Ebooks + Tiny Café

We conducted a usability test to observe how users locate ebooks in the Libraries. We found that most users could successfully find an ebook through QuickSearch and the Catalog. We also found that users did not expect chapter-level metadata or download options to be available in the Catalog.


Research questions and findings

What do users do when encountering multiple ebook records in the catalog? 

Participants were not confused when encountering multiple links to an ebook in the catalog (e.g., if an ebook is available through both ProQuest and Wiley, we provide links to both). All participants who found the book record in the Catalog clicked the first "View resource online" button without hesitation.

How do users discover ebooks and ebook chapters? 

Most users (17 out of 20) successfully found an ebook by title. Most of these users found it via QuickSearch, which led them to the Libraries’ Catalog.

Most participants relied on Google to find the Libraries website at the beginning of this task. From there, their pathways diverged. Some used the QuickSearch box on the homepage; some used the "Find a book" or "Books & Media" options in the main menu; and some Googled ncsu library <book title> in the expectation that Catalog records were individually indexed by Google (they are not).

When users need to find a book chapter, do they search for the chapter title or book title? 

Users didn’t expect chapter-level metadata to be available in the Catalog.

Participants were asked to find a book chapter, and were given both the chapter title and the book title. Most participants searched for the book title. Only three out of 20 participants included the chapter title in their search string, and each of those three also included at least part of the book title.

Should the catalog record show download options (e.g., PDF chapters only)? 

No, not right now.

Based on participants reactions to paper prototypes, we expect that displaying download options in the Catalog may confuse users more than help them. Moreover, participants did not specifically bring up download options as a pain point on their own.

Ebook usage

Most participants had used an ebook in general, and most participants have used one for class. A few participants said that their instructor specifically told the class the text was available as an ebook, but most of the students who used an ebook edition of their textbook for class said they found the ebook version of their textbook on their own.


We do not recommend any immediate changes to the Catalog, since most of the participants in this study were able to successfully find ebooks and ebook chapters in the Catalog as it is currently designed. No user experience issues were uncovered by this study.

How We Did It

We used the Tiny Café model for this user research. We set up a table with coffee and pastries in the lobbies of the Hill and Hunt Libraries. We offered these treats to passing library patrons in exchange for 10 minutes of their time. In total, 20 people participated. 

We asked participants to complete tasks on a laptop, including finding a book by title and finding a book chapter by title. These books were only available as ebooks. We asked them what they would do if they needed these resources that day and therefore couldn't request a print edition from another library.

Catalog page with two search results. Each search result has PDF download options and one has an Adobe Digital Edition option.
Prototype of a catalog search results page with download options for each ebook

We also asked participants to take a look at a printed prototype of a catalog page that had download options listed for each ebook. We asked what they found useful and what information they wished were there. We did not specifically ask about the downloadability information, as we wanted to know if participants would notice it was there.