Usability Studies and Feedback
For us to be a success, we must reach our audience at the point of need, with the content they need, in the form they need it. This is an ambitious goal, given that we have not yet clearly identified our audiences. We believe that they include researchers primarily in the humanities, undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Alabama, and patrons in the University of Alabama community.
To succeed, we must connect with our users and obtain feedback, and then modify our content and its delivery methods appropriately. This must be an iterative effort, as our user base and our offerings are continually morphing.
Donnelly Lancaster Walton (Archival Access Coordinator) developed a proposal for a user study in late 2008: http://www.lib.ua.edu/wiki/digcoll/images/f/f4/User_study_20081110.docx
Some of the questions she posed include:
- Do our researchers want to do their own searches and pull together the letters written by individuals and place them in their own order?
- Do they want us to present them to them in the order in which they are arranged physically at the Hoole?
- Do they want us to present the collections folder-by-folder and allow them to virtually open the folder and view the contents?
- Do they want to look at the archival finding aid and view the digital items within the context of the finding aid?
We attempted to address these points with the Cabaniss Usability Study in late 2010.
Metadata Comparison Study
A second usability study evolved from the concern over the lack of staffing support for archivists to create item-level descriptive metadata, against the burgeoning need for content to feed the digitization machine. This usability study is currently underway and more information on this effort is available in the Metadata Comparison Test.
Our experience with these studies clarified for us that we need to better understand the metrics for testing learnability of interfaces and how to best select questions and perform tests to ensure valuable results for analysis. Prior to development of the next tests, we studied Measuring the User Experience: Collecting, Analyzing and Presenting Usability Metrics by Tom Tullis and Bill Albert, Morgan Kaufmann publishers, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-12-373558-4
Acumen Access Study
A third usability study held in January 2012 pointed out some problems our patrons are having with the Acumen interface. Amanda Presnell, who carried out this study with the assistance of Jeremiah Colonna-Romano, then presented the results to the Digital Planning meeting. Her presentation is available here: http://www.lib.ua.edu/wiki/digcoll/images/6/6a/Presentation.pdf
As a result of these findings, Digital Services then developed two videos to link into the left side of the Acumen interface. One is "How to use Acumen" and the second is "What's in Acumen?" -- the Hoole curators provided the text and examples for the second video. Our next step is to determine how useful these videos are in meeting the need they attempt to fill.
Faculty Researcher Study
In late 2012, we began a qualitative user study to understand how faculty researchers access primary source materials online. Our research questions are: What aspects of current online primary source materials are most useful for faculty researchers? What aspects are most problematic? What gaps exist between the needs of these researchers and the current methods of online delivery? Eleven interviews took place December 2012 - February 2013. The study findings were presented in a panel discussion at the Society of American Archivists 2013 meeting, and an article analyzing the results was published in D-Lib in July 2014 .