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Usability Report on ALA's Website

Submitted by Leo Klein on Mon, 12/18/06 (5:07pm)

I find usability reports fascinating. I went through the ALA's "Usability Assessement Report" and my favorite part was "Appendix F – Usability Testing Notes".

But the entire report is worth a read. The people who put it together did a good job. I mean, who can argue with a recommendation like this:

Organize information according to content. Except for the information specifically about ALA or the divisions, do not categorize the information — especially information of interest to the general public — according to ALA’s organizational structure....

What quibbles I have are minor. That said...

(more after the jump...)

"Meaningful" URLs?

The report recommends that URLs should be "meaningful and reasonably short" (p.13). While I'm all for "reasonably short", I think trying to make them "meaningful" as well is hoping for too much.

Sure there are obvious examples of meaningful URLs that have become almost standard: '../about' for 'About Us' and '../contact' for 'Contact Us'. On a site like, you might also expect '../divisions', '../publications', etc. But you can only take this so far.

Even the example they use in the report, "Prods_Pubs" for "Products_and_Publications", doesn't seem particularly intuitive or meaningful to me. I think for most of the pages, just being "short" as in '' is about as much as we can hope for.

No Division Acronyms for Navigation?

The report argues against using division acronyms like 'ACRL' or 'PLA' as part of the navigation. I don't see why not.

As someone who's paid annual fees for a couple of these Divisions down through the years, the acronym is just about the only thing (other than the location of the annual convention) that I know about ALA. If new people are having trouble deciphering these acronyms, maybe it's an indication that the landing page for the Division Section isn't all that findable.

One way or another, I'm not sure a navigation scheme based on their full names would be any better. It certainly would be a whole lot more crowded.

Butt Ugly Site!

Okay, I said these things were minor. But only in a few places is there even an intimation that the visuals suck.

About the closest you get is in this user comment:

"The website design ... is extremely unprofessional in appearance. It's like it was designed back in the 1990s before librarians were so internet-savvy, and no one has bothered to update it since then." (p.10)

The color scheme is unattractive. Graphics aren't used in a particularly optimal way to enhance text and navigation. And of course the thing looks like it came out of the 1990s: There's absolutely no use of layout or typography beyond the most basic "three column display"; Everything is just one "river" (or "flood") of content; And the content itself is nothing more than '<h1><p><p><p>', rinse and repeat.

They're going to have to get a whole lot more sophisticated than that to break out of the 90's look.

I'm confident they will. There's no reason why a site that represents the ALA can't be a bit more user-friendly -- and appealing to the eye. (h/t Shifted Librarian)