DPL UX 2022

Miranda Meissner | SJSU iSchool | INFO 251

The Denver Public Library website falls victim to over-linking, unclear navigation, and content bloat. Through research and testing, this report illuminates pain points and offers suggestions to improve user experience. To keep the project approachable, scope is limited to a set of representative pages.

Typical DPL site users are Denver residents ranging from teen to senior, with a focus on young adults and parents of school-age children. DPL’s site aims to appeal to participatory web users of both the older and newer paradigms.

The former is a user that seeks one-to-one conversation and connection with a human; think of the recently-defunct Yahoo! Answers. Chat functions and FAQs guide these users through the site.

The latter is a Web 3.0 user that expects machine intelligence and slick interface design. Pop culture references and blogs court the attention of web-savvy infinite scrollers.

These user groups may span ages, abilities, and much more, so their primary differences are in web literacy and their expectations of library sites.


Line drawing of person holding a tablet surrounded by representations of their thoughts

Reduce content bloat and distractions

The homepage’s focus on blogs and original content is based on an older understanding of the internet, where users would stay up to date with favorite sites by actually going to those websites every day. These days, libraries may be more successful when putting content directly onto the social media feeds that people spend more time on.

Meet accessibility standards

DPL’s website lags behind on some crucial accessibility concerns. Some issues can be addressed right away: increase contrast, refine alternative text, offer users enlarged text, etc. Other snags, like cutting down the overenthusiastic navigation options, benefit most from user input and testing.

Facilitate critical tasks

The most-used parts of the site should be available from any page, but without stuffing the footer with links. Which are the most important and which should go? How can the site use hierarchy more effectively?


Personas combine disparate user needs into one humanized person. A user story shows that persona living through an experience. The two personas below are formulated, respectively, from “ideal” users who easily find what they need and underserved users who have trouble using the site. Their elation and frustration is put into narrative form, contextualizing their interaction with DPL’s website.

Ideal Users

  • Young adults 18-30
  • Parents of young children
  • Content seekers: local news, library events, staff picks, blog posts
  • Resource seekers: tax information, community programs, museum passes

Nelly Newparent hasn’t had anywhere near enough time to start her taxes. Her toddler and infant have kept her busy so she’s feeling frantic about the approaching deadline.

Nelly is checking the library website for the story time schedule when she notices a “Free Tax Help” banner and clicks it, deciding she could use the help this year. Nelly scans the first part of the page and picks out “Child Tax Credit”, “Tax Help for free”, and “IRS certified”. She feels more confident that this page is worth her valuable time, and starts to read more closely.

Scrolling down, Nelly notices “Virtual Do It Yourself (DIY) with Help”--just before her toddler wakes up from their nap and needs attention. Yes, virtual is definitely the right option, she decides. Nelly returns to the website with her child on her lap and easily scans back to the bulleted list of Zoom sessions.

She’s thrilled that sessions are offered on Saturdays and clicks a date, without reading the list of requirements further down the page. On the event detail page she finds the requirements repeated and reads them this time, then clicks “Register Here” and sees the requirements again. Nelly thinks she might be on a different website but recognizes the Denver Public Library logo in a few places.

She selects a timeslot and is led to a form asking for her contact information. The page reminds her of the date and time, and Nelly receives a confirmation email with instructions for joining the session, and a handy link to add it right to her digital calendar.

Feeling pretty pleased with herself for finding this resource, Nelly heads back to the library homepage to check the story time schedule.

Underserved Users

  • Get-it-and-go searchers
  • Novice web/computer users
  • Unfamiliar with library jargon
  • Keyboard navigators

Manny Mysterynovel is looking for some John Grisham books. He prefers physical books, but his son told him that ebooks might be a better idea now that it’s harder for Manny to leave the house.

Manny has used the library website a few times before, mainly to search for specific titles. His arthritis is getting to be a bother so he usually uses his keyboard to navigate. He’s glad to see the search bar right at the top of the homepage and types in “John Grisham” then hits enter.

Manny gets taken to what looks like a different but related website, and the first thing he sees is “John Grisham: a critical companion”—that’s not quite right. He tabs down to the next item—it takes a bit because he can’t easily track the cursor’s focus—and sees “Author: Grisham, John” under the title. Manny hits enter when he’s highlighted the link, expecting new search results.

Instead, the next page asks Manny to choose one of the John Grishams from a list of “Headings”--he wanted an author, what’s a heading? Manny chooses the first one, figuring he can always go back. The search results are Grisham’s works, but nothing on the first page is what Manny expected—a Christmas book on CD, a DVD, a Vietnamese translation, and audiobooks.

Manny decides it’s much easier to just go browse the Mystery section at the local branch. He clicks the logo in the top left and gets taken back to the catalog home page instead of the home page he wanted. His reservoir of goodwill is depleted and he closes the website. He gets the branch address and hours from a search engine.


Card-sorting is a quick and effective way to learn about user paths through specific tasks. A small card-sort was held to study the task flow of the library’s Staff Picks service.

The two participants were childless young adults that use the internet more than 30 hours per week. Neither of them reported any mobility or memory problems that affect their web use.

The following 13 steps were rephrased in natural language and copied to sticky notes. Participants were informed of the user task and told to arrange the steps in the order they thought most convenient. Line drawing of people pointing out sections of a website


Choose a staff-recommended book and place it on hold


  1. Click Recommendations tab on homepage
  2. Choose a type of recommendation (Staff Picks)
  3. Choose a monthly list (i.e. Staff Picks from April ‘22)
  4. Click title of chosen book
  5. View search results for that book in the catalog
  6. Choose format
  7. Place hold on the book
  8. Log in to library account
  9. Choose pickup library
  10. Set activation date
  11. Confirm details and submit hold
  12. View list of current holds
  13. Check status of new hold

Table of Results

Current user flow compared to card-sorting results. Agreement highlighted in green.
Current Site Participant S Participant K
look at books people say are good log in to library account log in to library account
see what books librarians like look at books people say are good choose a monthly list of books
choose a monthly list of books see what books librarians like see what books librarians like
pick a book from the list choose a monthly list of books look at books people say are good
look at search results for a book in the catalog pick a book from the list pick a book from the list
choose a format look at search results for a book in the catalog look at search results for a book in the catalog
place a hold on a book choose a format place a hold on a book
log in to library account choose a library branch to pick up your book choose a format
choose a library branch to pick up your book place a hold on a book choose a library branch to pick up your book
choose an activation date for your hold choose an activation date for your hold choose an activation date for your hold
confirm details of your hold and submit confirm details of your hold and submit confirm details of your hold and submit
view a list of your holds view a list of your holds check the status of your new hold
check the status of your new hold check the status of your new hold view a list of your holds


Both participants put “Log in to library account” as their first step, but this is wishful thinking. Most web users expect they’ll be able to quickly log in once their task requires an account, then resume the task at the same point—so they don’t typically log in first thing.

Excepting the log in step, 4 steps had complete agreement from both participants. The transition from a recommendation page to search results in the catalog appears to be natural and logical for participants, despite the small design changes. The penultimate steps are also agreed upon—choosing an activation date and confirming details before final submission.

Other steps of the process are more nebulous, and in fact some can be streamlined. Participants hesitated when ordering the initial steps of finding a recommendation—general recommendations, staff picks, monthly lists, etc.


This report faces its limitations: I had minimal access to users, and those users I did contact were quite similar. Without assistive technology to use, I was limited to DIY accessibility testing using the WAVE site and WCAG standards. Thankfully, even small-scale testing offers insight into site-wide problems. This first round of results reveals paths toward meeting usability goals.

Reducing content bloat

There are nearly two dozen things to click on the Recommendations tab, and Staff Picks is only one potential path. Even further, DPL updates their Staff Picks every month and lists all previous months. A huge amount of content exists here, exemplifying a problem that the entire site falls victim to. Options are important, but not at the cost of overwhelming site visitors.

The Recommendations tab can still serve as a hub to reach specific pages, but it is currently crowded with redundant links and library jargon. To streamline the page I would consolidate useful sidebar options and remove a few others.

  • Items that are “Coming Soon” or “On Order” should not be recommended yet.
  • “Core Collections” should be replaced with the more common “Genres.”
  • Main content can be the current month’s staff picks, monthly holidays and displays, and local authors. A link to archived posts is allowable but not necessary.

Meeting accessibility standards

Both the WAVE tool and the testing sessions show where changes will make the most impact. Visual simplification, like eliminating clutter and increasing contrast, can start immediately. A thorough re-tooling of keyboard navigation will take more time but proves itself just as vital.

  • Increase contrast—there are 67 “very low” contrast errors on the homepage alone, and the problem is even worse in the catalog.
  • Fix broken ARIA reference in Search scope dropdown.
  • Associate HTML label for Select input field in Hours and Locations sidebar.
  • Check all images’ alternative text for redundancy and clarity.
  • Restructure headings to include h3, so that assistive tech gets an accurate framework of the page.

Facilitating critical tasks

Eliminating distracting content and meeting accessibility standards will improve the experience for all users. Their task goals should be easily and enjoyably met, increasing their confidence in both the library and themselves.

The vocabulary of the site embraces specialized library words. Text content is often wordy and overwrought. Navigation options use nouns rather than verbs, such as “Services” and “Downloads.” Users will face uncertainty over the weak information scent, likely adding steps to common tasks.

  • Begin a content audit on the most-used pages of the website. Each page should have a person responsible for keeping information up-to-date.
  • Use more bulleted lists and headings to allow for scanning.
  • Gather data about users’ current experience with the footer and navigation bar.

Further testing

Given the time and resources, DPL can continue to improve the user experience of their website through usability testing. Research should involve infrequent web users, seniors, keyboard navigators, and people with visual impairments.

  • Observe users trying to complete typical library tasks:
    • Sign up for an eCard
    • Reserve a space
    • Research in a database
    • Sign up to attend an event
  • Perform card-sorting on top level navigation options.
  • Perform card-sorting on footer options.


Contact miranda.meissner@sjsu.edu with questions or for a transcript of the video presentation.

Line drawing of people designing a website with an arrow hitting the bull's-eye