Monday, August 17, 2009
Ultimate Usability Testing: The View from the Reference Desk
As we gear up for the new semester, I'm trying to improve my relationship with the reference desk. Last semester I got increasingly impatient with the time I spent there, because I felt more like a lab technician or a tutor than a librarian.
I think part of my attitude adjustment will involve treating patron interactions as opportunities to study usability first-hand. Researchers spend lots of time observing user behavior, and here I am at the reference desk, being actively approached for (mostly technical) assistance, for hours at a time.
And so I'm going to try and track patron computer-usage habits while at the reference desk this fall. Noting patrons' habits and impulses in the context of interactions with the library's interface, the web, common software applications, and the computer in general might provide insight into usability trends.
Granted, the people using the library computers are a particular subset of community college patrons. These are the folks who do not have a computer or internet at home, for example, or those who have explicitly been told by their instructors to come to the library, or who are so confused that they come looking for human assistance.
But in the business of technology, companies do not need to design for savvy computer users -- they need to design for the untapped market, for those who do not use computers regularly but might still be won over. And everyone wants computers to be simple and straightforward. So why not start by observing some of those who are struggling the most? (i.e., those who ask the librarian for help.)
I'll report back at the end of the semester...