Usability of the Academic Library Web Site: Implications for Design

Louise McGillis, Elaine G. Toms


Today’s savvy library users are starting to equate the library Web site with the physical library. As they accomplish, virtually, many personal activities such as online shopping, banking, and news reading, they transfer those experiences to other activities in their lives. This increases their expectations about the functionality of a library Web site and how one interacts with it. The purpose of this study was twofold: to assess the usability of an academic library Web site and to better understand how faculty and students complete typical tasks using one. Thirty-three typical users successfully completed 75 percent of a set of typical tasks in about two minutes per task and were satisfied with the clarity and organization of the site. Despite their success in completing the tasks, however, they experienced difficulties in knowing where to start and with the site’s information architecture—in particular, with interpreting the categories and their labels. The authors concluded that library Web sites fail to take into account how people approach the information problem and often reflect traditional library structures.

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