Online library resources: usability & user interaction

I recently read Bohyun Kim’s interesting blog on research “flow” and serendipity in digital library collections, and a number of Bohyun’s comments immediately struck a chord with me. I have previously blogged about some of the challenges which can arise around eResources troubleshooting for library staff, and I think issues surrounding resource usability, navigation and functionality can affect all types of library user (students and staff).

I deal on a daily basis with online resource admin and configuration and regularly liaise with students, academic / library staff and content providers. Library users are (increasingly) demanding easy and seamless 24/7 online access to electronic content, using a multitude of different devices to do so (PCs, tablets, smart phones etc). These devices have a diverse range of internet browsers, security settings and display features which may potentially affect (block?) how this content is consumed, managed or downloaded. Students want “one-click” access to content – as Bohyun suggests, users do not want to be consistently confronted with browser pop-up security messages or numerous platform login welcome screens after already submitting valid credentials. Unfortunately for libraries and its users, “one-click” access appears to be not that easy to achieve in reality for some content providers!!

Publishers own content, and protect their content with authentication mechanisms (Athens, Shibboleth etc) which libraries and users need to set up and comply with to obtain access. These authentication mechanisms can sometimes be very complex, and rather than allow access to content (which is their primary function), can potentially act as barriers for users – proving to be one step too far for many disgruntled library stakeholders. The barrier or blockage to online content upsets the research “flow” which Bohyun refers to in her blog post. There is also a financial context to this as well though, for libraries and publishers to consider. Barriers to online content can damage a user’s experience of using library resources, potentially meaning that a user may not return to a particular subscribed system or product. Non-returning users may, in turn, affect overall usage of a resource. Low usage of a resource may lead to cancellation of said resource, as maximum value for money is not being achieved (these evaluations are especially key in the current economic climate).

I think it is important for libraries to keep the pressure on publishers and providers to keep improving, streamlining and simplifying their authentication mechanisms where possible and appropriate. Longstanding access barriers are no good to anyone – especially university students and staff. It is these stakeholders who need to continue to be the main focus for libraries when delivering access to online resources.


About Mitchell Dunkley

I work in the Content Delivery Team at De Montfort University Library. I manage DMU Library's e-resources portfolio and I am involved in library systems admin, collating resource usage statistics and troubleshooting. All comments are my own.
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