User experience and research-oriented sites

19 Oct 2011 - 3:09pm
4 years ago
3 replies
716 reads


I find the library world to be one in which user-experience has yet to establish itself. I have understood the problem, I think, but have yet to find a solution.

The basic problem is this:

  • A (novice) student user is assigned some research topic; they go to the library site, and are not sure where to begin.
  • An (experienced) researcher (graduate student or faculty member) know what they want, exactly, or have a good sense of how to start their research.

These desires to explore have to be integrated within the tools that the library has:

  1. A "discovery" tool, that searches library databases and the library catalog at the same time--but that is a poor service when you are trying to find an exact title ("i.e., "Huckleberry Finn", the novel, appears on page 2 of the results--many books on the novel appear first) and when you are researching some topics (Company financial information)
  2. Library databases for each subject area, great if you are experienced or have a very precise information need, but bad if you have no idea where to start; and a corresponding site that shows databases by subject (more instructional)
  3. A library catalog, that is great for finding if we own a particular book

After conducting usability testing on our site, I have discovered that users (especially undergraduates) are drawn to the disovery tool, but are frustrated when the results are not answering the research question.  More experienced users (faculty, for example) especially dislike it (one library received  scathing mails from faculty because the site design forced faculty to use it).

I need to somehow communicate: if you don't know where to start, do this (discovery tool); if you know what you want, do this; if you want to see what sort of research databases we offer in your subject area, look here (for faculty who want to know what art databases we have, for example).

And, finally, if you don't find what you want in the discovery tool, try these options.

It could just be the tools at our disposal are just bad... which is unfortunate... but I was hoping to find a way around this. Any suggestions would be great; it seems complicated, so if you want to skip responding, I don't blame you.

Cheers :)


20 Oct 2011 - 1:22pm



This seems like a problem faced by every academic library site in the country. So an extensive peer review in search of best practices seems to be in order. (a link to your current site/page wouldn't hurt either)

IMO the solution seems straightforward: make the discovery tool obvious to the first-time/inexperienced user, with a clear, consistent but secondary call to action for the advanced/cranky user. If your research tells you that users of the discovery tool are a lot more likely to be looking for items in the catalog, then those results should get preference -- I don't know what search tools you are using, but I'm sure this can be done. I would also add some robust helper text, availble from the results page with the specific types of tips you've uncovered.

You may not be aware that there are many, many UX people in our field who came from library science by way of the polar bear book. You might get some good pointers at the Information Architecture Institute mailing list down the street.


21 Oct 2011 - 8:46am


  Thanks for the response...

I am a librarian who has found himself doing some UX work, by way of a part-time graduate program and work...

Here is our current site:

I have a revised design...which places research-related links near the discovery tool, instead of below, under headings like "Articles", "Books"...most users do not notice these links...

Thanks again, perhaps I will send on the revision..



24 Oct 2011 - 12:57pm

On a side note, I did survey library web sites...European library web sites are among the best examples...library sites in the US are among the worst examples...I hesitate to provide an example, but, why not?

A bit better, in terms of design:

Perhaps one of the best U.S. examples:

On Delicious, many have tagged this as "library_web_site_great_example".


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