Our library customers have let us know our usability reviews deliver real value. Given our customers’ appreciation and that we can only provide a small number of in-depth reviews of library websites per year, we have decided to offer you this pamphlet.
As you read on, you’ll discover how to be your own usability expert. Common sense and proven guidelines, such as those listed here, can help you evaluate the design of your own library website and improve it.
Manager, User Centered Design Group, Elsevier, Miamisburg, OH, USA
Chris Jasek earned his BS in computer science and a master’s degree in human factors engineering from the University of Illinois, and then started his career with Reed Elsevier. For the past eleven years, while working for LexisNexis and Elsevier, he has helped design and ensure usability of ScienceDirect, Scopus, nexis.com and other information products. Today Chris leads Elsevier’s User Centered Design Group, which he helped form.
The User Centered Design Group each year involves hundreds of librarians and users — invited from academic institutes worldwide — in testing Elsevier’s electronic products in lab or office settings. Beyond hands-on or lab-based usability testing of Elsevier products, this group performs usability testing of library websites via the heuristic technique. Further, the team conducts usability research to make sure Elsevier’s e-products of the future continue to meet customers’ high standards and changing needs.