Brooks Library

Search Box Redesign




Like many academic libraries, the Brooks Library has a discovery system (branded OneSearch) which is a centralized index of all the databases they subscribe to as well as all the books and other physical materials the library owns. It also searches the institutional repository (ScholarWorks), research guides, and course reserves (books and other materials  professors put on hold for students to use in the library). OneSearch allows students to search for nearly everything the library provides access to through a single search query.

The Problem

The complexity of the Brooks Library’s search box was overwhelming to undergraduates new to academic research, and relied on an understanding of library resources that most don’t possess. OneSearch was one of six search options available from the library’s homepage.


The ScholarWorks search tab was particularly troublesome. Given the name, students thought they were searching for scholarly resources. In actuality, ScholarWorks is the university’s institutional repository, which collects scholarly material produced by faculty and students. Students also had a tendency to use the library’s site search, a separate search box in a different location on the page, to search for scholarly resources, which yielded ineffective results.

My Role

As the UX Librarian at the Brooks Library, I led all of the library’s UX efforts. I conducted user research through a variety of methodologies to determine what features of the search box students used and whether a simpler version would be more usable. I designed and conducted the tests myself, while soliciting input from members of the library’s Web Development Committee.

Research and Testing


I did an initial round of usability testing with four undergraduate students with tasks designed to test the overall usability of the Brooks Library’s website. As expected, students said their primary reason for using the library’s website was to find books and articles for their research. Half of the participants began their search for a peer-reviewed article by using the ScholarWorks tab instead of the default OneSearch tab. Students indicated that they weren’t sure what the different tabs did so they’d just try tabs until they were successful. Participants paid no attention to links or placeholder text.


Next I surveyed 30 undergraduate students, asking them to spend a few minutes using the Brooks Library’s website along with two other academic library websites. When asked what they liked and disliked about each most students indicated a preference for simple and prominent search boxes and believed ours to be too cluttered, too small, and too hard to find.


I printed out photographs of the search box, with the various tabs selected, and asked ten undergraduate and graduate students to circle which features they used. While all students reported that they use OneSearch, none of the other features were used by more than 40% of participants. Several students responded that they didn’t know what the other tabs and links did.


Comparative Analysis

The Brooks Library is part of the Orbis Cascade Alliance, a consortium of 37 academic libraries in the Pacific Northwest, all of which use the same discovery system. I analyzed the search boxes of all 37 libraries to determine what tabs, links, and search scopes each uses, and found that:

  • 59% use tabbed search boxes
  • Over 1/3 use a simple search box with no tabs
  • All had a tab for the discovery system
  • most included an advanced search link
  • No other feature was implemented by more than 30% of libraries


Finally, I conducted another round of usability testing, this time specifically designed to test the use of the search box and its features.

I worked with the library’s web developer to create a test version of the Brooks Library’s homepage. Based on my findings from the user research I’d done I designed a search box with no tabs and only two links. I also added a quick links section to the homepage, based on feedback from the student surveys. I had five students perform the same five tasks on both the existing homepage and the test version of the homepage and then rate each version using the System Usability Scale. Each task was designed to use a specific tab of the search box, in order to determine whether students understood the function of the different tabs.


Original Homepage with Original Search Box


Test Page with Simplified Search Box and Quick Links



  • 24% higher success rate on test page
  • Completed tasks in less than half the time on the test page
  • Test version System Usability Score was 81.56
  • Existing site System Usability Score was 45.45
  • Less experienced students were more likely to rely on the simplified search box and outperformed the more experienced students 



I presented my findings to the Primo Working Group, which oversees the discovery service, and recommended that we adopt a simplified search box with a list of quick links. They unanimously approved the change  and made the recommendation to the Web Development Committee, which in turn made the recommendation to the Library Council. After I presented a summary of results and mid-fidelity prototypes to the Library Council they voted to implement the new search box and quick links and the homepage was updated just prior to the start of fall term 2016.


Updated Homepage with New Search Box



I analyzed search analytics from the first four months after the update and compared them to the same time period from the previous year.

After implementing the simplified search box:

  • Basic searches through OneSearch increased by 7%  
  • Advanced searches increased by 27%
  • Searches incorrectly performed using the library’s site search decreased by 67%

The addition of quick links resulted in:

  • 87% reduction in site searches for databases
  • 50% decrease in the site searches for research guides
  • 68% decrease in site searches for interlibrary loan


The simplified search box has improved usability and discoverability, but there are still a number of outside factors affecting the usability of the Brooks Library website. For one, the design of the website is controlled by the parent organization, Central Washington University, which does not allow for much flexibility in terms of layout and UI elements. Secondly, the discovery service, databases, and several other services available on the website are provided by third party vendors, each with their own proprietary systems, and unfortunately these conflicting systems still regularly flummox our end users.