The presentation went well, and I am so happy that 1) everybody was so supportive and 2) I don't have to worry about it anymore. There were more than twenty librarians who attended, although I was too nervous to make a full headcount. They were pulling in chairs so that everyone fit in the room! Although I was nervous initially, it helped to remember that I was as much of a subject expert on usability as anyone there could possibly be, and that everyone wanted me to do well. The questions that people asked at the end of the presentation were all interesting, thought-provoking, and non-hostile. Since DisoverLibrary is a bit of a touchy subject at Vanderbilt, I was worried that someone might take the opportunity to vent their spleen about the site's looks or functionality (mostly based on what it was like when it rolled out, unfortunately). However, everyone was enthusiastic about my findings.
I'm going to upload my presentation so that anyone who is interested can take a look at it. Though my usability study examined the user interface of DiscoverLibrary and not the search functionality, I think that the information I discovered could work in tandem with any future studies the libraries might conduct on the search functionality. Somebody whose name I cannot recall also wants to set up an archive of usability tests the library has done--I hope she gets back to me, because that sounds like a cool project.
For the past few weeks I've been working on my presentation, a paper detailing my practicum experience, and the usability guide. Sometimes I feel like I spend more time deleting things than I do writing them, but I suppose that a lot of writing involves rewriting. Like most people, I'm not a naturally gifted public speaker, and I'm looking forward to the presentation with my colleagues with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and dread. Tomorrow I will run through my presentation with my awesome practicum supervisor, and I hope to generate a lot of useful criticism before the big presentation on Tuesday.
I think I did a decent job creating and executing the usability test back in February, especially as it was the first time I had ever done one. In retrospect, had I realized that the students I would test would be mostly science and engineering students, I may have tailored the questions to be more like ones they would be likely to have in real life. Instead, two of the scenarios involved finding information about a popular best-seller and a classic work of literature. Though the skills needed to find that information are the same whether science or literature is emphasized, it might have helped the students connect more with the test.
I'm a bundle of nerves at the moment. Although in a sense it does not technically matter how the presentation goes, I really want to do a good job. I think that some of the things I've discovered while sifting through the results of the test could have a real impact on the redesign of DiscoverLibrary, and could help the people who are using the site on a daily basis. I hope that when I present my findings, the audience is receptive and in a position to incorporate some of the changes I propose. I don't want to imply at all that DiscoverLibrary is a bad product, because it isn't, but some small things could make it more pleasant to use--clearer buttons, consistent terminology throughout the site, and an ability to incorporate advanced search options with a minimum of trouble, for example. I hope that my audience feels the same way.
I'm trying to get stuff accomplished on this project, but it is hard to concentrate. I think that is partly because I am having some problems with my vision, and I keep getting a headache. I am very nearsighted, and as a result my retinas are much thinner than a normal person's. That means that sometimes weird things happen--for example, for the past two or three years I have had subretinal neovascularizations, which is where a blood vessel attempts to grow through my retina. This causes flashes and means that I need to get an injection of a drug called Lucentis into my eye. So far it is an inconvenience, but definitely not the worst thing in the world to deal with.
A few weeks ago, however, I started seeing a much bigger flash, and after some time at the retinologist's office I found out that I have a mysterious, thin scar on my left retina. It means that there is a long, thin blurry patch in my visual field (although thankfully not in the center of my vision), and that I see the scar as a bright spot whenever I blink, close my eye, or look at a bright light source like a computer monitor. I'm sure that I will get used to it in a few weeks, though, and then I will be able to see as well as I could before it happened.
I'm also trying to put together a prototype of the possible changes for DiscoverLibrary. I wish I was a more efficient user of Photoshop, because my designs look fine but they take hours to produce. I'm sure that it will be worth it when the prototype is done, though. Ideally, users will be able to click around in it as though it were a dummy version of the real DiscoverLibrary site.
Looking at the responses I got for the test has been really interesting. Take a look at the current DiscoverLibrary site here.
Some of the test subjects said that the first thing they would do would be to click on the big "sign in" call to action in the middle of the page, but not one of them had any idea that they already had an account. Many of the comments said that they would not read the wall of text on the main page. Nobody saw the "Databases by Subject" link, because it does not look like something you would be able to click on.
I am going to work up a prototype this weekend with Photoshop and InVision that will incorporate some of these changes so that the librarians who work on the DiscoverLibrary site can visualize what some of these changes might look like. It would be rewarding for me to be able to make a lasting difference with my practicum so that its users would find the site easier to navigate and use.
Yesterday evening I went over to the library to work on transcribing some of the interviews. There must be a better way to do this out there, because it was extremely time-consuming. I have only gotten three of the seven interviews transcribed, and it has been nearly a week since I conducted the tests! The difficulty is that it's important to have what people say in response to each question as well as a meticulous record of their actions when trying to carry out the scenario (finding an article on the site, for example). However, I'm confident that when everything is transcribed it will be relatively simple to pull good information out of the spreadsheet to see where people had problems on the site, as well as the things that work.
This afternoon I'm doing data entry. I'm trying to copy down the answers to the questions that I asked my study participants as accurately as possible. It's definitely not as glamorous as conducting the usability test, but I'm sure it's going to pay off in the end.
I'm surprised at how many common themes I'm seeing. Some people say that the site looks dated, but many of them say that it looks user-friendly (even if they had trouble navigating the site). Almost everyone says that they just ignore the wall of text in the middle of the page. None of the participants knew that they had an account on the site. There are so many tiny things that can be easily improved, though, that it gives me hope that it was worthwhile conducting the study.
The first round of testing went really well. Yesterday I took a few hours off from work to go to the science library, where one of the librarians was kind enough to let me use her office. My awesome supervisor provided a free sandwich lunch to anyone who would participate in my test, and I ended up with five undergraduate students (1 freshman, two sophomores, and two seniors) and one staff member. I recorded all the sessions in Adobe Captivate so that I could focus on directing the sessions rather than taking notes by hand or on a computer. I'm so glad I learned to use that in school a few semesters ago; it was nice not to have to learn a new piece of software.
I used a script to explain the test to the participants. After that, I moved into the test itself, which consisted of four pre-test questions, three "general impressions" questions, seven task-based scenarios, and four post-test questions. The sessions took from 11-16 minutes to complete. I need to watch the recordings, but I feel like I got a significant amount of feedback about the DiscoverLibrary design. There are definitely a few easy fixes the design team could make that would help students navigate the site more easily.
My next task is to take notes on all the sessions and somehow impose order on the many, many opinions I got during the testing session. I'll put it in some sort of report to present to the librarians at the end of the semester.
Today I need to find someone to run through my usability test with me. I need to figure out roughly how long it will take to administer the test to a typical user. For the test, I'll start by reading instructions from a script, asking some pre-test questions, administering the task-based scenarios, and then asking some post-test questions. I anticipate it taking about ten minutes, but it may take longer.
I might be able to ask some of my colleagues to help me out, but I don't want to take them away from their work. Maybe I will collar someone at lunch!
I'm working on a practicum this spring with Vanderbilt University Libraries. The libraries have adopted a search and discovery tool called DiscoverLibrary, which is powered by Primo. I'm going to get a few things done by May:
- Design and carry out a study on how students, faculty, and staff use DiscoverLibrary
- Create a guide that library staff members can use when they conduct usability tests on library tools in the future
- Tweak the search algorithm in DiscoverLibrary to see how that changes search behavior in the tool (and hopefully improves things for people using the system)
- Present the results of this information to a group of Vanderbilt librarians
Whew! That's a lot of stuff to work on. So far, I have worked on my guide and have all the paperwork ready to go for my usability test, which should happen sometime next week.