Additional guidelines for digital libraries

Guidelines home
Draft version 0.1

What is different about digital libraries?

“Digital libraries demand more sophistication of query formulation than web search engines such as Google™; skills acquired in one library environment are often not easily transferred to another.” [1]

Detailed guidelines

The additional guidelines can be used in conjunction with the web usability guidelines for academic websites:


Digital libraries


Design Process and Evaluation


To design good, usable digital libraries, one requires knowledge about who will use them, what they will be used for, the work context and the environment in which they will be used, and what is technically and logistically feasible. [3]


Copy an interface that is already widely used and successful (e.g. a similar service) to facilitate transfer of learning [1]


User should be able to focus on their task rather than how the DL works [1]




Links should be embedded in the documents to provide users with the ability to move to related information quickly without having to waste time submitting another query and waiting for the query results. [3]


Writing Web Content


Documents (content) should be easy to read or skim [2]


Do not overwhelm the user with text, keep it simple and informative [4]


Use meaningful document header to identify the content of the document and page footer to identify the origin, authorship, author contact information, date of creation, copyright info, etc. [3]


Match the system to the real world. Simulating an existing artifact can improve the integration of the DL with current work practices. [4]




Provide clear information about which libraries are available to the user and the scope of content of each library. [1]


Support browsing to find how well does a collection covers a topic area [2]


Clearly indicate when entering or leaving a particular library search environment. [1]


Users do not want to receive all the results, they prefer a manageable number that are easily distinguishable in terms of the documents' content [1]


Users will give up unless they find relevant material rapidly, and really want new, interesting, and possibly surprising material.  [1]


Allow people to save, modify, and review queries for reuse over time. [2]


Offer alternative search forms for users with different understanding of the content (advanced and novice) [4]


Eliminate as much typing as possible, support abbreviations and acronyms for advanced users [4]


These guidelines are based on:

[1] Blandford, A. & Buchanan, G. (2003) Usability of digital libraries: a source of creative tensions with technical developments. IEEE-CS TC Bulletin

[2] Bryan-Kinns, N, Blandford, A (2000) A survey of user studies for digital libraries

[3] Theng, Y.L., Duncker, E., Mohd Nasir, N., Buchanan, G. & Thimbleby, H. (1999), Design guidelines and user-centred digital libraries, Lecture Notes in Computer Science: Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries, Third European Conference ECDL'99, Abiteboul, S. and Vercoustre, A.(Eds.), pp. 167 - 183, Springer.

[4] Van House, N A, Butler, M H, Ogle, V, Schiff, L (1996) User-Centered Iterative Design for Digital Libraries. D-Lib Magazine, February 1996.

[5] Covey, D. (2002) Usage and Usability Assessment: Library Practices and Concerns. Digital Library Federation. Washington, D.C.

[6] Theng, Y.L. “Lost in hyperspace” problem revisited and framework for building digital libraries. Middlesex University

These guidelines have been produced as part of the HCI Design Foundation Study for JISC.

Nigel Bevan and Sara Kincla

Serco Usability Services
16 December 2003.