Thinking like a patron can be really hard to do. The longer we work in libraries the more entrenched we get in the lingo and practices of our business. But that doesn’t make it any easier for our users.
I recently attended the ULC Webinar The Future of Library User Experience (I think this isn’t a password protected site – if it is, my apologies). Nate Bolt, a user experience expert, gave the main presentation, which was great as he freely admits he hasn’t used a library in years, so was able to look at library web sites with fresh eyes. He stressed that when organizing our collections and websites, we need to place people before systems and pay attention to intuition rather than how things should logically be arranged. Ignore opinions – just research behavior.
Nate advised that if you really want to make your library user friendly (physically and in cyber space) you should watch three people use your website. And to give you a taste of what it feels like to be confronted with a new resource, he suggests you try to create a new web page and use an unfamiliar open source tool. Pay attention to how intuitive it is. Does the arrangement make sense? Is it easy to figure out where you want to go and how to do something?
He’s also in favor of using an open architecture so people can customize and manipulate your resources and data to suit their needs. One great tip – put your marketing (program notices, new services…) on the results pages since this is where patrons will spend most of their time. And of course, also put links to similar materials, comments and reviews there.
If you’re interested in more on this topic, see my post on the User Centered Design class I took at ALA Midwinter. Or check out Jesse James Garrett and Adaptive Path (watch the 2.5 minute video) and 37signals.
So how are you ensuring that it’s easy to find things in your library and at your website? Do articles from your database surface as results when customers do a catalog search? Do your users just need to login once each visit to access passworded resources?