Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
At first glance the proposition seems quite simple: if a library wants patrons to use the library web site, the site has to be usable. But this is very much easier said than done. Apparently, even for those who are not experts, there are huge differences in usability matters. One may argue about whether usability is an art, but it is definitely a handicraft and therefore has to be learned.
If one works in a library and is required to undertake some usability engineering with the web site but does not like digging too deeply into the matter, then making library web sites usable may be the handbook of choice. The first chapter, written by the editors, provides a very basic six‐page introduction in the field of usability; this is followed by ten chapters dealing with concrete matters. These chapters start from the rather methodological field of heuristics, which formulates standing guidelines in order to identify and to name the critical attributes, making a web page easy or difficult to use. As a matter of fact, this is an ambiguous enterprise, seeing that there is almost no site for which usability could not be improved (or made worse).
When looking for improvement, of course, one must learn what the patrons need; one way to do this is to involve them. Chapters 3‐7 show how to do this, beginning with a straightforward survey, advancing via focus groups, card sorting and paper prototypes onto usability tests involving users to master set tasks and being observed while doing so. Chapter 8 gives a brief introduction in the field of web server log analysis, which is very helpful for tracking actual user behaviour.
Chapter 9, on how to encourage participation in usability studies, follows the one on log analysis rather than the testing chapter, so there is a little distraction in the logical sequence of the book, but not a crucial one. Chapter 10 picks up the hardware question – that is, which tools to use for recording the usability testing of individuals trying to solve tasks. It focuses on a tool called HyperCam, used to capture actions taken on a Windows screen. After doing the usability surveys, one is ready to optimise the web site. Normally, before taking this step, one should communicate what has been found where to go next. Chapter 11 tells one how.
Six additional chapters contain case studies from different library types: three university libraries, one public library, one corporation library and eventually one of from NASA – a good mixture. Through all the methodological part there are lessons learned from real projects interspersed within the text. This LITA guide is a well‐done manual that will not turn the reader into a specialist, but it imparts enough for the generalist to know what usability is and how it can be tested and improved. For most of us this is enough.