A libraries web site is the virtual front door to many of the services and information that it provides to patrons. There are several things that can be done to examine and evaluate the use of a web site. The first step is to start by gathering information about the libraries web site from a variety of different sources from user statistics to conducting a usability study. It starts by understanding your library patrons and anticipating how a web site might best effectively meet their needs.
If we anticipate the questions patrons have, we can better design and develop a web site that meets and may even exceed their exceptions. One of the best ways to gather information about the needs of patrons is to illicit feedback from the librarians and staff who work with patrons on a day to day basis. This includes, but not limited to librarians and staff members who work at the reference desk (adult, teen, and children's) and the circulation desk. These are the front lines of the library where we get to communicate with patrons on a daily basis. The information we learn in these situations can be directly incorporated into the services a library offers through their web site. For example, if you have many people going to the circulation desk to renew a book instead of using the libraries web site this is an indicator that patrons either can not find the service on the site or do not know that it exists.
Another great thing to do is to take a look at the reference statistics and the questions that patrons are asking at the reference desk. The information that you collect is great resource to understand the types of information people need help in locating. If you have a high number of questions that are similar in nature they might be able to be answered through a new web service. While working at the reference desk in the Information Commons at Indiana University, we would get several questions about locating information within the libraries web site. This information was directly incorporated in to the libraries new web site to make it easier for patrons to find the items they where looking for that already existed.
Probably the most effective way to understand the services that patrons are currently using on a web site is to conduct a usability study with a small number of people. A usability study will provide you with valuable information about your web site. For a usability study to be effective it needs to be no longer than an hour in length (from my experience 45 minutes or less is best). Prior to starting the usability study would be a great time to ask people a couple of brief questions about how often they use the libraries web site and what they use it for. For the study, you will want to create a short list of questions that will ask a person to locate a specific piece of information or to complete a task. Some questions you may want to ask are: “Where is the Everson library branch located and what are its hours on...