U libraries equipped with faster, more updated computers

Juliette Crane

While students might still be sitting in front of the same computer terminals at Wilson Library, they now have access to a faster server and updated online research facilities.
The University libraries have undergone three major technological changes over the past year — updating MNCAT, the libraries’ online catalog, computer workstations and the libraries’ Web site.
The project began in March 1999 in an effort to make online research more efficient. The old Web site, unveiled in early 1997, had grown old and stagnant, said Shane Nackerud, the libraries’ Web coordinator.
To ensure the new site was easy to use, the library staff interacted with hundreds of students through focus groups, surveys and usability testing.
“Now we have a better understanding of how people look for information,” said Nackerud. After three rounds of usability testing, the libraries found students needed simpler terms and detailed descriptions to help with their research.
Bold headings were added at the top of each page and accompanied by mouse-overs so students will know immediately where and how to find what they are looking for.
If a term is confusing, simply move the cursor over the word and an information box pops up, defining exactly what each link will lead to.
Library jargons were replaced with simple, everyday language. “Full Text Index,” for example, becomes “Recent Articles,” while “Library Catalogs” is now “Books and More.”
Other students preferred the updated site because of its clear and simple layout.
Preliminary designs had been overly colorful, filled with tiny graphics and hard-to-read fonts. The current site, however, maintains the traditional maroon and gold colors, simple graphics and basic fonts.
“The new site is less confusing because there is less to look at,” said an elementary education senior during one of the final usability tests.
Graduate students in the focus groups were more concerned with the site’s efficiency than with its visual appeal. “They did not want to have to jump from page to page before getting to a keyword search box to begin their search,” Nackerud said.
Texts can be retrieved from more than thirty libraries on the Twin Cities campus.
Students can also renew books and view electronic publications online. More than 1,200 published books and hundreds of electronic journals are available in full-text version online.
“Users can view books on everything from Java Programming to trout fishing,” said Nackerud.
The limitation, however, is that only one person at the University can view a particular book at one time.

Juliette Crane covers technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]