What is the user perception of the virtual shelf browse function of academic library websites?

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Gaskin, Niamh
Issue Date
MSc Information and Library Management
Dublin Business School
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Academic library websites and online catalogues are increasingly becoming a user’s first interaction with library services when beginning an information search. Because of this, it is vital that these online discovery tools are accessible and user-friendly for all. One goal of this exploratory research is to gain an insight into user’s perceptions of academic library websites and online discovery tools. However, the focus of this project was to evaluate the user response to one particular feature offered by several academic library catalogues. The virtual shelf browse tool simulates the experience of physically browsing library shelves by representing books or materials as icons of books sitting on a virtual shelf. This research asked whether users felt that this feature made the online catalogue more engaging and if it helped make navigating the catalogue easier. This research interviewed 3 Systems Librarians by e-mail to get an understanding of the logistics of the virtual shelf in their institution. To investigate whether the virtual shelf could improve or hinder how accessible a library catalogue is, the researcher interviewed three users with disabilities. A questionnaire was created and advertised publicly on Twitter to learn about user perceptions of the online discovery tools in general and the virtual shelf browse feature in particular. Findings from this research suggest that a significant number of users find searching through the online catalogue frustrating or inefficient. The research suggests that catalogues need to be made more intuitive or there needs to be more instruction for users in how best to search. Users showed a preference for information to be presented in different formats and were interested in using the virtual shelf browse feature. However, many were unaware that this feature existed and had no previous experience using it.