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August 24, 2005

Observations on recent LUMINA testing

I recently sat in on the usability testing of the LUMINA redesign. The testing highlighted both the new seeking behaviors of the academic library user and the old issues of nomenclature that we have been struggling with.

What is an index? What is a database? What is a catalog? These are basic Library Science concepts that many of us have internalized. Even if you couldn't come up with cogent definitions of each at the drop of a hat, I would expect that, as a reader of this blog, you know enough of their use and function that you would feel comfortable using a library uber-tool that identified sections using mainly those labels.

Well, maybe we feel a little too comfortable, because, as the recent testing of the LUMINA website showed, even graduate stiudents are not always clear on the concepts surrounding selection of these classes of tools. Constantly in our testing, we were faced with the realization that, as much as possible, we need to look toward using functional labels for our tools. "article-finder," to use a silly example, will get a lot more people to articles than "index."

LUMINA is designed to get faculty and graduate students to MNCAT and the article indexes, databases and associated tools quickly. Its focus is on providing access to the deepest, most informative, most esoteric information we have to offer. What we also came to understand was that these resources must be placed in a fair amount of context, and made as easily accessible to the once-a-month user as they are to the daily user. For while a person may be experienced in their subject of study, we should not assume that their study has extended into the realms of library science.

What else did we learn? The information seeking behaviors of the academic library patron have changed, as much as is commonly advertised - if not more. A major change from the old LUMINA design is a MNCAT search box placed prominently on the front page. In the age of the single search box, we felt this a necessity. For all the talk you have heard about Google-ization and people not wantingn to go past the first page of search results, the testers showed a surprising willingness to go through pages and pages of hits.

Another glaring problem is the near invisibility of the Archives and Special COllections units, and the Andersen Library as a whole, in the new design. It is expected that the faculty and graduate stiudents are among the most important users of these resources, and there was no real way for people to distinguish these collections from others in a long list.

The upshot of the testing was a return to some of the old nomenclature of "Articles and More" and "Books and More" that had appeared on the old LUMINA design. I look forward toi the new, edited design and hearing everyone's comments.

Congratulations to Shane and Jen for a tremendous effort on a short, short timeframe.