How Useable is Your Library Web Site?

When it comes to technology in – and for – the library, web design and the usability of a library’s web site seems to be even more important in these times.  With many people who forgo the “Google” search and head straight to their library to search for relevant information, the question has to be asked – “How useable is our library web site?”  In any setting, more so an academic setting, the usability of the site is very important: one shouldn’t have to perform a search through a convoluted mess of tabs and links to find what they are looking for.  I dabbled with creating websites 15 or so years ago.  It was on a personal level but even so, I still had them set up so that at a glance, you could see what could be found within that site and how to access it.

I located an article through our library’s database (rather quickly, I might add) that addresses the topic of web site design and usability for academic and public libraries.  The article begins by stating what should be obvious – “Library websites need to be easily navigable, including obvious signs that quickly lead the user to the information that they need to find.”*  What I found the most interesting in this article were the results of a usability survey the authors took of 203 libraries, and the availability – or lack of – certain features.

For instance, do users have the ability to pick their language?  29.7% of the public libraries offer this, compared to only 3.0% of the academic libraries surveyed.  I feel that number is too low, especially in an academic setting.  Another statistic that seemed low was related to organization: are similar sections grouped together in an organization hierarchy? Public libraries scored higher (87.0%) compared to the academic libraries (85.3%). 

Overall, the libraries did fare well, but the results of the surveys in this article do point out several things that libraries should look for when designing their web site, and how important it is to have a “useable” website.  When you take into consideration that most users allow about 30 seconds to see if the information they are looking for is available, the library should make certain that users know that they can find it *that* quick.

*The article I referenced in this post is titled “The Website Design and Usability of US Academic and Public Libraries – Findings from a Nationwide Study”, written by Anthony S. Chow, Michelle Bridges, and Patricia Commander.  It was published in the Spring 2014 issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly, and I located it through the EBSCOhost – Library, Science, & Technology Abstracts database.

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