Website excellence: lessons from academic libraries

Information Today publishes a range of journals, newsletters, books and blogs in the information space, including a wealth of online content. Here we bring you some recent highlights.

At a time when budgets are limited and the information environment is changing we need to ensure we are open to sharing experience and ideas across the profession.   In two recent articles librarians working in the academic sector in the US share their experience of projects that expanded their skills sets and established the expertise of the library firmly in the mindsets of colleagues and users.

Usability testing

Danielle Becker is the web librarian/assistant professor at Hunter College Libraries.   In her article 'Usability Testing on a Shoestring: Test-Driving Your Website', published in the latest edition of Online she shares her experiences of conducting usability testing on library websites.  Usability testing can bring you closer to your users than just about any other research exercise - and it can be ‘fun and eye-opening'.  Most importantly, it takes the guesswork out of decision making about the presentation of vital information.

Danielle's key theme is that it is possible to conduct truly effective testing with minimal equipment and a very small budget.   She has designed a checklist to assist in the planning of a project that takes in the key stages from the setting out of objectives, incentivisation and the design of questions.  Her key lesson shared in this article is that she has discovered that fewer participants and more frequent tests give the most valuable results.

If you are undertaking testing within an academic environment, consider working with course designers and instructors to see if participation in your usability groups could help students get credits.  Alternatively, the article recommends approaching your nearest library school for volunteers to participate in usability testing.  Ideas for incentivisation are also shared.

A key lesson is to focus on how quickly your users are getting to the information. Are they having to spend too much time reading - are they being slowed down?  If so, they may well  give up and move over to Google. 

The article concludes that usability testing should be ongoing and you content constanty refreshed. 

Ensuring librarians are recognised as experts

Meanwhile at Wake Forest University, the library was rethinking its strategic role within the academic community and beyond. 

In an article published in Computers in Libraries Lauren Pressley and Kevin Gilbertson write about the evolution of this strategy and how the redesign of the library website helped establish the university's librarians as multidisciplinary experts at the very centre of academic life.

The new website would be used to:

  • Ensure wider recognition of the publishing achievements of library staff
  • Establish the librarians as interdisciplinary experts on the evolving information environment
  • Emphasise the librarians role in driving active collaboration across campus and recognising connections between disciplines.

A thorough content audit of the website was conducted, redundant information removed, while the remaining content underwent a qualitative assessment. User feedback processes were revised and stakeholder groups identified and consulted.  It was decided that every page of the website would require a clear objective.  The design requirements of mobile access were considered and the redesign focused on simplification.   

The authors conclude with a call to action for all information professionals.  We can use our websites to influence strategic discussions BUT our websites must be exemplars of what we are preaching.  We need to think carefully and strategically about the messages our websites are conveying and work hard to keep the content fresh and relevant. 

Usability testing is one way to ensure this happens.

Image courtesy of RambergMediaImages via Flickr.