Weekly user tests: Finding subject guides

This week we did a guerrilla-style test to see how (or if) people find our subject guides, particularly if they are not in our main listing. We asked “Pretend that someone has told you there is a really great subject guide on the library website about [subject]. What would you do to find it?” We cycled through three different subjects not listed on our main subject guide page: Canadian History, Ottawa, and Homelessness.

Some Context

Our subject guides use a template created in-house (not LibGuides) and we use Drupal Views and Taxonomy to create our lists. The main subject guide page has  an A-Z list, an autocomplete search box, a list of broad subjects (e.g. Arts and Social Sciences) and a list of narrower subjects (e.g. Sociology). The list of every subject guide is on another page. Subject specialists were not sure if users would find guides that didn’t correspond to the narrower subjects (e.g. Sociology of Sport).

Results

The 21 students we saw did all kinds of things to find subject guides. We purposely used the same vocabulary as what is on the site because it wasn’t supposed to be a test about the label “subject guide.” However, less than 30% clicked on the Subject Guides link; the majority used some sort of search.

Here you can see the places people went to on our home page most (highlighted in red), next frequently (in orange) and just once (yellow).subject_test

When people used our site search, they had little problem finding the guide (although a typo stymied one person). However, a lot of participants used our Summon search. I think there are a couple of reasons for this:

  • Students didn’t know what a subject guide was and so looked for guides the way they look for articles, books, etc.
  • Students think the Summon search box is for everything

Of the 6 students who did click on the Subject Guides link:

  • 2 used broad subjects (and neither was successful with this strategy)
  • 2 used narrow subjects (both were successful)
  • 1 used the A-Z list (with success)
  • 1 used the autocomplete search (with success)

One person thought that she couldn’t possibly find the Ottawa guide under “Subject Guides” because she thought those were only for courses. I found this very interesting because a number of our subject guides do not map directly to courses.

The poor performance of the broad subjects on the subject guide page is an issue and Web Committee will look at how we might address that. Making our site search more forgiving of typos is also going to move up the to-do list. But I think the biggest takeaway is that we really have to figure out how to get our guides indexed in Summon.

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