Website Creation & Hosting

Start Up a U/X Café at Your Library

This is a guest post by Kati Polodna, Web Systems Assistant at Arapahoe Libraries.

Feel unsure of what your patrons want when they visit your library website? Is traditional patron feedback not enough to give you what you need to make your library’s website both amazing and accessible? It’s time to think outside the box and start a U/X Café!

What is a U/X Café?

Arapahoe Libraries web team visited library branches with a laptop, a series of questions or a short task, and an incentive, to speak to patrons for no more than ten minutes, to gather website feedback. Why a café? It’s friendly—and we offered free coffee!

Know Thyself

Ask yourself:

  • What website problems do we need to solve?
  • What do I want to improve on the website?
  • Why do I want to improve the website?
  • Would [that change] benefit the patron?
  • How many changes should I make at once?
  • How much of the website is customizable?

Know Thy Audience

Ask yourself:

  • What kind of users use your website? We broke down our users into two categories.
    • User1: Browsers/Discoverers
      • Browsers/Discoverers like to visit the website, aren’t limited by time, like to browse and discover
    • User2: Direct Users
      • These users know exactly what they want and expect it to be where they think it should be and they know how to get what they want, may also be short on time
  • How can you meet the needs of both Browsers and Direct Users?
    • Can you place information in multiple places, like side menus, top menus, footers and headers?
    • Look at other popular websites for inspiration to see how other libraries and companies solved your issue
      • Where do you log in?
      • Where is the search bar?
      • Where do you look for help, hours, locations and more?
  • What are peak times at my library? (That’s so you can interview the most patrons!)
    • What we learned: two peak times, after story times and late afternoon/after school but before dinner
    • Consider having a U/X café after a popular program, but not too late in the day because patrons want to go home

Homework Time

First, it’s important to remember that you are not your user. You know too much about the website. You are too involved. This is not “designer” experience. This is “user” experience. So think about your audience.These questions can help you get a baseline for your users.

  • Do your users primarily use a desktop or mobile?
  • How often do patrons use your website?
  • What do patrons primarily use the website for?
  • What do patrons wish they could find easily?
  • And, something to ask yourself, who do you not see using the website, and why?

Which of these two processes sounds like you?

  • Are you adding a new webpage, library service or something else to the website? Are you renaming a service or something similar?
  • Is it just time for a refresh?
    • Not sure where to start? Review your analytics and determine if you can make website improvements based off analytics.
      • Do you have a lot of bounces? Can you figure out why and what you can do to improve that?
      • What are your popular pages? Do you want to revamp those pages first?
      • What are your least popular pages? Do you want those pages to be more popular?
      • Are there pages you expected to be popular that aren’t? Why is that? And what can you do to drive traffic?

Mini Case Study

Arapahoe Libraries wanted to update our online resources;it was time to both clean up and simplify patrons’ access to nearly 100 databases. First, we needed identify the problem or what you would like to improve: too many databases could overwhelm patrons. Next, we reviewed how our online resources currently look, what issues we saw, and what we thought we could change to improve our patrons’ online resources experience. During our hard look, we brainstormed ideas and we also worked to avoid jargon. For example, what does “online resource” mean versus a “database”? What does the term “research” imply if you’re in a public library versus an academic library?

Start small. We thought about where one database could go, like the popular Consumer Reports database. Could it live under a business category, a consumer category or something else? What are common themes between online resources? What are broad categories multiple databases can fit under? Create a few mock ups either on paper or in your sandbox.

Show your mock ups to involved parties, and who are those involved parties? Are there super user librarians who can give you honest feedback? What about floor staff who spend time working with patrons and may have insights you hadn’t considered? Take a step back for a few days and comeback to it with fresh eyes. Which mock ups were the most popular and/or intuitive? After that, it’s almost time to show your mock ups to patrons.

Build the Right Questions

Now that you have mock ups, create a specific task or tasks for patrons to complete that reflect the end goal of your project. Build that task into a scenario and keep it short, ten minutes or less. Here are two examples.  

  1. If you wanted to find an eBook to download from an app called OverDrive, under what online resource category would you browse?
  2. Let’s say you want to purchase a new vacuum cleaner. You’ve heard the library has product reviews. Where you would find that information?

Which scenario will give you unbiased information from your patron? Example 2. When writing a scenario, don’t want to give away any information that could sway the patron. In the first example, which uses words like “app” and “online resource,” you’ve directed the patron how to navigate. That doesn’t help you learn how a patron thinks through a question. The second example avoids words like Consumer Reports, database or online resource. While the second example is more vague, it forces the patron to think through where they might start looking for information even if they don’t have all the information. That helps you understand how patrons browse your website.

However, if you are trying to improve a specific task, like asking patrons how they would find hoopla, you may want to use a direct question. That question would appeal to your users who are direct when going to your website, but think about how that question would affect users who tend to browse. You could phrase the question two ways: Where would you find hoopla? and A friend told you that the library has movies you can download. How do you find them?

It’s two ways of asking the same question. You may find that patrons don’t know what hoopla is. A patron may go about the task in a completely unexpected way that you hadn’t considered. Or you may find that patrons consistently answer the same. That’s all helpful information for you to take back and digest and then use to improve your user’s experience.

Talking Time

How do you get patrons to participate? Ask! It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be hard. And you’re going to get rejected. That’s okay. Eventually, someone will participate. Try to offer an incentive, like free coffee or a stylus pen, something that’s useful and doesn’t feel or look cheap.Keep asking. Be upbeat and friendly, but not too insistent. Wear your name tag. Don’t take any negative feedback personally. Patrons don’t know you and they don’t know how much of the website you created.

Set Up

  • Write down your questions in a script format.
  • Bring a colleague with you: one to ask the questions and one to take notes.
  • Bring a laptop with a mouse. Not all patrons are comfortable using a trackpad.
  • Notice what patrons spend the most time doing,like hovering over menus or what links they click as they go along.
  • Once the patron is done, take time to discuss your observations and write down those observations before moving on to the next patron.

Ask patrons to talk aloud as they go. Tell them that you aren’t judging them. You are testing the site, not the patron and not their abilities. If a patron has trouble with the tasks, that means there’s a problem with the website, not them, and it’s going to help you fix problems and build abetter website. If patrons ask questions while completing tasks, do not answer them. Let the patron work through the process or task themselves. And if they don’t complete the task, tell that it’s okay and move on.

At the end of the task, ask the patrons the following:

  • What did you expect to do/find?
  • What did you find confusing?

Then you can ask specific questions about their answers,such as “What about [X] makes you associate with [X] words?” An example: We asked patrons where they would register for a storytime. Some patrons navigated to the Services tab and some navigated to the Events tab. Have them explain their reasoning behind their choices. And, don’t forget to tell patrons the answer at the end if they were stumped or confused—it’s nice!

Mini Case Study

We wanted to refresh our Makerspace page from a page to a“hub” of information. Something we hadn’t considered until user testing was how patrons hear the word “Makerspace.” Patrons, who were unfamiliar with the Makerspace, heard it as “Makers Space” or “Maker Space.” Since some patrons were unfamiliar with the term, they searched for it, and because they didn’t know how to spell it, they had an even more difficult time finding the page. Patrons also didn’t notice that the search bar defaults to a catalog search,not a website search. Pay attention to repetitive behaviors too—if a patron doesn’t know where to start looking, do they spend time browsing the header/footer/menus or do they default to searching for their answer? What can you learn from those repetitive behaviors? What can you do to improve your patrons’ experience?

Next Steps

Make small changes based off your user testing. Share it again with your stakeholders and super users. Take out what you learned into the branches. Make your changes based off user testing, but keep the “old” method in place for a set time period. Share those changes with staff.

Final Thoughts

Be flexible. Be patient. Be open to hearing feedback. Keep trying. And have fun!

Website Creation & Hosting

Google Analytics Basics: Users, Sessions & Pageviews

If you work with websites at all, you have probably seen reports from Google Analytics detailing how your site, or some part of your site, is performing in terms of users, sessions and pageviews. Maybe you even produce such reports for others. But what, really, do those numbers mean, and how accurate are they?

You can think of Users, Sessions, and Pageviews as nested elements of each other: Users have sessions, and each session has pageviews.

Chart showing a how pageviews are nested inside sessions and sessions inside users

Let’s take a look at a visit from an actual user—let’s call him Frank—and see how Google Analytics counts his interactions with your site. Frank has never been to your site before, but yesterday looked at your homepage, then clicked a link in your navigation menu to go Page 2, clicked another link to go to a Page 3, then went back to Page 2.

Frank goes from Home to Page 2 to Page 3 and then back to Page 2

We can visualize Frank’s trip through your site like this:

Translating this visit to your site into Google Analytics numbers, this is what Frank added to your reports:

  • One user (Frank himself)
  • one session
  • four pageviews (three unique pageviews)

Google Analytics counts each user and session by using cookies—small bits of text that browsers write onto a computer’s hard drive that record information about any past activity on a site.


Frank has never visited your website before. So when Frank’s browser loads the first page of your site, the Google Analytics javascript looks to see if the browser already has a User cookie from a previous visit. If there is no user cookie, the browser creates one, assigning a unique number, or Client ID, to this user, that looks something like this: 1748447953.1518541752.

This cookie will expire after two years of inactivity. If Frank visits your site once again, more than two years after his first visit, he’ll be counted as a new user. But if he visits even once before two years have elapsed, Google Analytics will see the preexisting user cookie, count him as a returning user, and add another two years to the user cookie’s expiration date.


When Frank loads the first page of your site, the Google Analytics javascript will also look for a session cookie. Just as user cookies group different visits together, session cookies group together visits to individual pages. By default, session cookies expire after 30 minutes of inactivity on your site, or at midnight. (You can adjust the session length in your Google Analytics admin, if you want, but most people just leave it at 30 minutes.)

So let’s say Frank goes to your site, then goes to get lunch but leaves his browser open at your homepage, and doesn’t come back for another 35 minutes. When he gets back and clicks to visit another page on your site, it will be counted as the beginning of a new session, because the first one will have expired.

Conversely, if Frank gets really absorbed in your site and spends three hours clicking from page to page, all of that activity will be recorded as part of a single session. Unless Frank’s marathon visit extends past midnight, in which case the session cookie will expire and a new one will be created. The session cookie will also expire if Frank spends more than 30 minutes looking at a single page, without clicking to visit a new page. The session cookie is only renewed when new data is sent to Google Analytics, and usually that’s only when a new page is loaded.

Google has a more detailed explanation of how sessions are counted, if you’re interested.

Pageviews and Unique Pageviews

A new pageview is recorded whenever a page with the Google Analytics javascript loads in the browser. This includes when the current page is reloaded, or refreshed. Let’s say Frank visits your homepage, then refreshes the page six times to see all of the randomly-loaded background images, or something. Google Analytics will count that as eight pageviews, even though Frank is just looking at the same page over and over again.

Unique pageviews are way to get around this double-counting. A unique pageview counts pages viewed at least once during a session. So, Frank’s refreshing the page over and over again will create eight pageviews, but just one unique pageview.

How accurate are these numbers?

In short, not very accurate, but probably good enough as estimates of your actual users’ activities and how they are changing over time. Relying on cookies to track users and sessions has some serious flaws.

First of all, cookies are browser and device specific. If Frank visits your site on his laptop computer, then on his phone, and then later on his work computer, he’s counted as three users. Similarly, if he uses different browsers on the same machine, he’s counted as a different user for each. Use of multiple devices and multiple browsers like this can systemically inflate your user and session counts.

Some users may routinely erase their browser’s cookies as well, which will also inflate your user and session counts. If Frank clears his browser’s cookies, the next time he visits your site he will be counted as a new user with a new session. No one knows exactly how many people routinely delete their cookies, and how often they do so. But the usually-cited figure, based on a study by Comscore in 2006, is that “3 in every 10 Internet users delete their cookies in a month.”

Some unknown number of users employ ad-blockers or disable javascript in their browsers, which can mean that their visits to your site aren’t captured at all by your analytics.

All these sources of inaccuracy (and there are more, too) don’t mean, however, that your Google Analytics numbers are meaningless. The count of users and sessions from your analytics dashboard almost definitely does not equal the number of actual people who are using your site, and the number of times they visit. But if you consider that the sources of inaccuracy are largely constant from site to site, and from month to month, then your analytics numbers are a roughly accurate gauge of your site’s performance relative to other sites and time periods. So they are still useful for comparing one site to another, and one month or year to another.