Usability Of Nanyang Technological University Digital Library Computer Science Essay

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Digital library (DL) has become more important in the modern life in which people likely comes to this place to achieve interested information quickly. Especially in the university environment, most of people are engaged in research work, therefore, searching information turned out to be one of the most important skills to accomplish the goal. This paper presents a brief investigation into the usability of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) digital library design under the Elsevier design guideline (EDG) view. Usability definition and usability in digital library concepts are addressed concisely. EDG description follows and the case study is examined lastly.

Literature review


According to Farnum (2002), usability is the evaluating system to make sure that it is easy and efficient to use and then incorporating in finding and recommendations in design process. Meanwhile, Nielsen (2003) indicates usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. "Usability" also means the technique to improve the ease-of-use feature of the design. It is specified by five quality components including learnability, efficiency, memorability, errors and satisfaction.

Usability in digital library

Usability in DL is defined as "how easily and effectively users can find information from a digital library, with an increasing emphasis being placed on the user" (Dillon, 1994). Van House et al. (1996) proposed that "the usability of digital libraries depends on three key components: content, functionality and the user interface". In either of definition, user and user interface appear as the major matters in DL system and should be given high priority to be investigated to achieve the user satisfaction.

Elsevier design guideline

Elsevier presents a few short simple-to-implement guidelines for a usable DL system. Those guidelines are built on the result of a survey of literature review and usability testing based on heuristic evaluation. At the end, DL design standards were proposed to focus on some aspects below:


Aesthetics and Graphics


Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

Matching the System and User Activities

Case study of NTU digital library


According to the WWW consortium, web accessibility means that people with disabilities can perceive, understand, interact and contribute with the Web. Even thought NTU does not have much visually disabilities student and staff, the design still was being addressed with this concern. The white background colour occupied almost of the space in homepage and subpages, the text colour was chosen in contrast with background colour. Hence, the impaired people are still able to browse and interact with the website even in the lack-of-light environment like dark rooms or airplane rides.

Aesthetics and Graphics

The website uses few colours and minimal graphics. Only red, blue, white are utilized together with one animation for advertisement of ongoing promoted library programmes. It makes the website look simple but still interesting to attract people attention.

Hypertext and Linking

The links were treated according to conventions. They were underlined or put in a different colour, i.e. blue or orange from other text. However, just a few visited link colour in the home page were changed, some others were not. It may make users confused between visited link and clickable link.

Orientation and Navigation

Link to the library website was located on the NTU's homepage. It will make sure that the library link visible. In addition, the effective use of the libraries is not affected (Bao, 2000).

Use consistent navigation: the tab correlating with the user's current location was highlighted on the navigation menu to keep user from getting lost.

Page Layout

Use page real estate wisely: on the above image, the amount space of NTU logo and navigation menu was minimized so it left the largest space for the main content, user is able to see this main page content without scrolling.


Provide a help link on every page: the website has a few subpage with different designs, all of them were integrated the help link on every page so users may know where to go when they need help.

However, the design elements were not satisfied with the consistency recommendation as each subpage has different design.

Flexibility and Efficiency of Use

Organize information in multiple ways with less clicking: type of material, subject, course. By labelling the type of material such as Books, Videos; E-Journals; Databases; Exam Papers, etc. on the homepage, NTU library website guides expert users to the information they needs directly. It also helps the novice users to get an overview of what resources available to them by just one click away to the resources.

Explain details to help users select and access resources: navigation guideline, database description, search tips were provided to help users aware of content and speed up their search.

Matching the System and User Activities

Organize website based on users' tasks and their frequency: Most important and frequent task that users performed on DL is finding books, journal articles. NTU library website design satisfies this requirement by locating it on the homepage for user convenience.

The less important tasks like getting user account information, fines, seeking for help, etc. was integrated into other subpage functions.

Besides, the website had a good response time without using librarian terminology, i.e. "books, videos" instead of OPAC, "online catalog". It was organized to reflects the perspective of users, not librarian.


Although there is no a standard evaluation method or benchmark tool to determine the usability of DL yet, but all of current developing techniques aims the same target: users will be the central of system design. Their requirements and information needs have been considered carefully in order to be assisted efficiently. Elsevier design guideline also follows this trend to maximize the usability of DL. As most of the guidelines have been applied to NTU DL, it could be a useful instrument in helping NTU students and staffs finding information they need.