Two user experience librarians share discovery expertise

By, Lettie Conrad, Executive Manager of Product Analysis at SAGE

In today’s scholarly communication industry, we often calculate success and impact by measuring individual consumption or endorsement – whether a full-text download or a citation. This means our products and services must be informed by a deep understanding of the researcher experience (RX).

When it comes to optimizing content for discovery, some libraries are learning to balance the mechanics of metadata and indexing with RX-focused strategies to iteratively enhance their catalogs, discovery layers, and other library systems. At the ALA Annual meeting this week in San Francisco, SAGE hosted two such forward-thinking librarians, who shared the lessons they’ve learned in applying RX methodologies to library discovery.

Rachael Cohen, the Discovery User Experience Librarian at the Indiana University-Bloomington Libraries, explained how she is applying user-centered design methodologies to drive agile improvements to their Blacklight installation. She has established a research routine to bring in data and understanding about the IU library users and their “wants and needs.” Through library user testing, Rachael leads regular updates to their discovery layer and underlying catalog to decrease confusion around search result labels and increase visibility of must-have features, like contextual help.

googleRebecca Blakiston, UX librarian at University of Arizona and author of Usability Testing: A Practical Guide for Librarians, outlined common library user problems – such as roadblocks to downloading full text or a lack of spelling check in library search tools. She proposed six opportunities for resolving these RX issues in libraries:

  • Work with vendors to make discovery tools better
  • Improve your homepage search form
  • Build better search engine result pages
  • Implement a sophisticated database of databases
  • Provide contextual help
  • Address other access points

Both Rachael and Rebecca shared practical steps any library can take to adopt an RX approach to discovery services. They urged everyone that one user study isn’t enough, that we must continually remain informed about user trends – or as Rachael said: “rinse, lather, repeat.”

Rachael Cohen is the Discovery User Experience Librarian in the Discovery & Research Services department at the Indiana University-Bloomington Libraries, where she works with discovery tools including IU’s Blacklight library catalog project and EBSCO Discovery Service. She earned her Master of Library Science degree and Master of Information Science from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2012, and her BS in Educational Media and Technology from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth MN. In summer 2015, Rachel’s article, “Discovering User Behavior: Applying Usage Statistics to Shape Frontline Services,” will be published in The Serials Librarian.

Rebecca Blakiston has been a librarian at the University of Arizona Libraries since 2008, and a user experience librarian since 2014. She provides oversight, management, and strategic planning for the library website, specializing in user research, user-centered design, writing for the web, and content strategy.  She teaches online courses for Library Juice Academy, including “Do-It-Yourself Usability Testing” and “Developing a Website Content Strategy.” In 2014, she published the book, Usability Testing: a Practical Guide for Librarians. She has presented extensively on user research methods, website content strategy, and improving the user experience.

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