user experience ofthe next-gencatalogueandrew preater
‘senate house’ by flickr user secret pilgrim(cc-by-sa)
before implementing theencore catalogue…
method 1.cognitive walkthrough
method 2.repertory grids
method 3.stories, anecdotes, conversation!
key findings
1. a web-like catalogueencourages web-likebehaviours
2. using our catalogueis an affectiveexperience
critique ofusability testing
improving ourunderstanding of userexperience
ethnography, aninductive science
doing ethnography inthe library
User experience of the next-gen catalogue
User experience of the next-gen catalogue
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User experience of the next-gen catalogue


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This talk was given at the Chrismash Mashed Library event in London on December 3 2011. I spoke about the outcomes of an investigation into user experience and understanding of next-gen library catalogues and next steps we're taking at Senate House Library, University of London.

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  • To give you some context I work at Senate House Library, University of London.Mine is a medium sized research library with strong print collections. Most readers aren’t from UoL so are “external” from other universities or private researchers.What I am talking about happened in an academic library context.
  • In June we implemented a next-gen catalogue or “discovery interface”, it is Encore from Innovative Interfaces Inc.It runs alongside / replaces an old catalogue, WebPAC Pro also from Innovative.Look at that front page… lots of white space, single search box, almost a provocation to put a few keywords in and not think too hard!
  • Here’s a search engine results pageYou can see the presentation of bib records is pretty simple and clean.On the left hand side are “facets”, not real facets but meant as ways of limiting or reworking your search results.
  • If you are really keen and want to look at this on your phone right now, you can find it here.
  • Before we’d made it live: For my masters dissertation I had a look at how our readers understood the catalogue using various qualitative methods.There was no live Encore at this point so readers had no experience with that interface.Let me tell you very briefly the results of that.
  • I did some usability-test style cognitive walkthoughsusing good old ‘think aloud’ protocol to get them to start thinking about Encore and how they would use it.As usability testing, it was pretty good. I got results that allowed me within limited parameters to make changes to the interface. Tweaks.
  • I did semi-structured interview using a method called repertory grid technique.I won’t try to show you these grids here.The purpose to compare two or more catalogues by defining a set of ideas called “constructs” and then rating each catalogue on a scale. Doing that you build up a “grid” that allows comparisons to be made.It’s good because you develop a good understanding of what people really think about things.For example I say: “Tell me a way in which Encore and yourideal catalogue are similar, but the old catalogueis different”. You would say: Encore and the ideal are “clear and uncluttered” whereas the WebPAC is “busy”. Then you rate all three on a scale from 1-5.You repeat this 10-12 times per person, then for 10 people, and you have some qualitative repertory grid data.
  • Alongside these more formal methods is a lot of conversation about the catalogues and the readers experience with it.This is where a lot of the ‘close questioning’ and deeperexploration of the readers understanding happens.This generates a lot of qualitative data that needs coding up in Atlas.ti. Sad times.
  • To summarise the really key findings…
  • I found putting readers in front of a Web-like google-style interfacetends to lead to them to “Web like” behaviour:• Scanning Web pages, concentrating on titles and skim-reading• Iterative searching based on skim reading over multiple reworked search queries• Short queries, characterised by use of a few keywords• A tendency not to look beyond the first page of search results• Trust in search relevancy ranking• A query is seen as part of an ongoing process• Expectation of tolerance to small errors or typos based on ‘Did you mean...?’ suggestions• ‘Satisficing’ behaviour, a tendency to make do with results or information that seems good enough rather than search exhaustivelyNow this is based on coding qualitative data from nine people. It is inductive & developed from the data observed not based on formulating a hypothesis ahead of time. I didn’t expect this.
  • More interesting, I found there was a strongly emotional or affective response to the catalogue beyond what you’d expect from a mere lookup tool.Much more than just about it being “nice to use” or “familiar”.A catalogue can be “a joy to use”. There is no reason for it to be a painful experience.And why no? We do tend to believe attractive things work better because we find them more enjoyable to use (I am paraphrasing from Don Norman).
  • I am not saying it’s bad for usability testing, just limited for answeringthe why questions about the next-gen catalogue.I think problems I’ve had with usability testing come from limitations of putting someone in an artificial environment.The problem is it’s artificial nature, it’s a lab environment and readers don’t behave like they really do ‘in the wild’ i.e. doing research in the library.Let me say, it’s not good when a classics student interrupts your cognitive walkthrough to criticise your methodology!Just to mention the vendor is doing their own usability testing.
  • Ultimately the question I want to answer are not usability questions as the outcomes are about us (staff) improving our understand of readers experience.I think we don’t at all understand what difference the next-gen catalogue makes very well.So at Senate House Librarywe’re going to borrow some techniques from anthropology to study readers “in the field”. SoI want to do ethnographies of our readers.
  • Doing ethnography means studying and observingthe reader in their habitat: as they work in the library and do research.I want to look at the reader not as someone using a tool with a particular success or error rate, but as a part of a whole “information ecology”, by that I mean a complete system that includes our building, our catalogues,our staff, books and journals, eresources etc. and them doing their research.I think without better understanding their use of our catalogues, we can’t start to improve what we do. The outcomes I want are “soft”:based around staff knowing the readers better. I think this has to be inductive meaning it has to come from the observed data.
  • I probably mean “borrowing ethnographic methods” rather than doing a full blown ethnography like an anthropologist would. But that’s OK, “methods belong to all of us” as one ethnographer has as his personal motto (Russ Bernard).I think this is a reasonable approach because it has been done at other libraries for things like looking at the library Web site (University of North Carolina at Charlotte)looking at useof the physical library space (Loughborough University)subject librarian’s reference work (Hewlet Packard Library and Apple Research Library)a project in the US called Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries. They have a toolkit which is very good.
  • This is me. I will put a blog post version of this online with references on my blog ‘Ginformation Systems’.If you want to read my dissertation it’s available at that URL.
  • User experience of the next-gen catalogue

    1. 1. user experience ofthe next-gencatalogueandrew preater
    2. 2. ‘senate house’ by flickr user secret pilgrim(cc-by-sa)
    3. 3.
    4. 4. before implementing theencore catalogue…
    5. 5. method 1.cognitive walkthrough
    6. 6. method 2.repertory grids
    7. 7. method 3.stories, anecdotes, conversation!
    8. 8. key findings
    9. 9. 1. a web-like catalogueencourages web-likebehaviours
    10. 10. 2. using our catalogueis an affectiveexperience
    11. 11. critique ofusability testing
    12. 12. improving ourunderstanding of userexperience
    13. 13. ethnography, aninductive science
    14. 14. doing ethnography inthe library
    15. 15.