by Monica McCormick
As the program officer for Digital Scholarly Publishing, I wear a lot of hats: I frame strategic thinking, develop collaborations, and manage projects for digital publishing tools and services at both the Libraries and NYU Press. Success requires expertise well beyond my own skills, so I work closely with colleagues in both organizations. A recent project with the Libraries’ UX team is a great example of how their knowledge can help the rest of us build better, more engaging websites.
I asked the UX group in late 2015 to evaluate and make recommendations about a web site for open access book publishing (openaccessbooks.nyupress.org). The site, to which the UX department’s recommendations will be added, is being built by the Digital Libraries Technology Services (DLTS) group. It offers open access to a set of about 65 scholarly monographs from the NYU Press, and is the starting point for projects we are building with grant funding from the MacArthur and Mellon foundations. The site uses Readium, a new open source tool that makes it easy to put EPUB (an ebook format that the Press produces) up on the web, so that it’s readable on most any browser and on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices. The principle behind Readium is to publish digital books not as individual objects you can put on your e-reader, but in web-native formats that are more fully part of the internet. For DLTS and the Press, Readium offers efficiencies. With our grant funding, we will enable more reader engagement and ensure the content is connect to other web resources. For example, we’ve added easy sharing on social media, and are working on annotation capacities, durable provision of streaming media and archival resources, and semantic tagging.
As we developed the site, we were eager to get an assessment of its usability, with recommendations for improvements. The UX team worked with us to define our goals and priorities for their analysis, and then developed a hybrid method, combining a heuristic evaluation and user testing, to assess the site. They asked experienced e-book readers to perform a series of tasks, and also conducted focus group interviews. The results were shared with us in a group meeting and also in a detailed 62-page report, with a list of 45 specific suggested improvements ranked from critical to minor. Some of the work can be done by our team, and some will be shared with the Readium community to propose improvements to their code.
The experience was both a pleasure and an education: the UX team explained their process clearly, ensured they understood our needs, and provided us with timely and detailed results. We are in the process of implementing them, and hope for more consultations on our UX as the site evolves.