Results tagged “usability” from WorldCat Blog

(Alice note: Andy really wrote this--but he's away from his desk temporarily and asked me to post it.)

OK... so you don't really have to look deeply into my eyes. But if you want to help improve an information-rich website, sometimes you've got to stare into a weird piece of machinery for awhile.

We go to a number of lengths to make better, easier, faster and more robust. As part of these efforts, Lead User Experience Researcher Mike Prasse, PhD, recently conducted an eye-tracking study in order to better understand how the format of search services affect how users process the results. Basically, they hook up some helpful volunteers and watch where their eyes go on the screen as they try to do various searching tasks.

Mike's results indicate that the description that accompanies the title of an entry was very important to users when looking for a book, but less so when searching for articles. In a report on his findings, he discusses how subtle differences in page layout can have a major impact on what users first look at on a results page, and for how long.

He also explores the idea of "attentional slicing," where users look for key features of an object, rather than the object itself as a possible explanation of his findings. Other results include information about facets, summaries and other elements of the two services he compared, and GoogleBooks.

Interesting stuff, and a good "peek" behind the curtain of what it takes to help make better.

Recently, at the American Library Association (ALA) conference, one of my colleagues, Arnold Arcolio, gave a presentation about the WorldCat Local usability studies we've done over the past two years. Most of these studies were conducted in collaboration with partner libraries who piloted WorldCat Local. We've decided to make this summary of findings available on the website for anyone:

If you have any questions or comments regarding this summary, please contact Arnold at

What's next?

We are continuing to usability test WorldCat Local and to make improvements to the application based on customer and user feedback we receive through various channels. Our most recent usability testing is being completed at academic and public libraries in Illinois. A few of the concepts we're looking at involve improvements to the search results pages and library filtering, improvements to the search of multiple databases in one interface for metasearching, and improvements to the display of electroinc access on the item record pages.

Soon, you will notice some exciting changes to the WorldCat item details area.
The WorldCat team has been working on updating the design to provide users with clear options to locate library materials and, where possible, to access those materials. The redesign will provide more evaluative information - and will make it easier for users to manage their items and to provide their own evaluative information about the items.
We look forward to hearing what you think.

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Check out Smashing Magazine's article showcasing well designed tabbed navigation.'s tabbed search box (found on our home page) gets mentioned as a good design, with clean separation and rounded corners. Kudos to our designer, Chris Galvin, for a clean and simple design!

This well liked tabbed search box has been one of our design successes. We've incorporated the tabbed search box look and feel into our distributed search boxes for and WorldCat Local.

Get your tabbed search box by creating a free affiliate account. Or get your institution's WorldCat Local tabbed search box by going to your institution's URL and appending '/tools/searchboxHTML' to the end of the URL. (See an example.)

Why aren't we putting this tabbed search box on the rest of our site? Good question. It's been a success as far as the user experience is concerned, so we are definitely looking at ways to incorporate it into our other pages. The search box was intended to be a simple keyword search box, similar to Google's search, so there are differences of opinions here at OCLC as to whether we should keep that box simple or begin to add more functionality to it.

In our April install, you can expect to see a redesigned search box across our entire site, but don't expect to see the tabbed search box on pages other than our home page just yet.

Since we installed the new icons on, it's easier for users to identify what kind of material they are looking at.

Instead of seeing something like: Internet Resource, Book, Computer File

You see:ebookicon.gif

What is yet to come, is a way to make it easier for users to find these items. We're working on that.

Here are some of my favorite searches on

English stuff that might be (but not always depending on copyright) free*

This is how I find some e-content items today, but it's likely to change eventually:




We are constantly refining and looking at item types that we might be missing or misrepresenting. If you see something, please let us know.

*These searches are not 100% accurate because we also look at other fields, like physical size, but they're pretty darn close (except for the free stuff).

Feedback from the librarians who attended the ALA presentation where Bob Schulz gave an overview of and WorldCat Local usability findings was overwhelming: you want us to share more information!

We hear you. In response, Arnold Arcolio from OCLC San Mateo is working on putting together a high-level, cross-test summary of what we're seeing, our conclusions, and how we're responding to what we've discovered during our user research. We're trying to determine the best way to discuss and collaborate on these topics, so right now, we're looking into making it a wiki-like page where OCLC and other libraries can share their findings and experiences as well.

We expect the summary to include information about the differences we're seeing in the kinds of users of and WorldCat Local and how that informs the different personas we're developing for the two products.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in our process of evaluation and user research, you can visit our OCLC usability website.

Stay tuned!

Soon, you will notice some exciting changes to your WorldCat profile page, My WorldCat. The WorldCat team is in the midst of updating the design and making it easier for users to find and manage things you've done on - and to view other user's activities via the public view of their profile.

Don't have a WorldCat account yet? Register for a free account today and start creating and sharing helpful information around WorldCat items - via lists, reviews, tags, favorite libraries, lists you're watching (sneak peek...more info to come) and more!

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Big change ... in a little bitty icon


So when I posted an entry about the Internet Resources Icon a few months back, it turned into a much bigger UI project on our end. We decided to just revamp the way we display our icons all together.

We installed the new icons in early September, so you may see new icons appearing that weren't previously on, such as ebooks, downloadable audiobooks, video games, audiobooks on tape, and toys. It's a rather manual process to identify these new types, so an ongoing effort is underway to refine our definitions so that we are displaying what is most meaningful to our user. You may see these new icons and types gradually being introduced into the different parts of as we complete this effort. If you have any comments on the icons and types that we added to, please send them our way!


The internet resource icon on has been a hot topic of conversation for quite a while among our users and our user experience groups here working on Originally when we put that icon on our search results and detailed records as a secondary icon, it was meant to indicate that "this item is also available online".

Much to our (and our users') dismay, we noticed the icon appearing on items that weren't actually available online...Turns out, this problem is a result of different interpretations among catalogers of what a 'version' of something actually is. So, we are working diligently on filtering our data to more accurately display the internet resource icon only when a true online version of the item exists. This change should be reflected on in August or September!

But there are even more challenges with this darn little icon. The internet resource icon carries a lot of weight. Internet searchers are looking for items that they can find online, and to most of our searchers, this is the only or most visible indication we give on search results or detailed records that it is available online, even when the user is not actually authorized to view the item. Why is this? Because the internet resource icon was originally intended to just show that a 'version' of this item existed online - but it wasn't meant to indicate whether the user is authorized to view it.

We realize we have a usability challenge on our hands...

Users want to be able to tell up front what they can access online when they are searching. Unfortunately in most cases, doesn’t know what users are authorized to access.

So our challenge is: would users rather see what they *might* be able to get online with the possibility of failed attempts? Or would users rather see what absolutely knows they have access to online, with the possibility of missing out on other items that they are authorized to access?

By WorldCat Guest Bloggers Christie Heitkamp and Arnold Arcolio

Behind the curtain, a team of individuals is dedicated to ensuring our site is meeting users' expectations, needs, and wants. Our team is comprised of several people from various parts of the organization who are responsible for discovering, analyzing, and advocating user perspectives during the development of new features and functionality on

Defining the user experience on and WorldCat Local has been an interesting challenge because of the evolution of WorldCat from a librarian's tool into a site that can be searched by anyone on the web. When OCLC took the innovative step to give everyone on the internet access to some of the WorldCat data, we had to reconsider our target users. Now our site is being used by librarians, library patrons, students, teachers, authors, editors, and pretty much anyone else who happen upon our site from other search engines, like Google.

So, what does this mean exactly to the user interface and the user experience?
It means we have new users to account for during our design and development of new features and functionality. While our site may have been great for librarians to search and find items, we have to evaluate whether it is meeting our other users' needs and expectations as well. This, of course, means understanding who exactly is our target user.

We use several different methods to gather information about our users. One method is to actually visit the user and interview them while they are in their own environment. This helps us to understand the conditions and limitations they are typically facing while using and helps us create a persona for that target user group. It also helps to understand the terminology that the user is familiar with. You may find us hanging out at your library looking for people willing to let us hover over them while they use the computer to find stuff in their library. If you do, don't be scared! We're not CIA or anything, we're just OCLC user experience people looking to learn more about our user to make our website easier to use.

We also conduct usability evaluations, where we observe users completing tasks and listen to them explain their experience and their expectations while trying to complete the tasks given to them. The usability evaluations are typically done in our in-house usability lab or often times we conduct them remotely. We use usability evaluations to help us understand the user's behavior on our site, and it also helps uncover any obvious usability problems in our interface. More detailed information about OCLC usability evaluations can be found at our usability site, which is created and maintained by our usability guru, Mike Prasse. Or, if you are interested in reading more about user experience and usability in general, check out some of our recommended books on the topic.