links for 2007-05-27

The Thing About Library 2.0

The thing about library 2.0 is that you have to find the right technology to fit your need. And before that, you have to realize that you have a need. This is the tricky part. For example, Librarians have been making subject guide websites as a part of their regular job for at least 10 years. And sure, maybe they aren’t always totally up-to-date. And maybe they aren’t always the easiest thing to navigate… but they get the job done. So how do you convince someone that there might be a better way to do it? Oh, and it requires that they learn a little bit of new technology?

I’ve been talking with librarians about how some of the “new” web services like flickr and del.icio.us and RSS can improve their productivity and provide additional ways to reach their patrons. Some are excited and some want nothing to do with it. I think the topic has been sort of tainted by so much hype about Second Life and MySpace/Facebook (or what I like to call “MyFace” or maybe I should call it “MySecondFace”) that I think librarians are skeptical — “so I’m now supposed to have an cartoon version of me and go into a virtual world to do reference? Most of the students don’t even know about the chat reference service.”

My two biggest concerns are that library staff will just be too overwhelmed to even try something new or that they try something without success and abandon it.

MLibrary 2.0 Logo
This is the main reason for the Library 2.0 series I’m helping to organize (http://www.lib.umich.edu/lib20/ ). One of the things I’m most excited about is a blog we set up to help the librarians share project ideas to get feedback and possibly find other’s interested in collaborating on the same project. I’m cautiously optimistic that it will inspire.

And here’s one more anecdote: a colleague of mine set up a facebook group for library folks at UM interested in library2.0. I then invited the few librarians I knew were on facebook. And one, after accepting the invite, wrote something on The Wall: “Okay, Suz, I’m here. Why did you want me to join?” I didn’t immediately have an answer. Right, why? “I don’t know, cause its cool.” But now, well some people have been using the discussion board to post links and ideas, so thats good. For me, its just interesting to see how fast it spread throughout the library. I’m amazed that there are so many librarians (and ones I hadn’t expected) who have a facebook profile (or made one to join the group). Oh, and it’s kinda fun! Sometimes we just need a small distraction.

links for 2007-05-26

Guerilla User Testing

Since many libraries don’t have official usability positions or even committees, the idea of conducting user tests can be quite intimidating. But they don’t have to be! We do a lot of what we call Guerilla tests (a form of “discount usability”). There are a few methods- heuristic evaluation, paper prototypes, quick questionnaires, scenarios, etc.

If you are specifically looking for user feedback, paper prototypes/questionaires are ideal. The basic idea is to tackle one, maybe two key questions you might have about what terminology to use, order or placement of links on a website etc. The results of this type of test, like many other types of usability tests, can only indicate that there may be a problem with the interface element you’re testing. If it’s obvious that there are bigger problems with the interface, more extensive testing may be in order.

For example, our Usability Working Group decided to test the effectiveness of the link label “Get books, articles, and more,” that links to the library’s various delivery services. It was fairly clear that the current label was misleading (users could easily misinterpret it as being about circulation, research, how to find books etc.). So we looked at about 30 other library websites to see what other’s use and then made a list of these and a few other options to use for the test. We then basically split the test in 2 and asked one set of participants a set of questions and the other set different types of questions. The first set of participants were shown a printout of the library website, the current link was pointed out, and they were asked what they thought they’d find if they clicked the “Get books, articles, and more” link. The 2nd set of participants were shown the list of delivery services and asked if they could think of a name that would describe the contents of that list. They were then shown the list of alternate labels and asked to pick the one that best fit their understanding of the listed services. This test both verified that the current label was problematic and also gave us a sense of what other terms best fit the user’s expectations.

Tips:

  • Ideal time for entire participant interaction should be 5, 10 minutes tops.
  • Because the test is fast, try to test as many people as possible to get a decent consensus
  • Choose a simple issue and make sure wording is clear. If questions are simple, you can often fit 5-7 questions into one test
  • Demo the test with a co-worker or test subject to fine tune wording.
  • Use a printout of the interface (using a live version or computer based mockup can be too cumbersome to do quickly)
  • Choosing participants: we typically go to locations where there are many students – like the reference area, student union, etc. After approaching a few students, it becomes easier to tell who might and might not be willing to participate.

Some links:

links for 2007-05-20