Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Usability Testing of the OPAC

Recently, the User Services Advisory Committee of OPAL has been deciding on what changes to make to our Innovative Interfaces OPAC (online catalog - for now, the current version is here and the in-progress version is here). It has gotten me thinking about what our users want. Librarians can argue back and forth until they are blue in the face about which link to put where and how visible to make certain options, but our users never do things the way we want them to or the way we think is best.

Judging by a quick search of the library literature, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of usability testing conducted on OPACs. Perhaps this is because we, as libraries, only have a very minimal amount of control over the appearance and options. Most of the control rests in the hands of the companies charging us extraordinary amounts of money for OPACs that are always several steps behind what our users expect.

So maybe it's time to usability test the OPAC. It would be really interesting to see what our users find confusing and what they expect. Then, we can make those changes over which we have control so that they best meet our users' needs.

And actually, that brings up another question. What do the companies that create and maintain these OPACs do in terms of usability testing? Do they do much testing? Any? Because you know the search giants of the world must do an incredible amount, so shouldn't some be done for the catalog, too?


herzogbr said...

It still surprises me that more work hasn't been done in this area - but perhaps that's why library catalogs are the way they are.

I am fully behind you in studying this area - if there's anything I can do, I'd be happy to help.

Also, too, thanks for linking to - I had no idea Ebsco offered free databases.

Stacy said...

This citation might help:

Fast, K. V. and D. G. Campbell (2004). “'I Still Prefer Google': University Student Perceptions of Searching OPACs and the Web." 67th ASIST Annual Meeting.

I haven't looked at it yet, but I'm in the middle of researching online info seeking behavior (in general) myself. Fun times! (haha)

Kat said...

herzogbr - I will let you know if you can help (when and if I get around to doing the study...). :) And I'm so ashamed of you, how did you not know that Ebsco has a free library database? :)

stacy - Researching info seeking behavior? What fun! They still prefer Google? No surprise there. :)