Category Archives: user experience

Library Websites: Assessing the Problems

When I first came to the SSU University Library, the number one thing I heard from people across the Library was that the website needed to be redesigned. It was hard to navigate, no one could find anything, it took too many clicks to get to what you wanted. I knew without a doubt that this was the first thing I needed to do. Of course, I didn’t want to jump in blind. I needed to know more specifically what the problems were, so I undertook a pretty extensive assessment of the existing website and of how people felt about it.

I decided to start with our Library Faculty and Staff for two reasons. First, I wanted to get a sense not only for how people perceived the existing website, but also for how they perceived the Library in general, what they thought our primary objective is, and what they thought we should be accomplishing with our website. Second, honestly, Library faculty and staff use the website more often than anyone else. We have a distinct set of needs from the website, and a unique perspective.

I created a really basic Google form to gather feedback from within the Library. I asked the following questions, with plenty of space for answers:

In your opinion, what is the main purpose of the Library website?
What is most important in the Library in general? Our collections? Our services? Our study spaces? Something else?
What do you most frequently use the Library website for?
What is your favorite part of the Library website?
What would make the Library website better?
What else should I know about the Library website?

I made the survey completely anonymous, because I wanted people to feel free to share their honest opinions. I got feedback from 13 out of 32 people in the library (40 percent). In the same period that this survey ran, I ended up having informal conversations with a lot of people addressing these same questions, although I have no way of knowing if they are the same people who filled out the survey or not.

The feedback I got from our people was insightful and thoughtful. People took the time to really think about what I was asking, and it was useful for me, as someone very new to the Library, to hear how people think about what we do. I think it was also a good opportunity for me to demonstrate that what staff and faculty think is important to me.

The one thing I would change if I created the survey again would be the second question, about the important things in the Library in general. I would probably remove the suggestions at the end of the question. I think this guided thinking more than I wanted to; I’d initially been concerned that people wouldn’t understand what I meant when I said “in general,” but I think that was a needless worry, and it would have been interesting to see how people interpreted that question.

Of course, our users are also important to me. I thought a lot about the best ways to survey our students, and I decided to start with what I called the Five-Second Survey. In retrospect, my technological limitations didn’t allow this to work quite as well as I think it could have, but I still found the insight I gained from it valuable.

The Five-Second Survey consisted of two questions that popped up on the library website when a user exited the site. The questions were “Why did you visit the Library website?” and “Were you successful?” We ran the survey for three weeks and received 162 responses. Based on an analysis of the responses, we determined that up to 151 of those who responded were using the site to access library resources.

I tried to set the survey to pop up randomly, so it wouldn’t happen every time a user left the site, but I don’t think that worked very well. I also should have tried to set a cookie so that if a user saw the pop up one day, they perhaps wouldn’t see it again until a few days later. Another flaw in this method is that often our users were leaving our website to search a database, so they were really only at the beginning of their research/library experience. I got a lot of answers like, “I haven’t been successful yet because I just got started.” My favorite response came from someone who wrote that s/he hadn’t been successful yet but knew s/he would be because, as s/he wrote, “I and this library website are awesome.”

However, I found many of the responses provided good insight into how our students think about their use of the library website, the research process, and the content they were unable to find or were dissatisfied with.

We used several other methods for assessing our library website and our students; these were the two I started with to get a quick picture of where we stood. In my next post, I’ll talk about the Design Your Library series of events I put on with our Instruction and Assessment Librarian to try to engage students and get their feedback on a variety of aspects of the Library and our services.