But how do I ‘Get It?’ – study finds users don’t understand availability

An interesting study from William E. Jones III, Shannon Pritting, & Brian Morgan in the latest issue of the Journal of Web Librarianship:

Understanding Availability: Usability Testing of a Consortial Interlibrary Loan Catalog (not open access)

The authors conducted a usability study of the IDS consortial interlibrary loan catalog. They were particularly interested in learning how well users could “determine how to locate materials and understand the availability of items.”

What they found:

  • Availability jargon: users did not understand that the “Get It” button meant that the library did not have an item.
  • Too many catalogs:  users showed a preference for their local OPAC, and did not seem to understand what was contained in the shared catalog.
  • Location jargon:  users did not understand that “reference” meant non-circulating.  They thought they could request reference materials because the “Get It” button displayed next to these items.
  • Point-of-need needed: it was determined that an approximate delivery date was needed next to the “Get it” button.

While the study makes recommendations specific to the IDS shared catalog, the problems found are applicable to any library attempting to integrate request options into their catalogs.

The authors suggest that libraries need to work together to make their request processes as easy to use as commercial websites:

Displaying different availability information may make ILL-friendly consortial catalogs difficult to use until libraries move toward a model that is similar to popular Web sites. Libraries may need to offer options like those provided by online sellers with a “brick and mortar” presence (such as Best Buy). Library users could select from options such as “get it shipped to you” or “pick up in store/library,” with users just stopping in to pick up what is available.

I would love to see this vision become a reality.  In too many library catalogs the path to “Getting It” is too convoluted, and too confusing. Libraries need to find shared solutions to resolve our “get it” problems so that our users can not only find, but can also “get” our materials.

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