Workgroup Presents at Boston Regional ArchivesSpace Forum

As part of the ArchivesSpace Public User Interface (PUI) implementation at Yale University Library, a Usability and Accessibility Workgroup was formed and tasked with assessing the usability and accessibility of the new ArchivesSpace PUI. Set to replace the current Yale Finding Aid Database (YFAD), the PUI presents archival description in a very different way than current static online finding aids.

Continue Reading Workgroup Presents at Boston Regional ArchivesSpace Forum

Improving Accessibility of Digital Resources

This past June, Yale colleagues attended a NERCOMP workshop, Web Accessibility in Higher Education, in Norwood, Massachusetts. The focus of the one-day workshop was improving accessibility of digital resources in higher education. Two Yale staff members were presenters at the workshop, Lisa Sawin, Director of User Experience & Digital Strategy, and Michael Harris, Information Architect also at User Experience & Digital Strategy. Lisa Sawin gave an overview of accessibility and why it is important. Micheal Harris followed up with information on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), guidelines for creating accessible digital resources.

Also in attendance from Yale was Tracy MacMath, User Interface Programmer at Library IT. Tracy’s attendance was sponsored by DiversAbility at Yale also known as DAY. DAY creates an open and inclusive environment for all individuals impacted by disability through engagement, education and advocacy. DAY is open to all Yale staff, faculty, and postdocs, with or without a disability.

The workshop was designed to educate designers, developers and administrators. The workshop also provided tools and resources to improve the accessibility of an institution’s digital content. The workshop attendees were well represented drawing from a variety of roles and perspectives.

One large takeaway of the workshop was with the demonstration of a screen reader, which allows blind or visually impaired users to hear the content of the page read to them through a speech synthesizer. The demo reviewed a website to see how accessible it was for blind or visually impaired users.  Attendees were able to experience the difficulty in accessing information that blind or visually impaired users would experience if a page was not structured properly.  The demonstration illustrated how important accessibility is when creating digital resources for higher education, the resources need to be accessible for all end users. It is the core mission of an educational institution to provide equal access to educational opportunities.

Links to Resources:

DiversAbility at Yale
Email DAY for more information.

For more information about developing and designing for accessibility you can visit ITS’s webpage at:

UX Roadtrip to Harvard’s User Research Lab

Harvard User Research Lab at the Lamont Library

In June, staff from LIT and ITS, traveled to Harvard’s Lamont Library to visit Harvard’s User Research Lab. Jenn Nolte, Emerging Digital Services Librarian, and Taber Lightfoot,  Manager of  ITS User Experience and Digital Strategy, and  Sylvia Perez, UX Researcher also at ITS User Experience and Digital Strategy, made the trip together to Cambridge. They met with Amy Deschenes, the Senior UX Consultant for Harvard Library. Amy was integral in establishing the User Research Lab at Harvard.

The purpose of Yale’s UX tour was to visit a dedicated User Research Lab embedded inside a library. The Harvard Lab provides a space for usability testing, interviews, and focus groups. The Lab is divided into three rooms: one room with cubicles for individual participant studies; a conference room for focus groups; and a testing room with dedicated workstations for eye tracking, accessibility training, and moderated usability tests.

Harvard’s User Research Lab annual workload is two large UX  projects, while running three-to-four smaller projects concurrently. IT Staff and  Library Staff on campus are serviced by the Lab. Their Usability testing pool is pulled from student workers. The trip was very informative and instructive on how other university library’s embed user research labs.

Update on Usability Testing for Quicksearch beta

Quicksearch beta, a Blacklight-powered library search of the Orbis and Morris catalogs, along with Articles+ from Summon, has been available for library-staff testing since October 2014. Recently staff from around the library conducted usability tests of Quicksearch beta with 14 students. Tests took about half an hour to complete, and consisted of a set of typical library search tasks such as finding a book by title and author, looking for a journal, finding books and articles in a topic, and saving/requesting and citing material. Teams of library staff worked on tests, with one person recruiting testers, a second asking the questions and running the tests, and a third person recording the sessions. Test takers were asked to think aloud during testing and their comments and actions were written down by the observer staff person. These types of “think aloud protocol” usability tests are considered an inexpensive and reliable way to uncover problems with digital interfaces, and are conducted as standard parts of interface development cycles.

Usability testing was done in large part to determine if Quicksearch beta is ready for wider release to Yale students and faculty in the spring semester. During testing the only problem uncovered which must be addressed before Quicksearch beta can be more widely disseminated to the Yale community was that response time slowed considerably, to a level which is not acceptable in a search interface. Modern expectations of search is that results will be returned within one second on average. Anything longer than two or three seconds causes users to question if an interface is working. LIT staff are now working to address the slow response times. Culprits may include the SOLR index used in Quicksearch beta, the Blacklight application, the hardware environment, or a combination of these three things. This complexity makes troubleshooting a challenge.

Quicksearch beta includes results from books and articles, which are presented side-by-side in one screen. Labeling in this display was problematic for test takers. The use of Catalogs (to represent material from the Orbis and Morris catalogs) did not seem to mean much to test takers. We recommend that Catalogs be replaced by Books+ to make the material found in Catalogs clearer and to draw a more obvious distinction with Articles. We also recommend changing Articles to Articles+, and to be consistent with this wording throughout the search application.

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Side-by-side display of results from catalogs and Summon (Articles+) in the Quicksearch beta display.



Test takers had some trouble with complexity of moving between areas for books and articles, and understanding when books were being searched, when articles were being searched, and when both types of materials were being searched. Visual cues need to be added to the books only and articles only areas so that that the material searched there is more obvious. 

Lack of obvious visual cues on the page and the search box made it difficult for test takers to understand the context of search.
Lack of obvious visual cues on the page and the search box made it difficult for test takers to understand the context of search.

One task for which Quicksearch was not successful for most users was finding a recent issue of a journal. The search did not do a good job bringing a journal title to the top of search results. The SOLR index and relevancy ranking can be manipulated to make this type of search function better, or other targeted ways of doing a journal title search need to be added to the Quicksearch beta interface.

Another problem was seen when users were asked to limit a set of book results to a  more targeted set of books in a subtopic (in this case, books that were about the law or legal aspects of a subject such as CEO compensation, Ebola, or climate change). The Quicksearch beta interface should make such a task straightforward, or at least that the hope, through the use of subject facets. Most users could not, however, complete this task using subject facets. There was a greater rate of success (73% success versus 46% success) when users were asked to do a similar narrowing of results of articles. Users are presented with different sets of facets for books and articles, and there are actually less facets available for articles. It could be that the simpler list of facets makes the topic facet more easy to spot and use in article search results.

Other aspects of Quicksearch beta worked very well and caused few problems for most users. All test takers were able to successfully find a book by a known title, identify where it was in the library system, and navigate to the order form. Most test takers were also able to save article records for later use and email citations.

Probably the biggest win from Quicksearch beta is just the simple fact of the single search of Orbis and Morris in one interface. There was not a lot of name recognition of Orbis demonstrated by these students and even less of Morris. The chance of a student searching one of these resources seems to be decreasing over time, the chance of searching both of them for material seems unrealistic. Quicksearch beta successfully combines both resources in one search, thereby saving time for Yale users and potentially surfacing far more library material in the process.

Read the summary or get the full report.



Usability Testing for QuickSearch beta

Staff from various parts of the library, including Medical, Law and Bass/Sterling have just completed a round of usability testing for Quicksearch. In this initial round of testing we wanted to look at some basic questions about this type of search, which combines results from the catalogs Orbis and Morris, and the article search from Summon called Articles+. Would students understand what was being searched? Would the Bento Box display make sense,  and would they be able to successfully navigate between the sections to find books and from the catalogs on the left and article results on the right. Would results be judged relevant to the search? Would testers understand the display of information about where to get a book or find fulltext of an article? Would testers be able to order material or email citations?

We are in the process of collating results from the first 12 tests, and we’ll be debriefing with staff who participated. We’ll follow up with a synopsis of results soon.

Here are the specific questions asked:

1. When you are starting research for a class, where would you typically start?

2. Now let’s look at the Quicksearch Beta search interface  Based on what you see here, what library resources do you think Quicksearch Beta will search?

3. Have you recently done any research for a paper or class? I’d like you to try QuicksearchBeta to research this topic, or if you’d rather some other topic relating to yourmajor/discipline or just a topic of interest to you.

4. Let’s talk a little about what you see on the page. What are your initial impressions of what isdisplayed?

a. Do you find books appropriate to the topic?     b. Do you find articles appropriate to the topic? c. If you were writing a paper on this topic how satisfied would you be with these results?
5. Please see if the library has the book: “Backlash” by Susan Faludi. Where is it in the library system?
6. Please find the most recent issue of New England Journal of Medicine.
7. Please do a search and find what books and articles the library has about (choose one).
CEO compensation
Ebola hemorrhagic fever
effects of climate change on developing nations
a. Let’s look for some print books. Are any of these books about legislation/laws?
b. Please select a few books from this search. How would you save them for later use?
c. Let’s look for some articles.  Can you limit results to only scholarly publications?d. Are any of these articles about legislation/laws?
e. Please save a few articles to your list of saved items
8. Can you find a way to email the saved items to yourself?
Post test Questions
1. In the future would you use this tool? Why or why not?
2. Compare the experience of using Orbis to the Quicksearch Beta. Do you prefer one of these?
3. Compare the experience of using Articles+/Summon to Quicksearch Beta. Do you prefer one of these?
4. What did you like about Quicksearch Beta?
5. What is one thing about  Quicksearch Beta would it be most important to improve?