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An Evaluation of the Usability of Electronic Library Resources 

Researchers and Research Groups

  Chief investigators for this project were:
  Associate Professor Frada Burstein , Dr Kirsty Williamson
Industry Partners

VICNET/State Library of Victoria

Funding
Australian Research Council SPIRT Scheme: approx $70,000
VICNET/State Library of Victoria: approx $15,000
Research Aims
This research addressed the question: What are the features which contribute to an attractive and usable electronic information resource?

Specific aims were:

  • To evaluate four sets of electronic resources in relation to factors such as ease of use, user preferences and relevance of information content
  • To develop comprehensive approaches for evaluation which include both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
  • To develop a computerised tool to implement quantitative data analysis
Project Overview

This research was carried out during 2000, at the time when the Gulliver Program, part of the Victorian Government’s Libraries Online project, was being undertaken in Victoria.

Four databases (World Magazine Bank, IAC Health Reference Center, IAC Custom and Infosentails Electronic Library) were trialled to assess their usability. Four Victorian public library services (Bayside, Port Phillip, Corangamite and Casey-Cardinia) were involved, with each of these services being allocated two of the four resources for assessment.

The research began with focus groups of library staff which explored their perceptions of the content and usability of their two databases and which discussed general access issues. Focus group participants were also asked to follow a topic of their choice using the databases and to answer questions related to content and usability.

The qualitative data were supplemented with quantitative measurements, the latter being produced by a generic, multi-criteria evaluation tool called MultiVal, developed by researchers at the University of Melbourne and Monash University to evaluate the success of decision support systems. The tool uses a pre-defined set of evaluation criteria (for example ease of use, user satisfaction) which were adjusted to this research context by a range of users of the information resources, including library staff, patrons and SLV/VICNET. This enabled the resources to be assessed from a ‘multiple constituencies’ point of view.

Status 
The project was completed in 2000 although some work continues of refining and evaluating MultiVal.
Outcomes and Outputs
  • A comprehensive evaluation method for electronic resources, combining qualitative and quantitative methods, and a set of criteria which library staff can use to assess their own resources.
  • A prototype web based tool for multicriteria evaluation. This tool has the potential to be commercialised beyond its use in this project.
  • A set of recommendations to publishers about how they might measure resource use.
  • Through a public library consortium, most Victorian public library services have subscribed to the databases.
  • Recommendations to remove barriers and improve access to electronic resources.
  • More information about this project is available at http://www.infotech.monash.edu.au/itnr/
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