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portal: Libraries and the Academy 2.3 (2002) 493-495



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Book Review

Usability Testing for Library Web Sites:
A Hands-On Guide

Don't Make Me Think:
A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability


Usability Testing for Library Web Sites: A Hands-On Guide, Elaina Norlin and CM! Winters. American Library Association, 2002. 69p. $32 paper (ISBN 0-8389-3511-7)
Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, Steve Krug. New Riders Publishing, 2000. 195p. $35 paper (ISBN 0-7897-2310-7)

Just as circulation statistics historically have informed libraries about collection usage, assessment data obtained through library website usability testing can help determine whether a web presence helps or hinders access and effective usage of a library's online library services and collections. Outside of libraries there has been an explosion of interest in web usability since Jakob Nielsen's watershed book Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity (New Riders Publishing, 2000). Nielsen attributes the increased interest in web usability to the simple fact that if the website is difficult to use, it has no business. "Usability rules the Web. Simply stated if the customer can't find the product, then he or she will not buy it." (p.9)

In comparison to commercial web development ventures, usability testing of [End Page 493] library websites is a new and often unexplored area. Many libraries do not invest the time to assess how their users find information from their web interfaces. According to Norlin and Winters, "The problem with library Web sites is that librarians often have adopted a 'we know best' philosophy when designing them. Librarians also commonly have their own language that they expect all library customers to understand." (p. viii) These and other issues typically both complicate and limit the necessary thoroughness of the library website development process, thereby thwarting the ability of developers to eliminate ambiguity and needless confusion for the users. As library websites continue to evolve into more complex and intricate entities, usability testing will prove to be one of the best ways of assessing and improving online services.

Usability Testing for Library Web Sites presents the fundamentals of developing a project, including basic web design guidelines, collaboration for staff buy-in on redesigns, pre-assessment and planning, developing usability instruments, and examples of usability tests. The strength of this concise volume is that it informs the library website developer about the best principles of usability testing. The first three chapters offer background information on assessment and site design. Chapter one focuses on the history of usability testing and how it has moved into the area of web development. Emphasizing the goal of testing to uncover problems that may interfere with a user's web navigation, Norlin and Winters present five values of usability testing to enlist buy-in from colleagues uninterested in conducting tests. Chapter two presents basic web design guidelines and principles that focus on uncluttered and simple, user-centered design. Arguing that proper design will improve performance, Norlin and Winters focus on design elements, such as organization and format, fonts and color, language, and download speed. After explaining the processes involved in repeated refinements to a website, Chapter three discusses the importance of fostering buy-in as requisite to successful website usability testing. Through proper planning, including informational workshops and publicized project objectives and goals, designers will be able to convince colleagues that usability testing is not merely a good idea, but rather a necessary component of web authoring. Chapters four and five guide the reader through the pre-assessment and application process and Chapter six offers an actual example of the entire web usability testing process.

Don't Make Me Think takes a very different approach. Author Steve Krug's perspective is based on his experience as a usability expert for commercial websites, rather than that of an educator. While his sarcastic style may put off those interested in fostering information literacy skills in their library website users...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-7131
Print ISSN
1531-2542
Pages
pp. 493-495
Launched on MUSE
2002-07-01
Open Access
No
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