Applying Hierarchical Task Analysis Method to Discovery Layer Evaluation

Marlen Promann, Tao Zhang


Libraries are implementing discovery layers to offer better user experiences. While usability tests have been helpful in evaluating the success or failure of implementing discovery layers in the library context, the focus has remained on its relative interface benefits over the traditional federated search. The informal site- and context specific usability tests have offered little to test the rigor of the discovery layers against the user goals, motivations and workflow they have been designed to support. This study proposes hierarchical task analysis (HTA) as an important complementary evaluation method to usability testing of discovery layers. Relevant literature is reviewed for the discovery layers and the HTA method. As no previous application of HTA to the evaluation of discovery layers was found, this paper presents the application of HTA as an expert based and workflow centered (e.g. retrieving a relevant book or a journal article) method to evaluating discovery layers. Purdue University’s Primo by Ex Libris was used to map eleven use cases as HTA charts. Nielsen’s Goal Composition theory was used as an analytical framework to evaluate the goal carts from two perspectives: a) users’ physical interactions (i.e. clicks), and b) user’s cognitive steps (i.e. decision points for what to do next). A brief comparison of HTA and usability test findings is offered as a way of conclusion.

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