Library e-Book Usability

Since the onset of the pandemic in March, e-Books have occupied a position of higher importance in library collections. They allow for the easy circulation of library resources without patrons ever needing to enter the library building thus possibly infecting our staff or vice versa. This shift to e-Books was swift and now the library will even purchase an e-Book before circulating a physical copy. You can read more about the library’s Electronic-First Access Strategy on the Covid-19 Response page. This strategy is potentially saving lives but it is important to acknowledge some of the challenges for users that e-Books present. I have personally struggled with using library e-Books for class work and research and I identify as a pretty advanced library user. For years many users have avoided e-Books in favor of print copies in order to bypass usability problems.

Lets explore some of the most common usability problems for library e-Books. I conducted a brief literature review of recent publications on the usability of e-Books for library users. Below are the top 4 themes that I noticed in the literature:

1.) Every e-Book platform is different

Every single library electronic resource vendor has a different user interface. Some of them are better than others and I am not here to name names. The problem emerges when users are asked to learn new platforms. They will become frustrated quickly by poorly designed interfaces with steep learning curves. It would be easier for our users if vendors standardized their interfaces so users don’t have to continue figuring out how to use a different website every time they check out an e-Book.

2.) Interfaces can be “cluttered”

Often times when you open an e-Book using a vendor’s site the text will be surrounded by different features and tool-bars. Examples of these features include: table of contents, citation tools, note-taking capabilities, arrow navigation buttons, and more. Sometimes these features can provide increased functionality.  However, a lot of the time these tools and pop-ups distract from the text. Additionally, users complain that the cluttered e-Book displays can make it harder to enhance the size of the text for improved readability thus creating an accessibility problem. This problem could be solved if vendors conduct thorough user testing or work alongside librarians to ascertain which features are commonly used by our end-users and remove those features that are simply taking up space.

3.) Difficulties with citations 

Have you ever noticed how some e-Books don’t have page numbers? Or they do but they change when you increase the text size? This was a common complaint among e-Book users who expressed frustration generating accurate citations using e-Books because page numbers were inconsistent. Users did not have this problem when e-Books could be viewed as a PDF because formatting remained consistent. The solution to this is to have standardized page numbers and formatting for e-Books. Additionally, it is important to educate our users that when citing an e-Book they need to specify that in their bibliography because the page numbering will most likely be different from the print version of the same book.

4.) Navigational challenges

In order to gain access to the full text of an e-Book users often have to navigate through many webpages first. They may start at the library catalog, then go to bibliographic record, then choose between several links to access the book through the vendor site, then they are asked to log-in to the vendor site, then they need to navigate to the correct chapter using the navigational toolbar, etc, etc, etc. All of this takes a lot of time, patience, and knowledge. Something could go wrong at any point of the process between finding the book in the catalog and accessing the text. I for one, can never figure out how to log-in to the different vendor sites. For our users who may not be as comfortable navigating in the digital world, this creates a huge barrier to access. I think it’s important for us as librarians and library staff to know the ins and outs accessing our resources. Additionally, we need to keep an open line of communication with vendors and publishers to help them provide our users with the best product possible.

Resources consulted

Alkawaz, M. H., Segar, S. D., & Ali, I. R. (2020). A Research on the Perception and use of Electronic Books Among it Students in Management & Science University. 2020 16th IEEE International Colloquium on Signal Processing & Its Applications (CSPA), Signal Processing & Its Applications (CSPA), 2020 16th IEEE International Colloquium On, 52–56. https://doi-org.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/10.1109/CSPA48992.2020.9068716

Jaffy, M. (2020). Bento-Box User Experience Study at Franklin University. Information Technology & Libraries39(1), 1–20. https://doi-org.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/10.6017/ital.v39i1.11581

Landry Mueller, K., Valdes, Z., Owens, E., & Williamson, C. (2019). Where’s the EASY Button? Uncovering E-Book Usability. Reference & User Services Quarterly59(1), 44–65.

Tracy, D. G. (2018). Format Shift: Information Behavior and User Experience in the Academic E-book Environment. Reference & User Services Quarterly58(1), 40–51. https://doi-org.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/10.5860/rusq.58.1.6839

 

Review: Don’t Make Me Think Revisited

Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug  is yet another updated classic available at Scholarly Commons and online as an e-book. Steve Krug of Advanced Common Sense talks about usability, which he defines as when “A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth” (Krug 2014). Clearly inspired by The Design of Everyday Thingsthis short book is funny, full of examples, and easy to read. Throughout this book, Krug hopes to convince you that usability is an important aspect of web design and that doing usability testing can help you create better websites and apps.

Despite the title, this book made me re-think about websites, both with practical advice such as:

His “Facts of Life”:

  1. “We don’t read pages. We scan them.
  2. We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
  3. We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

(Krug 2014)

As well as his Three Laws of Usability:

  1. “Don’t make me think!”
  2. “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”
  3. “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”

(Krug 2014)

And after insisting that what will work for a website really depends on the context throughout the book,  he did provide a few usability definitive answers such as:

“Don’t use small, low-contrast type.”

“Preserve the distinction between visited and unvisited text links.” (Krug, 2014)

What’s more, in this book about website development, he emphasizes empathy and being a decent human being. He describes people who create poorly designed webpages with: “There’s almost always a plausible rationale – and a good, if misguided, intention -behind every usability flaw” (Krug, 2014) He also says that web developers should work harder to make websites more accessible and that  “ …the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives…How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better? And for those of you who don’t find this argument compelling, be aware that even if you haven’t already encountered it, there will be a legislative stick coming sooner or later. Count on it” (Krug, 2014).

Convinced you need to start doing usability studies? Scholarly Commons can help! Check out more information about conducting usability studies at our Usability Studies page, and feel free to email us to learn more about getting started.

This is definitely a quick introductory read on the topic of usability but throughout Krug recommends a lot of further reading available online through the library! Don’t forget to take a look at some of these other titles:

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works  by Ginny Redish.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability by Caroline Jarrett.

“Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” by Gitte Lindgaard, Gary Fernandes, Cathy Dudek, and J. Brown.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers  by Mary Frances Theofanos and Janice (Ginny) Redish.

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbery.

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et. al.

It’s Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-In for User Experience Research Projects by Tomer Sharon.

The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

See your Website or Software App from the User’s Perspective

Increasingly, Computer Scientists, Social Scientists, Designers, and Developers have been conducting research in human-computer interaction (HCI). This trend has become so pervasive that Stanford University is now offering a free online course in HCI. One of the main tools of HCI is usability testing. While usability testing comes out of a broader design perspective and can be applied to any product or tool, its application in software and web development is fast becoming a fundamental part of the developmental life-cycle of digital products. In HCI, usability testing involves observing users as they navigate an interface. Even a test with a small number of participants can improve the usability of a piece of software or website. These small scale tests, while not statistically significant, can be used to seek out weak points in interface design and fix bugs. Larger scale tests can be used as parts of controlled experiments by researchers to more broadly study the interactions of people and the machines they depend upon or by software and hardware manufacturers whose products must be tailored to increasingly demanding consumers.

If you would like to better understand your website or software application from the user’s point of view, the Scholarly Commons has a small lab available for conducting usability studies. The lab is equipped with usability testing software and hardware and staff who can assist with its use. These services are available for free to University of Illinois students, faculty, and staff members. In addition, Cites is beginning to offer fee-based usability testing services that draw on the expertise of their user experience staff and include a wider variety of testing methodologies, including card sorting–modeling digital navigation with paper cards–and accessibility evaluation.

For more information on usability testing see:
The Scholarly Commons’ usability testing page
CITES’ usability consulting page

Try your hand at iPhone and iPad app development

The Undergraduate Library is hosting two workshops in December to help the campus community get started with app development.

The beginners workshop will take place on December 6th, Room 289, Undergraduate Library, 6:30-8:00pm.

The advanced workshop will take place December 7th, in Room 289, Undergraduate Library 6:30-8:00pm.

More details and registration information are available at the Undergrad Library.

 

Researchers access library on the go

The library continues to enhance its mobile website. Researchers can now access the following features at http://m.library.illinois.edu with a mobile Web browser:

  • Searching the library catalog & requesting materials.
  • Renewing materials on your account & checking request status.
  • Locating material on physical or electronic reserve (the ability to read PDFs of e-reserve documents will vary, however, depending one’s mobile device and on the properties of the document).
  • Library locations.
  • Ask-A-Librarian, which includes the functionality to send an SMS text message to the Library (on compatible phones)
    Limited library database access.

Plus, take a peek at experiments in progress in the mobile labs section.