Primo User Experience: A Brief Review (with Takeaways)

By the LSP Discovery/UX Work Group

The LSP Discovery/UX Work Group looked at a number of Primo user experience studies, and pulled out some common themes. Here, we summarize each theme, offer takeaways to consider, and then link to the relevant studies for further exploration.

Students rarely use scopes

Primo search for “sleep” with drop-down menu suggesting scopes of Articles, Books, and More, Textbooks/Reserves, and Books & Videos
Scopes in a Primo basic search

Scopes have been tested across multiple institutions, and the findings all point to a similar conclusion. Most students don’t notice the scopes, and even when they do notice them, they don’t choose to use them.

Takeaways: Instead of focusing your efforts on scopes, think more closely about your left-hand facets. If, on the other hand, you want your students to use scopes, you will need to emphasize this as part of your library instruction.

Facets need to be functional

Primo Availability facet is expanded to show Available in Person, Available Online, and Peer-reviewed. Source Type and Date facets are minimized.
Frequently-used facets in Primo,
expanded and minimized views

While most students use facets, they sometimes struggle with locating the facets that are relevant. A few facets appear to be used most often: Scholarly journals, date, full text online, and resource type. Also, expanded facets tend to get used more than minimized ones.

Takeaways: Place most useful facets at the top of the list. Use clear facet labels. Reduce information overload by removing unneeded facets. And, be sure to expand only the facets that matter most to students.

Basic search is preferred

The vast majority of students use the basic search screen, as opposed to the advanced search.

Takeaway: Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time developing a rock-star advanced search page.

Basic search in Primo for “dream.” Frowning/confused emoji is near the “Advanced Search” link to the right of the search box.
Primo basic search

Students don’t use sorting

Primo Sort by option with default sort selected as Relevance
Primo sort feature for results

Yes, you can change the sorting order of search results (e.g., relevance, date), but most users don’t.

Takeaway: Spend some time adjusting Primo’s rankings (Alma > Discovery > Ranking Configuration).

Library lingo is still meaningless

Primo format types on the left facet menu (Articles, Newspaper articles, Reviews, Reference entries, Text resources). Thinking emoji nearby, with a confused expression.
Potentially confusing
Primo format types

It’s the age-old problem: Library speak! Students don’t understand what “course reserves,” “reference,” “collections,” or “databases” mean. They have a hard time distinguishing between “articles” and “newspaper articles,” and between “reviews” and “peer-reviewed.”

Takeaway: Avoid library jargon - use simple language (for example, “textbooks” instead of “reserves”). Your students will find what they need in less time!

Format labels are too small

The Reference Entry format label appears above a search result in Primo, in gray font.
A format label in Primo search results

Students are often asked to look for particular types of resources for their assignments (e.g., scholarly articles, books), and yet the labels for format types do not stand out and are often overlooked. While some entries show an icon for a format type, icons are a tricky business that aren’t always intuitive to students. 

Takeaway: Consider using CSS to modify the size of format labels.

Ambiguity is a turn-off

Unhelpful availability statements confuse students and librarians (e.g., Unavailable, Check for available services, No online access, Check holdings, No full text available). If users can’t discern what action to take, they’ll start seeing those confusing cues as things to avoid.

Takeaway: Say what you mean, using clear labels. Make it as easy as possible for students to get to what they really need - ahem, the full text.

Primo availability statements seen in search result list: Check for available services and No Online Access.
Availability statements in Primo results


Signing in is easy

Users appear to have no problems signing in to Primo, or navigating their Account area.

Takeaway: You may not need to spend much time improving this area of the interface.

The Sign in link is shown in Primo, in between the Menu link and the pushpin icon.
Sign in area in Primo

Push pin perplexity

Primo push pin features: Add this item and Go to my favorites
Adding an item vs. accessing item

Who doesn’t love watching that push pin fly up to the favorites menu? And yet, some users do not understand the connection between “pinning” items and actually accessing them later on the “favorites” menu!

Takeaway: Clarify your labels, and make sure they are consistent. Change the tool tip of the push pin to say “add to my favorites” instead of “add this item.”

Full record confusion

Primo full record display shows a left toolbar (send to, view online, details, links), crossed out to indicate that it can be hidden.
Left toolbar in the Primo full record display

In the full record display, most students do not use the left toolbar appropriately, and are confused by this functionality.  

Takeaway: Consider hiding the left toolbar using CSS

Full text fatigue

Primo full text availability list shows 4 different database links to choose from (Academic Search Complete, America History and Life, MasterFILE, Gale)
List of links to full text

Which path leads to full text?  We all pause when we see a long list of options that seem to present us with the same choice.

Takeaway: We need to get a handle on Discovery Interface Display Logic