It is easy to make generalisations about the quality of mobile library information online.
Online mobile library timetables are appalling
This may be generally true, but who says so and where’s the evidence?
Firstly, what makes good information? For a mobile library you’d expect to be able to find out where your nearest stop is, what day it arrives, the particular dates, and the time.
All websites have an obligation to be accessible, and make sure the information is available to everyone. This is especially the case for public sector websites, where people don’t always have a choice as to whether they use it not.
New legislation came into effect in September 2018 for all public sector websites to meet a minimum accessibility standard. More details are available at the gov.uk guidance: Make your public sector website or app accessible.
Given that it’s a legal requirement, this seems to be a reasonable measure to assess library timetables.
There are around 90 UK mobile library services. It is hard to assess all these in one go, so this post will look at the 22 in Scotland. This is not a substitute for a proper accessibility assessment, or real user testing. It simply gives an indication of common problems.
The process for the assessment was to look through each mobile library website and answer these questions:
- Is the information published as HTML? Information should be available in HTML format, as it provides better options for assistive technologies.
- Are web maps used? These are useful, but difficult to make accessible. Because of this they are a type of content that can be exempt from being made accessible. That does not mean public services can use maps and not care about accessibility. It means they should acknowledge they use maps, and also provide the information in alternative ways.
- Is the information published as a PDF? PDFs tend to be the most common format for mobile timetables. Although not ideal, measures can be taken to ensure PDFs are accessible, and they can be used in addition to web content (e.g. for an easily printable format).
- Does the website use colour for meaning? You should not use colour to convey meaning when it is the only method for doing so. For example, colour-coding calendar dates to show which dates a mobile route occurs on.
- Is there essential information missing? For example, a stop could be described as ‘week 1’ or ‘week 2’, but no dates are given to match to those week numbers.
- Does the website have an Accessibility Statement? This is a requirement of the legislation. The statement itself should match an assessed standard, but this exercise just looks at whether a statement could be found.
- Any additional notes about the timetables.
A pass/fail was then given to the service based upon the following criteria.
- The information must be published as HTML
- There must be no reliance on colour for meaning
- There must be no essential missing information
- The website must have an accessibility statement
The summary results are shown below, and full data is available in a spreadsheet file on GitHub.
For the 22 library services key findings were:
- Three library services ‘passed’. Edinburgh, Perth and Kinross, and Scottish Borders. These will be very useful for reference in creating a single system to view mobile library data.
- Only 12 service websites seemed to have an accessibility statement. In many cases the ones that did were outdated, and didn’t cover the information required to be provided.
- Almost half (9) relied on colour to convey meaning.
- 15 still used PDFs to publish mobile timetable information.