Designing effective tasks for digital library user tests: lessons learned

Mark Notess (Music Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)
Inna Kouper (School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA, )
Maggie B. Swan (Option Six, Inc., Bloomington, Indiana, USA)

OCLC Systems & Services: International digital library perspectives

ISSN: 1065-075X

Publication date: 1 December 2005



To describe lessons learned about the process of designing effective tasks for digital library user tests.


Illustrated examples are drawn from eight separate user tests run over the course of three years during development of Variations2, the Indiana University digital music library.


Four major considerations for effective task design are described and illustrated. Areas explored include iterative task development, design of authentic activities, recruitment of authentic users and how to deal with unrealistic testing scenarios.

Practical implications

Lessons learned in task design are matched with examples that illustrate how to balance real‐world constraints with ideal testing conditions to gather useful results.


User tests that consider a balance between real‐world constraints and ideal conditions are more apt to provide useful design ideas for complex systems such as digital libraries. Practitioners may use these guidelines to develop and run their own effective user tests.



Notess, M., Kouper, I. and Swan, M. (2005), "Designing effective tasks for digital library user tests: lessons learned", OCLC Systems & Services: International digital library perspectives, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 300-310.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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