Library Spaces Focus Groups: February 2023

The Student UX Team ran two additional focus groups on the topic of Swarthmore’s Library spaces. This feedback amplified what we heard last October and provided some additional insight into why students prefer Cornell to McCabe coalescing around the following themes:


  • Most students have at least one STEM major, making the Cornell collections more relevant
  • Singer Hall [the new Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building] helps create a center of gravity with the Science Building and Cornell Science Library
  • Food is a huge factor. The new Dining Center is on the opposite end of campus from the science buildings, so many students choose to eat in the Science Center Cafe and so use Cornell instead.
  • McCabe was known for strict rules during the pandemic (no eating in the library) which sent people to Cornell since the Science Center Cafe is right there.
  • If you’re not going to the new dining center, why would you go to McCabe?


  • There’s better visibility in Cornell. You can easily find a friend in Cornell. McCabe is like a lair – it’s hard to find people.
  • People want to socialize more after the pandemic restrictions and Cornell is better for that.
  • McCabe is old fashioned and has a reputation that isn’t inviting. Cornell is newer and cleaner.
  • “McCabe is a prison. You only go there when you have to.”

Let’s Talk About McCabe

I study there because:

  • It has a nice mix of brightly lit and dim spaces and it’s close to my dorm
  • It’s close to Narples [the new Dining Center] but no other reason

I don’t study there because:

  • The vibe is off, not as positive as other libraries 
  • Other libraries are closer; when they go to McCabe, it’s because it’s just the most convenient
  • McCabe is like one very long hallway

I would use McCabe more often if:

  • There were food nearby
  • My friends studied there
  • It were closer to academic buildings

McCabe needs:

  • More windows and natural light
  • More rooms like the LibLab that are open and inviting
  • To be more sociable. Placement of study tables are awkward making it hard to find a spot

What qualities are unique to Swarthmore that should be reflected in its libraries?

  • Nature aspect of Swarthmore: incorporate it with more windows and larger windows
  • Swarthmore has a lot of different people with different study styles, and the libraries should give them the opportunity to have access to both collaborative and private spaces
  • Swarthmore is close knit – spaces should take being comfortable in a small community into account
  • Books – they give the building life
  • Seeing people work motivates – work spaces with visibility
  • The Library should try to reflect the rich academic history of Swarthmore, McCabe can showcase some interesting historical artifacts from Friends Library, or Special Collections

LabX Focus Group 10.6.22

This group was made up of students who replied to an invitation to join a standing Library Advisory Board and User eXperience group, LabX. The yield from the invitation was small, so I invited more students from the Participant Pool, which yielded just one more. It could be there is less interest in LabX since the pandemic, or it could be simply a timing issue – it’s midterm week. The incentive to participate was a meal (provided by the Libraries) of Chipotle Burritos. Students arrived, exchanged introductions, began to converse over the meal and were then invited to participate in the following exercises facilitated by two UX Assistants:

Agree/Disagree Exercise

Two signs on the wall represented a continuum: Agree on the far left, and Disagree on the far right. Students were invited to place themselves on the continuum to represent their response to the following statements:

The Libraries are where I like to study: 5 Agreed

Comments were about the vibes at different libraries matching different needs for times of day and types of study. McCabe is quiet and where students go when they need to focus. Cornell fits for a daytime space or for times when it helps to know you are not alone. Underhill was noted for the space overlooking the Crumb Woods. One student commented that their dorm room is for relaxation and sleep only and talked about the importance of being in different spaces for different activities. The libraries are study spaces.

I need the Libraries for my academic work: 2 Agreed, 1 Neutral, 2 Disagreed

Although one student spoke of using books on reserve, most equated a need for the libraries with the need for study space.

Quote: ” The libraries are becoming more of a study space and less a repository for human knowledge.

There is a good balance of quiet and noisier space in the libraries – I can find a spot that suits my needs: 2 Agreed, 1 Neutral, 2 Disagreed

A lengthy discussion unfolded about noise levels with a unanimous desire for clearer indications for expectations on library signs. One student noted that the McCabe Directory indicates the Lower Level as a Quiet Floor and suggested we add the following – both to the Directory and to the signs as you enter each level:

  • Third Floor: Quiet Floor
  • Second Floor: Quiet Conversation
  • Main Level: open conversation is obviously ok – no sign needed

I appreciate learning about Library and Campus opportunities via [class list] emails: 2 Agreed, 2 Neutral (1 participant needed to leave early)

Representative Quotes:

  • ” I prefer to figure things out for myself and find the emails a nuisance. Emails from the library got lost in the flood”
  • ” I look through each of them. They help me learn of opportunities.”
  • “A monthly digest would be good. I wish there were a useful calendar rather than 500 emails.” (This comment received universal consensus)

I Like / I Wish / I Want Exercise

Students responded to these three prompts using post it notes and small dots for upvoting. Responses are below, with + signs added to indicate the number of upvotes. This exercise was intended to build suggestions and topics for future discussion and there was little inquiry or follow up to the ideas.

I Like

  • The authoritative quiet of McCabe Level 3
  • How we can appreciate nature in the middle of reading. ++
  • The variety of seating options in the libraries. +

I Wish

  • There were book recommendations from Swarthmore Faculty. +
  • There were maps of all the library interiors. ++
  • There were group quiet work sessions – like the Writing Center’s Write-Ins
  • Books were more accessible
  • There were LOC Call # education for all (or just more signs)

I Want

  • Better publicity for the loanable chargers and headphones
  • Better, more comfortable reading chairs in McCabe – like in Cornell’s upper floor corner
  • More pencils, paper, school supplies in the libraries. +
  • It to be warmer at night
  • More clarity for when snacks and drinks are available in McCabe
  • Shared information about how to read / write
  • Equipment for studying, like bookstands. +

Concluding Quote:

With less use of circulating library materials, we should focus on the study spaces and the expertise of those who work in the library. How can we make these libraries of the future?

Fall ‘ 22 Tripod Usability

The Student UX Team jumped straight into work this semester to write and workshop scenarios and facilitate web usability sessions designed to test out the usability of links added to the Tripod homepage designed to surface contextual content on the Libraries’ website. These are the tasks we chose:

  • Request a book that is not held by the TriCollege Libraries – Borrow Beyond Trico
  • Schedule an appointment with a Subject Specialist Librarian
  • Find help with citation styles
  • Reserve a study space
  • Access the most recent issue of a specific journal
  • Access today’s NY Times using Swarthmore credentials
  • Suggest a purchase

The team facilitated 10 sessions and learned:

Quick Links are visible and useful with 100% success rates for:

  • Borrowing Beyond Trico (all users chose the Quick Links on the bottom right of the page rather than the top link above the search bar.)
  • Scheduling an appointment
  • Finding help with citation styles
  • Reserving study space in the libraries
  • Suggesting a Purchase

Some Links were too slow

The Quick Links to the full records for both the NY Times and the Washington Post were so slow that many users assumed they were broken.

Multiple paths to information can be helpful

Students found their way to citation help via:

  • Research Guides link above the search bar
  • Get Help link above the search bar
  • A Quick Link for Research Help under the search bar

Fine Print in full results was ignored

Users did not explore granular information on full results pages for resources, for example the information on how to sign up for an Academic Pass for the New York Times via the Ejournals link, or the different coverage dates available via different vendors for the Annual Review of Anthropology.

What we changed:

  • Removed the individual Quick Links for the NY Times and the Washington Post
  • Moved the link to the Newspapers and Magazines LibGuide – in which users more readily saw information about the New York Times Academic Pass – out of the ‘Explore’ section and into the ‘Top Resources’ section
  • Reordered the sections on the Study Rooms and Spaces to move Group Study Spaces higher up the list
  • Asked our campus colleagues who manage the space reservation software to add the common name, ‘Color Room’ to the information about McCabe room 211, a popular space students may want to reserve but couldn’t identify in Swat Central by room number or formal name.

Additional Findings:

Confusion over multiple links to electronic access for one title

“Are these choices sequenced in any way? Is the top choice the recommended one?”

Even though explanations are present explaining the options from different vendors (most often about date coverage) users don’t notice or read them. People skim on the web, their eyes look for links and they miss the fine print.

  • Are we able to increase font size?
  • Would that matter?

Our drop-in sessions, lasting only about 10 minutes, may contribute to users not taking the time that they might if they were searching for something on their own. We’ll learn more when we run longer, in-depth Tripod sessions later this year.

Confusion remains over publishing terms

‘Journal,’ ‘Article,’ ‘Database,’ and sometimes even ‘Book,’ remain confusing terms for some students who needed clarification for the scenario in which they were to find the most recent issue of “The Annual Review of Anthropology.” And even though most completed the task successfully, more than a few did not seem clear on the concept of scholarly journal.

Research Guides are appreciated

“I got research instruction in class and found it really helpful – especially as a first and second year student. I learned about Research Guides and highly recommend using them.”

Explore effective communication

“I’m surprised you can do so many things here. The libraries should market things more for people who start with Google Scholar because they may not know about all the other resources. I learned a lot. A lot of people may not know about the resources the libraries have and it’s impressive.”

And a larger question:

Even though they accomplished the task successfully on our sites, most students said they would not look for citation help via Tripod, the Libraries’ site, Librarians, or RIAs (Research and Information peer associates.) Most said they would seek out a WA (peer Writing Associate) or use another well established site that they may have learned about in high school, like Purdue Owl.

This is fine! We’re happy they can find help with citations without us, but it’s interesting to hear. It could be an example of the shifting landscape and priorities for academic libraries and librarians. What library services do students truly need and how do their needs intersect with our expertise?

The Student UX Assistant Team!

Despite the ongoing pandemic last summer, Swarthmore College decided that students would return to campus to a fully residential, synchronous learning experience in the fall. I admit I was nervous at first, but in hindsight, I’m so grateful for the decision.

I prefer in-person interactions for user research, and while the pandemic related time of remote work, virtual interactions and asynchronous learning was challenging, it provided an opportunity to rethink how I’ve approached user research with our primary users – undergraduate students – particularly how I’ve employed their peers to help out. I decided to experiment with an entirely new approach to this student position.

In the past, I’d hire one or two students, train them to facilitate web usability sessions and do all of the rest of the work myself while struggling to keep them busy. They would begin with interest and energy and then melt away. I wasn’t surprised, but it was disappointing.

This year I tried a team approach; I hired more students, required more hours, trained them to do more and involved them in a much broader variety of user research methods than before.

While I had one experienced student return, the rest of the team was new, including two first year students. Bi-weekly, in-person training began in the fall with learning facilitation skills for website usability and card sorting sessions using the libraries’ website.

The site remains in need of work (always!) but we reorganized the main navigation and prioritized sub navigation sections: Libraries + Collections, and Research + Scholarship as a result of their findings.

Research + Scholarship remains a little ugly, but post-update usability sessions demonstrate it is more usable than before, since it covers content on one page that would be otherwise be hidden as a result of the constraints of the design. (No hover menus allowed for the Libraries’ pages!)

The team also explored focus group facilitation in the fall, aided by Kara Bledsoe, ’16, a former Swarthmore Library Intern and Research and Information Associate, now an analyst at Ithaka S+R. The Libraries had been working with Ithaka on a Library Visioning Project, and when Kara came to campus to run student focus groups for the process, she kindly met with the UX student team and involved them by giving them some responsibilities in those sessions.

The rise of the omicron variant meant a slower start to our spring semester projects, but once on campus, the team dove in. We met weekly rather than bi-weekly – the accelerated pace compounding their cumulative experience and contributing to being able to do more and to doing it better.

The team took responsibility for broader aspects of research projects, doing things I had previously done on my own and simply handed off to them. Now, rather than facilitating web usability sessions based on tasks and scenarios that I had provided, they identified site tasks and wrote scenarios of their own. After facilitating sessions, they conferred on and analyzed their results, comparing user behaviors they observed, and proposing changes to the sites.

They even presented their findings and suggestions for improvement to a group of library stakeholders for a particular usability project, completing the entire research cycle. Their presentation was well received (more so than it would have been had I been the presenter) and the students were gratified to have shepherded a project from beginning to end.

They also planned and facilitated a focus group in the spring and plan to build on that experience when they return, having already begun to generate a list of topics to explore and to discuss how to overcome logistical challenges: should we recruit a standing group that meets throughout the year, or would it be better to host a new group each time? How could we recruit students who don’t consider themselves to be library users? What different times and locations could we explore for hosting groups? What realistic (and not taxable) incentives might we provide to motivate participation?

Our work was energized in the spring by MLIS student intern, Khyra Lammers, on track to complete her degree from Drexel University this summer. Khyra helped me enormously by managing the team, attending our meetings (facilitating many of them) and regularly reminding me of an important bigger question: how can you make this model of a student team sustainable over time? She jump-started that process by beginning to organize our training materials and team schedule by moving things out of G-Drive and into the Moodle course management system used at Swarthmore.

At our final meeting of the semester, we reflected on what we accomplished and made plans not only for re-launching the team next fall, but for making it more visible, perhaps even broadening our reach by offering to support usability work in other departments. We congratulated the graduating seniors, including Khyra, and celebrated over vegan cupcakes.

My sincere thanks to Kara Bledsoe, ’16, and Khyra Lammers (Drexel MLIS, summer 2022) for their generosity and to Swarthmore students Khalium Enkhbayar, ’24, Rebecca Lin, ’22, Marisa Musenga, ’25, Sage Rhys, ’22, Nina Robinson, ’23, Helen Tumolo, ’22, and José Valdivia, ’23 for an outstanding year.

Digital Reserves Assessment, Spring 2021

Since more than half the Swarthmore student studied remotely this academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the libraries needed to shift very quickly from providing print Course Reserves to providing digital copies of all required course materials. In the Spring of 2021, the Assessment Committee began to gather data in order to learn the answer to the following question:

What are the benefits of digital reserves to faculty and students and what are the costs to the libraries?


  • Faculty: we personally invited faculty who are known to make reserves requests to provide feedback via a questionnaire
  • Students: we held one focus group via zoom and used results of a campus-wide student survey on a pilot textbook affordability program (TAP). The libraries were able to add four questions to the survey to ask whether course readings on reserve at the libraries impacted student decisions to purchase textbooks
  • Library Staff: we gathered feedback first via department meetings of relevant staff and then held one, larger, inter-departmental meeting for further discussion


Faculty: While some faculty expressed dissatisfaction with particular digital platforms, they were appreciative of  having digital copies of required course texts available from the libraries during the pandemic and  expressed a desire that digital options remain available after all students are able to return to campus. One professor noted “I think students consult the material when it’s at their fingertips, so digital is a good idea.” and another wrote “Digital Reserves are accessible [meaning available] and helpful. Please keep them if it’s at all feasible.”

Students also appreciated access to digital copies of reserves materials, however, a majority of students used Textbook Affordability Program (TAP) Funds to purchase most of their required texts from the Campus and Community Store. Students in the focus group expressed an appreciation for choices between their purchased, print textbooks and the digital options the library provided. Although they purchased print texts, they made use of the library digital copies for pulling quotes and quick searches.

The results of the TAP Fund Survey indicated the program is successful, with students using the funds to purchase a majority of their course materials. While using course reserves at the libraries was the 2nd most frequent avenue to required reading, survey results demonstrate that the libraries may revisit their policy of providing library copies of every required text in light of the continuing availability of TAP Funds.

The survey also provided interesting data on reading preferences with a majority of students indicating a preference for reading in print rather than digitally. The results indicate that students choose digital copies when they are far less expensive, or when there are no print options available.​​​​

Library Staff worked heroically to provide digital access to course materials during the pandemic, including developing workflows to make in-house scans of needed materials that were not available digitally via any other source. While staff understand the value and benefit of digital copies for faculty and students, they want to provide them responsibly, considering accessibility (in the sense of accommodation), copyright, and the storage and management of the digital files we create.


The libraries will:

  • Use a hybrid approach to acquire print plus digital copies wherever possible from Ebook vendors for Course Reserves
  • Prioritize acquiring digital copies for Reserves, and in light of the TAP Fund Survey results, re-evaluate our policy to provide at least one print copy of every required text
  • Continue to explore responsible and robust options for Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) as options are developed 


The effects of the global pandemic have unfolded so differently from what we first thought when the College closed for an “extended spring break” last March.

I’ve just trashed a draft of a post I began back then and next updated in May without ever publishing it. Too many things changed too often to be able to capture how users were engaging with our services, much less learn how we might improve them.

Similar to many other colleges, Swarthmore students did not return to campus last spring and most have not returned this fall. Instead, a new, completely different semester has begun.

Library services have shifted fundamentally – at first to online only, next to a request system for “curbside” pick-up of print materials, and just as of this past Monday, to a hybrid world of both online and in-person use of our collections, services and spaces (while maintaining the materials pick-up option.)

While most of us worked from home, my colleagues in the Access + User Services Department, along with co-workers in Collection Management + Discovery have done heroic work to find and make available digitally accessible copies of required course materials so that students remaining off campus could continue to have access to class materials and do research. Research and Instruction Librarians have revamped their former in-person practices, transforming them to the virtual environment. Some of us have needed to return to the libraries to work regular hours, putting ourselves more at risk for catching the virus.

As these changes occurred, we hastily wrote “temporary” FAQ Documents for our community (which we continue to update regularly) instructing people how to access library materials, how they can reach us with questions, to let them know what they may borrow and what to expect when the libraries open.

As the next normal unfolds, we’d like to move content from these short-term documents to our website, which was revamped over the summer as planned – unrelated to what is happening in the world.

What have these events and changes meant for the library experiences of our users? How do we know? What might we learn? Have the changes to the website (informed by usability session last year) demonstrably improved things? And perhaps most challenging, what research methods could I use that do not tax our users with One. More. Thing?

I do not yet have answers, but as a start, I moved our beloved, analog Comment Book online. I’m also planning usability sessions for the website recorded via zoom, inviting participants to share their screen.

It doesn’t seem like much, but I remind myself that within the context of what is happening in the world and in the country, every step we can take to make things clear, understandable and easier has value.

Streaming Film Assessment

This year, the libraries are doing an assessment of our film collections in order to better understand how changes in the film industry and technology, particularly streaming options, are impacting the libraries’ materials budget.

We’re investigating everything we can think of:

  • Purchase requests
  • Statistics from our licensed streaming packages
  • Statistics for video placed on reserve and checkouts
  • How many “ripping” requests we receive (to make DVDs available for streaming) and how much time this requires
  • Film related workflows from request to delivery
  • What supports and services for providing film might be duplicated or supported by our campus partners, academic technologists in ITS and the Language Resource Center.

So far, we’ve:

  • Gathered statistics on:
    • Our streaming packages
    • Films placed on Reserve
    • Netflix use
  • Spoken to colleagues in the Language Resource Center to learn about all the ways they support the use of film in the curriculum
  • Devoted a student Library Advisory Board (LabX) meeting to get feedback from students about their film use in order to learn:
    • How often they use the collections for study breaks and entertainment
      • whether they consider checking out DVDs
      • what the libraries might do to make watching DVDs more convenient
    • How they view films required for class:
      • what happens if their schedule prevents them from viewing a film outside of class at a time the professor arranges?
      • how they watch a required film that may be available only through a platform the libraries are unable to support, like Amazon Prime or Hulu?

Our next step will be to send a short survey to about twenty professors who are known to use a lot of film in their courses in order to learn:

  • About how many films they may require in a film-heavy course
  • Whether their need for film is growing
    • Are standard courses taught from year to year impacted?
    • Does film play a larger role in newer courses?
    • Does the proliferation of available content suggest growing need?
  • What drives their preference for format?
    • Availability?
    • Accommodation (captioning, multi-language subtitles)?
    • Copyright?
    • Big screen vs laptop?
    • Picture and sound quality?
    • Convenience of delivery?
  • Are provisions made for students to view film outside of class time?
  • What if a film they want to include is available only on a platform the library cannot support (such as Amazon Prime or Hulu?) What accommodations do they make for students?
  • How might the libraries best support their need for film?
    • How might we improve the request process?
    • Should we investigate the feasibility of providing students with Amazon Prime, Hulu or other streaming platform accounts?
    • What other ideas and opportunities could there be?

We hope our assessment will inform:

  • Whether the evidence we gather supports advocating for more dollars in the budget, or guides difficult choices in order to balance the budget and curricular need
  • How we might improve our workflows from purchase request to film delivery
  • Hidden opportunities that may improve our collections and services in the future

If you have ideas of other avenues to explore, please let anyone on the AUX Committee know! (Assessment and User Experience)

Alison Masterpasqua, Amy McColl, Peggy Seiden, Barb Weir, Mary Huissen, Pam Harris, Pat O’Donnell – with much support for this project from Jessica Brangiel and Nabil Kashyap

Wrap up the semester and tie it in a bow

I recently hosted a usability drop-in session supported by one of my student usability workers. We ran two navigational tasks on our catalog site: 1) finding reserves and 2) finding links to archival and digitized collections.

We used A/B testing for the second task; I ran the sessions using a test instance of our site on which I had placed links to other collections on the catalog home page, while the student assistant ran the tasks using the live site, where the links are behind a “more” button and a curtain.


We ran a reserves task last spring within a few months of launching Alma/Primo and learned that users were not able to complete the task successfully. At all. While I do not like to admit that we’ve done nothing in the meanwhile to make it easier for users, this time the results were quite different:

  • 66% of users in our session successfully found reserves by searching by either the course name or course code and limiting their search with the Course Reserves scope.
  • 22% searched by course title and used facets to find reserves.
  • 11% of users looked for a top link to Reserves and they were not successful.

Huzzah! The only explanation I have for greater success is that once we knew addressing the problem with a customized solution would take months, we communicated the out-of-the-box path to Course Reserves through a variety of channels. Perhaps the communication had an effect, or perhaps users have become more familiar with the system and have learned the pathway as it is without customization.

Despite greater levels of success, since the users who struggled with the task continue to look for a top link for Reserves, the TriCollege Discovery and User Experience group (DUX) will discuss customization options.

Coincidentally, I’ve been conducting an environmental scan of other Alma/Primo sites within the Oberlin Group of colleges and found that Albion, Hope and Kalamazoo Colleges have put a solution in place that we’ll evaluate. We may also explore the solution that Whitman College Library created by customizing two separate scope options within the main search bar.

Links to Other Collections

I chose this task because I’m motivated to reduce the number of top links in Tripod. Our users naturally look to the top links, but when they click on the more button (identified by three horizontal dots)

the more button

they are faced with an off-putting curtain of thirteen links.

curtain of 13 links

The reason 13 appear is that the system repeats the first 6 links which already appear at the top of the home page and adds the rest. Since I haven’t found anyone who has managed to eliminate the redundancy, I’d like to reduce the overall number of links to no more than six in order to make the more button unnecessary.

The results of this usability session pointed to a solution (already implemented) that replaces the final four links behind the curtain with highlighted space on the catalog homepage.

Each user whose session took place on the test instance with this card in place found the collections easily, while users exploring the live site had trouble.

elevated to the home page

I’m pleased with the progress we are making with usability at Swarthmore. I’m grateful for a great team of student assistants who support the mechanics of usability sessions and for receptive colleagues.

Yet my experience tells me that usability results often point to larger conceptual questions in addition to the web fixes that might be addressed by our developers and this can be disheartening.

It’s great if developers implement changes that solve usability issues, but library research and catalog user experience can go beyond things that might be addressed with code.

  • How can we build contextual information about how to do research, where to find appropriate resources and how libraries and databases function into the catalog?
  • How can our web pages, the catalog and LibGuides play together more intuitively to the benefit of our users?

Library Website Usability Sessions

Student library UX workers and I facilitated 14 usability sessions on the Libraries’ website in late September in order to learn whether changes made to the site over the summer are intuitive for users.

We began each session by asking basic demographic information, the user’s year in school or college affiliation and general areas of academic interest. We also asked if they had ever used the site before and followed up by asking “why-or-why-not?” (And it was at this point we learned that many Swarthmore students think that the Tripod catalog and the Libraries’ website are the same thing…)

We ended each session by asking about impressions of the site, what works, what does not and what could make it better.

In between these opening and closing questions, facilitators used scenarios which prompted users to accomplish at least one (but not all) of the following tasks using the site:

  • Find different kinds of research help
    • Find citation help
  • Get access to popular resources: the New York Times and The Economist
  • Find space for quiet study and group study spaces
    • Reserve a group study
  • Borrow Technology
  • Discover what online resources are available to Alumni
  • Find information for visitors: hours, use of computers, printers, scanners, and group study rooms.

Here is what we learned:

Research Help + Citation Help
We captured 9 sessions using the Research and Citation Help scenarios. While eight of the nine users ultimately had success finding at least one kind of research help using the site, only one user, a librarian, began at the Get Help page.

Alternate successful paths to research help were via:

  • a link to Research Guides within the Tripod search widget
  • the Chat button
  • Support for Research + Teaching>for Students

Duplicate paths to information can be great, but since students did not use (or maybe see or understand) the Get Help link, we’re considering adjustments. We may change the label (after testing out suggestions for something more intuitive) and we may consider integrating the Get Help content with overlapping content on the Support For Students page.

An unexpected outcome of this task was to learn that many students equate finding resources with getting research help. If a user begins with this understanding, choosing the “Find Resources” link instead of “Get Help” makes perfect sense, but the result is that students overlook or remain unaware of the variety of library support available outside of the Tripod catalog.

More than half of the users began this task with either a Tripod catalog search or via the Find Resources link in the site navigation instead of Get Help. A majority of them probably would not have discovered information about the kinds of research help from Librarians or Guides for which the scenarios were designed except for being encouraged to seek it due to the context of the usability session.

There was only a 50% success rate for the citation help task. If the user began seeking research help by looking for resources, they were not successful in finding citation help on the site.

Additionally, these unsuccessful sessions demonstrated that anyone who searched the entire College website (via the site search magnifying glass) using the term “citation” or “citations” was not successful. Instead, top results for these queries on the College site are for the Writing Center, academic departments, and even the Public Safety Department. (Parking tickets!)

We’re adjusting our headings in hopes of having citation help from the libraries appear as a top result in a search of the College website, but the problem raises an additional structural issue that affects library site usability: a lot of library help is in LibGuides, and as a result is not exposed to a site search within

The citation information on the Writing Center website is quite good although not as thorough as what the Libraries’ offer (via LibGuides.) Is there any opportunity here to collaborate with the Writing Center by linking to one another’s information?

We’re also exploring the feasibility of a technical solution that may pull LibGuides content into a site search.

Find Popular Resources
We captured 7 sessions of this task beginning with getting access to the New York Times. Three users had success via the Popular Online Resources page. Another three tried a Tripod search for the Times, but only one of these had success getting access. One user could not get access to the Times at all.

The Popular Resources page is a help to those who find it, but it’s buried in the navigation. A hover menu would be a big help.

Library Space
We ran this task in four sessions and each user had success.

Borrow Technology
We ran eight instances of this task with mixed results. The information is on the Support for Students page, but underneath the rather confusing heading “Need Something?”

Since many users were looking for the information on the Borrow + Request page, I added it there and it had an immediate effect.

Overall, six users were able to find the information, (some after I had changed the site) but three were unable to find it even after the change.

A common response to this scenario was “I already know the libraries lend chargers and I would just go to the desk and ask for one.”

Alumni + Visitor tasks
Users were mostly successful with these tasks, but whenever they were not, it was due to the information being organized into Drupal link-list-panes. If the user chose the wrong link, they did not return to the list in order to accomplish the task.

As a result, we have plans to reorganize the information out of the current combined page into separate pages, one for Alumni and another for Visitors.

Larger Issues
Many of our users are confused by the interplay of the Libraries’ website and the Tripod catalog. Additionally, usability of our website suffers from being unable to provide hover menus that expose the extent of our content at a glance.

While we may be able to address Tripod issues and branding with our Trico partners, the path to resolving functional and structural limitations at the College is not as clear. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to make changes to the navigation within the structure we have and continue testing for usability.

Space exploration, or, UX on-the-fly

This semester I’ve noticed frequent evidence of science-y stuff happening on the big whiteboard that’s outside my office as I arrive at work each day. The content is striking because my office is in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library and we have a recently renovated Science Library nearby.

I’ve noticed groups of students working on science projects in this space throughout the day, so decided to start asking them why they are choosing to work here instead of the science library.

The first student I asked was working out a chemistry problem on the whiteboard. He said he chooses the space because it’s a little quieter and because the science library “has a pretty overwhelming STEM vibe” that makes him uncomfortable.

But my direct question seemed to make him feel uncomfortable too and I worried later (especially after noticing the beautiful chemistry symbols erased from the whiteboard) that I may have made him feel as if he didn’t belong. Note to self: leave brief reply cards in this area and collect the information anonymously and more voluntarily! I’d love to know more from this student. What did he mean by the uncomfortable STEM vibe? After all, chemistry is a STEM subject.

I next approached a group of three students hard at work on a science project in this same space and inquired what draws them here instead of the Science Library. Their answer was different: they meet together every Wednesday morning and come from different places. This space is the most centrally located.

However, they added that the group spaces in the Science Library are not as conducive to their work: spaces there are more open and the group feels more exposed than they like, plus it’s generally louder over there.

This particular spot is about to disappear as a result renovation this spring (hence the empty stacks) but it’s interesting to note the aspects that make it appealing:

  • it’s centrally located
  • quiet-but-not-silent
  • has a large whiteboard
  • is enveloped by tall stack ranges on either side of a spacious work table which help create privacy and a more enclosed feeling (maybe like a little hug from the libraries? I can hope!)

As we think about library space, we gather lots of quantitative data: how many students use a space, what they use the space for, what kinds of equipment they use, what times of day and night are more crowded, how much space we need for collections, how to balance desires for quiet with the need for group work space. It’s important to remember to gather qualitative data from a broad spectrum of users too.

Now about those anonymous, voluntary reply cards…