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Usability Testing: International Children’s Digital Library

I was interested in testing a site designed specifically for children. The International Children’s Digital Library is an online library that lets children or parents/teachers browse for children’s books in many languages and read them online.

I tested with two child testers and one adult/parent tester. My script follows. I found that as I went through it I had to simplify it even more than I already had because the children were confused by some of the language (for example, “what strikes you” or “your impressions”). Parentheses in the script indicate changes or explanations I made when the children appeared confused.

Usability test script

(adapted from Krug, 2006)

Hello! Thank you for participating in this library site test!

Today I will be asking you to try using a website so we can see whether it works as intended (whether it works well, how easy it is to use). We will be looking at the website for the International Children’s Digital Library. I will ask for your impressions (ask what you think) of the home page of the website, then I will ask you to do a couple of things: I will ask you to browse for a book you might want to read, and then I will ask you to find out how to register for an account on the website (you won’t actually register, I will just be asking you to figure how you could if you wanted to).

The first thing I want to make clear is that we’re testing the site, not you. You can’t do anything wrong here. In fact, this is probably the one place today where you don’t have to worry about making mistakes.

As you use the site, I’m going to ask you as much as possible to try to think out loud: to say what you’re looking at, what you’re trying to do (what you want to click), and what you’re thinking about the site. This will be a big help to me. Also, please don’t worry that you’re going to hurt my feelings. We’re doing this to improve the site, so we need to hear your honest reactions.

If you have any questions as we go along, just ask them. I may not be able to answer them right away, since we’re interested in how people do when they don’t have someone sitting next to them to help. But if you still have any questions when we’re done I’ll try to answer them then. And if you need to take a break at any point, just let me know.

Do you have any questions so far?

  1. Before we look at the site, I’d like to ask you just a few quick questions.
  • How would you describe your computer and Internet knowledge—how familiar are you with using the computer and web browsing? (NOTE: I had to explain to the children that “web browsing” was “clicking around and looking around at stuff on web sites.”)
  • What kinds of sites are you looking at when you browse the Web?
  • Do you have any favorite Web sites?OK, great. We’re done with the questions, and we can start looking at things.

Test Script

Scenario #1: ICDL Home Page

  1. (starting from Google) Let’s go to the ICDL home page,
  2. First, I’m going to ask you to look at this page and tell me what you think about it: what strikes you about it, whose site you think it is, what you can do here, and what it’s for. Just look around and tell me what you think.

You can scroll if you want to, but please don’t click on anything yet.

Allow this to continue for three or four minutes, at most. If the user does not answer these questions spontaneously, ask:
  • What is this site for? What can you do here?
  • Does the site look fun? Do you think you would like to use it?
  • What do you think about how the site looks? (Additional prompts if needed: Do you like the colors? What do you think about the number of links?)

    Scenario #2: Finding a Book to Read

Thanks. Now I’m going to ask you to try doing a couple of specific tasks. And again, as much as possible, it will help us if you can try to think out loud as you go along.

  1. What I’d like you to do now is look for a book that you might want to read (for adult tester: a book you think your child would want to read). How do you think you might do that? OK, let’s try that. [Wait a few minutes, help where needed]
  2. [After book record is chosen] Now I’d like you to try and open this book so you can read it. [Wait]
  3. [After books is successfully opened, or if 10 minutes pass without success] Great! Thanks. [If applicable, say: ] We can come back and read this book later, I promise.
  4. What did you think of this site? Was it easy to find a book to read?

Thanks, that was very helpful.

Scenario #3: Figuring Out How to Register

Thanks. OK, now I am going to ask you to figure how you can register as a library member at this site. You won’t actually be registering, we just want to figure out how to do that.

  1. We’ll start this task from the library’s home page. Do you know how to get back there? [Help if needed]
  2. How do you think you would register if you wanted to be a member of this site? OK, let’s try that.
  3. [After appropriate registration form (child or adult) is successfully opened, or if 10 minutes pass without success] Thanks! [If applicable say:] Let’s look at this registration form. Do you think it looks easy or hard to fill out? Do you have any thoughts about it?
  4. How would you go back to the library’s home page?

OK, that was the last task!

Do you have any questions for me, now that we’re done?

Thank you so much for participating in the site test! I really appreciate it!

Tester Profiles

Tester 1

Nine year old tester who uses the computer 1 or 2 hours a day. Primary occupation: fourth grade. Tester 1 said “I don’t do that [i.e. computer use and web browsing] a lot. Tester 1 said was his favorite website.

Tester 2

Eleven year old tester who uses the computer 1 or 2 hours a day. Primary occupation: sixth grade. Tester 2 said he was “pretty unfamiliar” with computer use and web browsing. Tester 2 said he did not have any favorite websites.

Tester 3

Adult tester who uses the computer 6-8 hours per day (uses computer for work). Primary occupation: telecom engineer/administrator. Also a parent. Tester 3 said he was highly familiar with using the computer and web browsing. Tester 3 said he had several favorite networking/technical sites, and also really liked ESPN, and IMDB.

Test Results

One of the things I concluded from this test is that it is probably really hard to design a website that will be used by both kids and adults. My child testers found the site pretty easy to use for the most part and completed tasks quickly. They were comfortable just clicking around and trying things.

My one adult tester, on the other hand, got very frustrated with the site functionality. This was contrary to my expectations. I chose a children’s library site to test because I was curious about design for children, since it seemed like children, who have less experience and fewer expectations of site conventions, might be harder to design an intuitive site for.

This site’s primary audience is children. It makes sense that they would design a site that kids will enjoy and find easy and fun to use. Based on two kid tests, it seems like they did that, but at the price of making it a somewhat annoying site for adults to use. The child testers were more willing to browse, whereas the adult tester was very focused on finding the most efficient path quickly. In this case, having experience and expectations about how sites behave worked against him. He said several times “Well this isn’t what I expected to happen.” The children never said anything like this.

For this site, it seems like many conventions were not followed, and this was not a problem for the child testers, since they had few expectations. The adult tester, however, struggled with the unusual choices.

Obviously I didn’t test enough users to make generalizations about how children vs. adults use the web, but the results did make me wonder if children in general are more willing to explore, less impatient, and more likely to be “link dominant” versus “search dominant.” My adult tester clearly wanted an efficient search strategy and found the site defective because there wasn’t one. Both child testers seemed more willing to just look around at what was there and browse rather than trying to immediately identify the most efficient search strategy.

Task Completion

All of the users completed all of the tasks, which I tried to make pretty simple since I was testing children. The overall completion rate was 100 percent. However, my adult user went down many wrong paths and became frustrated. A less persistent user might well have quit and gone to another site, especially if he really was a parent looking for a book for his child. Lots of children’s ebooks are pretty cheap on Amazon and are super easy to search and find!


Home Page

I’m wary of making suggestions since this seems like a situation where it’s going to be “fix one thing, break another.” The site worked pretty well for the children, and was pretty irritating to the adult. There are some changes I would make, however.


ICDL Home Page

I would add a Search box on the home page. The adult tester commented unfavorably on the absence of a search box at the top of the home page, where he expected to see it. The large and centrally located “Read Books” icon is intended to take its place, making the page cater to link dominant users and ignore search dominant users. This didn’t seem to be a problem for the kids but the adult tester really wanted a search box. Adding in a search box would not overburden the home page, especially if my second suggestion were followed, which is to drastically reduce the number of choices on the home page.

There is just way too much on the home page. Tester 2 and Tester 3 both commented on how busy the home page was. Tester 2 commented that it was hard to choose because there “so many icons.”

Many of the options are redundant. For example, you can reach a search page by clicking the large Read Books icon in the center of the page, from the top menu under “Read Books” and also under “Help,” and on the left nav menu from no less than three of the links there! Certainly some redundancy can be desirable, to accommodate different ways people prefer to look for things, but this seems beyond what is necessary. A great deal of cleaning up could be done by eliminating redundancies.

I’m wondering about indicating some sort of prominent choice between “Search or Click Here to Browse Books” but that’s where I feel I might fix it for the adults and break it for the kids. This site is for children and “browsing” is not a term that registered with the child testers. The term “Read Books” obviously worked well for them, and I would hesitate to change that.

All testers completely ignored the large amount of “library news and notes,” mission statement, information about the “Foundation” and so on. Clearly, the home page is being used partly to market the library and solicit support as well as to be a functional library page–the result is way too much going on. A lot of “happy talk” promoting the library could be moved to a secondary page that is reached from a basic link on the home page such as “Support Us!” or “Learn About Our Mission!” or something like that. Designers might be concerned that people won’t donate or support if they don’t see it on the home page, but the testing showed that site visitors didn’t see it anyway–there is just too much stuff there.

My guess is almost all site visitors will arrive at the home page wanting to browse/search for books and read them, or to sign up or sign in to save books to their shelf. Given those likely priorities a much simpler home page interface is called for.

Simple Search


Simple Search Page

I found the Simple search page very interesting since it introduces access points that don’t make a whole lot of sense to adults, but really are ways that children think about books. One of the more interesting design choices was the ability to search by color. I’ve worked in K-6 and 6-8 school libraries, and kids ask all the time for “the blue book with the owl on the cover” or something like that. This site actually lets you search by the color of the cover and then shows an image of the book cover, so you really could search for a “blue book with an owl on it.” Tester 1 really approved of this feature because (the adage notwithstanding) “a cover tells you a lot about a book.” On the other hand, Tester 3, an adult and non-librarian, thought searching by the the color of a book was ridiculous.

Tester 1 clicked the main “Read Books” icon on the main page and found the SImple Search page immediately and liked it. Tester 2 chose various searches from the top menu on the home page, first choosing Recently Added Books, going back and choosing Award Winning Books, clicking Back again and choosing Full Book list (all from the top menu). Then he started scrolling through the long list of choices and selected a book. Although these strategies were different, they were both accomplished very quickly, and with no sign of frustration.

Tester 3 on the other hand, spent a long time looking for “Search” on the home page. First he tried the top menu Read Books > Keyword Search option and came up with too many book choices. Then he tried Read Books Advanced Search and was baffled by the Advanced Search page.

Advanced Search


Advanced Search Page

The advanced search page lets you enter keywords and then…do what? Tester 3 didn’t want to click on the links because he expected them to take him off of this page. Actually when clicked the links open up and let you check boxes to filter for various criteria, but this is not apparent before you click them. Tester 3 was expecting a typical text entry advanced search where you enter something like subject: art, language: Italian and so on. This page was baffling and he retreated back to try the Simple Search page. He eventually found a book using the Simple Search page but it took him much longer and he experienced far more frustration than the child testers. I would recommend altering the page labeled Advanced Search to be a more conventional text entry type search, or at least call the page something else so that experienced computer users don’t get tripped up by their expectations of what an “Advanced Search” looks like!


Overall, this website works reasonably well for is target demographic (children) but could be improved by making it less busy. After reducing the visual clutter, a few accommodations for adults/experienced web users would be desirable. Search dominant users are disadvantaged on the home page and this should be fixed.

Testing Process

This was a really interesting process to go through. I really expected the tasks to be a breeze for my adult tester and more challenging for the child testers, but the opposite was true. On the other hand, the adult tester “thought out loud” with ease throughout the test and the children required a more concrete explanation of what that meant, and even after that I needed to prompt them as we went through the test.

Testing children requires even more simple and clear instructions. If I were testing children again I would make the language even simpler. It’s challenging because you don’t want to ask too many leading questions, but they seem to need more prompting. Abstract skills like “thinking out loud” and “giving your impressions” confused them a little. Now that I have tested children, I would spend more time simplifying the testing script and making statements very concrete (such as “tell me what you think you might click on”) and avoid the abstract statements “what strikes you?”) as much as possible.

After the fact I read a little bit about usability testing for children, and one reference mentioned that it is desirable to avoid the word “test” completely (Carraro, 2011). Adults don’t get tested a lot but school-aged children do. My child testers initially had a hard time accepting the fact that weren’t being tested even though I stated it at the beginning. I restated this a few times throughout the test.

The children seemed shy and quiet at the beginning of the test, probably nervous at this very unfamiliar activity. It is even more important to establish rapport with children since they are more likely to be shy with strangers or with unfamiliar conditions/activities (Hanna, Risden & Alexander, 1997). Even though these children know me well (since I am their mother!) it took them a long time to warm up. I would focus more time in the future on talking to the children on neutral kid-friendly topics to establish rapport (especially with children I did not know) and in chatting casually about what the test was for. By the end of the test both child testers warmed up and did a lot more “thinking out loud.” Hanna, Risen and Alexander mention the desirability of switching the order of tasks around so that time placement in the test does not affect the way children respond (Hanna, Risden & Alexander, 1997, p. 11). Their concern was children slowing down, balking, or beginning to act very silly at the end when they are tired (which might be an issue with younger children than I tested, or with longer testing sessions). By contrast, in my testing I found that at the end the children were most comfortable and volunteered the most extensive information, so it would be desirable to have different tasks placed at the end.

With regards to my adult tester, I found that not only are conventions your friend (Krug, 2006, p. 34), but altering them can cause significant annoyance to users who are familiar with them. This presents a problem for this kind of site, where you are trying to make something that appeals primarily to children but that adults can also use. It’s a significant challenge to make a site that works for two very different user groups.


Carraro, J.M. (2011, July 21). Five things you should consider when testing with children [Web blog]. Retrieved from

Hanna, L., Risen, K. & Alexander, K. (1997). Guidelines for usability testing with children. Interactions, September/October 1997. Retrieved from

Krug, S. (2006). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.


The Fayetteville Free Library

I decided to review the website of the Fayetteville Free Library, a really cool library that I toured this summer in my home state of New York. The library itself is very well-designed and innovative, and has one of the earliest maker spaces established in a U.S. library.

The Fayetteville Fab Lab

The Fayetteville Fab Lab

I loved my visit there and was curious to see how well their web design matched the library itself (surely it would be better than the dreadful website of my local library!)

What I found was mixed. It’s clear some good design thinking went into the website. Text is scaled down, the design is pretty clean with clearly defined areas, persistent navigation, and a focus on what library visitors are most likely to want to do or to find out. The portions of the site that are controlled by the library itself are pretty good. The really major problems I encountered were a common library problem mentioned in the lecture: the fact that libraries do not control the look and feel of catalog and other vendor-supplied systems (Schmidt lecture). The transition between the library website and the vendor-supplied catalog and event registration systems is awkward and painful. Unfortunately, as Aaron mentioned, there is not an easy solution for this problem.

The Good and the Pretty Good

Home Page

Home Page

Home Page

The home page is aesthetically appealing. There is a minimum of text (Krug, 2006, ch. 5), and areas are clearly defined with plenty of white space (Krug, 2006, ch.3). The navigation has four of the five elements Krug recommends: site ID, a way home, a way to search, and clear sections. Utilities are not apparent but this may be because there are not clear “utilities” got a library as opposed to a commercial site (Krug, 2006, p. 62). The one “utility” might be the library user’s circulation account, but that function is handled by the vendor-supplied catalog (problems with that discussed below).

As mentioned in the lecture, library website visitors overwhelmingly want to find a book (Schmidt lecture). There is an obvious search box as well as a link on the left navigation menu to “Search the Catalog.” Other tasks or information that site visitors are likely to want are also clearly labeled (hours and location, get a library card, request a room), making popular choices fairly mindless (Krug, 2006, ch.4). Many “reasonable choices” are readily available (Krug, 2006, pp.24-25).

The home page accomplishes most of what Krug discusses in chapter 7: The identity and mission is clear, the sections demonstrate the site hierarchy, searching capability is obviously located, there are “teases” promoting interesting library events or services, and the page is updated frequently which may entice people to check frequently and see what’s new (Krug, 2006, ch.7).

A couple of things bothered me on the home page. This is not visible in the screen capture, but the central image on the page is a jQuery slideshow that promotes various library services and events. This can be done well, but this slideshow moves fast enough that I find it jarring and distracting. This, in my opinion, somewhat worsens the signal to noise ratio for the page (Schmidt lecture). It seems like a little too much “sizzle” (Krug, 2006, p. 163). The slideshow images are clickable and will take you to the page for the event or service mentioned, but they go by so quickly it is difficult to decide whether you want to click, so that I felt rushed. Having to use the arrows and click back to the image makes you work harder in order to access information you might want. This choice takes more work and doesn’t provide a “mindless” choice since the information has to be worked for (Krug, 2006, ch. 4). However, this may be just my opinion. I’m a bit biased against “animations.” Per Krug, it would probably be desirable to test user’s reactions to the slideshow to see how well it worked for a variety of people (Krug, 2006, ch. 8).

I also wondered about the choice to make the link to home the quaint little house icon. It is perfectly clear what it means but it looks a bit dated compared to the other worded links. Making a “Home” link to match the other sections would not detract from usability and would look more up to date and harmonious, in my opinion. It’s also an inconsistent choice considering that some usability was sacrificed in the case of breadcrumbs to achieve harmonious design (discussed below).

Persistent Navigation

The persistent navigation on the site (vendor systems excepted) was pretty good, with a few flaws. The sections, site ID and search box persist across the site pages. The basic layout and typography are also consistent (Krug, 2006, ch.6). I question the choice to “color code” the sections, however. When you navigate to different sections, the colors change to one solid color for pages in that section.

Blue Color Coding

Red Color Coding

Color Changed Sections

This might be useful for “super users” who use the site so often that they come to recognize what the colors signify, but I think most users won’t really notice. The consistent navigation and typography prevents this from being really confusing, but I don’t think it is helpful and it isn’t really necessary. There is no obvious correlation between “Library Info” and the color blue, or “Books & More” and the color green, and so on. Users may wonder what the colors mean and have to think about it before they realize the pattern (Krug, 2006, ch. 1). It’s also not clear that there is any benefit to users to change the colors–they probably don’t really care what “section” they are in as long as they find what they want.

The section for kids is also altered. It reverts to the full color used on the home page. The site ID and typography are still recognizable but the site ID has the addition of “Kids” in large type. Since the overall design was already pretty clean and without extra text I am not sure this change is necessary.



At first I thought there were no breadcrumbs, and then I realized that they were on the page, but the typography choices made me overlook them.



The font seems to have been chosen to harmonize with the other type on the page, but there was no greater than/arrow symbol, which I was unconsciously looking for. That made it harder to recognize the breadcrumbs for what they were. While they do look in harmony with the other text, simply adding that simple arrow would make them easier to see. Once recognized however, they are helpful, and highlighting differentiates between the current page (which is not clickable) and previous pages, which are (Krug, 2006, ch. 6).

Browse New Items

I mentioned above that I found the slideshow on the home page a bit annoying. Interestingly enough there are more slideshows within the site (for kids, teens and adults) to allow users to browse through new items at the library. These slideshows, however, have a useful pause button so that you can look more closely at something before deciding if you want to click it.

Browse New Items

Browse New Items

This is a very helpful addition, Clicking an item will open the catalog page for that item, which is mostly good except for the part about having to use the catalog, which brings us to…..

The Bad

The major flaw in the site occurs when the user needs to click to the catalog or event registration systems. This is unfortunate since most users will probably want to use those systems, thus making the “main things” that users come to the library site for not “obvious and easy” (Krug, 2006, p. 163). Users will not understand (or care) that the catalog and event registration are not really under library control. However, as mentioned above, it is difficult to see how this could be easily fixed.

If a visitor wants to use the catalog, the clean design of the library site disappears and a more unfortunately typical catalog page appears:

Catalog Page

Catalog Page

This loses the sense of place that the library website maintained for the most part and is probably jarring to users. All of a sudden you appear to be in a completely different place (because you are, and yet it is necessary if you want to search for a book or log in and renew one). It provides an unfortunate feeling of having been shanghaied as in the “trunk test” (Krug, 2006, p. 85).

One small improvement that could be made is more consistency in what happens when links outside systems are clicked. At the moment, if you click a link that takes you to another system, sometimes it opens the system in a new tab, and sometimes in the current one. For example, on the home page, if you click “Search the Catalog” the catalog will open in a new tab, but if you enter a search in the search box the catalog opens in the current one. It may (right now anyway) be a necessary evil to have the ugly catalog system, but if it opened in a new tab site visitors might feel less lost since they could easily go back to the library website by clicking the site tab.

Clicking one of the events in the slide show opens the event registration system in the same tab.

Event Registration Page

Event Registration Page

This page is particularly misleading since it has a “Back” button, but that button does not take you to the page you were just on at the library site, but to the home page of the library’s vendor-supplied event system. By the way, that page has a terrible signal to noise ratio:

Hideous Events Home Page


In Summary

The Fayetteville Free Library has clearly put a lot of effort into the aspects of its site that it can really control and also anticipated the kinds of information visitors are likely to want (Krug, 2006, p. 166-167). It’s discouraging that so much effort can be undercut by mediocre catalog design and I hope that in the future libraries will be able to organize and pressure more vendors to get their act together on user experience.

Fayetteville Free Library, interior picture

If you made it this far, you are awesome


Krug, S. (2006). Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.

Schmidt, A. (2015?). Week Three: Intro to Library Website UX (video). Retrieved from


Subject to Change and Libraries

He who falls in love with himself will have no rivals.
~Benjamin Franklin

On January 29 I attended the annual joint meeting of Baynet and the San Francisco SLA chapter. The main speaker at this event was Sarah Houghton, who is the director of the San Rafael Public Library and maintains the Librarian in Black blog. The title of her talk was “The Wrong Love.” Her subject was a critique of the common “I Love Libraries” marketing messaging. She made the argument that this is completely turned around from what library messaging ought to be, that libraries instead should be promoting the message “Your Library Loves YOU.”

During the questions after the talk, a corporate librarian asked for Ms. Houghton’s take on how “your library loves you” could be applied to a corporate environment, since the culture in many special libraries is different from that of most public libraries. Ms. Houghton addressed this by saying that a more corporate spin on this message might be focusing on the library’s service orientation and letting patrons know what the library can do for them. Even in a more formal businesslike environment, one of her main points, “focus on the community, not on yourself,” still applies. I found both the talk and this question/answer very thought-provoking in terms of libraries demonstrating their value to their communities, and it was interesting going through the readings this week with this recent talk in mind.

In Subject to Change, Merholz et al discuss how one view of customers is simply as consumers, as a means to make a profit (Merholz et al, , 2008, p. 41). Libraries don’t see patrons as a source of profit, of course, but it struck me that the “I love libraries” message–urging patrons to give libraries their “love,” their support, their votes for bond measures!–is a kind of nonprofit version of viewing them as a source of profit. Rodger argues that libraries need the larger entities of which they are a part (whether those are a city, a university, or a business), and they need to give value back to their host systems (Rodger, 2007). This seems like another way of saying “your library loves you”–that is, a library needs to offer what is wanted by the members of the host system. It is certainly advantageous to do some marketing to convince the host system that the library is valuable and desirable, but focusing exclusively on how “lovable” libraries isn’t as useful towards this goal as showing people what desirable experiences the library has to offer. (“Think not what the patrons can do for you…)

As for other views: I don’t think libraries are particularly disposed to view patrons as sheep who are waiting to be told what to do. Tasks and goals orientations or rational actor views are probably more common, especially in academic or special libraries, where people usually are pursuing specific professional goals. This type of thinking is fairly useful, since we do need to allow patrons to accomplish goals, but without knowing more about people, its hard to anticipate tasks and goals that patrons would appreciate, but haven’t thought of yet. Public and school (K-12) libraries probably have the most focus on the human factor. Seeing patrons as whole people is necessary for being able to develop new desirable experiences. If we focus on tasks and goals–”that patron wants to check out children’s books”–we might simply have a checkout station. But if we realize, “that patron wants to enrich her children and also make her life easier by finding something to amuse them, even though it is a struggle to get out of the house with little kids”–we might put a bead roller coaster next to the checkout station so that she can take a few minutes to check out books without being distracted by fidgeting toddlers.

During her “Wrong Love” talk, Ms. Houghton pointed to the “I Love Libraries” website. She asked the audience, “and who does it sound like this website is for?” The answer was that it sounds like it is a site for library patrons, which she agreed to but then said, “But if you look at the website, it really looks like it is a site for librarians.” That is, it’s a site for librarians to cheerlead themselves. I was reminded of the Bain Company survey mentioned by Merholz et al where they found that while 80 percent of companies thought they offered a “superior experience” but only 8% of customers agreed (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 104). That is a pretty big disconnect between the service provider and the customer. Sadly the number didn’t really surprise me; I have worked in a lot of high tech firms, and the internal messaging, especially at company wide meetings, is often focused on how awesome the company is (or how “lovable”). Maybe it’s fine as a way to cheer ourselves on, but it is an error to mistake this pep rally type of talk for reality.

Research helps reduce this disconnect between how awesome we think we are (because of our good intentions), and how awesome the experiences we provide actually are.  We need research to see what is, not what we assume is true or think should be true. Quantitative research (like simple surveys or demographic analysis of a population) can provide a useful framework–the Bain Company survey is certainly a wakeup call, for example. Qualitative research methods, however,S get at a deeper understanding why things are happening (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 61).

Friends can help each other. A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself – and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.

~Jim Morrison

Design thinking and empathy can help libraries truly see people as they are, and “focus on people’s real lives” (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 100). Really seeing people will enable us to offer superior experience.


Merholz, P., Schauer, B., Verba, D. & Wilkens, T. (2008). Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

Rodger, E.J. (2007). What’s a library worth? American Libraries: September 2007, 59-60.

Good and Bad User Experience


 Contemplating this assignment, the very first thing that sprang to mind was an experience with Amazon customer service and my son’s new Kindle Fire over break. Sadly it was a very poor user experience, despite basically good customer service. Although the customer service rep worked very hard to help me, it was very frustrating because “the experience is the product” (Merholz et al, 2008, p. 12), and my overall experience was time-consuming and annoying. The lecture talks about whether things are “useful, usable and desirable” (Schmidt, 2013), the primary problem with this experience was that I had to spend an undesirable amount of time dealing with customer service. However nice they are, I don’t usually feel like calling up customer service reps up for a nice long chat.

My 9 year old son got a new Kindle Fire for Christmas, along with some gift cards from various relatives so he could buy apps, and various tokens within the games he bought. He tried to buy some game tokens worth $2.99 within the game “Garfield’s Diner” and that is when the fun began for me.

 Although the money was deducted from his gift card balance, he did not get the tokens within the game. Still, I wasn’t too worried–I was sure Amazon would fix it quickly. They are great at customer service! Since my son is only 9 (and technically, his Kindle is registered to me so that I supervise the content), I called on his behalf.

 First I had to get through all those annoying first line tech support questions: yes, we actually had a Wifi signal, yes I tried restarting, no, the brand new Kindle is not lacking in free memory space. (Sigh.) Then the support person took me through a bunch of complicated procedures checking various error files, while trying to fix the problem. She credited the money back and walked me through trying the same purchase again–but the same thing happened. Ultimately she had to refer it to the engineering team, and they had to refer it to the game developers. The entire process stretched over days with various people needing to get back to me about it.

 The tech support person I talked to was very nice, and was trying her best to help, and the bug in the game was not her fault or even Amazon’s fault. But that didn’t change how annoying the whole thing was. As I spent time on the phone trying this or that procedure, the uppermost thought in my mind was “$2.99 is NOT worth this much of my time.” I was tempted, frequently, to just say forget it and to add 3 bucks on his card balance myself and forget about it, but I was worried about the precedent for my son of me fixing every little thing for him by throwing money at it. One of the reasons I wanted him to have a Kindle and use a gift card balance was that so he would have to choose what he wanted to spend limited funds on. I persevered. In the end, they concluded they could not fix it and just credited back the money–something they probably should have done much earlier in the process.

 This wasn’t a failure of customer service, in that the service rep was friendly, apologetic, and tried very hard to fix the problem, and did resolve it in the end. But it WAS a poor user experience, partly because of a bug in an app that should probably have been fixed before release, but also because of the disproportionate amount of time spent on a 3 dollar glitch. The service reps probably think in terms of “did I solve this problem or not?” but my experience leads me to believe they should also be asking themselves, “is it worth pursuing a solution to this degree over something so small?” and also “what is the real problem I am trying to fix here, and could I fix it faster?” The apparent problem was a bug in an app, but the real problem was getting a kid back to playing with his new toy quickly. Rather than trying to pursue the bug doggedly until they fixed it, it might have been better to credit the money and contact me later if they ever fixed the app in question, giving me the opportunity to try the purchase again. The game had a usability problem, and although customer service was useful/helpful, the process–spending extended amounts of time on a very small problem–was very undesirable.

 For my son, the *desired* experience of a Kindle was to have fun with a new device he has wanted for quite some time, not to hang around anxiously while his mother struggled to fix a glitch in it. I had a desired experience of the new Kindle as well–I wanted to see my son really happy, enjoying something he really wanted and had wanted for a long time–and also to get my own older model Kindle back so that I got to use it myself for a change!

 I also had the additional goal of wanting my son to learn to approach purchasing things (so easy in this connected age!) with deliberation and thoughtfulness, rather than just throwing electronic funds at things. I might think that $3 is a pretty small sum, but at his age I don’t want HIM to start being cavalier with small sums of money. That goal was operative to keep me slogging away at an interaction I probably would have walked away from otherwise.

 As a librarian I often pride myself on not “giving up the chase,” that is, however difficult, I don’t want to quit until I find the book a patron asked for, no matter how difficut the search or how vague the clues. I volunteer in school libraries, so I get a lot of requests like “that purple book about the girl with the cat.” It might seem like good customer service to keep trying no matter what, but thinking in terms of the user experience means thinking about whether you are meeting the patron’s real goal. The real goal isn’t always what it seems to be–it might not really be “I want this book” but “I want a fun book to read.” It takes empathy to think beyond the apparent goal to try to imagine and meet the true underlying goals that a patron has. If I find “the” book but took half an hour to find it, is the borrower going to remember the book, or remember the half hour? It may be better to at least entertain the possibility that a substitute  book is a better fit for the real goal than large amounts of time pursuing the apparent goal.


 “The role of the designer is that of a good host anticipating the needs of the guest.”

~Charles Eames, quoted in lecture (Schmidt, 2013)

 One of the most positive user experiences that comes to mind is my experience at my favorite spa, Heavenly Spa (okay, the name is a little cheesy but the place itself is great). Sometimes when the stresses of life pile up (for example, if I have to talk to customer service reps for hours), I want an oasis, and go to the spa to get a massage or a similar indulgence.

 Going to the spa is not just about whether the massage therapist is good, the entire experience really is the product. The real goal of going to a spa is not to get a good massage or to get a good pedicure. The most likely real goal is to reduce stress and enjoy myself, and everything about the experience affects that: how easy it is to find the place the first time, how easy it is to park, what the building looks like, what the waiting room looks like, the music they play, any scents that are in the air, how you are greeted when you come in.

 The spa I really like to go to is in a residential neighborhood (near a commercial area, though, so it is easy to find), and it looks like going to someone’s lovely old Victorian era house. It’s not hard to get to, not hard to park at, and once you walk in, reception takes over and treats you like a guest.

 Libraries aren’t spas, but we can try to anticipate the needs of our “guests.” Libraries may seem to be about books, but they are places where people go for experiences–the experience of finding books that engage them, also the experiences that library programs and learning can offer. Focusing on our books and other materials is one part of the user’s experience, but the whole experience of coming to the library influences whether people will want to repeat the experience.


Merholz, P., Schauer, B., Verba, D. & Wilkens, T. (2008). Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

Schmidt, A. (2013, December 4). Week One: Intro to Library UX. Retrieved from



Hello from Molly in Castro Valley, CA

IMG_20141127_160832_950Hi to all!

My name is Molly McKinney and I live in Castro Valley, CA, in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay area. I am in my 6th semester of the MLIS program. I have focused a lot on emerging technologies; before library school I was a technical writer here in the Bay Area. Outside of school I manage and teach in an art and music program at the elementary school, and volunteer in the middle school library. I love hiking, camping, traveling, computer games, cooking and reading, reading, reading.

I was inspired to take this class after hearing Aaron Schmidt as a guest lecturer in the Hyperlinked Library seminar (and I think I see a familiar name or two from that class in our class list, as well as some people I know from other classes).  I look forward to getting to know the rest of you and working with you this semester.

Orange cat

California cat roughing it because it is 50F outside.





Gamifying Information Final Presentation

Dewey Dare Enter the Castle

Game Description

My final game is entitled “Dewey Dare Enter the Castle?” It is an expansion of my first game of the semester, and is a scavenger hunt game to search for nonfiction books in order to teach Dewey Decimal categories.

Game Context and Audience

This game is intended for use in an elementary school (K-6) library. Promoters of the game will include K-12 librarians, parent volunteers, teachers and the “library faithfuls”—elementary school kids in the library aides club. Players will be elementary school students.

Game Learning Content

I am interested in pursuing, within a game format, the challenge of helping reluctant readers find books that they enjoy and learn where they are in the library. My game, “Dewey Dare Enter the castle?” is intended to encourage kids to learn about the Dewey Decimal System so that they understand the way the school library is organized, how they can find books, and learn a little about the range of materials available to them. According to the AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner, there are “two core approaches to learning that are embedded in school library programs: reading and inquiry (ALA, 2013, p. 9). Being able to use the library to obtain more resources (reading) and acquiring new knowledge (inquiring) inform the four standards:

  • Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge
  • Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge
  • Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society
  • Pursue personal and aesthetic growth
    (ALA, 2013, p.12)

Dewey Dare Enter the Castle? focuses on the Dewey decimal system in order to familiarize children with the way the library is organized and to introduce them to the breadth of material that is available. The game supports the overall goals of reading (finding books that are of interest to the reader) and inquiry (library skills). Playing the game is a fun way to introduce the library’s organizational system and raise awareness of library resources.

 Game Marketing Strategy

In order to create buzz among the kids for playing the game, we will hold a “Take Me To Your Reader” special event as a school spirit day. In preparation for this event, the library aides club (the “library faithfuls”) will decorate the library with space themes, painting and hanging Styrofoam planets and other space-related decorations. We will also publicize “Take Me To Your Reader” day ahead of time and encourage students to wear any space themed costume on that day; costumes are the way that the library aides will know who is interested in playing the game in the library. At the lunchtime recess, the library aides will go out to the playground and blacktop and encourage kids to come to the library to play the game.

Game Assessment Tool

Assessment Tool Instructions: Please apply a rating of Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Excellent or Not Applicable in the appropriate column. In the Comments column please provide brief statements in support of your rating or adding any qualitative information you consider important.

FUN Rating (Poor/Fair/Good/Very Good/Excellent/Not Applicable) Comments
Challenge: Does the game provide an appropriate level of challenge for the target players? (elementary school kids) Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Fantasy: How effective is the narrative of the game at appealing to the target players? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Curiosity: How well does the game stimulate the curiosity of the player? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Aesthetic Appeal: How appealing are the visual, auditory, and other aesthetic aspects of the game? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
USABILITY Rating (Poor/Fair/Good/Very Good/Excellent/Not Applicable) Comments
Conceptual Model: How clear is the game’s conceptual model—that is, the overall way it is supposed to work? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Scaffolding: How well is the user supported by the interface in performing the game tasks? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Feedback: How effective is feedback in the game? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Technical Issues: Is the game buggy or bug-free? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Mission Alignment: How well does the game align with the institution’s mission? Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
LEARNING Rating (Poor/Fair/Good/Very Good/Excellent/Not Applicable) Comments
Little g learning: If the game provides curriculum learning content, how well does it do this? (otherwise select Not Applicable) Insert rating here Qualitative comments here
Big G learning: If the game provides higher level social and conceptual learning opportunities surrounding the game, how well does it do this? (otherwise select Not Applicable) Insert rating here Qualitative comments here

 Prior Game History

Game Genre Creation Date
Dewey Dare Enter the Castle? (first version) Scavenger Hunt Game September 24, 2014
Reading Rangers Badges Game October 13, 2014
The Quest to Save the Great Library (The Quest to Save the Great Library) Social Game November 4, 2014

 Learning Content Bibliography

American Library Association. (2013). Standards for the 21st-century learner in action. Retrieved from

 This publication of the American Association of School Librarians (an ALA subgroup) outlines the core standards for school librarians in teaching library skills to elementary students.

Boltz, R. H. (2007). What we want: boys and girls talk about reading. School Library Media Research, 10, 1-19. Retrieved from

Boltz surveys schoolchildren to learn about their attitudes to reading and reading materials. Notably, in Boltz’s study, while a quarter of the girls described reading as “fun,” not a single boy did. When asked for reading material preferences, boys were more likely to mention graphic novels, manga, anime, and nonfiction. Appearance of books was more important to boys. The stereotype that “girls like narrative/character-driven fiction” is called into question by this survey as well, as more than half the girls expressed primary interest in other types of reading, such as nonfiction and magazines. One of the key takeaways from this paper is that children should learn about the range of reading options available, as well as learn that nonfiction—which turns out to be a popular choice for both genders—is a legitimate reading choice.

Breitsprecher, W.P. (October 6, 2008). Dewey Decimal for Kids [Web page]

Retrieved from

This website provides an explanation of the Dewey decimal system geared to kids and includes a table of popular subjects for kids along with their Dewey Decimal numbers.

Johnson, M. J. (2012). Every student’s reading teacher: the school librarian. School Library Monthly, 28(5), 27-28. Retrieved from

Johnson focuses on nonfiction reading in particular, a genre of great importance to many “lower” readers, especially to boys. In addition, nonfiction or “expository” reading is critical as part of the new common core and research has shown increased chance of educational success for children who become adept at handling nonfiction texts.

Rankin, C. & Brock, A. (2012). Library services for children and young adults: challenges and opportunities in the digital age. London: Facet. Retrieved from

Rankin and Brock advocate marketing that “sells the reading experience and what it can do for the reader, helping them to develop the confidence to try something new, rather than promoting individual books or writers” (Rankin & Brock, 2012, p. 67). They emphasize outreach to develop the fun of reading for prospective readers and encourage them to use the library. By developing a humorous, visually engaging online game, I am attempting to “sell” both the idea of reading and the idea of searching the library as a fun and engaging experience.

Sullivan, M. (2004). Why johnny won’t read. School Library Journal, 50(8), 36-39. Retrieved from

“Why Johnny Won’t Read” is one of the seminal work on the issue of boys; literacy gap, and Michael Sullivan is a leading expert on the topic. His article discusses how boys’ reading interests get de-legitimized by teaching authorities, often unintentionally. He also addresses the fact that books are taught and discussed in ways that don’t appeal to boys—rather than a genteel book discussion, boys appreciate active play literacy activities.

Sullivan, M. (2009). Connecting Boys with Books 6 : Closing the Reading Gap. Chicago, IL, USA: ALA Editions. Retrieved from

Sullivan’s book expands on the thesis of his “Why Johnny Won’t Read” article, with more information about boys’ reading interests get deprecated by adults and what turns them off to reading. One key element of his ideas for promoting literacy to boys is the concept of “active reading”—that boys read more actively and to seek out information about how the world works. Again, my emphasis on nonfiction texts reflects this. Both boys and girls who do not wish to curl up with a book for hours will eagerly read in order to learn to do, build, cook or otherwise make something.

Sullivan, M. (2013). Fundamentals of Children’s Services (2nd Edition). Chicago, IL, USA: American Library Association. Retrieved from

Sullivan’s work on children’s services focuses on the importance of the power of reading to enrich life and increase success: “Children’s librarians believe that reading is necessary for success, and for reaching one’s human potential. Reading is both a practical skill and a door to enrichment” (Sullivan, 2013, p. 11). Encouraging children to engage in reading specifically through library access is a critical part of the library mission. Like Rankin and Brock, he focuses on the need to “market” or perform outreach in order to promote literacy, not just to hold collections. Outreach for literacy is a major motivating factor in my development of the game.

Assessment Tool Bibliography

Galarneau, L., & Zibit, M. (2007). Online games for 21st century skills. In D. Gibson, C. Aldrich, & M. Prensky (Authors), Games and simulations in online learning: Research and development frameworks (pp. 59-88). Hershey PA: Information Science Pub. doi: 10.4018/978-1-59904-304-3

Galarneau and Zibit discuss 21st century literacies, including the idea of needing to learn collaboration, knowledge sharing, and thriving on chaos.

Gee, J.P. (2012) Digital games and libraries.  Knowledge Quest. 41(1):60:64.

This article introduces the concept of “little g” and “Big G” game—that is, there is the “little g” concept of the game itself and “Big G content of the learning community behavior around the game, in a social context. Since some games are particularly conducive to social learning and a participatory, interactive framework, I made this a part of my assessment tool. Although “”Big G” game aspects may not be a component of all games, where they appear they are an integral part of the game experience and should be assessed along with the more familiar “little g” aspects.

Kapp, K.M. (2012). The Gamification of learning and instruction: game-based method and strategies for training and education. Pfeiffer.

Kapp’s work provides extensive information about good game design. This book’s discussion of challenge, fantasy, curiosity and aesthetic appeal inform the fun rubric of the assessment tool, while his concepts of scaffolding and feedback inform the usability rubric.

McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world. NY: Penguin Press.

McGonigal’s work provides additional support on the important concept of engaging feedback in games. I was particularly influenced by her idea of “fun” failure and its role in motivating players to try again.

Nicholson, S. (2010) Everybody Plays at the Library: Creating Great Gaming Experiences for All Ages. Medford: Information Today.

Nicholson’s work focuses primarily on the library context and how games fit into the library, a concept which informs the Mission Alignment measurement of the Usability rubric.

Norman, D. (2002) Design of everyday things. NY: Basic Books.

Norman’s classic work on design informs the Conceptual Model measurement in the Usability rubric. Users develop a conceptual model of how something works in order to use it, if the mental model does not correspond well with the way something actually works, users can become confused by an interface and be led into error by the design of the interface.

Pink, D. (2006) A whole new mind. NY: Penguin.

Pink’s discussion of the need for “high concept” and “high touch” skills in the new Conceptual Age he describes fit into the idea of “Big G” skills as does the Galarneau and Zibit article.

Simon, N. (2010). The participatory museum. San Francisco: Museum 2.0. [Kindle edition] This book is also available online at

Nina Simon’s work on building participatory experiences in museums and libraries provides an additional dimension to the scaffolding concept discussed by Kapp and informs that measure of the Usability rubric.

 Reading Correlations in the Assessment Tool


  • Challenge (Kapp, 2012, citing Malone in chapter 3, Motivation)
  • Fantasy/Narrative Appeal (Kapp, 2012, citing Malone in chapter 3, Motivation)
  • Curiosity (Kapp, 2012, citing Malone in chapter 3, Motivation)
  • Aesthetic Appeal (Kapp, 2012, chapter 2, Aesthetics)


  • Conceptual Model (Norman, 2002, p.12)
  • Scaffolding (Kapp, 2012, Chapter 1, Scaffolding; Simon, p. 12)
  • Feedback (Kapp, 2012, Chapter 1, Feedback; McGonigal, 2011)
  • Technical issues/ease of use (inspired by course discussions)
  • Ease of use for game leaders (inspired by course discussions)
  • Mission alignment (Nicholson, 2010; also inspired by course discussions)


  • Little g learning (Gee, 2012)
  • Big G learning: higher order skills, 21st century literacies (Gee, 2012)
    • 21st century literacies (Galarneau, 2007)
    • High-concept, high-touch (Pink, 2006)

Little Free Library spotting!

In Myers Point Park, Lansing NY.



With a beautiful exterior design inspired by local wildlife at this lakeside park:


A young patron:


And we confirmed that the wildlife portrayed on the box is indeed resident in the park: