British Library

Everybody said how much they got out of it and they are all itching to get on and change the system

Roger Butcher British Library Project Manager

British Library

Usability testing, even with a small number of testers, yielded huge insight into how to develop a more effective catalogue

  • Background

    The British Library had a catalogue which could be accessed in the Reading Rooms or online. This catalogue was being redeveloped, and the new version incorporated a number of Web 2.0 features including user-generated content (reviews) and ‘tagging’. In advance of its launch, the British Library wished to test a prototype version of the catalogue with target users, but within a tight budget.


    We recommended testing the site with 3 testers – a frequent reading room user, an infrequent reading room user and someone who has not used the reading rooms. Even with small numbers the British Library would still get insight into both usability (ease and intuitiveness of the prototype site) and users’ attitudes to the prototype, including the new Web 2.0 features.


    In order to ensure buy-in to the research results we recommended that key British Library staff actively observed users on the site and then discussed the research outcomes to achieve a shared understanding of the issues and actions to address these.

  • What we did

    We conducted an observed testing session in a facilitator-led environment, with 3 testers in the morning, followed by a facilitated debrief.


    The facilitator encouraged testers to follow routes which would be relevant to them, but also ensured that pertinent attitudinal feedback was gained. Eye-tracking was also used during the testing in real time so the observers could see where the testers were looking – this helped provide greater insight about which elements of the page the testers actually looked at.


    British Library stakeholders discreetly observed the research in our viewing studio ‘live’ via a one-way mirror, and captured issues arising which were mapped to help guide the subsequent facilitated discussion of the issues and an agreement of actions.

  • Outcomes

    The testing highlighted a number of usability issues with the prototype catalogue. The facilitated debrief allowed British Library stakeholders the opportunity to discuss these issues, and come up with ways of addressing them. It also revealed some very interesting view points and behaviours about users’ perceptions and use of Web 2.0 features such as writing reviews and tagging content. The British Library concluded that they appeared to be ‘ahead of the game’ in relation to these features, and they would implement them and monitor their success as the catalogue went live.


    Thanks for a very good day yesterday. Everybody said how much they got out of it and they are all itching to get on and change the system.

    Roger Butcher – British Library