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What do UXpect? A user-centric approach to unifying library search interfaces

The Library embarked on a project to address the limitations of multiple search interfaces by employing UX experts and integrating our varied services into a unified search interface.

Library Client Survey results were the catalyst for us to focus on improving the user experience with the Library’s discovery platform. Comments covered the spectrum from “Easy to find what I want” to “I can’t find anything I want”. Academic libraries necessarily include a broad range of search options to cover the varied available sources of information. Our existing search interfaces suffered from heterogeneity in presentation of results, seemingly arbitrary distribution throughout the Library website. We aimed to improve these aspects of our discovery layer by employing UX experts and integrating our varied services into a unified search interface.

To ensure the requirements for the new interface were client-driven, we employed an external UX experts company to help us conduct usability testing, as well as assist with the design. Results from the survey helped define the testing process. Test results fed into the proof of concept development of the interface for which we used AngularJS and PHP. A unified search API was developed using various other search APIs (Summon, Sierra, Funnelback, etc.). The frontend code utilised HTML5 and jQuery to create mobile-friendly responsive code and other dynamic features. We used usability results to inform decisions prior to developing the prototype interface. This will assist the process of continuous improvement following launch of the unified search platform.

Usability results indicated that our clients perceived the inconsistent layout of information and multiple search vectors as confusing. We set out to simplify things. The “bento box” style of presenting unified search results is increasingly used, but to our surprise, many clients preferred a single column of mixed-category results (Google-like). This necessitated a considerable amount of additional functional design decisions to be made. Categorical results are now to be accessed via single column tabbed panes, with bento as an optional alternative.