Having read my March 8th post Many university library websites suck!, a second brave soul contacted me and asked me to give their library website the once-over, in the same way that I did for Lancaster University Library’s website.
The original post resulted from me needing to check several library sites for something particular that I was investigating, but then often finding it very difficult to find my way round those websites, and finally realising that many university library websites are dire.
Since then, I’ve been very impressed with the NCSU libraries’ website, so it’s not as if I’m always negative.
This time, the website in question is that of Newscastle University Library. A prestigious university, so I thought that their website would be very good and wouldn’t suck. I was wrong!
But first, from the Newcastle University website homepage, when I search for ‘library’ the first link is to Walton Medical and Dental Library website. Surely the first result should be to the main campus library website?
The other thing I noticed about the university website is the ‘Skip to Content’ link in the top right corner which does nothing except move the page down half a dozen lines in the browser. A bit strange, though I notice that even the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website has similar, even though it moves you down less than a centimetre.
As an outsider, I don’t know the difference between the three libraries (Robinson, Walton, and Law) that make up the university library in Newcastle, so maybe on the library homepage, in the third box down the left hand side, it could indicate “Robinson Library (main campus library)” and not just “Robinson Library”.
WRT the main Library website, and looking at the same time at the NCSU library website, one thing I immediately notice is that NCSU indicate in their Search box exactly what it is that is being searched – i.e. “Search books, articles, journals & library website” whereas on http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/ there is no indication of what is being searched in the box under “Search the Library”.
After doing a couple of searches, I’m still not sure. I searched for “RSS” and the second result was to:
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”iso-8859-1″?> <?xml-stylesheet type=’text/xsl’ href=’http://www.ncl.ac.uk/news/rss.xsl’ version=’1.0′?><rss version=”2.0 …
– which doesn’t mean anything to me and is not exactly user friendly, is it? In fact – what is actually going on here? If I enter a search term in the search box on the Library homepage under “Search the Library” and press <Enter>, I get results, but my search term in that results page then appears in the Search box at the top right corner of the page (and not in the box under “Search the Library”). Very confusing, especially if I then click on ‘Search’ (at the top right, beside where my search term now appears) and get completely different and new results (because I’m now getting results from the entire university website). I’ve no idea why the search terms jumps from one search box to another, like it does in this case. Weird.
Anyway, I think that what I’m searching if I “Search the Library” is actually searching the Library website. And therefore I’m not searching the Library catalogue, like I would at many other university library website homepage search boxes. So, why not state “Search the Library website” beside this search box, and then it would be clear? Hmm – I wonder, when I search for a term in that box, if I’m searching the entire Library website including the Robinson, Walton and Law Libraries, or just Robinson.
I didn’t expect that I’d get so confused so quickly
I see that there’s a link to ‘Library catalogue’ on the homepage, on the right hand side under ‘Favourite places’. Clicking on this takes me to a page with the URL http://sparky.ncl.ac.uk/F (not sure why it isn’t catalogue.ncl.ac.uk or similar) where I read “Welcome to the Newcastle University Library Catalogue” but there is no indication of exactly what the Library Catalogue actually contains. Details of all books? All books, journals and e-Journals? The actual contents of books, journals, and e-Journals? All materials in all three libraries (Robinson, Walton and Law Libraries)?
Anyway, searching this catalogue it’s wonderful to see that they have a copy the book I edited with Jim Corlett – Information sources in engineering. I see that it’s on “Quick Ref Level 4” I used to work in a library that had a Quick Reference section, and I always wondered where the ‘Slow Reference’ section was
I like the link to ‘More information about this book’ which takes me to Google Books.
What a complicated catalogue Newcastle University Library has! Do a search, and you’re faced with the following option links:
Selected records: View Selected | Save/Mail | Create Subset | Add to My e-Shelf | Save on Server
Whole set: Select All | Deselect | Rank | Refine | Filter | Current awareness
As an outsider, I’m not able to get to the ‘Current Awareness’ option, but I see that there is confusion of jargon because the link goes to a page saying “Did not sign in, therefore not permitted to create an SDI request.” – Why refer to it as ‘Current Awareness’ on one page, and as ‘SDI’ on another page? I know what SDI stands for (Selective Dissemination of Information), but I doubt whether the average student does.
I can’t imagine what ‘Save on Server’ means.
Anyway, to continue on a new track, I tried clicking on ‘Local Collections’ in the top toolbar on the Catalogue. This took me to a page where I had to select a local catalogue. I selected ‘Full Catalogue’ and the resulting page told me “Your search catalogue has been changed to Full Catalogue”. Hmm – very confusing. I thought I was searching the Full Catalogue in the first place. I suspect I still am.
OK, so I think their Catalogue is quite confusing. I now want to find out if the Catalogue contains details of their e-Journals.
Before I tred to find out, I noticed that the website prefers the term ‘e-Journals’ to ‘ejournals’. However, when, from the Library homepage I ‘Search the Library’ for “e-Journals” I get about 100 results, but I nevertheless get about 12 when I search for “ejournals”. Confusing! Especially so as the first result doesn’t actually contain the word ‘ejournals’.
I’ve also just noticed that there’s no link back to the Library homepage from the search results.
Anyway, to continue, if I click on ‘e-Journals’ in the Favourite places list on the Library homepage, I’m taken to an e-Journals landing page from where I can click on ‘Find an e-Journal’ which takes me to a different designed set of pages called ‘Find it: Find e-Journal’.
When I browse the e-Journals beginning with ‘w’ I get a list. I’ll ignore the confusing “Total number of e-Journals: 624” – which actually means: “Total number of e-Journals beginning with ‘w’ = 624” and I’ll also not worry about why some ISSNs are listed and others are not, and instead click on the link to the e-Journal ‘Walking together’. Hmm – where on earth have I ended up at? At http://walkingtogether.typepad.com/ which I don’t think is an e-Journal at all, but rather a blog advertising a children’s clothing store.
I’m now utterly confused, not least because I previously read on the e-Journals FAQ that “Use of the journals listed on these pages is restricted to members of the University of Newcastle Library who are accessing them from PCs located on the University’s campus, or who have been issued with the appropriate passwords where off-campus access is available.” So, why am I finding blogs, and freely available to anyone e-journals from these pages? I’ve no idea why.
Anyway – back to the Find it: Find e-Journal lists: http://dithers.ncl.ac.uk:9003/sfx_local/az These are horrible lists to browse. If, for example, you select ‘J’, as far as I can see, you may have to click 200 times in order to browse the final set of e-Journals beginning with ‘J’. That sucks!
Another problem I noticed, for one journal at least, was “Authentication: We are currently experiencing problems with Campus ID & Password access off campus. Please use RAS until further notice.” I actually clicked on the link to ‘RAS’, but then gave up – it was too full of computer jargon.
Another peculiarity was the way that when I typed something into the Title box on the Find it: Find e-Journal pages, it anticipates your possible search and offers choices, but when you select one of these from the drop-down, and unlike Google search, it doesn’t take you to that page – instead, you have to click on ‘Go’.
There isn’t consistency throughout the website on where the ‘Go’ button appears. Minor point, but why not? Also, on the Reading Lists Online page, there’s no ‘Go’ button, but instead a Submit Query button.
Anyway – I’m no wiser, thus far, as to whether the Library Catalogue lists e-Journals – or at least the e-Journals that the library subscribes to, rather than the fairly random collection of links in the Find it: Find e-Journal pages.
I tried another tack – from the Library homepage I clicked on the ‘Quicksearch’ option under Favourite places. [erm – what is the obsession librarians have with quick-this, and quick-that?] The resulting drop-down gives me three options, to search: the Catalogue, Electronic Resources, or E-Journals. Small point, but why the capital letter for ‘E-Journals’ and why not use ‘e-Journals’ as on most other pages?
So, one has to ask after thinking about those three options, are E-Journals/e-Journals not Electronic Resources?
If I select the option ‘Electronic Resources’ and search for ‘journal’ the result is 12 Resources. These include a few e-Journals, though I’m not sure why only those few are listed, plus some other resources. It looks as if the library only has half a dozen e-Journals! What on earth is going on? Why are these e-Journals listed here?
But to continue, if I click on one of these e-Journals, I get the message: “You are now leaving MetaLib”. Well, that’s the first mention of MetaLib that I’ve seen on the website. Have I been in MetaLib, because I thought I was in Quicksearch? Of course, being a librarian, I actually know what’s happening here, but your average student won’t. The impression that the average student will have is that this is all very confusing.
I know that I’ve been looking at this website from a sort of devil’s advocate perspective, but it’s giving me a severe headache. I wouldn’t say that it is user friendly at all.
Here are some more things:
From the Library homepage, click on ‘Databases’ in the Favourite places links, and I’m presented with a page which has, on the left, a list that contains, amongst other things:
E-Journals [why is ‘Journals’ capitalised here, but ‘books’ above is not?]
That list is confusing. What is actually defined as a ‘Resource’? Shouldn’t ‘Electronic resources’ be a sub-set of ‘Resources’? And why isn’t E-Journals a sub-set of ‘Electronic resources’?
Clicking on ‘Resources’ I get:
“The links on the left provide advice and information on and access to resources available through the University Library. All of its wide range of electronic databases, journals and e-books can be accessed here. Most of the Library’s electronic resources can be accessed off campus.”
So – “…electronic databases, journals and e-books…” does that actually mean ‘journals’ or ‘e-Journals’ or both?
If a student sees a heading on a Library website for ‘Electronic articles’ one would forgive them for thinking that this will lead them to some place where they can search for electronic articles appearing in subscribed, or even possibly also unsubscribed but freely available, e-journals. But not Newcastle University Library website. Instead, that link takes them to a page about HERON, the national service to the UK Higher Education community for copyright clearance, digitisation and delivery of book extracts and journal articles. HERON is a useful service, but it provides access to a relatively small number of electronic articles.
From the Library homepage Favourite places links, clicking on ‘Research Information’ takes me to a sort of sub-set of pages with a slightly different design, called ‘Resin – Research information at Newcastle’ but I’m not sure why. It also seems to be called “Resin @ Newcastle University Library” but I’m not sure why.
Ha! On these ‘Resin’ pages I see that there’s some new jargon – ‘Periodicals’. When I click on this link, there’s a sub-menu with the heading ‘Electronic journals’. Strewth, the Library website should make up its mind WRT terminology: e-Journals, E-Journals, Electronic journals, or periodicals.
Similarly, the Favourite places link to ‘E-Print Repository’ actually takes me to the ‘ePrints Service’. So, why not have more consistency of terminology?
In the Resin section there’s little consistency in the way the pages are written – i.e. in the narrative modes. For example, I notice:
“If you want a book…” – on one page.
“The Internet offers the researcher…” on another page.
“In this section we have included links…” on another page.
Are there really only two sites worthy of listing on the Key Research Websites page? And why does the left-hand side menu list on this page differ from the list on all other Resin pages? There’s a (small) typo on the Research methods page:
Social Research Update (published by the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey)
Aimed at academics and researchers, it offers practical tips for anyone thinking about doing research.
Subscriptions for the hardcopy version are free to researchers with addresses in the UK.
BTW, the first link on the Conferences page in Resin goes to a paper written by Alison McNab way back in 2001, the first link in which goes to NISS, which no longer exists. The second and fourth links on that page also no longer exist. When it was written, it was an excellent article, but it’s well out of date now.
As the Bloglines service is folding, they should change the RSS feed subscribe pages.
Actually, I notice that when I click on the first link in that feed (i.e. the link in http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/about/news/feed/?rss=resr ) to the Morgan & Claypool trial, I get “Sorry, the page you were looking for was not found” Wow – the same happens with all of them!
Gosh! From many of these RSS feeds, you get: “Sorry, the page you were looking for was not found” That sucks!
Why do I have to delete “…Search the Library” letter by letter, on the top search box on some pages before I can search, but not others?
I reckon the What is MyLibrary guide goes too fast and is too long.
I’m not very keen on the dusty, old looking, open book graphic near the top left on many of the Library webpages. However, I’ve finally found some nice photos on the website, in the Walton Library section. The Walton Library section also features a photo of a reader instead of a dusty, old looking, open book graphic.
It’s a pity that pictures of the contact librarians are not featured on the contact pages. One would hope that contact librarians wan’t to be visible and identifiable.
The page Resources for your students says:
How to ensure that the library acquires material for your students
…and then, the rest of the page is blank!
The Access to other libraries page is similar. No info.
Ah – I think I’m supposed to now click on the sub-sub-set of links on the left hand side of this page to find out how to ensure that the library acquires material for students. Yet the Document delivery services page lists links in the centre of the page.
On May 20th, I posted in my blog about Jenny Campbell’s Nice Use of Netvibes in the University Newcastle Library: Science, Agriculture and Engineering section. But the main library website leaves much to be desired. There are pages with a main library design, pages with an ‘SFX’ Find it design, pages with a Catalogue design, pages with a Quicksearch/MetaLib design, and probably other pages with other designs. This is probably because various software packages have been patched together within the overall site.
The above graphics don’t do justice to the way that the sections vary in design.
And a final thing – when I scroll down the Library homepage to the bottom, and then click on Quicksearch, the Quicksearch search box actually disappears up to the top of the page, and I have to scroll back up to enter a search term.
I never did find out what the Library Catalogue contained. I could have looked in the Help, of course, but we all know that hardly anyone ever does that.
Where else would one find all these sorts of things, except within a library website that sucks?