Researching Usability

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Yesterday I bought a book I had seen on-line which sounded very relevant to the work I’m currently doing. Combining both usability and libraries is something which few books deal with directly so I decided it was worth reading. Now that I have read it I thought it would be worthwhile writing a short review of it for others, I hope its helpful.

User Centred Library Websites, Usability evaluation methods by Carole A. George

User Centred Library WebsitesAs the name suggests, this book provides the reader with methods that can be used to gather feedback from users. It specifically discusses usability evaluation methods and helps the reader to determine which methods to use when to get the best feedback at different stages of the design cycle. Aimed predominantly at inexperienced or amateur usability specialists, it explains everything very simply and even provides a useful glossary at the back of the book. It is also well laid out with information that is easy to digest.  Any reader could expect to get through this book within a day but also dip into relevant sections for more detail as and when they need it.

Each method is discussed under several headings such as ‘What is this?’, ‘How long will it take?’, ‘What do I need?’ as well as advantages and disadvantages. Information is broken down in a way which will be useful to anyone conducting a usability study. I particularly liked the templates provided at the back of the book in addition to examples throughout which ensure that the reader is organised and prepared.  The only thing missing was a list of recommended books for further reading. As the book provides only an overview, if the reader wanted to put a method into practice they might need more detail.

Although a useful resource when choosing a suitable usability method, there were few references to library systems other than a few tailored example questions. In this sense the book is slightly misleading. The usability methods mentioned in the book can be applied to any interface including e-commerce websites or software packages. Instead is has assumed that the reader is likely to be someone responsible for or involved in the analysis of a digital library and has tailored the book to their level of knowledge. As someone who is a usability professional, it did not offer me many new insights. However, it is valuable as a knowledge refresher and can plug any gaps in knowledge. For example, it provided a great formula for measuring task completion rate.

Overall this book is great for anyone with limited knowledge or experience of using different usability methods. It was very easy to read and provided some great templates. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again before conducting my own usability studies.

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