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Book ChapterDOI

A Case for Adaptation to Enhance Usability and Accessibility of Library Resource Discovery Tools

09 Jul 2017-Vol. 10277, pp 145-155

TL;DR: The goal of this paper is to suggest how the process of adaptation could be considered in order to mitigate usability and accessibility issues of RDT interfaces.

AbstractLibrary resource discovery tools (RDTs) are the latest generation of library catalogs that enable searching across disparate databases and repositories from a single search box. Although such “Google-like” experience has been applauded as a benefit for library users, there still exist usability and accessibility problems related to the diversity of user goals, needs, and preferences. To better understand these problems, we conducted an extensive literature review and in this process, we initially grouped issues into three categories: interface, resource description, and navigation. Based on these categories, we propose adaptation as an alternative approach to enhance the usability and accessibility of RDTs. The adaptations could be conducted on three levels pertaining to categories of issues found, namely: interface, information, and navigation level. The goal of this paper is to suggest how the process of adaptation could be considered in order to mitigate usability and accessibility issues of RDT interfaces.

Topics: Usability engineering (66%), Web usability (62%), Usability (61%), Web accessibility (59%), Adaptation (computer science) (52%)

Summary (3 min read)

1 Introduction

  • The advent of the digital technology has caused the proliferation of information resources in digital formats.
  • As libraries continue to embrace technology, user’s interaction with libraries is also becoming increasingly reliant on library search tools.
  • Therefore, this paper aims at exploring how usability and accessibility of RDTs could be improved through the adaptability approach.
  • Then, it presents accessibility issues as discussed in the literature, with a particular emphasis on a prior study that examined the accessibility of a library RDT from the user perspective.

2 Usability of Library Discovery Tools

  • Usability studies on library RDTs have discussed advantages as well as weaknesses of the tools.
  • Moreover, they noted that Primo enables comparing search results via the details tabs found under each title, and offers “smooth transition” to external websites when needed [12].
  • Teague-Rector et al. [21] found that presenting search alternatives such as articles, books and journal titles with tabs instead of drop-down menus resulted in better exposure of resources stored in disparate silos.
  • Hence, the design of RDTs would require balancing the needs, preferences, and behaviors of users with the interest of the libraries.
  • This could limit their ability to influence the interface design.

3 Accessibility of Resource Discovery Tools

  • Accessibility is a concept often discussed along with disability.
  • The medical model interprets disability as a mental or physical limitation of an individual, whereas the social model treats it as a failure of the environment to accommodate the needs of people with disability [27].
  • Most studies conducted regarding the accessibility of digital library services were related to library websites [29], [30].
  • Another study by Berget and Sandnes [32] found that users with dyslexia formulate more queries and spend much time while searching on databases which lack query support features.
  • Next, the authors compare issues discussed in section 2 with accessibility problems explored mainly in Beyene [17], to recommend an approach that could be used to address the combined concerns of usability and accessibility.

3.1 Interface

  • A typical interface design issue that causes usability problems for users is the tendency of “overpopulating” the interface with different features [13].
  • This is also identified as an accessibility problem that could cause strain to users with dyslexia and visual impairments who might use various assistive technologies [17].
  • In addition to that, the suitability of background and foreground colors; font type, size and intensity have been among accessibility issues identified by participants in the aforementioned study.
  • Libraries using the same discovery product could follow different styles regarding background and foreground colors of the interface.

3.2 Search Results Presentation

  • RDTs typically present search results supported with metaphors and visual cues.
  • In Oria, each resource title is complemented with an icon or cover image to show whether the material is an eBook, article, audio book or any other type of resource.
  • Visual cues are also used to indicate the availability of a material in the library system; green for availability and yellow for unavailability.
  • Usability studies regard these as important for comparing search results, but they mention metadata inconsistency as a problem [22].
  • On the other hand, these could be “too much information” for users with cognitive and other forms of print disability [17]. cessibility metadata) that could provide important information for users with disabilities (e.g., whether a resource is accessible by text-to-speech tools, whether it is behind a paywall).

3.3 Navigation

  • Accessing electronic journals or eBooks is a lengthy process that requires clicking multiple links, which at times takes the user out of the library interface.
  • The possibility of “smooth navigation to other web pages” has been mentioned as an important usability trait of library RDTs [12].
  • This could pose a problem for users of screen reader technologies, such as JAWS, which generates a list of links to facilitate the navigation [17].
  • The examples discussed so far show the diversity in needs and preferences even among users with similar disabilities.
  • As discussed by Kelly et al [11] and Paterno and Mancini [25], adaptation seems a viable alternative to improve accessibility and usability.

4 Adaptation: Addressing Accessibility and Usability

  • Adaptation has been discussed in terms of facilitating ease of interaction, quick discovery of information [35], adjusting web-based systems to accommodate user diversity [35], [25] and ‘individualization’ of solutions as opposed to the “one-size-fits-all” approach [36].
  • They sought to adapt web pages through the annotation approach based on WAI-ARIA3.
  • The adaptable approach allows users to control the behavior of the system by specifying their needs and preferences.
  • First, the tradition of libraries where privacy is sacrosanct would discourage collecting any type of information from the user.
  • That goes to the extent of deleting log files and loan history [41].

4.1 Adaptation of Library Resource Discovery Tools

  • Paternò and Mancini [25] presented levels of adaptation that can be considered for helping users in an information space: Presentation, Information, and Navigation levels.
  • Another example that could be related to interface level adaptation is Accessibility Toolbar5, an open source toolbar that can be installed on web browsers to help users customize the way they view and interact with web pages [42].
  • If a hearingimpaired person wants videos with captions to appear in search results, he can log in his profile and set his accessibility preference, indicating he prefers videos with captions.
  • The solution they provided for automatic enrichment of links could be suggested for RDT interfaces.
  • The best of the three examples given above could also be combined to experiment adaptation of RDTs at different levels.

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A Case for Adaptation to Enhance Usability and
Accessibility of Library Resource Discovery Tools
Wondwossen M. Beyene, Mexhid Ferati
Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway
wondwossen.beyene@hioa.no, mexhid.ferati@hioa.no
Abstract. Library resource discovery tools (RDTs) are the latest generation of
library catalogs that enable searching across disparate databases and repositories
from a single search box. Although such “Google-like” experience has been ap-
plauded as a benefit for library users, there still exist usability and accessibility
problems related to the diversity of user goals, needs, and preferences. To better
understand these problems, we conducted an extensive literature review and in
this process, we initially grouped issues into three categories: interface, resource
description, and navigation. Based on these categories, we propose adaptation as
an alternative approach to enhance the usability and accessibility of RDTs. The
adaptations could be conducted on three levels pertaining to categories of issues
found, namely: interface, information, and navigation level. The goal of this pa-
per is to suggest how the process of adaptation could be considered to improve
usability and accessibility of RDTs.
Keywords: Digital library accessibility, usability, web accessibility, digital li-
braries, universal access of information, adaptation
1 Introduction
The advent of the digital technology has caused the proliferation of information re-
sources in digital formats. As a result, we see libraries engaged in the presentation of
digital content, management of institutional repositories and open access journals, pro-
duction and management of educational movies, provision of access to online re-
sources, and mass digitization of print resources [1]. Moreover, presentation of books
in eBook, audiobook and braille versions and production of text in PDF, HTML, and
EPUB alternatives are among the notable activities observed in digital library environ-
ments [1]. All those efforts contribute to libraries’ tradition of collecting and organizing
information for supporting research, development, and other activities in their parent
organizations.
As libraries continue to embrace technology, user’s interaction with libraries is also
becoming increasingly reliant on library search tools. Driven by the apparent motive of
improving the user experience, the tools have evolved from simple card catalogs to
web-based catalogs, web-based catalogs augmented with recommenders, metasearch
tools, and eventually to web scale resource discovery tools (henceforth referred to as
RDTs) [2].

RDTs are referred to as the “new generation library catalogs” which offer a single
point of access to library resources as well as databases that libraries have subscribed
to [3], [4]. They provide users with “simple, fast and easy “Google-like” search expe-
rience,” present librarians with statistics on the usage of their holdings, and offer con-
tent providers an alternative channel to increase usage of their resources [5], [6]. The
“Google-like” experience is explained as the possibility of using a single search box to
simultaneously search across in-house and remote databases in a manner suitable even
for inexperienced users [6].
RDTs are available as commercial and as open source products [2]. Depending on
their design, their interfaces could include advanced search options, options for filtering
search results, results ranking, cloud of search terms, resource descriptions (resource
overview), cover images or thumbnails of titles, icons, push technologies such as RSS
feeds, recommenders and other features [7], [8]. Fig 1 provides an example of an RDT,
which is currently being used by Norwegian academic and research libraries.
Apparently, developments in library search tools are fueled by the need to improve
their usability. However, the demands of universal design and the subsequent need for
reaching all users, make accessibility an important issue to consider along with usabil-
ity.
Fig.1. The Oria discovery tool as implemented by the University of Oslo (UiO) library.
Filters
Advanced
search options
Results
list
Search box

Libraries have been working to comply with accessibility requirements through the
adoption of technical guidelines such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
(WCAG) [1]. Research shows that such activities have been largely limited to library
websites and the studies have been mostly evaluative examining to what extent the
websites meet accessibility standards [1], [9]. However, research also shows instances
where a website can be designed to pass the maximum AAA level accessibility test
according to WCAG 2.0, but remain unusable to those it was intended for [10]. There-
fore, researchers recommend to consider the adaptability approach, which builds on the
guidelines-based approach, but emphasizes on matching resources with usersneeds
and preferences [11]. The fact that different types of users, with different goals and
needs, use libraries would provide a justification for exploring this approach.
Therefore, this paper aims at exploring how usability and accessibility of RDTs
could be improved through the adaptability approach. First, it discusses usability issues
uncovered in different studies. Then, it presents accessibility issues as discussed in the
literature, with a particular emphasis on a prior study that examined the accessibility of
a library RDT from the user perspective. In relation to this, it discusses adaptability
approaches from literature and attempts to show how they could be used to improve the
accessibility and usability of library RDTs. Finally, the paper closes with conclusion
and pointers for future work.
2 Usability of Library Discovery Tools
Usability studies on library RDTs have discussed advantages as well as weaknesses of
the tools. For instance, Prommann and Zhang [12] evaluated Ex Libris ® Primo
1
and
said that the tool is suitable for groups of users with different goals and helps the users
to conduct many tasks with a minimum amount of steps. They added that Primo allows
filtering search results in different ways without the need of re-entering the search key-
words. Moreover, they noted that Primo enables comparing search results via the de-
tails tabs found under each title, and offers smooth transition to external websites
when needed [12]. A usability test made on EBSCO discovery service (EDS)
2
men-
tioned the ease of use and the possibility to narrow search results as its benefits [13].
RDT interfaces are rich with functionalities that offer alternative ways for searching
and filtering. However, this could be a source of problem for some users. For instance,
the study made on EDS found that the many features of the interface were found to be
“overwhelming” or “confusing” for some users [13]. Studies hint that users might give
little attention to end-user features other than the search box [14], [15], [16]. Users
would also face confusion regarding the location of filters/facets (e.g., whether to look
for “music” under format or topic) [13], [15]. Some would confuse resource types (e.g.,
eBooks with audio books) and face difficulty in choosing the right filter that helps to
narrow the search down to the resource type they want [17]. Other problems include
the excessive number of clicks it takes to access electronic resources, irrelevant search
1
http://www.exlibrisgroup.com/category/PrimoOverview
2
https://www.ebscohost.com/discovery

results, difficulty in understanding jargons (for instance, mistaking “reviews” for peer-
reviewed journals), and librarians’ limitations in providing an “understandable lan-
guage [12], [18]. Moreover, inconsistent metadata, inability to save search results, and
RDT’s failure to distinguish eBooks from journal articles constitute a list of usability
problems [12], [19].
Studies that noted the complexity involved in using library search tools quote Niel-
sen [20] suggesting that simple interfaces are the most effective ones [14]. Moreover,
they showed that the selection and positioning of end-user features could affect the
usability of resources behind the interfaces. For instance, Teague-Rector et al. [21]
found that presenting search alternatives such as articles, books and journal titles with
tabs instead of drop-down menus resulted in better exposure of resources stored in dis-
parate silos. The experiment by Teague-Rector et al [14] also showed that moving the
search box from left to the center of the interface increased the number of searches
conducted. Some attribute this to Google, which could have shaped users’ expectation
to see the search box at the center [22], [23].
A solution raised in connection with simple search interfaces is the progressive dis-
closure’ approach, where the interface is designed to show some of the most important
features at startup and supply the more advanced ones later as required by the user [14],
[24]. Differentiating less and more important features, however, would require consid-
ering different factors. First, users’ information needs, information seeking behavior,
tasks and task models, goals and their experience of other search systems would need
to be factored in [14], [22]. Paterno and Mancini [25] claimed that this could be tackled
through the adaptation approach. Second, libraries require RDTs to expose resources
to the right users and help to increase usage of library collections, in order to justify the
cost of maintaining them [26]. Hence, the design of RDTs would require balancing the
needs, preferences, and behaviors of users with the interest of the libraries. In addition
to that, it could be important to note that libraries are increasingly adopting commercial
discovery tools that won’t leave much room for customization [1]. This could limit their
ability to influence the interface design.
In general, usability issues involving RDTs are related to interface level issues (e.g.,
simplicity vs comprehensibility), end-user features (e.g., search box, filters, results list
presentation) and resource description and organization (e.g., language/jargon used to
label features, metadata, and resource description). The next section compares these
with accessibility issues explored mainly through a prior study made on a library RDT.
3 Accessibility of Resource Discovery Tools
Accessibility is a concept often discussed along with disability. It can have different
meanings based on the model of disability used. For instance, the medical model inter-
prets disability as a mental or physical limitation of an individual, whereas the social
model treats it as a failure of the environment to accommodate the needs of people with
disability [27]. This paper adopts the conceptualization as presented by the International
Classification of Functionality, Disability and Health (ICF) model, which interprets
disability as a result of medical and/or contextual (personal and environmental) factors

[28]. Therefore, accessibility could be seen as a way of identifying and dealing with
sources of impediments, either personal or environmental, in human computer interac-
tion.
Most studies conducted regarding the accessibility of digital library services were
related to library websites [29], [30]. Many of them used automatic testing tools to
check conformance of library websites to WCAG guidelines [9], [29]. Though studies
related to library RDTs are few, some of them identified the needs people with disabil-
ities could have during their interaction with library search tools. For instance, Berget
and Sandnes [31] stated that people with dyslexia are prone to making spelling errors
while typing search terms. Therefore, they recommended search tools to be error toler-
ant and support autocomplete features in order to reduce the effects of dyslexia. Another
study by Berget and Sandnes [32] found that users with dyslexia formulate more queries
and spend much time while searching on databases which lack query support features.
Therefore, they claimed that such tools are not accessible for users with dyslexia. Sim-
ilarly, Habib et al [33] found that users with dyslexia shun search functions of virtual
learning environments which do not tolerate typological or spelling mistakes.
A study conducted by Beyene [17] on Oria, a library RDT used in Norwegian re-
search and academic libraries (as shown in Fig. 1), confirmed the findings of the studies
mentioned above. However, it also provided a glimpse into the challenge associated
with diversity in needs and preferences. For instance, two participants with dyslexia
had different reactions regarding the colors highlighting the search terms in the results
list: one of them saying that the highlights are distracting, while the other saying they
are helpful (see Fig 2). A user with low vision impairment liked the autofill suggestions,
while another participant with the same impairment said the suggestions are annoying
if cannot be read correctly by his screen reader software. Participants with dyslexia
generally liked the use of icons among resource descriptions, while some users with
low-vision impairment did not find them helpful. Such examples were many, but in
general, the accessibility issues explored in this study could be broadly classified as
interface level issues, search results presentation, and navigation related. Next, we com-
pare issues discussed in section 2 with accessibility problems explored mainly in Bey-
ene [17], to recommend an approach that could be used to address the combined con-
cerns of usability and accessibility.
3.1 Interface
A typical interface design issue that causes usability problems for users is the tendency
of “overpopulating” the interface with different features [13]. This is also identified as
an accessibility problem that could cause strain to users with dyslexia and visual im-
pairments who might use various assistive technologies [17]. In addition to that, the
suitability of background and foreground colors; font type, size and intensity have been
among accessibility issues identified by participants in the aforementioned study.
Moreover, the blurring or disappearance of text and icons when the interface is changed
to high contrast was a problem for some users with low vision impairment [17].
Libraries using the same discovery product could follow different styles regarding
background and foreground colors of the interface. For example, libraries at University

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  • ...Articles about academic library websites have reviewed the accessibility of text-only databases (Power & LeBeau, 2009), discovery tools (Beyene & Ferati, 2017), and open source journal platforms (Borchard et al., 2015)....

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Abstract: This study considered the development, awareness, adoption, and usage of digital library (DL) resources at the university level. To develop and implement a successful electronic library resource system, it is vital to review the success factors and identify the most important technological aspects of DL resources. Electronic library information technology was described and grouped into several categories that influence user satisfaction in a DL context. These are open access to information, the facility of access, uncomplicated interface design, high quality of the communication process, Internet performance, performance assurance service, ease of communication via social network, and patron-driven acquisition. With these important features of DL services, the simplicity of accessing online information and the performance of DL utilities have become of paramount importance. Several research works were therefore reviewed and evaluated to determine the usability of DL services; thereafter, the design of the DL discovery system was developed through Blacklight open-source software.

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Frequently Asked Questions (1)
Q1. What have the authors contributed in "A case for adaptation to enhance usability and accessibility of library resource discovery tools" ?

To better understand these problems, the authors conducted an extensive literature review and in this process, they initially grouped issues into three categories: interface, resource description, and navigation. Based on these categories, the authors propose adaptation as an alternative approach to enhance the usability and accessibility of RDTs. The goal of this paper is to suggest how the process of adaptation could be considered to improve usability and accessibility of RDTs.