Researching Usability

Archive for the ‘Mobile’ Category

I’m very pleased to announce that the article written for Library Hi Tech based on research conducted earlier this year is now available. For more information and to read the article in full follow the link below. You will need to be logged in to read the full text.

http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1949248&ini=aob&.

– Library Hi Tech, Vol. 29 Iss: 3, pp412- 423

Introduction

Following on from the usability testing of the desktop prototype digital library, we conducted more user research on the mobile prototype. The prototype is similar to the full version but with some services removed to create a simpler interface. The facet navigation situated in the right column is now provided within a ‘Refine’ link. The ability to bookmark items is also available. As before, the prototype is based on an open source ruby-on rails discovery interface, Blacklight which has been further developed throughout the project. The prototype indexes the catalogues provided by the National e-Science Centre at The University of Edinburgh (NeSC) and CERN – The European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

The data capture and test methods are detailed here alongside the main findings.

Method

On the 10th and 11th March 2011, usability testing was conducted on the UX2 mobile optimised digital library prototype with six selected students from the University of Edinburgh (UoE).  Each test was carried out as a one-to-one session and comprised an explanation of the research, undertaking task-based scenarios followed by a short post-test interview and word-choice questionnaire. A full description of the prototype and the changes made to the desktop version to optimise it for mobile devices will be documented shortly on the associate project blog, Enhancing User Interactions in Digital Libraries.

View of mobile device from webcam setup

Six participants were recruited from the same list which was originally compiled for the focus group recruitment in January. Only those who owned an iPhone were invited to take part as this was the platform the prototype had been optimised for. Each participant was given a £10 Amazon voucher as payment for their time. Each session lasted between 50 and 65 minutes. A few additional statistics on the participant’s profiles are provided below:

  • All 6 participants owned an Apple device (iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or iPod touch)
  • 3 participants had attended our focus group in January, 3 had not
  • 4 participants were undergraduates, 2 were postgraduates
  • 50:50 male to female ratio
  • All were on a pay monthly contract for their mobile phone device

Complete setup with webcam positioned on perspex above phone. Also the additional webcam to capture body language.

To record the testing we used a similar set up to that suggested by Harry Brignull on his blog. It was fairly low-cost (approx £80 excluding Morae software) and required two webcams, a small piece of perspex (approx 35cm x 10cm), testing software (we used Morae v3 as it allowed us to capture from 2 webcams), cheap plastic mobile phone cases for each type of handset being tested (two in this case) and velcro to attach them to the perspex. It was very easy to mould the perspex to shape by heating it gently above something readily available, a toaster! The Logitech C905 webcam we used had a great advanced settings which allowed us to mirror and flip the image, making it easy to decipher what was going on (see image). Overall the setup worked well as it was lightweight and relatively unobtrusive. The camera was positioned in the best place at all times and this allowed us to see exactly what was going on as well as record participant’s interactions and body language using a second webcam.

Task scenarios

The scenarios used were adapted from those used for the desktop usability tests. They were designed to test a variety of the prototype’s features. The main focus was the facet navigation system (Refine link), the presentation of information in the item detail page and the bookmarking service:

  1. As part of your coursework your lecturer has asked you to read a recent presentation on fusion. Using the prototype can you find a suitable presentation published in the last 2-3 years.
  2. You have to write an essay on quantum mechanics, can you use the prototype to find several resources which will help you get started? If you wanted to save these items to refer to later when you’re at a computer, how would you do this?
  3. You are looking for a paper on Grid Computing to read on the bus. Can you use the prototype to find a suitable digital resource?
  4. You are looking for a presentation given by Harald Bath at the EGEE summer school; can you find the video or audio presentation to watch at the gym?

Word Choice Results

The aim of the word choice exercise was to elicit an overall impression of the participant’s experience using the prototype. The word choice exercise presented participants with a list of 97 adjectives (both positive and negative) at the end of the session and asked them to pick those they felt were descriptive of the prototype

Word cloud results

Each of the words shown in image above represents a word that was ticked at least once. The larger and darker the word is, the more often it was ticked by participants.

The most prominent words were all positive: Accessible, Straightforward, Easy to use, Clean and Useful. These words were chosen by 5 of the 6 participants surveyed. Other positive words include Clear, Convenient, Effective, Efficient, Flexible, Relevant and Usable. Some of these words are a particularly interesting as they could directly relate to the ability to access the service anywhere using a mobile device.

Some of the negative words selected include: Simplistic (could also be positive), Ordinary, Ambiguous, Inadequate, Ineffective, Old and Confusing. However some of these words were used by a minority of participants and were therefore not as visible. The words are not all that surprising considering the mobile website is a prototype with fewer services than the desktop version.

Findings

Finding Information (Navigation and refine)

Some students noticed that there was no universal ‘Home’ link throughout the site. Students felt that a shortcut back to the home page would be a good idea, despite the fact that the search field was present on the results page. This suggests a desire from students to be able to skip pages instead of navigating back through pages one at a time.

NCSU Mobile search form

Many of the students stated a need to have an advanced search facility. Often students were looking for either an Advanced search link near the search field or a drop-down menu where they could specify details such as Author, Title, Subject/Keyword. As this is a feature they encounter in other search services, they still expect to have access to it on a mobile device. An example of a mobile library site providing such a service is North Carolina State University (see image).

The desire for an advanced search was  problematic for users who did not see the ‘Refine’ link at the top of the page. Those users struggled to complete tasks and consequently their experience of the prototype was affected. Failing to use the Refine service made using the prototype much more difficult. This was demonstrated when students were asked to search for items from a specific year (task 1). Students had no way of knowing if they had searched through every relevant result without looking at every page of results. This finding suggests that it is imperative that a solution to the Refine service be provided. When the Refine link was pointed out to students they stated that they did not see the link due to its location at the top of the screen or did not fully understand its label. These students were searching for an ‘Advanced’ label located close to the search form and search results.

Those students who did use the refine service wanted to filter by more than one item at a time. This was particularly evident in task 1 when students were searching for presentations published in the last 2-3 years. Students found it quite laborious to select one year at a time to review the results. They wanted to be able to search a period of time, either the last 5 years or set the search terms themselves (possibly using a form or sliders). This finding was also revealed during the desktop prototype testing. It demonstrates that this is an important criteria for students to make searching easier and remains so when using the service on a mobile device.

The refine service itself was generally well received when used. The facets provided were considered useful to students and listed in a logical order of importance. One student realised that the items listed in the year facet was not necessarily the last ten years, rather the top ten results. This caused some confusion as first and could affect the success of student’s tasks. In addition, students found using the refine service laborious at times with unnecessary steps involved which could prove troublesome on a mobile device. An idea of the task flow is provided below to outline the steps involved in a typical task using the refine service:

Select ‘Refine’ > Select ‘2010’ from Year facet > [view results] > Go back to ‘Refine’ > Remove 2010 > [view results] > Go back to ‘Refine’ > Select ‘2009’…

or

Select ‘Refine’ > Select ‘2010’ >[view results] > Remove 2010 from results page > [view results] > Go back to ‘Refine’ > Select ‘2009’…

Note: actions in square brackets happen automatically in the process.

Several students used the first system to remove facets perhaps because they did not notice the option to do this on the results page. Consequently, the additional number of steps involved appeared to affect the user’s experience. This was also one of the reasons that students wanted to be able to select a range of dates at once instead of going backwards and forwards within the refine service. One student suggested a tick box option where they could select all the items within each facet they wanted to use to narrow their results at once.

Saving Information (Bookmarking service)

When students were asked to save information to refer to later as part of task 2, some used the bookmarking service. Those who did found it relatively easy to bookmark an item and retrieve it afterwards. The feedback seemed to suggest that it was clear when an item had been saved and the folder icon at the top of the screen was clearly visible. However, there seems to be a bug when a user tries to bookmark an item before logging in. Upon selecting the ‘Bookmark this’ link and completing the login form, users are taken to their bookmarks page without the item listed. The user has to go back to the results page and attempt the action again for it to be successful. In addition, although users could see the number of items bookmarked next to the folder icon, it might be more difficult to spot under different lighting conditions. The white text on pale green background makes less likely to stand out.

There was also a desire for additional features within the bookmarking service which would make it a more effective tool. Additional information on each item including author, date, location and most importantly, shelfmark, would make it easier for users to distinguish items with the same title and locate a number of saved items in the library quickly. Students also wanted to be able to categorise bookmarks into sections, similar to the folder system in a browser’s bookmarking service. Being able to export bookmarks by emailing them to an address was also considered a useful feature to provide.

Although the usability of the bookmarking service was considered to be good, the usefulness was not apparent to every student. Many students have their own system in place for recording items of interest in the library. Writing details down on paper, copy & pasting text to a separate document or simply minimising the browser to open again at the relevant moment. The Safari browser on iPhones allow users to have several windows open at once and automatically saves the state of all windows when it is closed. One participant in particular used this system to park information in order to retrieve it when required. Consequently they did not envisage themself using the bookmarking system. It is interesting to note that of those students who participated in the study, none of them stated that they used the existing bookmarking system available in the University’s own library website called ‘My List (Bookbag)’ .

Reviewing Information

Although the UX2 library is a prototype, students felt that the level of information provided on each item was for the most part adequate. Being able to view documents was often expected by students but was not always possible. One student questioned whether everyone would be able to preview documents if they did not have a Google account as this is requested upon selecting the electronic document. This could be problematic, especially because feedback from the focus groups indicated averseness to downloading files to mobile devices due to limited data storage.

In addition to previewing documents, links to information sources under the heading ‘Links, Files’ was not easily understood by students. The links were not easy to identify because they are not presented as conventional blue, underlined text. The long URLs and small text size also made it difficult for students to guess where the links might lead. In many situations, the links did not meet user expectations. Students would select a link expecting it to lead them to the full text item when instead it went to an external website. Students wanted to be warned when links lead to an external (and often not optimised for mobile) website. Although this was an issue during the desktop usability tests, it became even more apparent among students using the prototype on a smaller screen.

Something which was requested by students not only during the usability tests but also in the focus groups was the ability to easily access a map of libraries. Having such information would make it much easier to locate books, particularly when students are not familiar with the particular library. Students felt a link to such a map could be provided on the item information page and located under the library holding data to make it easy to access. There was also a desire to provide a simple system which informs students when an item is available or on loan. A colour coding system or simple icon was suggested which could be displayed in the results page next to each item – green for available, red for on loan. A library which has gone some way to address this need is NCSU. They provide users with the opportunity to filter out items which are not available (see earlier image).

Post test interview

Overall students felt that the prototype was fairly effective in helping them find information. Those who did not see the ‘Refine’ link naturally believed it could have been clearer. Another student stated that quality of results was sometimes an issue, suggesting the need for improvement. The timeliness of resources was often dependent on the subject students were studying. Subjects where research tends to move quickly, such as technology, recent publications are much more important. Students were asked to state which two things which they particularly liked about the prototype. Their answers are listed below:

  • Refine page (2)
  • Item information page
  • Level of information provided – not overloaded
  • Font style is modern
  • Minimalist and contemporary design (2)
  • Simple search
  • Bookmarking system (2)
  • Being able to filter results by type e.g. book, presentation

Some things that students believed could be improved:

  • Refine search – visibility and task flow
  • Design, particularly the home page – no logo, name or clear description of purpose (2)
  • Provide a link to home page throughout the site (2)
  • Provide search options next to search form
  • Improve the date range of the Date facet
  • Tips to guide you through the website
  • Visibility and source of links on item page
  • Provide an additional option to search/narrow results by library

Conclusion

Observation of the usability tests showed that participants coped well undertaking tasks using a smaller screen. The biggest issue was the visibility of the refine page which contained the facet navigation service. When participants were not aware of this option, their experience of using the prototype was severely compromised. Those who did use the refine service were able to complete tasks more efficiently but did find the number of steps involved to do so unnecessary. This suggests further work is required on the implementation of a facet navigation service to improve its usefulness and usability. Although some of the students appreciated the minimalist nature of the prototype, there was still desire to undertake more than just simple searches. The bookmarking service was on the whole well received and was considered useful with the addition of a few more features. However, the uptake of such a service is still unknown as students often had existing bookmarking systems in place.

Last week UX2 were fortunate to be invited back to present at the Scottish UPA’s regular meeting. Having introduced our project and the work we were doing at an event last year, this was a great opportunity to provide an update on the work which has taken place over the last 12 months while also share our latest research findings on mobile library services. The slides from the night are now available on Slideshare and have also been provided below. As the project winds up it was great to be able to highlight our work to other usability professionals. We were pleased to find out that researchers at Napier University Library were also in attendance. We hope the presentation was helpful and informative to them and everyone else who gave up their evening to attend.

As the project embarks on usability testing using mobile devices, it was important to evaluate mobile specific research methods and understand the important differences between desktop usability testing and that of mobile devices. The most important difference to be aware of when designing and testing mobile devices is that it IS different to traditional testing on desktop computers. Additional differences are provided below:

  • You may spend hours seated in front of the same computer, but mobile context is ever-changing. This impacts (amongst other things) the users’ locations, their attention, their access to stable connectivity, and the orientation of their devices.
  • Desktop computers are ideal for consumption of lengthy content and completion of complex interactions. Mobile interactions and content should be simple, focused, and should (where possible) take advantage of unique and useful device capabilities.
  • Mobile devices are personal, often carrying a wealth of photos, private data, and treasured memories. This creates unique opportunities, but privacy is also a real concern.
  • There are many mobile platforms, each with its own patterns and constraints. The more you understand each platform, the better you can design for it.
  • And then there are tablets. As you may have noticed, they’re larger than your average mobile device. We’re also told they’re ideal for reading.
  • The desktop is about broadband, big displays, full attention, a mouse, keyboard and comfortable seating. Mobile is about poor connections, small screens, one-handed use, glancing, interruptions, and (lately), touch screens.

~ It’s About People Not Devices by Stephanie Rieger and Bryan Rieger (UX Booth, 8th February 2011)

Field or Laboratory Testing?

As our interaction with mobile devices happens in a different way to desktop computers, it seems a logical conclusion that the context of use is important in order to observe realistic behaviour. Brian Fling states in his book that you should “go to the user, don’t have them come to you” (Fling, 2009). However, testing users in the field has its own problems, especially when trying to record everything going on during tests (facial expressions, screen capture and hand movements). Carrying out contextual enquiries using diary studies are beneficial, they also have drawbacks as they rely on the participant to provide an accurate account of their behaviour which is typically not always easy to achieve, even with the best intentions. Carrying out research in a coffee shop for example provides the real-world environment which maximizes external validity (Demetrius Madrigal & Bryan McClain, Usability for Mobile Devices). However, for those who field studies are impractical for one reason or another, simulating a real-world environment within a testing lab has been adopted. Researchers believe they can also help to provide external validity which traditional lab testing cannot (Madrigal & McClain, 2011). In the past researchers have attempted a variety of techniques to do this and are listed below:

participant on a treadmill

Image from Kjeldskov & Stage (2004)

  • Playing music or videos in the background while a participant carries out tasks
  • Periodically inserting people into the test environment to interact with the participant, acting as a temporary distraction
  • Distraction tasks including asking participants to stop what they are doing, perform a prescribed task and then return to what they’re doing (e.g. Whenever you hear the bell ring, stop what you are doing and write down what time it is in this notebook.) (Madrigal & McClain, 2010)
  • Having participants walk on a treadmill while carrying out tasks (continuous speed and varying speed)
  • Having participants walk at a continuous speed on a course that is constantly changing (such as a hallway with fixed obstructions)
  • Having participants walk at varying speeds on a course that is constantly changing (Kjeldskov & Stage, 2003)

Although realism and context of use would appear important to the validity of research findings, previous research has refuted this assumption. Comparing the usability findings of a field test and a realistic laboratory test (where the lab was set up to recreate a realistic setting such a hospital ward) found that there was little added value in taking the evaluation into a field condition (Kjeldskov et al., 2004). The research revealed that lab participants on average experienced 18.8% usability problems compared to field participants who experienced 11.8%. In addition to this, 65 man-hours were spent on the field evaluation compared to 34 man-hours for the lab evaluation, almost half the time.

Subsequent research has provided additional evidence to suggest that lab environments are as effective in uncovering usability issues (Kaikkonen et al., 2005). In this study, researchers did not attempt to recreate a realistic mobile environment, instead comparing their field study with a traditional usability test laboratory set-up. They found that the same issues were found in both environments. Laboratory tests found more cosmetic or low-priority issues than in the field and the frequency of findings in general varied (Kjeldskov & Stage, 2004). The research did find benefits or conducting a mobile evaluation in the field.  It was able to inadvertently evaluate the difficulty of tasks by observing participant behaviour; participants would stop, often look for a quieter spot and ignore outside distractions in order to complete the task. This is something that would be much more difficult to capture in a laboratory setting. The research also found that the field study provided a more relaxed setting which influenced how much verbal feedback the participant provided, however this is refuted by other studies which found the opposite to be true (Kjeldskov & Stage, 2004).

Both studies concluded that the laboratory tests provided sufficient information to improve the user experience, in one case without trying to recreate a realistic environment. Both found field studies to be more time-consuming. Unsurprisingly this also means the field studies are more expensive and require more resources to carry out. It’s fair to say that running a mobile test in the lab will provide results similar to running the evaluation in the field. If time, money and/or access to equipment is an issue it certainly won’t be a limitation to test in a lab or empty room with appropriate recording equipment. Many user experience practitioners will agree that any testing is always better than none at all. However, there will always be exceptions where field testing will be more appropriate. For example, if a geo-based mobile application is being evaluated this will be easier to do in the field than in the laboratory.

Capturing data

Deciding how to capture data is something UX2 is currently thinking about. Finding the best way to capture all relevant information is trickier on mobile devices than desktop computers. Various strategies have been adopted by researchers, a popular one being the use of a sled which the participant can hold comfortably and have a camera positioned above to capture the screen. In addition to this it is possible to capture the mobile screen using specialised software specific to each platform (http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/09/usability-for-mobile-devices.php). If you are lucky enough to have access to Morae usability recording software, they have a specific setting for testing mobile devices which allows you to record from two cameras simultaneously; one to capture the mobile device and the other to capture body language. Other configurations include a lamp-cam which clips to a table with the camera positioned in front of the light. This set-up does not cater for an additional camera to capture body language and would require a separate camera set up on a tripod. A more expensive solution is the ELMO-cam, specifically their document camera, which is stationary and requires the mobile device to remain static on the table.  This piece of kit is more likely to be found in specialised research laboratories which can be hired for the purpose of testing.

lamp-cam configurations

Lamp-cam, image courtesy of Barbara Ballard

Conclusion

Based on the findings from previous research, the limitations of the project and its current mobile service development stage, it seems appropriate for the UX2 project to conduct initial mobile testing in a laboratory. Adapting a meeting room with additional cameras and using participant’s own mobile device (where a specific device is recruited) will provide the best solution and uncover as many usability issues than if it took place in the field. A subsequent blog will provide more details of our own test methods with reflections on its success.

References

Fling, B., (2009). Mobile Design and Development, O’Reilly, Sebastopol, CA, USA.

Kaikkonen, A., Kallio, T., Kekäläinen, A., Kankainen, A and Cankar, M. (2005) Usability Testing of Mobile Applications: A Comparison between Laboratory and Field Testing, Journal of Usability Studies, Issue 1 Vol 1.

Kjeldskov, J., Stage, J. (2004). New techniques for usability evaluation of mobile systems, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Issue 60.

Kjeldskov, J., Skov, M.B., Als, B.S. and Høegh, R.T. (2004). Is It Worth the Hassle? Exploring the Added Value of Evaluating the Usability of Context-Aware Mobile Systems in the Field, in Proceedings of the 5th International Mobile HCI 2004 Conference, Udine, Italy, Sringer-Verlag.

Roto, V., Oulasvirta, A., Haikarainen, T., Kuorelahti, J., Lehmuskallio, H. and Nyyssönen, T. (2004) Examining Mobile Phone Use in the Wild with Quasi-Experimentation, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology Technical Report.

Tamminen, S., Oulasvirta, A., Toiskallio, K., Kankainen, A. (2004). Understanding mobile contexts. Special issue of Journal of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, Issue 8

While researching mobile library services, I’ve read a few research papers produced by other projects recently. Doing so has provided some guidance on our own research techniques and allow me to make comparisons with our own findings. One very comprehensive project in particular has proved quite informative: The California Digital Library Mobile Device User Research Project conducted a range of thorough research on the mobile strategy for their institution. Their Mobile Strategy Report includes details of surveys and interviews which they carried out earlier this year. The findings were used to detail barriers to mobile use and make recommendations when designing for mobile devices. I’ve decided to present some of their findings as I have found many similarities to our own findings. The design recommendations are also useful as they apply to all higher education institutions who may be thinking about developing mobile services. I do recommend you read the full report if you are interested in this area of research and design.

Designing Native Applications and Mobile Websites

There is a lot of debate on whether to design for native applications or provide a mobile website. As native applications are designed for a particular platform they work on a limited number of handsets. It also means that you may have to design a native applications for each platform separately which could be three or more if required. However, a mobile website is accessible to more mobile users as users are not required to download anything before use and you don’t need the approval of an app store like iTunes before it is available. California Digital Library (CDL) research indicates that a mobile website is currently the best option. Perhaps the website should be prioritized first and then development for a native application can follow. The report points to the book by Brian Fling, Mobile Device Design and Development which provides guidelines on the circumstances when a native application is the best route:

  • Charging for it
  • Creating a game
  • Using specific locations (though some devices are able to detect location through browser applications)
  • Using cameras
  • Using accelerometers (to detect motion or rotation)
  • Accessing file systems
  • Offline users

Research findings and recommendations:

Smartphone ownership: “Smartphone ownership will likely increase over the next couple of years.” – the findings from the surveys conducted at University of Edinburgh in March and November this year support this conclusion as they have shown an increase in smartphone ownership by 17% to 67%.

Activities on mobile devices with internet: “They are used less for academic purposes and are also not used often for uploading content.” – this is also supported by our own survey findings which revealed a similar story. Top activities on internet capable mobile devices included finding information such as directions or opening hours, email and text messaging, reading news articles and blogs but not academic content, social networking and video & music consumption.

Library resources for research on internet enabled mobile devices: “Most interviewees did not want to do actual academic research on their mobile devices. Despite this there was still interest in having the option to access library databases, catalogues and resources from mobile devices.” A great metaphor is referenced in the report which describes Internet consumption on mobile devices very well:

Desktop internet is like scuba diving, where the search can be “immersive” and “invites exploration and discovery.” Mobile internet use is closer to snorkeling, where”shallow dipping in and dipping out of content for quick checking of key content is desired.

(Hinman et al., 2008)

– Again this supports our findings which showed that half of respondents had not accessed any library services using their mobile devices.

CDL Recommendations:

  • Keep in mind that ownership of internet capable mobile devices may not translate to high usage of academic mobile tools.
  • Gear mobile sites and apps towards the mobile user who is looking for quick pieces of information (no complicated tasks).
  • Make library websites, databases and catalogues available on mobile devices, but do not provide all the functionality of desktop versions.
  • Provide easy methods to transfer research and resources to other devices, such as by email.

Reaching your mobile audience: Something that was not directly surveyed at UoE, California Digital Library found that 60% of students ranked fellow students as the most likely sources for finding out about new tools and services. Consequently spreading the word about new tools and services can be difficult. This is something for UX2 and UoE to be aware of when designing mobile library services.

CDL Recommendations:

  • Auto-detect mobile devices and automatically display mobile version of a site (though always provide obvious links back to the full version of the site).
  • Create mobile websites rather than apps whenever possible so that users do not  need to download software in advance of using it.
  • Advertise through a variety of channels, including campus or departmental emails, campus websites, library websites, and blogs.

Overall CDL design recommendations:

  • Set up testing practices and environments for the most heavily used device platforms (Apple iOS,  RIM Blackberry OS, and Android OS). Test with physical devices where possible rather than emulation environments.
  • Support mobile web access as opposed to building standalone mobile applications.
  • Adopt and maintain web analytical tools to accurate mobile device tracking and usage statistics for online services.
  • Continue to survey constituents and end-users annually or bi-annually to capture rapidly changing behaviours.

The recommendations provided are based on the research findings and are therefore very useful. Evidence supporting the creation of a mobile website first is something which we hope to explore in the focus group next year. As other platforms follow Apple’s example and provide native applications, it will be interesting to see how user behaviour and attitudes change. Web analytics are also important as forward planning can help to monitor the success of mobile library services and identify when further advertising is required. Again this is something that will be explored during the development and implementation of mobile library services within the UX2 project.

In November we ran a survey to all students at the university to investigate mobile demographics among students, Internet habits and attitudes towards mobile library services. The survey ran for two weeks and in that time 1,716 students responded. This was helped by an incentive prize draw of £50 Amazon vouchers – very attractive at this time of year.

In addition to demographic data and data on student’s mobile device, students were also asked about their mobile Internet habits and specifically their exposure to mobile university and library services. Finally they were asked which of the proposed mobile library services they would find most useful. The survey was loosely based on the research conducted by Information Services (IS) in March 2010 on mobile university services. Doing so allowed some comparisons to be made while also investigating mobile library services in-depth. Findings from the IS Survey can be found here: http://www.projects.ed.ac.uk/areas/itservices/integrated/ITS045/Other_documents/MobileSurvey2010.shtml.

The survey is part of the wider research within the UX2.0 project and relates to Objective 3 (deliverable 5.3) which is to evaluate the user experience in specific contexts involving real user communities. The quantitative data gathered from the survey will be supplemented by the focus group planned at the start of next year. The findings from the survey will help to shape the direction of the focus group which in turn will hopefully support the findings from the survey. Check back for a report on the focus group in the near future.

Some of the headline findings are provided below. The full report can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/ux2mobilesurvey.

  • 66.5% of students surveyed own a smartphone. This is an increase of 17.3% from the IS survey in March 2010.
  • Apple iPhones accounted for 21.9% of smart handsets, followed closely by Nokia at 20% and Samsung at 15.3%.
  • 68% of students have pay monthly contracts.
  • 74% students have either a contract that provides unlimited access to the Internet or provides sufficient access to meet their needs.
  • Services which students access online most frequently (several times a day or daily) are websites in general, email and social networks.
  • Activities which students are least likely to carry out on their mobile handsets regularly included downloading content and uploading images to photo sharing networks.
  • The biggest frustrations students experience using the Internet on mobile handsets included slow or limited Internet connection speeds, poorly designed mobile websites or websites without a mobile compatible website and the limitations of using a small screen with small buttons.
  • The highest proportion of students surveyed stated that they had not tried to access library services using their mobile device.
  • The top 3 potential University library services which students would find most useful would be:
    • Search library catalogue
    • Reserve items on loan
    • View your library record – see your charges summary and which books are reserved, requested, booked and loan

It was interesting to find that over half of students surveyed had not tried to access library services on their mobile device. It does seem that students use their mobile for other University services such as student email, the MyEd student portal and Web CT as well as other general university information such as shuttle bus timetables. Perhaps a mobile optimised library website with useful and easy accessible information would encourage students to use library services on the move more often. That coupled with effective communication that these services exist for mobile devices.

Students do seem open to the idea of mobile library services being useful, with the most useful being access to library records, the ability to search the library catalogue and databases, reserve items on loan and locate a shelf mark. However, the usefulness is dependent on the implementation of such services as many students reported that websites not optimised for smaller screens can be very difficult to use.

Limitations of smaller screen:

“It is slower than a computer and the screen is too small for a full-sized website. The library should have a special mobile website which does not take long to load and is easy to navigate on a small screen.”

Implementation of mobile websites:

“Websites should be tailored in order to be suitable for rendering on small screens. Endless scrolling makes for bad usability.”

Percentage of students who rate each library mobile service as “Very useful” or “Generally useful”

Rank % Library Service
1. 93 View your library record – see your charges summary and which books are reserved, requested, booked and loaned
2. 92.5 Search library catalogue
3. 90 Reserve items on loan
4. 89 Search library databases
5. 87 Locate a shelf mark
6. 84.5 Check PC availability in library
7. 82 Request an item through inter-library loan
8. 71 View maps of libraries
9. 67 Receive alerts relating to library information or services etc.
10. 64 Library Maps & Locations using GPS – find your way around University libraries
11. 58 Library statistics i.e. top books in different categories and popular searches
12. 55 Friend Locator – see where friends are in the library and contact them to meet up
13. 54 Read reviews others have left on items in the library
14. 52 Share items that you’ve found and/or read in the library that you think others will find useful
15. 49 Rate and review items from the library

In order to get a picture of the mobile library landscape, the mobile offering from a variety of academic institutions has been investigated. The aim of this is to understand what institutional libraries are currently doing to provide mobile services and identifying those services which The University of Edinburgh could benefit from.

North Carolina State University

NCSU have created a mobile library website which looks similar to a mobile application. The design is very similar to smart phone interfaces and this gives the website a modern look. Services which the library provide in addition to the catalogue include room booking, an instant messaging chat system with librarians and PC availability. Interestingly they also provide more unconventional services such as group finder and live webcam feeds. The group finder section helps users locate study groups in the library and the live webcams make it possible from users to monitor locations of the library remotely, including the cafe. It has been reported that the webcams generated over a third of mobile page views in the first 8 weeks that the mobile services were introduced suggesting that the webcams can be very useful to users (Meier, 2010).

Amsterdam University Library

Driek Heesakkers recently presented the case study of Amsterdam’s mobile library strategy during CILIP’s Executive briefing day, Becoming Upwardly Mobile – can libraries rise to the challenge? Amsterdam University Library‘s short-term mobile strategy resulted in a mobile web presence from a budget of €1500. This interim mobile library website provides a number of services including access to the OPAC, a simple search interface, a link to the library’s social networking page on Twitter, information on library opening hours, location, contact details and PC availability throughout the library. In addition to these basic services, the catalogue provides a simplified advanced search feature with a drop-down menu and access to the user’s library account. The interface of the search is simple with basic information in search results.

Huddersfield University and University of Bath

Huddersfield University have taken another approach to providing services on mobile devices. Using QR codes in and around their library they are able to provide links to digital information. This includes digital copies of print journals, links to mobile friendly videos and other useful digital resources. The QR codes appear at the end of book shelves, signage and on printed hand-outs. They even provide a QR code with a video on using the print credit machine (see image below). Although this technology may not be well-known among students it does have the potential to bring useful resources to students through their mobiles. As smartphones become more common place, the barrier to this technology is likely to be significantly lowered.

The University of Bath have also been using QR codes in their library. Their project explores the idea of using QR codes to help users locate items more easily by launching a map of the library on user’s mobiles. They also carried out a cross-institutional study which revealed that students are becoming more aware of QR codes and find the idea of using QR codes very appealing.

Image credit: Andrew Walsh, University of Huddersfield

Cambridge University

Cambridge University is one of the other UK university’s mentioned on M-Libraries wiki that have developed a mobile friendly site of their digital library. The mobile site focusses on allowing users to search the catalogue and access their account on the move. Notably they also highlight the benefits of logging in to the site for extra benefits including renewing items on loan, make and manage requests and build a list of items that can be emailed to any address. This would be particularly useful for research students who might otherwise write down their search results onto paper. The catalogue search is fairly simple with the addition of thumbnail images of book covers where relevant. Other useful features which are provided in the item details include a link to the Google Books preview of the full text and a map highlighting where the shelf mark is located within the library. Clearly some thought has been made to consider what information user’s need on their mobile when designing the site.

A comparitive analysis of  library mobile services in use in higher education was conducted by California Digital Library. They found that mobile library services fell into five categories 1. Library mobile website; 2. text messaging services; 3. mobile catalogue search; 4. access to resources, and 5. new tools and services. Simple information such as hours, direction, map, news and floor plans are common in many mobile library websites. Jeff Penka from OCLC supports this idea when he commented at CILIP’s Executive briefing day that “The library catalogue isn’t the only service (users) want to access via a mobile, they want to find out which computers are free, paying fines, deal with reservations, see opening hours too.”

Catalogue search is also a popular mobile service which is provided by academic digital libraries. This supports the findings from a survey conducted by Cambridge University which found that 55% of respondents were in favour of bring able to access the library catalogue from a mobile phone (Mills, 2009).

A list of resources relevant to mobile library services have been collected and compiled into a Delicious links folder. These links are open to everyone and I encourage you to add other resources I may have missed. Thanks

http://www.delicious.com/lorraine_p/bundle:UX2.0%20Mobile%20Research



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