Time-critical user-centred library web design

image showing use of ALT attribute for accessibility
Author: Seobility – License: CC BY-SA 4.0

A NetIKX seminar, 22 July 2020

As we ease into the ‘new normal’, several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, online seminars are now the default for NetIKX. For this Zoom seminar we welcomed Antony Groves, Learning and Teaching Librarian at the University of Sussex, to discuss a topic which is both timely and by no means exclusive to academic libraries. From September 2020, all UK public sector websites must comply with accessibility regulations – an issue which Antony and his colleagues were already tackling when the pandemic hit, bringing additional complications to managing access to both physical and online services.

Antony guided us through the redesign project, which was rooted in the Government Design Principles – the fundamental rule of which is to start with user needs. To understand these needs, Antony and his team used the ‘Top Tasks’ approach Top tasks are the small set of tasks (usually less than 10, often less than five) that matter most to your customers. Feedback from the academic community identified a number of common themes, including accessing user accounts, site navigation, finding resources and booking rooms. In some cases user requests were not fully compatible with accessibility issues: for examples, some users stated a desire for more infographics, but these can be problematic due to the use of embedded text in images, which poses difficulties for screen reader software. Accessibility testing was carried out using the WAVE tool, which is based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1). As an increasing number of users access the web via mobile devices, it was also essential to ensure that the new site was mobile-friendly.

Antony went on to discuss the additional work required to adapt the web site in light of service changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. A ‘pivot – add – hide’ approach was adopted: for example, ‘room bookings’ were changed to ‘zoom bookings’, new services such as ‘click and collect’ were added and information which was now irrelevant, such as services for visitors, was hidden. This led neatly into a group discussion of how we could implement accessibility and usability for our own service users: although the government regulations apply only to public sector bodies, we all have a duty to make our services as accessible to as wide a user base as possible. Many of us discovered that our own sites (this one included!) were less accessible than we would like and vowed to make improvements.

Following the traditional coffee break, the group undertook practical exercises on the theme of improving accessibility and usability. The discussion then branched out into issues of physical access to buildings, availability of information in alternative formats, through to readability and provision of text in accessible language. Many thanks to Antony and to all who attended for an informative and thought-provoking session, which provided plenty of ideas and resources relevant to accessibility and usability projects across sectors.

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