For many university students, the library website is an important part of academic and community life. It serves as a gateway to resources for research and informs students of services and activities available to them throughout the university. In this study, researchers conducted usability tests on a university’s library website in order to gain insight into the characteristics that support a positive student experience.
The study was conducted at a United States university with six international students hailing from China, India, and Saudi Arabia and enrolled in anthropology, engineering, health, and computer engineering programs. Users completed six tasks on the library website. The tasks were designed to imitate the behavior of real users on the site. Participants were given the tasks one at a time, and the researchers measured the time each user spent before completing the task or giving up. After engaging with all six tasks, participants completed a satisfaction survey and were interviewed about their experience.
The results of the study revealed that less than half of the assigned tasks were completed successfully, and the time users spent on tasks ranged from 38 seconds to over 12 minutes. In the satisfaction survey, participants gave the website a failing grade of 46.5%.
The interview portion of the study offered insight into what made the website experience so unsatisfactory. A recurring theme was that the website was overly complex and confusing. For example, students recommended that the website adopt a single search box instead of requiring users to conduct keyword searches in individual databases. The participants also reported that jargon, too much information, and similar-looking icons made the website difficult to navigate for non-native English speakers.
While the user group in this study was quite small, their overriding confusion and dissatisfaction with the library’s website signals that libraries need to focus on student’s experiences accessing resources. A librarian typically isn’t present to help patrons access online library services, so intuitive website design plays an essential role in supporting learners. As library services move more and more online, user testing like this can help ensure that these services maintain their value for patrons.
Demir, F. & Parraci, W. (2018). The More Complex the Less Success in Online Library Services: Evaluating the User Experience for International Students. Issues and Trends in Educational Technology, 6(2).Image: by Lucas Sankey via Unsplash.