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Discovery & User Experience

Thinking Outloud About User Trust

As a student keen on learning how the user-centered design process works, I’m intrigued by how we, as librarians and information professionals, think about websites as mechanisms that guide our users to the resources they want and need.  I think about this a great deal – as a user of library websites and as an aspiring user experience librarian/developer.

This is a lot to think about, due in part because the library has so many different users.  Not only do we have the faculty, graduate, undergraduate and walk-in users to consider, but also the library staff and their consequential roles as library users.  Here at DUX, we are in the process of rolling out a new catalog, IUCAT Beta, while at the same time working toward a complete library website redesign.  As part of this process, I think a lot about how these library tools will “successfully connect with every student, staff and faculty member to help them feel productive, enthusiastic and valued on every level of their encounter”?[1]

My mind reels.  In the good way.

I recently came across what I think is, a really poignant way to think about our multiple users’ needs: trust.  Provoked by a recent article on UX Mag by Ilana Westerman, I began looking at our library users as customers looking for a variety of products on a library website.  Her article illuminates the basic principle of user trust, through a case study that examined the ways in which a particular design for a healthcare plan website earned consumers’ trust.  The context of the website in the case study – a lot of detailed content used by numerous individuals with a variety of purposes – reminded me of our library users.

Adapting what Westerman outlines as trust for consumers, for library website users, trust might mean:

  1. The library website will do what it claims to do. A user has expectations that the website will live up to its claims, which are assumed to be accurate and unbiased.  For example, most people trust that when they hit the “Hours and Locations” menu item, they will navigate to a page that will show them the correct hours and location of the library.
  2. Information will be correct, complete, and unbiased. When users trust the information and choices presented, they are less likely to feel a need to go elsewhere.
  3. The library website has quality. Users want to feel confident in their choices and we all want to feel confident that our digital experiences are worthwhile and valuable.
  4. “I will be successful.” For library users, there must be a sense that if they follow a process through all required steps, their goals and intention will be met.

I think these four points are obvious in theory, but are difficult to put into practice, particularly when working to a vast array of user’s and needs.  Based on Westerman’s conclusions, and my own perspectives based on my experiences in the DUX department, I think a way to approach trust-building with library websites is through a thoughtful respect for the cognitive load put on the users of library websites.  We want to build websites and other library tools that build user confidence, not ones that burden users with irrelevant material and information, which renders them unsuccessful.

I’m still trying to find a productive space to work out my thoughts on user trust, so I encourage your thoughts and comments as I continue to think about how to construct dependable, quality library websites.  Meanwhile, my mind still reels.  In the good way.


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