Plugged into User Behavior: Low-Budget, High-Impact Usability Testing of Library Subject Guides

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.


How do students really use library subject guides?  Librarians can speculate, but if guides are difficult to navigate, users will leave. Attending this preconference will allow you to take the guesswork out of subject-guide design. Learn how to construct, conduct, and analyze usability tests by practicing these skills during the session. Hands-on activities will also include incorporating models of information-seeking behavior with findings to better meet students’ needs. Please note that attendees will need to bring a laptop.

Usability testing of locally created web content is crucial to comprehensive services in academic libraries because it helps us better understand whether we are meeting users’ needs. Although many librarians test the usability of their main websites, greater effort needs to be made to determine whether our subject guides are usable for two main reasons: (a) librarians’ research processes differ from those of students; thus when librarians design subject guides, a disconnect between their designs and students’ needs and preferences often occurs. Furthermore, (b) most public services librarians do not have a strong background in information architecture principles. With this in mind, no one should be surprised that students most often turn first to Internet search engines rather than library subject guides.

This preconference will teach public services librarians the skills necessary to evaluate the usability of the subject guides at their institutions, whether they are using a product such as LibGuides or another platform. To improve user experience, we will encourage attendees to integrate usability findings with models of student information-seeking behavior, which will require them to reconceptualize subject guides as instructional tools. By the end of this preconference, attendees will be confident that they are capable of engaging in usability testing without expensive consultants or web designers.

Practice writing research questions; designing and implementing testing techniques;evaluating usability data; and meshing findings with subject content, information-seeking behavior models, and student learning.  The goal is to make usability testing more approachable and less intimidating. We want to inspire public services librarians to see subjects guides from the users' perspective and be more innovative in all aspects of designing and implementing them. By using the skills acquired in this preconference, attendees will be able to create subject guides at their home institutions that better meet students’ expectations and needs.

Learning Outcomes

  • Be able to design and implement usability tests in order to assess the effectiveness of subject guides.
  • Be able to analyze usability test results in order to improve their subject guides.
  • Be able to incorporate research about information-seeking behavior and learning models into subject-guide design in order to better meet student needs.


Gretchen Trkay, Instruction & Information Literacy Librarian, University of Texas at Arlington; Andy Herzog, Reference and Instruction Librarian, University of Texas at Arlington; Rafia Mirza, Reference and Instruction Librarian, University of Texas at Arlington; Boglarka Huddleston, Instruction & Information Literacy Librarian, University of Texas at Arlington; Jody Bailey, Reference and Instruction Librarian, University of Texas at Arlington


Separate registration fee required.  Due to limited space, preconference registrations cannot be confirmed until we have received and process payment.

Member Type: Registration Rate:
ACRL Personal Member $165
ALA Member $205
Nonmember $235
Full-time Library School Student $85
Unemployed/Non-salaried ALA member 

Register Online
Submit your ACRL 2013 registration via the online registration form.  Please note, you will need to log in to your ALA account or create a new one if you don't have an ALA profile.  Please expect to receive e-mail confirmation within 24 hours.
Register by Mail or Fax
Print off a copy of the ACRL 2013 Registration Form (PDF file) and mail or fax your completed form.  Please expect to receive an e-mail confirmation within three to five business days of receipt of your form.

Add a preconference to your existing ACRL Registration
1.    Go to the online registration form and enter your log-in and password.
2.    On the "RegistrationSummary" page, click the "Add Items" button under the Pending Purchases header.
4.    You will see the list of ACRL 2013 Preconferences. Enter the quantity (“1”) next to the preconference you want to add to your registration. Scroll down then click the “Next” button at the bottom of the page.
5.     You will be taken to “Registration Summary” page where you will see the preconference added to your registration. Scroll down and click “Next”.  You will be taken to the “Booking Summary/Confirmation” page which completes the process and a new confirmation will be sent to your email.

Please note:

  • Name substitutions will not be allowed, nor can you give your preconference registration slot to another attendee.
  • An updated confirmation will be e-mailed to you once you have registered for a preconference.
  • Once a preconference reaches its attendance maximum, registration for that session will close. 
Questions about your conference registration should be directed to  Questions about conference programs should be directed to