Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Usability testing: Part 1

Well, today was the first time we did the full usability testing thing with volunteers pulled from our History & Genealogy & Law/Leg Reading Rooms. I'm awaiting a compilation of the notes taken during those tests with the findings & prioritization of tasks to be done before our next group of testers. Here's some of the things that I thought were interesting, though this is totally related to my own recall and filtered through my impressions & biases since I wasn't the one doing the official note-taking. Besides, this is inevitably my spin on the efforts of our testers!

First, a huge thanks to our visionary leader who - even in these tough times - found a way for us to offer $5 Dunkin Donuts cards to our volunteer testers (honestly, it may actually have come from his own pocket, given the way the budget's been, but... we'd planned on this before things got so bad & it was the right thing to do). I think it was good outreach, added to the good will of our patrons, and a worthy way to at least nominally reward these people for their participation (it's a couple of coffees' worth and that's something library researchers can really use!).

The overarching theme that I got from the testing - the most salient point from my perspective was that the testers (granted, I only sat through 3) all got lost when they ended up in parts of our web presence that were not well-integrated - especially in our digital collections. From the "digital collections" (ContentDM), they could not find their way back to our home page in order to begin the next task. We hadn't specifically tested this task of getting home, but boy is it the key task to build into your list of test tasks/questions. It's so important! Though these people had all used our site before (our first tester seemed so well-versed in our site that the librarian lingo / acronyms and so forth didn't seem to trip him up at all - he could've been mistaken for one of the staff?), they ran into at least some confusion, if not straight up difficulty with, 3rd-party portions of our site - e.g., the E-Journal finder, ProQuest historical newspapers, ContentDM, and the CONSULS (III) catalog.

Some other notes, in no particular order:

  • tester who did so well with our site nonetheless skips our site when we ask him to find a public act & goes straight to cga.ct.gov, which he tells us he's had problems with using when trying to find this type of info in the past (but he knows this site isn't ours... I suspect he doesn't know that we have a public acts page that might provide more guidance...)
  • everyone - when asked to find out how to get a library card - says they'd go up to the desk (well, heck, we're in the reading room, just across from the circ desk, makes sense...); when they have to get to info about getting a library card through site they don't usually have problems
  • mostly, "employment opportunities" seems to be fine - and fine under the About the Library pull-down, when we ask them to find job openings - one person has difficulty & runs a site search on "library hiring", which doesn't yield the jobs page right off
  • for "digital collections" - our tester sees this link in the task of trying to find a 1930s photo of a house but says that it's clearly "not the way to go" (why? I'm guessing it's a terminology thing...) He goes to the Archives home page & finds a link to Aerials. This does get him to see some aerial photos of houses, but he doesn't find the 1930s house images from the WPA.
  • all 3 users use the pull-down menus as a sort of quick discovery mechanism - to see the breadth of the site & test what things might be available where before actually clicking on a link - so the pull-downs, for all of their issues - appear to be working. Only critique was one man said to bold them and make them bigger. No one had difficulties seeing the nav bars (though one person didn't notice the "Law/Leg" section of the lower nav bar) either above or below the photo strip. The one who wanted the bigger/bolder nav bar writing also wanted our subscription databases option from the "find information" pull-down menu to have a pull-out that brought him directly to Westlaw & other law dbs. I think he was the only one who said that the "find information" was at first not distinct to him - he was scanning for "westlaw", so didn't find dbs at first, finally went under "find info" and into the "subscription databases" page. He critiqued the subscrindex.htm page (subscription databases) in that it was so long, it was hard for him to see that Westlaw/other law resources were available in an efficient way. I'm so relieved that we haven't yet spent time and efforts on removing the photo strip & redoing the nav bars without first having run these tests. It seems that - so far (granted, very small sample) - the header section is really working for people - (with the possible exception of the "digital collections in 1 of 3 cases).
  • one user, in general comments, pointed out that our site had so much, that to some it could be a bit confusing, but they were really used to the site & had few (if any) difficulties - but they were aware that their lack of difficulty might've been from their familiarity with the site
  • a different user (than the one above) was going through a task & said that they would start at "find information" which is their "favorite spot" - I guess they use this pull-down menu almost exclusively when working on our site, though they say they often start at iCONN for research (is a genealogy researcher - professionally). This same user says that they "hate" the faq.htm page - our "Research Resources" page. After the tasks are done, we return to this - what does she hate? she finds the layout overwhelming - too many things, too small fonts laid out in a way that she finds a unpleasant (it's laid out horizontally in a table, perhaps a bit squished up), it irritates her.
  • To find public acts, one user goes into our library catalog.
  • To find photos of 1930s houses, another tester tries the subject index to research resources, then looks under "p" for "photos" - needs the digital collections
  • Our first tester, so incredibly well-versed in our site points out how hard it is to get back to our home page, once you get into things like the subscription databases.
  • As I recall, newspapers don't trip these 3 testers up as much as we thought it would - but no one has used the newspapers link on the home page l-h column. Heck, no one's really used content in the main body of the home page at all, that I recall. They've solely relied on the menus & to a much lesser degree - when in trouble - the site search box.
  • One tester says that if they want to find printed items (books), they'd rather use Google than our catalog (or even request), looks up the title on Google, then looks for local places where the title may be available.
  • did I mention that people didn't seem to use the content in the body of our home page (none of the links in that main section - instead they focused on the header - nav, search areas)
  • someone who doesn't actually do the usability test, but regularly uses CSL for his work in law - was there in the reading room charging his laptop - mentioned that he felt that we should pay whatever extra $ it costs to get the "pleadings" from Westlaw. This led me to wonder - how do we decide what $ get procured for which db offerings? Do we ask our patrons what they need or do we (as per usual for libraries) assume that we know best and make decisions on their behalf? I certainly could see doing that if your constituency wasn't well-versed in the resources, but our law / leg and h&g regulars are professionals & might have good insights.
  • a couple of complaints were made by one tester about the public access computers - how lousy it was that we didn't have the much better-functioning/full-featured MS Word (instead we have Works, I guess), that the URL bar doesn't show so it's hard to get to Google without doing some funky workarounds (this must be part of our "security" on the public machines, I'm guessing, but clearly it's not even that secure, it's just an impediment...)

And for all that I thought to myself - well, heck, the issues about what dbs we buy, the 3rd-party web products (like CONSULS, ContentDM, databases, Serials Solution), the public computers - none of those are my problem or within my control, so I felt relieved - but then it dawned on me that it still matters, because these testers didn't say oh, you don't do this, you don't do that, they only saw me as a representative of the library as an organization - and everywhere the organization falls down in its interactions with patrons - it's something that we should all be concerned about.


Nancy Peluso said...

Other comments from testers included how text heavy the pages were, that it took too long to read through everything, and that a lot of it was just repetition. And although unable to qualify this, it did not seem like the testers really enjoyed being on the site, that even when they were eventually able to find the information, they were frustrated in the process. If we do want to consider our website a library branch, it did not appear to be welcoming or inviting.

CogSci Librarian said...

Great summary -- looks like you learned a lot from testing. It's amazing how people think and do things so differently than how we librarians imagine and predict.

This is heartbreaking: "One tester says that if they want to find printed items (books), they'd rather use Google than our catalog (or even request), looks up the title on Google, then looks for local places where the title may be available."

Good luck on the revisions!!