Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Library Website Usability Testing Leads to Continuous Improvement for Users

Matthew Reidsma is the Web Services Librarian at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Libraries. He has MLIS, M of Theology & BA (Philosophy).

I really enjoyed his article and have subscribed to his website.  If I knew how to write better, I would comment on his article in such a way that my readers would click on the link to go to his website to read his article.  I like what he has to say and the pleasant, easy to understand way he says it.  Although I have quoted a large part of his article, I still hope that you will go to his website to read the full article and his attachments - and perhaps subscribe yourselves.

I am confident that I will enjoy reading whatever he says in the future.  His Consent to Participate in the Usability Study form shows high ethical standards of privacy protection combined with genuine niceness.  People get a  GVSU T-shirt even if they decide to withdraw partway through the testing - which participants can do with no explanation.

He even posts a video showing the transition of their website.
"In the past six months alone our website has transformed, from a typical library link farm to a usable, simplified search engine our faculty and students seem to enjoy using."

How we do usability testing
November 15, 2011

Although I’ve worked in academic libraries for the past 8 years, my web development experience is from running my own shop, outside of the University world. This is a land where results matter more than statistics and reports, and everything you do has a price tag attached to it. As such, usability testing is frequently done on the cheap without a committee to write questions and do recruiting. I’ve kept it that way here at GVSU.

The basic tenets of my usability test plan are:

1.Do one test every month.
2.Focus on what users *do*, not what we’d like them to do.
3.No more than 5 questions for a 30 minute test.
4.Test no more than 3 students or faculty a month.
5.Invite everyone from the library to observe. EVERYONE.

I can tell you from experience that getting librarians, front-line staff, and administrative staff all in a room together will get you better feedback than a room with only librarians or IT staff. I also guarantee you’ll get buy-in on making changes from all levels. First, you’re letting everyone see what is wrong with the site by showing actual users interacting with it. It’s pretty hard to ignore problems when they are encountered in actual use. Second, you’re letting everyone participate in the discussion. Not only does this get you better feedback, but it also means employees across all levels of your organization will appreciate getting a chance to contribute to something as visible as the website.

First, let me say that you can learn everything you need to know about usability testing from Steve Krug’s book Rocket Surgery Made Easy. We’ve adapted a few things to accomodate the special needs of a University library, but those might not be appropriate for your situation.

Setting up the test

The test is simple. We set up two spaces: a space for the test and a space for observation. I use my office for the test, setting up a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, and a USB microphone hooked up to my laptop. Upstairs in the conference room I set up the observation room. For that I use my student’s laptop, hooked up to the room’s projector and sound system. You want to make sure that the observers can see the user’s screen and hear what is being said. That’s it for setup: I bet you already have all that stuff in your office.

For the first few tests, I also ordered food for the observation room, as a way to bribe staff into coming. Once I got a good turnout, however, everyone realized the importance of the tests and comes whether or not there is food.

Since we use Macs, we run Apple’s built-in AIM chat client iChat on both machines. iChat has a screen sharing feature that allows us to share the screen and audio from my office up to the conference room. It’s built-in and easy to use, and it doesn’t cost anything. If you have PCs, Skype has a similar feature.

You can read his cv on the following webpage.

As a web developer, I aim to create easy-to-update websites that ordinary people can use. I code everything with web standards so that my sites work as well with phones and screen readers as they do on your computer.

As a librarian, I help people find the information they need without overwhelming them with complexity. My background in web and database development makes me better able to translate complex information to patrons without bogging them down in library-speak.

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