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.

How Users Search Orbis

The most used online resource the Yale University Library offers is Orbis, the search and display interface for its catalog.  As the library develops a new discovery tool for the Orbis (and Morris) catalog, it’s an appropriate time to review how people search in Orbis.

In Orbis, users are presented with a Basic Search page by default, where they may enter a string of words and execute a Keyword search. They may elect to change Keyword to a specific field, such as Title, Journal Title or Author, In addition they may select a Quick Limit, so that the search only returns a specific format (e.g. books), or recent material (published after 2007).

Orbis Basic Search Page with Keyword Search


Research has shown that in general most users stick with a default search and do not often add limits or select a specific field to search. The data for Orbis searches confirm this finding. In searches run in March and April, 2015, users overwhelmingly (97%) ran basic searches with no limits or specific fields selected.

orbis yale data_17054_image001


Implications for Discovery

The search interface approach taken by most Web-scale discovery systems such as Quicksearch, is to present a simple search box with little to no advanced search functionality. The expectation is that the user will execute a simple, broad search. The search results will be presented with facets, which represent subsets of results. The hope is that the user will see facets and use them to more narrowly focus her search. In contrast, a traditional library catalog search presents the user with options to set limits before the search is executed. As seen in the Orbis use data, this traditional approach does not seem to resonate with many users. We know that the majority of our users, when presented with search options from a search page, will execute a basic search with no limits or specific fields selected. The question remains if users will find facets as presented in Quicksearch to be a useful way to manipulate search results.

How Search Activity Was Measured

These search statistics were gathered using Google Analytics. Every time someone goes to the Basic search page, a pageview is recorded. Another pageview is recorded when a search is executed, and again if the user clicks on the next page of results. One search can result in many pageviews. However, unique pageviews, the metric used here, are recorded only once during a search session.  Any executed search will contain some variation on the term searchArg in the URL. Here is an example from Basic Search:*&limitTo=none&recCount=50&searchType=1&

In the search above a search was executed for dog as a keyword (denoted by seachCode=GKEY). No limits were applied.

More complex searches can be run from Basic Search by selecting a field to search or applying one of the Quick Limits, such as

In this case the Title field was selected (searchCode=TALL) and a limit was set to look for publications from 2007 to the present (limitTo=Date). Search terms can be combined using Advanced Search. Advanced searches can be found in Google Analytics because they contain numbered search terms searchArg1, searchArg2 and searchArg3.