Researching Usability

Usability Inspection of Selected Digital Libraries (Part 1 of 5)

Posted on: October 23, 2009

Now that the report is almost finished it seemed appropriate to share some of the findings from the investigation here for feedback. It is hoped that this will help to draw conclusions from the findings and inform the subsequent usability and evaluation work on library@nesc – the digital library in development in UX2.0. Due to the size of this report, the issues highlighted here will be split into five separate blogs. The theme of each blog will be determined by each digital library (DL). The first library to be discussed is the World Digital Library.

An outline of the methodology used for this inspection can be found in a previous post. Each digital library was evaluated against a set of heuristics developed by Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich. In addition to these heuristics, the International Standardisation Organisation’s (ISO) set of principles from the Ergonomics of human-system interaction section (part 110) were also referenced. A useful outline of these internationally recognised principles is provided by User Focus.

World Digital Library Background

The World Digital Library (WDL) is a collaboration between the Library of Congress, UNESCO and the national libraries of 32 countries. It is offered in seven languages and provides details of rare books, maps, film clips and recordings for free. Its objective is to “promote international understanding, to expand non-English and non-western content online, as well as to contribute to research and education.”

Findings

What strikes you about WDL is the unconventional approach to search which allows users to not only search but also browse information. The home page has a world map and a time-line which are both interactive. Users can manipulate the time-line using sliders and select a thumbnail image from the map to open a carousel of images. This system is an engaging way for users to browse the library and is particularly useful to those without specific search criteria. One issue which was discovered using this system is outlined below:

  • WDLLinks within the map behave unexpectedly. If a user selects the number of items in the map they are directed to a new page of results. However, if the user selects the thumbnail image (as shown in image right), a carousel opens on top of the world map. It is not clear why links which provide the same information behave differently and there is nothing to indicate to users before selecting a link what will happen. This conflicts with Heuristic 4 (consistency and standards) within Nielsen’s set of heuristics and the ISO principles that ask ‘Does the dialogue support learning?’ and ‘Is the dialogue consistent?’

WDL have been creative in providing new ways for users to search information but what about traditional search? WDL does have a simple search form which is persistent throughout the site. Many users expect to find a search form in a digital library (or any website for that matter); therefore it is good that they have included it. However, heuristics used to evaluate WDL’s search revealed a couple of issues and are described below:

  • No advanced search. Although a basic search form is provided, a link to an advanced version is not present. The absence of an advanced search may be determined by those who use the DL. If WDL found that their core users do not use an advanced search then its presence is not important. It is plausible that users could prefer to use tools such as the map and time-line as opposed to search. However, generally an advanced search should be provided and clearly labelled to cater for all types of users. This is consistent with Nielsen’s Heuristic 7 which states that ‘Accelerators – unseen by the novice user – may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. It is also covered by an ISO standard which recommends that the dialogue is suitable for the user’s task and skill level.
  • No help provided to users when no search results are returned. A search that returns no results is commonplace in a DL which is still growing its catalogue. It is therefore important that help is given to users to allow them to successfully complete their task. Providing a list of tips that allow users to construct a more successful search is one solution. In addition, search engines which can suggests an alternative spelling of words is also very useful. Other DL’s evaluated in the report provided good examples of help when no results are returned. SCRAN for example provides links to more detailed resources on searching that provide users with some useful lessons. Heuristic 9 details this issue and requests that messages suggest a constructive solution (help users recognise, diagnose and recover from errors). The ISO standard requests that dialogues support learning and provide a forgiving dialogue reinforce this issue.

WDL 2When search results are provided, results are presented in a gallery format by default. Users have the option to switch to a more traditional list view if they wish (image above). Providing icons that are supported with text are recommended because they ensure that users understand unfamiliar graphics. This is something which WDL does successfully and fulfils Heuristic 6 which requests that options should minimise a user’s memory load and promote recognition rather than recall. It is also covered by the ISO standard which states that the dialogue should make clear what the users should do next. This system also gives users the power to customise the display of results to suit their needs and this satisfies Heuristic 3: ‘User control and freedom’.  One issue was identified regarding the display of search results which WDL should be aware of:

  • The hierarchy of search results should be clearly indicated. When a user is searching results using Gallery View, it is not clear how the results are organised. As the results are displayed horizontally as well as vertically, users may be unsure which items are most relevant. Feedback should be provided to make it clear how results are organised i.e. relevance, alphabetical, date etc. The British Library provides a good example (pictured below) of such feedback. Being aware of this issue will ensure that Heuristic 1: ‘Visibility of system status’, and ISO standard: ‘Dialogue conforms to user expectations (consistency)’ is maintained.BL

Finally many of the DL’s evaluated in the report did not adequately provide internal navigation for users between search results and item information. If a user selects an item for more detailed information there is no clear way of navigating back to the search results. As a result, users are forced to rely on the browser to navigate the site. This does not meet the guidelines of Heuristic 3: User control and freedom, which recommends that an undo and redo is provided for users. This is also the case for ISO standards which recommend controllability and self-descriptiveness.

UX2.0 is very interested in feedback on the research conducted to date. If you have a comment or question, please feel free to use the form below. The next blog will cover some of the findings from the evaluation of Europeana.

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3 Responses to "Usability Inspection of Selected Digital Libraries (Part 1 of 5)"

[…] Usability Inspection of Selected Digital Libraries (Part 1 of 5) « Researching Usability lorrainepaterson.wordpress.com/2009/10/23/heuristic-evalulation-of-selected-digital-libraries-part-1-of-5 – view page – cached Now that the report is almost finished it seemed appropriate to share some of the findings from the investigation here for feedback. It is hoped that this will help to draw conclusions from the… (Read more)Now that the report is almost finished it seemed appropriate to share some of the findings from the investigation here for feedback. It is hoped that this will help to draw conclusions from the findings and inform the subsequent usability and evaluation work on library@nesc – the digital library in development in UX2.0. Due to the size of this report, the issues highlighted here will be split into five separate blogs. The theme of each blog will be determined by each digital library (DL). The first library to be discussed is the World Digital Library. (Read less) — From the page […]

Insightful review. Particularly drawn to the ways in which WDL facilitates a persistent ‘world’ view during browsing and the use of carousel and map. Maintaining a consistent discovery context is fast becoming a crucial theme in enhancing the experience of DL users.

DLs need to get aware of the interface. Well, they’re all talking about open access as if it is just a matter of legal issues. As a matter of fact many digital libraries are not accessible at all from the human interface point of view. Keep on!

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