Researching Usability

New Beta British Library Catalogue: Initial Impressions

Posted on: November 9, 2009

It was brought to my attention on Twitter this morning that the British Library (BL) have a new beta catalogue system. This was great timing on my part since I had just blogged about the current system which has been evaluated at part of the project’s usability inspection of selected digital libraries. After taking a quick look at the new beta version, I’ve noted a few first impressions and how it compares to the current version. Feel free to try out the catalogue for yourself before reading my notes, it might help to provide some context.

  • Advanced search is still available but less prominent than before. As BL currently state that 75% of their users are academic researchers (including students), it seems likely that many will want to use the advanced search. Therefore making it easier to find will benefit most target users.
  • Search results are more clearly presented making it easier for users to scan the page. Icons are also used to classify each item into type e.g. audio, book, journal etc. It would appear that a more user centric approach has been taken but providing all results in one place rather than separated into individual catalogues as before. This ensures that the user’s experience remains consistent throughout.
  • Search results can now be refined further using the new faceted navigation on the right hand side. Categories such as author, subject, language, material type can be selected to narrow results and will make it quicker and easier for users to find information.
  • The faceted navigation allows users to remove selected facets individually to widen search (see image). This provides users with complete control over their search, reversing out of an action easily if they change their mind or make a mistake.BL beta
  • The user’s search remains at the top of the results page. Making the search criteria persistent allows users to review the search strings and check for spelling errors. This cuts out any unnecessary time spent by the users re-entering a new search which could be them same or very similar to their original search.
  • Advice and guidance is provided below search results. A section titled ‘Haven’t found what you are looking for?’ is similar to that provided in the current version however the biggest difference is the advice that is provided. Links to external resources including Google Books and subject related websites may be more relevant to users than generic advice and help them complete their task.
  • A personal section titled ‘My Workspace’ is provided. Here users can save items, add tags and review their search history. To obtain full access users are encouraged to login. British Library Reader Pass holders and registered document supply customers can log in but for those who are not pass holders, there is no information on how to obtain a pass or join the library in order to use the features in full. Providing such a link would be useful for new users, especially because it is common for users to register online to use a site’s services.
  • Finally BL have a link to a feedback form which users can use to send their thoughts on the new beta site. This not only lets users feel involved in the  design process but also provides developers with some free unsolicited feedback which can make positive changes to the DL and ultimately create a positive experience for the user.

The new beta interface has many more features which users will like compared to the old version. BL have moved away from individual specialised catalogues towards one comprehensive search engine.  From the users point of view this is a positive development.

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