Reading Reflection: Statistics related to UX

Out of the common library statistics, I think reference questions and program attendance most highly correlate to User Experience.  It may be possible to correlate circulation statistics to UX, but it would be more difficult: one example of this would be if there was a sudden drop in circulation of a certain type of materials, there is probably something wrong with that section of the library like it’s out of date.  But one has to be careful when making assumptions like this: if it’s over a fairly short period of time, it could just be people going on vacation.

However, reference questions and program attendance can be correlated much more strongly to UX.  I’ll take a personal example of the Monterey Public Library: we have a program going on here called Stories for Adults.  I believe it’s the longest running library story telling program in the country, been going on for at least 20 years now.  It’s routinely “sold out”.  (In quotes because you can get tickets for free with a library card.)  I’ve been to a few of their story telling events, and there’s a reason for the popularity, the story tellers who come to Monterey are quite good.

Reference questions are also an excellent metric for usability.  If there’s one question (and I unfortunately don’t have an example here), that’s asked frequently about, for example, finding things in the library, it may be a sign that the library needs to invest in some good wayfinding.

If the library isn’t used much at all, there may be a more serious problem, like a design issue with the building itself.  I had this exact problem with the Meriam Library at Chico State, where I received my B.S.  I tried using the library a few times but found the layout enough that I basically only used it for the times when I needed tutoring assistance with my classes since, at the time, tutoring was on the fourth floor of the library.  Thus, I only used the online resources of the library and for pleasure reading, the city library.

This kind of problem would be non-trivial to fix since even improved wayfinding may not fix the issue because people don’t always read signs.  If they have the budget for it, it’d be a great place to renovate to make it easier to navigate, although at Chico State, it was by no means the most confusing building on campus.  The volume of use that the Meriam Library receives would make it a worthwhile investment in the future of the campus.

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Mostly harmless: The story of signs at the Monterey Public Library

First up, I’ll do my sign revision at the Monterey Public Library.  But I have good news as far as this library is concerned: I was actually worried that I’d have a hard time getting a picture of a sign that needs reworking because in general, their signs are quite good.  So rather than just commenting about the sign that needs revision, I’m also going to show a couple examples of signs that they have that I feel are quite good.

Here’s the original of the one I’m revising:

ebookOriginal Medium

Overall, not terrible.  The title has a clear description of what service is being advertised, and if you miss that, the picture of the Kindle makes it really clear.  Plus there are the times at the top making it clear that this is a workshop being held.  But that wall of text beneath the times is not at all conducive to scanning.  In fact, I shrunk the photo I took of it and had to make the shrunk photo bigger to be able to read all the text.  So, to modify this, I applied the letting go of the words principle to this document and came up with this revision:

ebookRevision Small

Pretty simple changes, really.  I made the text bigger and overall made it easier to scan by converting the main points into bullets rather than sentences.  The rest of the document I thought was fine, so I didn’t edit it.  (Apologies for the slight difference in color between the new and old sections, I did the best I could to match it to the old document, but I don’t have a fancy program like Photoshop so I’m using basic stuff and my rudimentary graphic design skills.

Now on to the fun part: the positive examples.  I took three pictures of good signs and one of them didn’t turn out, so I’m going to use the other two that did:

alwaysSomethingHappening

and:

libraryRocks Small

These are banners hung over the second floor of the Monterey Public library.  They are rather large banners that the library changes periodically and they are always the same kind of thing: a quote of some kind from a satisfied customer of the Monterey Public Library.  They’re short, the text is huge, they’re easy to read, and all in all, they express the patron’s satisfaction quite clearly.

At the Monterey Public Library, there are really more positive examples like these two signs than negative ones, which is why I wanted to make a point of showing these off.

Contextual Inquiry at the Monterey Public Library

I did my inquiry at the Monterey Public Library.  I picked the location for making my observations carefully: I sat at a desk upstairs where I could easily observe the upstairs of the library.  It was also relatively trivial to observe the downstairs, all I had to do was stand up and look down.  Here are my observations from yesterday:

Upstairs:

  1. There are two people who appear to be watching movies
  2. Two, maybe three, people who look like they are homeless
  3. One person taking a nap
  4. Three people in the other area with tables and chairs who all appear to be studying
  5. One Hispanic person who walked by
  6. A guy with a baseball cap who stood near me
  7. A woman with black & grey hair walked towards me.  She was reading, then she walked off towards a table area near me.

Downstairs:

  1. Librarian talking at normal volume with patrons checking out books
  2. Three people who are browsing the internet on public access computers  (Out of five computers total)
  3. One person reviewing the new releases shelf
  4. One person who accidentally set of the circulation alarm
  5. Two people browsing the Teen Zone
  6. Two (or three) people chatting about DVDs
  7. One dad pushing a baby in a stroller
  8. One baby crying, possibly the same one.
  9. New sign near the Youth Area that says “READ” in block letters (The letter appear to be colored by children)
  10. Man and woman walking into the Youth Area.  Woman appears to be wearing a hijab
  11. Mother & daughter checking out books from the librarian at the Single Service Desk
  12. Grey haired woman walking out of the Teen Zone
  13. Reference Librarian, Karen, walking towards the staff area with a black woman who is a new librarian
  14. Black woman patron who is waiting at the reference desk – no one was at the desk, although a librarian returned to assist her shortly.

At first I wondered why there were so “many” people stopping near me.  I realized why this was occurring when I ended up leaving my seat and walking downstairs.  There is a table there with a “Free Books” section where the library gives away books.  I think it’s been there all along, I had just forgotten about it.

Reserving a book: Monterey Public Library

The following is an outline for one way to reserve a book at the Monterey Public Library.

1)      Go to the Monterey Library homepage at http://www.monterey.org/library.

2)      Click on My Account and login to your library account.

3)      Perform a search for the topic or book that you want to reserve.

4)      When you find the book, click on the book’s Detail Page.

5)      In the upper right box, click Place Hold.

6)      The next page asks you to confirm the hold and define the book’s Pickup Location.

7)      Click Place Hold.

This particular process is already fairly optimized, provided that you know what book you want to reserve, there’s not much work that could be done to improve it.  The only thing that could be done to remove a step would be to allow patrons to choose a default pickup location and then skip step 6, the confirm hold page.  But I feel that this change would likely end up causing more problems than it solves because the confirm page is useful as a way to allow users to cancel easily if they accidentally hit Place Hold on a book they didn’t mean to confirm.

By far the weakest step in this process is step 3.  If you know exactly what book you’re looking for, this is easy, all you have to do is type in the book’s title in the search box and follow steps 4 – 7 listed above.  But if you don’t, you can easily run into problems.  Library search engines are great at targeted searches where you know exactly what you want.  However, they do not work very well for serendipity searching, which is a common way of finding books by browsing in libraries, unless you’re careful with how you use them.  Say you want to find a book on a science fiction topic but don’t care about the author or have a title in mind.  If you search the Monterey Library catalog for science fiction without changing the search options drop down, you receive books that are encyclopedias of science fiction, and collections of science fiction stories, without actually showing much in the way of science fiction books.   If I did not have my degree in Library and Information Science, I would not even think to use the Subject search option, which is what users need to do to find actual science fiction books using this interface.

Library User Peronas

Public Library:

  • Barbara Ackworth, an elementary school teacher.  This is based off my observations from a reference transaction I observed while shadowing last year, but the name is made up.
  • Seth Harwood, a novel writer.  This one is based off my own personal experience since I am writing a novel at the moment.

Academic Library

  • Jack Sparrow, faculty member of the English Department.
  • Scott Smith, an undergraduate student majoring in Criminal Justice.

Elementary school teacher

Novel writer

Faculty member – English department

Undergraduate student – Criminal Justice major

Service Safari: Pharmaca and the Monterey Public Library

My Service Safari is about two recent visits to public places.  One retail store, Pharmaca, and the other my local library, the Monterey Public Library.

I went to my local Pharmaca recently to pickup a prescription.  The visit went fairly well: although it wasn’t as quick as the pharmacy technician estimated it would be, it was still pretty good considering that the prescription had just been faxed over earlier that day.  I was told that my prescription would be available in 10 minutes, it ended up being available in 15 minutes.  Not a bad wait.

I am a fairly regular shopper at Pharmaca.  The store is clean, the employees are pleasant, and the inventory is arranged in a way that makes things fairly easy to find.  One nice thing about shopping there is that it’s not just the Pharmacist who has specialized knowledge there.  The people who ring up orders aren’t just cashiers, they’re Estheticians, Naturopathic Doctors, etc.

Ultimately, the only downside to this particular visit to Pharmaca was the extra 5 minute wait over what I was told the wait time would be.  Since it was a brand new prescription, that’s still not a bad wait time, 15 minutes seems to be a fairly standard amount of time for prescription drugs to be prepared.

The second Service Safari is a recent Reference Transaction I had with the Monterey Public Library.  I was trying to look up an address in Palo Alto, but I wasn’t sure what county it was in, and the phone books are organized by County, not City, so I needed to know this in order to look up said address.

So I asked the librarian on the desk if she could look up what county Palo Alto is in.  She did, and explained that it’s in Santa Clara, which is what I had suspected, but I wasn’t sure.  The wait was short, the answer was accurate, and the interactions were pleasant, so I was happy with how it went.

All in all, the reference transaction went fairly smoothly, I was happy with the answer she gave me.  It enabled me to look up the information I was looking for in the library’s Santa Clara phone book.  This is one useful aspect of libraries beyond just the typical books, they (or at least the two libraries I’ve been to in California) typically have phone books for all the counties in the state.  It’s handy when you need to look something up in another part of the state, for example: one common example of that is if you’re thinking of moving and want to look places up in the new city that you will be living in.

Content Inventory

WordPress refuses to let me upload my Content Inventory spreadsheet, so I put it in my Amazon Cloud Drive account.

I’m going to summarize my findings rather than going into detail about the issues for all fifteen pages because the issues are pretty similar on most of them.  In essence, the content is good on most, if not all of the pages, but it’s definitely not as user friendly / web ready as it could be.

The History of the Monterey Library is a prime example of that.  The page is clearly written in essay format, and while it is interesting information, the format of it where it stretches across the entire screen makes it tricky to read.  Even without changing the content of the text, this could be made far easier to read by turning it into a two or three column layout instead of having it in one giant column.  Having it in that style so that it’s in newspaper format would be a big improvement, there’s just too much horizontal tracking on the screen for it to be easy to read in this setup.

Another broad critique of all these pages, a bit more minor, but the title of almost all the pages starts with “City of Monterey | Library |”  before getting to the actual title of the page itself.  I tend to browse the web with a lot of tabs open, typically 20+, and the only library page where I can actually read the page title is the Volunteer page which didn’t have the “City of Monterey | Library |” in front of it.  Especially since the library puts its logo in my browser window, I really think having this on the top of every single page is unnecessary and more of a hindrance than helpful.

There were a lot of pages that had the previously mentioned problem of columns that are too wide.  It was frustrating to observe because in many of them, such as the Volunteer page, there are what look to me like natural places to end the column, but instead, the text just runs across the page.  For example, with this page, there are two ways to format the text that would look cleaner than it does now.  One would have the column end with the left edge of the pictures.  This would be an improvement over how it’s laid out now, but likely still too long.  A better approach would be to have the end of the text at the bottom line up with the unordered list content.  Then it would be a nice, neat column, instead of the way it is now where it’s just an awkward block of text.

And then there was the About Us page, which was just awkward to read.  The reason that it was awkward to read is that it may say About Us, but given the actual content of the page, it should say Mission Statement in the title because that’s actually more what the content of the page is about.  It’s clean and easy to read, but when I finished reading it…I didn’t really feel like I learned anything about the Monterey Public Library.  The mission statement is nice and all, but it’s really the kind of thing that I would imagine almost any public library would do.  If I was a patron going to a library’s About Us page, what I’d really want to know is this: what kind of books am I going to find there?  Are there events, and if so, what kind?  How late is it open?  What am I going to learn in this library that I wouldn’t in another library down the street or in another city?

Sadly, none of these questions are answered.  Well, that’s not technically true, the hours question is answered, but only incidentally, it’s in the footer, so you could find that answer on any page of the library website.

Finally, the cell phone history of the library pages.  I suspect I know why this happened, but these pages include text for the following languages: English, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Japanese.  This is great, but if I were a regular patron looking at these pages coming from the rest of the library website, I’d be wondering, why are these pages all of a sudden offered in multiple languages?  The rest of the website isn’t, it’s all just English.

One last issue worth mentioning isn’t technically tied to any specific page because it’s part of the site header.  There’s a search function in the top right of the library website, but there’s kind of a big problem with it: it’s too subtle.  The only indication that there’s search is an hourglass symbol, there’s no text box unless you click on it.  It does say “Click to search” if you mouse over, but it’s not a part of the screen that I’m inclined to mouse over much because the only thing next to it is the site map and I don’t need the site map personally.  I suspect this search button has been there for years and I only just now noticed it while doing this exercise.  Given that I’m a fairly technically savvy person, if even I am not noticing it, I imagine it’s probably not getting used very much.