In May 2014, the Pioneer Library System began taking applications for volunteers interested in being Library Alpha Testers. The task for these volunteers was laid out on the application form:
Over the next several months we will be redesigning the PLS main website. We are looking for 10 individuals, from the public in our service area, to help us test various layouts, phrasings, features, etc. as we work on this redesign.
We recruited interested volunteers on our website, Facebook and Twitter profiles. When the application process was complete, we had 34 applicants. We were excited and in awe of the quality of volunteer applications we received.
Once the applications were received, we turned the hard work of selecting 10 Alpha Testers over to a Graduate Intern from the University of Oklahoma School for Library and Information Studies, who has a background in website design and management.
We told her we needed a user group that represented all types of library users, and had a wide range of technology skills and frequency of library use. We ended up with a group that ranged in age from early twenties to mid-eighties. Their use of the library ranged from online only to just using the catalog sometimes. Their ownership of 'technology gadgets' ranged from a lot to none..
The next step was testing. When most people test websites, they bring people in to a computer lab and set them down. We decided to change things up. By using a free'screen sharing' tool, we connected with our Alpha Testers at their home computers and watched them use our existing library website. We learned how people find the website ("Googling"vs bookmarking), what they use the most, and what they never knew existed. We learned how our library jargon was confusing for many..
We asked them to perform common library tasks online and rate the ease of the tasks. After we watched them use the site, we had them complete a survey asking them to reflect on the experience and to give suggestions on how to make it better. It took many hours to complete all of the testing but we received wonderful information..
As we designed the new website, we invited them to visit it frequently and provide regular feedback. After nearly nine months of work and listening to a lot of customer feedback, we felt our redesign was ready to go. January 1, 2015 we debuted a mobile and user friendly website..
We hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed the learning process. And we hope it is just the beginning of a better online relationship.