Designing a better subject page to make users’ searches more successful by Darlene Fichter

Fichter, D. (2005). Designing a BETTER SUBJECT PAGE to Make Users’ Searches More Successful. Computers in Libraries, 25(9), 6-56.

I’m reproducing the author supplied abstract to facilitate the discussion.

    This article emphasizes the significance of the subject page of a library Web site on the success of user searches, referencing the author’s initiatives based on studies. First, the Web Committee tackled the category labels on the home page. We created a new label. Journal Articles & Databases, and placed it on the second line in the left-hand column. We put the beginning of the phrase, Journal Articles, in a boldface font to give this menu option even greater prominence. During our 2002 and 2003 in-house studies, we had observed that participants focused first on the top hyperlinks in the left-band column. This observation is consistent with the data collected from eye-tracking research like the Poynter Eyetrack III study. In these studies, special eyetracking cameras record where the eye focuses when someone looks at a Web page. The Poynter Eyetrack III study found that Web visitors tended to focus their attention on the upper left-hand area of the Web page first, and on dominant headlines in this area.

This article highlights the key issue with presenting information — the user of that information. The urge to try to present information in such a way as to serve all users, the outcome / product become useless because it satisfy no one.

Through usability studies, the University of Saskatchewan Library reviewed a section of their website dealing with a particular subject; what they call a “subject page”.

They realised that they had to “decide” who their primary users are going to be and design the page accordingly. They decided to go with undergraduate students with a class assignment. They make an assumption that students have no prior knowledge of the discipline and the key resources. The author admits that this decision is crucial and it shaped the content of the subject page.

This article also spend some time discussing the micro-organization of a subject page. The arrangement and listing of resources is deliberate and user-centric as well. Arranging by alphabetical order is neat but contributes nothing to the interpretation of users’ needs. We tend to alphabetize because we want to avoid any arguments or avoid placing any personal opinions about what resources we think work for users.

Lastly, it discussed the type of information to present for individual resource. For example, for databases, information to be included

  1. Title of the database
  2. Beginning coverage date
  3. short description
  4. Hyperlink to detail page
  5. Label indicating amount of full-text
  6. Hyperlink to tutorial, if any