Tag Archives: libguides

user testing and style guides, oh my!

meg in action

Here I be in my staged-tidy cube in Walden University Library. Contrary to my pastiness in this photo, I did see the light of day this summer, I swear! But it’s been a breakneck speed, productive past several months, with two major accomplishments:

1. Website user testing

I’m on a team that has been developing a reorganization for the library website. The design will stay largely the same, but the current site has significant usability problems, mostly due to poor labeling and non-intuitive categorization—legacy decisions that leave us with loads of library jargon and way too many assumptions about user know-how.

Inspired by user experience discussions at MinneWebCon and Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy, I advocated for user testing and won—to my delight and terror. Without a user testing precedent in the library or elsewhere in the university as far as I could determine, I was on my own. Though some decisions were less than ideal, like using other staff as participants instead of actual students (it’s an online university, hey… can’t exactly post fliers by the washrooms), the pilot test proved most useful.

I designed and conducted the tests with input from two colleagues, also on the website team. We opted to get feedback on the existing site to confirm our suspicions about things that are confusing and to uncover new problems we hadn’t considered. The data collected was largely confirming but with plenty of the unexpected to keep it interesting.

Data was used to justify design decisions, to incorporate additional ones and to make a few emergency changes to the current site immediately—critical facepalms not fit to print. User testing overall was thrilling and embarrassing and yes, time-consuming, but at the same time so important, and despite the initial timesink, it wasn’t terribly complicated. With a process in place, future testing sessions can hopefully happen with greater frequency, and with our other user groups, like students and faculty.

2. A comprehensive style guide for all library content

The new website requires loads of revised and new content, the majority of which will be pushed through LibGuides, of which we already have a ton. A metric ton. An expletive ton, and honestly, sadly, they’re all over the place when it comes to consistency.

Consistency is quality—inescapably. But with incomplete guidelines and several librarians producing content, the guides as a whole lack cohesion.

Now was my chance to reign in our over 2,500 guides, exploiting my English degree and proofreading background to the fullest. After investigating the university style guide and APA style (the university-wide standard), plus considering deeply the merits of common use and sense (e-hyphen-mail? really?), I created a content style guide governing every aspect of content creation, including:

  • Grammar, spelling and usage
  • Screenshot creation and specs for annotations (call-out boxes, arrows, highlighting, etc.)
  • Link names and image descriptions (“alt tags”) that are mindful of screen readers to ensure all content is ADA compliant, or as close as we can get given tech constraints

The style guide applies across all platforms: the main site, LigGuides, LibAnswers, the blog, Facebook, YouTube, and all things to come. With the help of an instructional designer colleague, instructional best practices are included throughout.

The style guide is a thing of beauty—and was a wonderful exercise in choosing the fights worth having. I tend to lean toward the minimal. Serial comma?—hate it. But I let it go and let it inside. Two spaces instead of one between sentences? I knew enforcing a rule either way would cause a war, and didn’t even bother.

But killing the capital “I” on internet? Now that’s worth fighting for.

Mayo Clinic presentation recap

Mayo Clinic from the Plummer Building tower.

On June 21 I traveled to Rochester, Minnesota, with Augsburg College colleagues to talk about LibGuides with the Mayo Clinic librarians. They’d been intrigued after one of them saw the nursing guide I created for Augsburg (the nursing program at Augsburg in Minneapolis offers classes in Rochester for Mayo Clinic personnel working on nursing bachelors completion and doctorate programs).

Though the two other contractors and I are not currently working on guides, we were happy to join the nursing liaison Augsburg librarian to give the Mayo folks the LibGuides rundown, covering pros and cons, best practices, guide organization ideas and more. I’m intrigued to see what they come up with — the subject matter is more technical and the audience much different from the largely undergrad-focused Augsburg guides, and might range from high-level physicians to medical students to laypersons seeking consumer medical information.

Following the presentation, we were treated to lunch and conversation. I’ve never worked in a medial library, and it was fascinating to hear firsthand from information professionals at one of the best medical practice and research communities in the world — everything from database access issues to painstakingly detailed search notes on reference questions, necessary for review in medical publications.

We also had tours of the History of Medicine Library, housing rare medical texts with stunning 15th century anatomical woodcuts (a pet interest of mine), and the carillon bells in the tower of the Plummer Building. Resident carillonist Jeff Daehn even hammered out a few tunes for us, as we cavorted along the tower with the stone guards and eagle/gargoyles overlooking the city and the Mayo complex.

Mayo Clinic from the Plummer Building tower.

PRI internship and libe tech conference

Quick shoutout! I recently started an internship with Public Radio International cataloging radio segments for the PRI / WNYC show, The Takeaway. I’ll also be presenting at the Library Technology Conference 2010 at Macalester College in St. Paul next week with my Augsburg colleagues, discussing contracting for LibGuides. Forget how to make the dang things work — how can cash-strapped libraries mired in hiring freezes get them done at all?

Minneapolis moved! and into the work fold

I forget I can write asides with this blog… updates without the hassle of premeditated depth. In short: I’ve moved back to Minneapolis, MN, and am currently doing contract work with Augsburg College to create subject guides using the all-hailed LibGuides. The software isn’t bad, but it definitely has its foibles and limitations, resulting in fist shakes and many “Guh!” exclamations. More on this, perhaps, later&#8212given all the hype, I am definitely pleased to start playing around with them, not to mention grateful to have so quickly found library-related employment in this bled-dry job market, even if only short term.