A Library R&D Project

August 23, 2016

Libraries aren’t the sort of environment that one most naturally associates with research and development. Nevertheless, over the past month I’ve had the chance to carry out a simple R&D project. The product was a research guide—a set of Web pages—designed to mediate access to business research resources.

LibGuides, a content management system, provided the technical infrastructure, so R&D wasn’t needed for that aspect of the project. Rather, research insights guided the selection and arrangement of the content of the guide. A snapshot appears directly below.

Business Research Guide

The development of the business research guide was actually a redesign project. The predecessor guide had been used for a few years. Unfortunately, analysis of use data revealed that the old guide had failed to elicit desired research behaviors. Users rarely ventured beyond the old guide’s entry page, and even though the guide provided links to dozens of targets, a single business database attracted 75% of outbound clicks!

Use data provided motivation for redesigning the guide, but insights supporting design choices had to come from another source: records of research help provided by librarians and staff. The Jerry Falwell Library captures qualitative data describing research services provided through various means (email, chat, etc.). After examining records for 400+ business-oriented transactions, I had a much clearer understanding of the tasks that researchers were attempting to perform.

In the interest of keeping this post as short as possible, I’ll spare the details of how I went about developing and launching the new guide. However, I do want to point out some key design elements:

  • Creation of pages focused on research tasks (e.g., Companies & Industries, Countries); this strategy replaced the older guide's focus on resource formats (e.g., Databases, Books & E-books)

  • Relegation of resource descriptions to pop-up boxes that appear when one hovers over links; this allowed for a general de-cluttering of guide pages

  • Creation of sub-pages for various business specializations (economics, finance, marketing, etc.)

Will the new design be a success? It’s difficult to imagine that the new guide, being based on research insights, will fail to outperform the old guide. Nevertheless, a definitive answer to this question can only emerge as additional use data are accumulated. I’ll have to wait to see if my efforts bear fruit.

Want to learn more about website usability and related topics?

Click the buttons below to see relevant entries in my bibliography, SmithFile.