Case Study: The Cumberland County Library Usability Project

 When I took part in a panel discussion at the Pennsylvania Library Association conference I got to share what made things tick on one of my firm’s favorite projects: improving usability for the Cumberland County Library System (CCLS) website.   I’m posting our slides and a written summary of the presentation because I think the outline represents all the elements that exist in a great usability engagement.

These slides we shared with the audience give a good overview and case study of how to run an enterprise project with a team to overhaul a website.


With a grant from Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) to support the work, CCLS fielded an RFP in search of a partner to lead the usability and project management and planning effort for the county library. The goal was to create a virtual library branch and use new technology such as RSS feeds and e-Commerce tools. I successfully competed for the project and joined a strong in-house team as a consultant.

The result allowed for easy maintenance. Key deliverables included a requirements and planning function, new information architecture and usability testing. We also set and published the organization’s first Web standards document: web publishing guidelines to inform content management in the future. We combined listening to both the voice of the customer and the voice of the stakeholder, with a good measure of baseline and beta usability testing.

From my point of view, the work involved in this engagement represents a good overview of what a usability project should look like. The usability expert helps drive the project forward, collaborating with the client and the technology vendor. To summarize, the scope of my work included:


  • Expert review scorecard, baseline and beta
  • Requirements development
  • Benchmarking the competition


  • User interviews
  • Customer Profiles, including an analysis of analytics
  • Task analysis, baseline and beta


  • Planning assessment
  • Design strategy
  • Information Architecture
  • Training and Publication Guide

Analytics show visits have grown by 17 percent in the first year. My web scorecard before and after shows that best practice adoption grew by 24 percent. My usability testing shows that the task completion ratio for top tasks increased by 15 percent.


We transformed problems into solutions:

  • The problem of duplication transformed into a unified look and feel for the content
  • The problem of inconsistent page layout, look and feel transformed by embracing standards to create a consistent look throughout the site
  • The problem of an ineffective use of the site to promote the library’s events and resources  transformed by leveraging social media to better network the organization with its members

As a result there are many benefits to the user: the site is more relevant and driven by user’s top tasks, standards help the organization save time and be more effective, and content is more accurate, error-free and timely.

We found a number of strategy elements critical to our success:

In addition, a number of technology tools helped keep the project on track and running smoothly:

  • Basecamp helped with online project space
  • Usability Testing Environment (no longer in business) streamlined task analysis
  • GoToMeeting enabled remote online meetings
  • Firefox Add-ons browser tools to help you audit and evaluate sites(free)
  • Powermapper automatic site map creator
  • Visio Microsoft lets you build wireframes
  • Web 2.0 Tools – Google Maps, Facebook, Blogger (free)


The mark of a successful project can sometimes be found in the awards and recognition that follow. Such was the case with the CCLS venture. The State Library of Pennsylvania contacted the county library leader to inform them that they want to use this website project as one of its LSTA Exemplary Projects. I was grateful too when my task manager, Jonelle Darr, the CCLS Executive Director praised my contribution to the team.

“Kathy assisted the Cumberland County Library System with a total overhaul of its website. Of all the consultants that we’ve ever hired, she was — by far — one of the very best,” said Jonelle.

“She delivered what was promised, on time and as expected. She not only designed the site’s architecture, but also provided us with the tools and working knowledge we needed to continue to improve our website. Plus, she was a strong advocate for us when working with our CMS vendor. I would engage her again without hesitation.”