Usability testing from week three

I followed a shortened version of the test script for my usability tests, where I tested the Monterey Public Library.  It is attached to this post right here  test-script

The only difference is that I didn’t really ask people their internet habits or what websites they frequent because all the people I did this test with are people I know fairly well.  Two of them are on the computer / internet 5+ hours a day, most days.  The third is my dad, who is actually not a big computer user, and fairly computer illiterate so I figured asking him would be a good contrast.  His favorite website is Google News.  He’s on the computer no more than an hour a day, probably less than that.

Here’s the actual usability questions that I asked people:
1) You are planning a vacation to Switzerland and want to discover the sights while you are there. You have decided that you want a book that will explain what is available while you are there. Please explain what you would do to find books that would help with this task.

2) You have a book that is coming close to being due and you would like to renew it. Please explain what you would do to renew this book.

3) When outside the library, you are wanting to ask someone who works at the library a question. Please explain what you would use on the website to ask this question.

The first person who I asked is a friend of mine who is a grad student in a PhD program for Teaching in a Spanish and Portuguese Graduate School.  The second person was my dad, as I mentioned earlier.  The final person I asked is a friend who is the leader of the local writing group that I joined a while ago.

My observations?  The interesting thing I observed is that my friend who is the PhD student came up with pretty much the precise answers I was looking for, although she did access them in precisely the same route I used personally.

For the first question, my dad found a LibGuide on travel bags that I didn’t even know was on the library’s website.  He then pointed to a book from an external link rather than finding a book from the library catalog as I had intended the test to be.  Another tester, the writing group leader friend, refused to look for a book on Switzerland altogether and said she prefers looking in internet forums and other websites for traveling resources, thinking that books go out of date too quickly.

Everyone found the renew link one way or another without any trouble.

My writing group leader friend posted a different link than the other two people for my third and final question on asking someone at the library a question.  It is, however, a valid link to answer this question, as it is a staff directory with phone numbers.  I don’t see the reference desk phone number on this list, but there are multiple librarians on the list, so it would work, but would perhaps not be a straightforward as calling the reference desk directly.

Observing this usability test itself was very revealing to me.  The fact that one of my testers basically said she wouldn’t look for a book and said here’s what she’d do instead surprised me, but her approach is definitely a valid alternative approach for finding travel resources.

Analysis of the Monterey Public Library Website

This is the review of the Monterey Public Library’s website, local to where I live, and the library I use most frequently as a patron.  I think it is a decent website, but it does have some issues.  There was only one time fairly recently when I thought about their usability, and it was a decidedly negative experience for me.

The reason for this negative experience?  They recently added a carousel of rotating images and the image size was decidedly too large of the images in this carousel.  The first time I loaded the site with these new items in it, it took between 30 seconds to 1 minute to load.  That is way too long for a website’s loading time.  To put things in perspective, my internet connection speed is 25 Megabits.  I can only imagine how slow it would have been for someone with slow internet to load the site with this new carousel.  I just downloaded two of the images in the carousel and they were both around 200KB.  There are four images total in the carousel.  This means that the carousel alone is about 1 MB in file size, not counting everything else on the page.  I used to do web design professionally, and I heard that a general rule of thumb is that it’s a good idea to have page size not more than 50 KB if possible.  This site’s home page is more than 20 times that size, for a carousel that adds no functionality to the site.  They are pretty images, but to me, the long initial load time subtracts more from the site experience than seeing the pretty images adds to it.

This is a screenshot of the Monterey Public Library’s home page:
MPL Homepage

It has the bright red box that Professor Schmidt is not wild about.  I personally don’t mind this template that libraries seem to have to announce news.  It’s usually announcing things like closures during times that the library isn’t normally closed for holidays, or, in this case a longer close than normal for July 4th because the library is migrating its ILS over to Koha.

The library is following several standards that Krug mentions in his discussion of templates.  The four that I see right away are these: the clickable logo in the top left corner, the menu bar along the top of the website, what Krug calls the “utilities”, or the My Account / Catalog buttons.  There are also two other buttons there: a site map and a search button.  Personally, I think these are way too subtle, especially the search.  I’ve been using this site for years now and I only just now noticed that was a search button now that I started analyzing it more closely.

There is a more obvious search section below the carousel of images and big red box, but it’s barely even visible without scrolling, so again, I feel that this is too subtle.  I think the text of this functionality is okay, but I just think it’s in the wrong place.  I’d get rid of the carousel and move the search functionality up to the top where it is if I were to redesign this homepage.

I don’t know if I’m a typical user of this website or not, but I only use a tiny fraction of the links on the site.  There is a big menu bar and a bunch of events listed on the home page.  But pretty much the only thing I click on when I go to the Monterey Public Library’s website is either Catalog (to search for books) or Checkout -> Login to my account (to renew books).

As far as the useful to “junk” links ratio, it’s not great, unfortunately.  Steve Krug talked about the home page being prime real estate, thus why everyone wants all their information there.  The whole right side of the screen is called “In the Blogs” and most of the information on there isn’t the kind of thing I’d look for when I’m going to a library website.  One post is called “New Kid on the San Diego Skyline” and is talking about San Diego’s new Public Library.  I tend to think pictures from other cities would, in most cases, only be interesting to other librarians.  Unless, perhaps, they’re really spectacular, like I think the Seattle and Vancouver (British Columbia) libraries are.

On the positive side, all the information on the left side is about events, all of which looks like it’d be useful or interesting to someone, so that is all useful information.  One piece of information that I’ve also looked for on the library’s website, the hours, is also relatively easy to find, on the bottom center of the home page.  This is especially critical for the Monterey Public Library to be easy to find because they have three different hours schedules throughout the week, making it hard to remember all the various times they are open since it’s fairly varied.

All in all, there are positive and negative aspects to the Monterey Public Library website home page.  As far as the navigation goes, I think they do a pretty good job.  For me, they follow Krug’s Second law of usability well here, in that there’s no ambiguity in what links do.  And while there are large sections of the website that aren’t useful (to me), they are very clearly laid out in sections, so it is easy to just ignore the sections I’m not interested in personally.  The biggest weakness is the carousel that I mentioned originally: the images are just too big, while they look nice, and are professional quality, they add too much to the website loading time for me to truly consider them a useful feature of the site.