The Workshop was run by:

Aaron Schmidt who is the Digital Initiatives Librarian for the District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL)

Amanda Etches-Johnson who is the User Experience Librarian, Library and Learning Technologies at McMaster University Library

The workshop opened with a few key thoughts:
One of the initial items expressed was the need to have the library website first be easy and then be interesting. Next he showed us EbscoHost main screen with the “Boolean” box checked and stated that no library patron should ever have to see the word boolean, huzzah to that.

Then we jumped right into the heart of it

  • Usability is more than just visual design
  • we tend to frustrate our users and make them frustrated, we want to alleviate them through usability.

Here are some tips

Writing for the Web

  • don’t put too much text on the page. The words need to be scannable because users do not read content they scan it.
  • instead of paragraphs of information it is better to take the major content and make lists
  • create a conversation, have the website answer questions e.g. “who can get a card?”


Don’t redesign your website

  • It is better to evolve your site from it’s current state so that people can make the transitions gradually. e.g. if you look at or Google they have barely changed their site from the original iteration. We know what is coming and we are used to navigating it would be jarring to suddenly have one of those sites come up looking completely different.

Match Labels & Pages

  • e.g. If you click a link that says “get a library card” you don’t want to be taken to a site that says “borrowing materials”. This causes your audience to become disoriented.

Appearance Matters

  • Simplify. Keep the really good visual design cues and elements


  • This is making the site a better experience for the users
  • e.g. a 404 error page that is friendly and fun, perhaps with a search box in it. This orients the user and makes the page interesting.
  • They showed Hennepin County Library’s Bookspace page where users that made lists of their books for the site could upload pictures of themselves reading in their favorite places. This, of course, drives the users friends and family to the site but it also makes the site more inclusive of the community and therefore more friendly.

Usability Testing

  • You cannot have a good website if you have not tested it.
  • You need to watch people use your website (e.g. present a task to a patron like “what would you do if you needed to renew a book?” at the computer and encourage them to vocalize their thinking process as they navigate)
  • Test Non-Librarians
  • Try giving a task to 3 different patrons and see what trouble they have with it. Make the improvements that seem necessary. Then ask 3 more people to perform the same task.
  • You really only need to test 3-5 people per task because most people operate the same way on the web so they tend to have the same problems.
  • Just understand that the library website will never be finished.
  • Do not forget who you are building the site for.
  • Usability testing helps free the deadlock of people being able to decide what should be put on a page. Once the patrons have shown what is easy for them and what is hard for them you have your answer.
  • You can do an A/B test. Google has an “optimizer” for this. With this tool you can see how many people access via option A and how many access via option B.
  • The five second test. Expose the user to a page for five seconds and have them write down everything they remember. This will tell you what has the most impact.
  • There is actually a website called five second test where you can upload a pic of your page and people will take the five second test on your page and then tell you what hit them.
  • is a little java script that you can embed that will give you a little heat map that will tell you what people are clicking on your website. It’s an analytic that is visual.
  • Usability inventory
  • *  Make a list of things you want to change and go back to it every 90 days. If you do this you can assure that you are constantly making progress.

6 Things You Want to Do

  • Forget current site. Don’t get bogged down by current architecture, start fresh.
  • Gather Planners. Involve different stake holders
  • Determine Your Audience. A quick way to do this is to brainstorm from the mission of your library and determine its focus. Better to talk to library users and see from there what needs to be done
  • Assess and Rank Needs. Again this can come from library users
  • Compare
  • Outline Steps. mapping the steps to your design work.

Remember the web is made of people

Keep the user in mind and remember that they should inform every decision we make on the site.

Next we did a card sorting activity to really bring home how this usability test can be done and what it feels like.

New York Public Library has a “lightweight usability testing service” called infomaki it is open source and allows you to upload a picture of your site and ask a question like “you are looking for homework help, where would you click?” they answer and can move on to another picture, kind of like playing a game and you get a lot of really great information

You can find out more about Aaron and Amanda at

Recommended Books:

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works .by Janice (Ginny) Redish
Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior .by Indi Young
Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability ………. by Steve Krug
The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams
The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web by Jesse James Garrett
Card Sorting by Donna Spencer & Jesse James Garrett
The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web by Steve Mulder