Usability Testing in Libraries

October 28, 2008

A group in our library has been reading Steve Krugs Dont Make Me Think over the past few weeks. It is an excellent resource for anyone considering building or redesigning a website. Anyhow, we just got through discussing the chapters on usability testing. I think that we really feel that usability testing is important.  I know that we really, truly, want to find out what our users think about our website and our services.  However, I also hear among the hallways of our library and in other library discussions, phrases like this: “ Why do we have to do what our users think? We are the professionals. We know what they need.” Sometimes I also hear conversations like this:

Usability tester: “This is what our users are asking for.”

Librarian: “Well, that may be what you found out, but I still won’t do it.”

So I posed a question at our meeting “How do we deal with sort of stigma in our libraries?” The ideas offered were very useful:

  1. We could invite individuals who are skeptical to attend some of the testing.  Let them see what our users really do with the website and how they’re really conducting research.
  2. We could record the usability testing and having them freely available on the library intranet. Librarians would be able to see for themselves on their own time what users do with our site.
  3. We could also show some usability recordings at a library-wide meeting and discuss as a group implications.

One of my colleagues mentioned that this really is a philosophical issue in our field in general. I agree. As professionals, do we really no more than our users? In many cases these users are have more experience in their particular field and we do. How do we get away from feeling like we as professionals are the experts and that all others must use our methods? Have we get away from the negative feeling that students and young users don’t do “proper” research and “lazy?” If we do a usability test shouldn’t we be listening to what our users say? Yes, even if that means taking a resource off the main library page and putting it on a subpage?