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Using Card-Sorting to Arrange Menu Items on an Academic Library Homepage


Card sorting is one method for obtaining direct user feedback. It consists ofusers imposing their own organization on a set of ideas, andworks well for developing or evaluating website and menu structure. Participants are asked togroup terms or concepts in a way meaningful to them, and may also be asked to name resulting groups. Participants not only provide insight on how to arrange various items, but can also highlight terms that are confusing or ambiguous.

In early 2011, the University of California, San Diego library conducted a card sorting exercise to learn how real library users were likely to categorize menu items on its homepage. The study involved a row of 7 primary tabs that appear in the persistent header on the library’s homepage and all other library web pages, as well as the 37 entries in drop-down menus below the primary tabs. Though limited in our ability to change the names of the primary tabs, we were greatly interested in how users might arrange menu entries among the tabs. We were also interested in whether users understood the language currently on the menu entries, user preferences for ranking or placement of entries within a given menu, and whether the majority of information to which users might want easy access did in fact exist within the current menu structure.

Participant preferences for how entries should be ranked within the menus was moderately consistent. Likewise, significant uniformity was seen in participant preference for the headings under which individual entries should appear. Placement of 4 of the 37 entries were particularly troublesome, with results being less clear and more variable among participants. However, testing revealed strikingly different thinking between librarians and users in some instances. Testing also identified areas where new information could be added and new entries created, and others where entries could be renamed or consolidated. Findings confirmed some of the library’s practices and dispelled others, identifying several areas where user preferences diverged from the library’s current menu structure.  

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