Bringing in the Experts: Library Research Guide Usability Testing in a Computer Science Class

Laura Cobus-Kuo, Ron Gilmour, Paul Dickson


Objective – We sought to develop best practices for creating online research guides in an academic library.

Methods – We performed usability tests of particular library research guides in order to determine how to improve them. Students in a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) class (n=20) participated in the studies both as subjects of the tests and as evaluators of the results. The students were each interviewed and then asked to review the interviews recorded of four other classmates. Based on their own experience with the guides and their viewing of their classmates using the guides, the students worked with librarians to develop best practices.

Results – Students were generally unfamiliar with the library's research guides prior to the study. They identified bibliographic databases as the most important links on the guides and felt that these should be prominently placed. Opinions about many specific features (e.g., images, length of guide, annotations) varied widely, but students felt strongly that there should be some organizational consistency among the guides.

Conclusions – The importance that students placed on consistency led the library to adopt guidelines dictating the inclusion of a table of contents and short list of major databases at the top of each guide, as well as uniform placement of certain other elements.


research guides; usability; qualitative research; collaboration; best practices; web design; ebp

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