Information Architecture – Treetesting

Ramsey County Library Website – Tree Testing

When it comes to books, I am an addict, and so the Ramsey County Library’s website is one that I use very frequently. If you follow the link above, you will see a visually appealing website that has way too many buttons on its main menu. The Books button leads to recommended books, lists of books, and book club information, used by relatively few patrons. The Movies end Music buttons do the same things for movies and music – basically repeating the same functions. Not the best use of the real estate of the navigation bar.

The header of the library website, listing Home, Catalog, Books, Movies, Music, Events & Classes, Services, Research, About, My AccountOn the other hand,  crucial services the library offers are hidden deep, impeding the discoverability and findability aspects of the design. I decided to test certain aspects of the information architecture.

I decided to test certain aspects of the information architecture, conducting a tree test using Optimal Workshop Treejack feature. To learn more about tree tests, please watch this short (1 minute) video on how it works.

A list of functions users have to choose from. They read:Welcome page, Catalog, Books, Classes, Movies, Music, Services, Research, About, My Account.
First list of functions for users to choose from

The three tasks were designed to include the most frequently used function (look up a book), to less frequent (access online course courses such as to relatively rare functions (suggest library buying a certain item).

#1. Finding a Book

Libraries are “places in which reading materials, such as books, periodicals, and newspapers, and often other materials such as musical and video recordings, are kept for use or lending.”1Finding a book is one of the primary tasks a user would want to accomplish, so we are looking for a high success rate.

50% of the users found the correct function to look for a book. 2/3 of those did so through an indirect path
50% of users found the function to look for a book

The actual tree diagram is even more informative, showing which paths users chose instead of directly going for the catalog. We can see that based on the labels and designations in the interface, users identified “getting a library card” and “new fiction” as solutions.  The success rate is probably significantly higher when accessing a website (and not just the listing of the pages) – the treetest, however, indicates a problem that can be easily fixed.

Tree test result for looking up a book

#2. Finding Online Courses

The second task had the following instruction: You want to learn how to code a basic web page, and you heard that the library offers free access to online classes through

No one in the sample found

Granted, we are looking at a small sample, and so to arrive at a more definitive test we need to confirm our preliminary findings based on more users.

The fact that not one of the test subjects was able to locate the online resource shows that we need to rethink the information architecture of the website.



The majority of users identified "Computer and Technology Classes" as the correct solution
100% of the subjects nominated the Computer and Technology Classes as the page where they would find the link to online technology classes.

According to the library’s navigational system, the link to online classes is under Research, an unexpected path for most users. The one user who clicked on research decided to go back to the homepage instead of investigating the page under Research.

#3. Suggesting a Book for Purchase

The least frequent task for a patron to do is suggest that the library acquire a new book/item, so the low success rate is not surprising.

Only one user found the official way to suggest a book for purchase, and the majority of users thought asking by e-mail is the most straightforward way to accomplish this task.

Where do we go from here?

We have identified some problems, but this tree test was small both in scope and sample size. A wider-scoped rethinking is needed with the input of all stakeholders: librarians, patrons, and the wider community.

An open card sorting activity (where participants would place sticky notes of categories and functions on a wall, arranging and re-arranging them in a way that would make the most sense for them) would yield a site map that is more aligned with users’ expectations. And that is what we want: a site map where users can figure out the path to their desired destinations without a lot of trial and error and a lot of frustration.

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