Yassine ElBaradie/THE VARSITY

After more than a year of development, the University of Toronto Libraries website has been unveiled. Among the most anticipated changes is the site’s simplified search tool, which combines journals, books, and articles, while categorizing titles by format. The tool also provides a list of Frequently Asked Questions, as well as other library websites and resources.

Another addition is the services navigation menu that helps faculty members to request material for course-reserves, facilitates new title requests for the libraries, and allows students to arrange research consultations with librarians.

User experience librarian Lisa Gayhart says that the updates were necessary due to recent technological advancements. “Technologies and the way people use technology has changed dramatically since the last version of the website was released,” she says. “We wanted to make it easy for students to find information from the library no matter what type of device they are using.”

The Varsity spoke with several students, most of whom concluded that the updated website is far more accessible and functional than its predecessor. Rebecca McCallum found the changes to the front page particularly helpful. “I like how they have the library hours front and centre — no more searching for it,” she says.  For McCallum, the search function is also a highlight. “I like the format of it too, so you get a taste of what each category has to offer.”

Second-year student Timothy Lock says that he enjoys the modern feel to the site and the centralization of information. “Everything is put onto one page without having to select [the type of publication],” he says. However, Lock also recognized the drawbacks of putting all the information in one place, a move that he says leaves the new site “cluttered.”

“If they were to improve it, [I’d] say keep the design but make the search results one column rather than overwhelming us with lots of stuff at the same time,” he says.

‘The site will be a work in progress,” Gayhart writes in an email to The Varsity. According to Gayhart, the design team is looking for ongoing feedback to make smaller changes more frequently, rather than tackle large redesign projects. Gayhart has been part of the project since from the onset, and added that other University of Toronto Library websites will be undergoing similar updates to improve design and functionality.

The update also includes a number of accessibility improvements, including a mobile-responsive design allowing the website to automatically adjust to the screen size of any smartphone, computer, or tablet. The site is compliant to WCAG 2.0 level AA, an update that goes beyond the necessary steps outlined by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The project began in the spring of 2014 with a series of research investigations on the site’s user-demographics and how users access the different tools, such as the summon function or the research guides. “Additionally, we looked at what other universities were doing with their websites and current industry best practices,” Gayhart explains.

Once sufficient research had been collected, the web team began designing and developing the new site while incorporating constant feedback and testing. An alpha site was first launched in January 2015, followed by the beta launch in April, and finally, the end launch in May. Throughout June and July, the web team plans to conduct follow up usability testing.

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