User failure to find known library items

Nancy Kress (University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)
Darcy Del Bosque (University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)
Tom Ipri (University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Publication date: 29 March 2011



The purpose of this paper is to understand why users at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) are unable to locate locally held items from the university libraries' electronic and physical collections using the library web site and catalog.


A combination of usability testing methods and quality control methods were used. Items for the study were selected from cancelled interlibrary loan requests. A cognitive walkthrough was performed for citations representative of the top categories of cancellation because the item is owned or available electronically. Quality control methods were used to determine likely user failure points to completing this path. Data from the cognitive walkthrough were compared with actual user behavior, as observed through usability testing.


Participants in the study failed to locate known items for multiple reasons, but from the usability testing and analysis three major areas emerged: finding the correct starting‐point for the search, information not indexed for a selected search, and clicking on the call number link. The complexity of library resources was the main contributor to these failures. Participants expected library searching to behave like their other search experiences.

Research limitations/implications

The failure points identified in the study are in some cases specific to features of the UNLV Libraries' integrated library system.


This paper could be useful to libraries examining the ease with which users can locate items using the library web site and catalog. The research team used a quality control method to analyze usability testing, which provides valuable quantitative data concerning the relationship between user and system failure.



Kress, N., Del Bosque, D. and Ipri, T. (2011), "User failure to find known library items", New Library World, Vol. 112 No. 3/4, pp. 150-170.

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