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Usability, Library Research Guides, and the Engineering Student

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 2a

Tagged Topic

Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Sheree Fu California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Sheree Fu is the engineering librarian at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.

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Andrew Kleve California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Senior, BS Aerospace Engineering

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Engineering students must be able to locate relevant, credible, and high-quality information. However, many students motivated by familiarity, simplicity, and speed typically turn to Google for their research needs, leaving their library’s webpages underused. Library-created resources offer a plethora of credible, current information but can be overwhelming, confusing, and difficult for students to navigate. To address this issue, librarians have turned to usability testing of research guides to make them more intuitive and usable. Usability testing involves gathering direct feedback from users as they complete tasks. Such audience feedback enables librarians to make cleaner, more user friendly library research guides. The authors of this paper observed aerospace engineering students at California State Polytechnic University at San Luis Obsipo (Cal Poly) interacting with an online subject research guide as they performed research tasks during two rounds of usability testing. In the first round of tests, participants were encouraged to think aloud and share their experiences with the facilitator. Students unanimously found the navigation somewhat muddled. The authors surmised that the visual clutter on the guide contributed to an unsatisfying user experience. Although the guides were difficult to use, students persisted. Students were willing to make numerous clicks in an effort to discover library resources to complete the usability test. In spite of the guide’s design issues, the results indicated that participants found value as they explored the research guide. The authors then modified certain elements of the research guide based on the test results and participants completed a second round of usability testing. The authors recommend ongoing testing to improve the information architecture (i.e., labeling and organization of content) of research guides. In this article, they explore how to apply their usability findings to other research guides and library resources. Their insights into students’ information-seeking behaviors and mental models may benefit other online and engineering educators.

Fu, S., & Kleve, A. (2017, April), Usability, Library Research Guides, and the Engineering Student Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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