Getting rid of jargon: a library website usability study

My library just completed our first library website usability study.  We asked five undergraduates to perform 10 tasks.  We kept it simple, using a video camera to capture mouse movement and think-alouds,  observing the participants, and taking notes.  The entire study cost under $100.

We are still digesting the findings, but one thing we immediately noticed is that we have problems with  jargon:

Interlibrary loan

We asked: “You need a book that is not owned by the  library.  How can you borrow the book from another library?”  Few of the participants clicked on the “Interlibrary loan” link to answer this question.

About  the library

Library website detail

Levin Library website detail

We expected participants to click here for information about library services such as policies, circulation, and reserves.   They did not.  We’ve decided this needs to be re-named — perhaps to “library services” or “how do I?” — because  no one associates the words “About the library” with “How do I renew a book.”  And really, why should they?


Library website detail

Levin Library website discovery search box

This is what we named our Encore discovery search interface.  Problem: none of the five participants knew that this was the search tool appropriate for finding books and articles.  And nobody clicked on our handy “What is this?” link next to the search box!  Possible solution: define this by adding “search for books, videos, articles, and more…” as a value in the search box.

Education Resource Center

This is the link to our library’s curriculum collection for Education majors.  Our participants (none of whom were Education majors)  went to this link to attempt to answer questions about reserves and renewals.   And why not?  The words “Education Resource Center” are meaningless to someone who does not know what it is.


As Steve Krug says in Don’t Make Me Think, “Testing reminds you that not everyone thinks the way you do, knows what you know, uses the Web the way you do.”  Performing this study reminded me just  how true this is!

Tasks used in this study

Library website

3 responses to “Getting rid of jargon: a library website usability study

  1. We did this at our library, and wrote an article about it (and also about our attempts at various physical reconfigurations of our library spaces, also in the name of usability and access). See our publication here:

    • Thanks for the comment, Donna, and for passing along your article! I have shared it with my colleagues here – we are just starting to try and make sense of the data we’ve gathered, and seeing your process will be very helpful to us. Also, I am intrigued by how you tied usability to space re-configuration – this is an area we are also trying to redevelop, so your experience is very pertinent.

  2. you have just saved us some strife installing our new discovery layer at our library. We thought we’d like to call it supersearch too, but it looks like ‘search’ will be enough, and the idea to use the text box to suggest “search books” etc is brilliant.

    We also did an extensive language card sorting test with students and staff that use our library and we found that “lending” was the term they put Renewals, loans etc under. either “borrowing” or “lending” so that’s the section we have now.

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