Written by Joe Kraus, Science Librarian, University of Denver
I have heard the phrase “Build it, and they will come” used a little bit to describe technology projects that libraries have either built or implemented. There is some great technology that is heavily used by the patrons and the librarians, and some that are not used as much. Some technology could be used even more, but it may be underutilized for whatever reasons. The technology that I am going to discuss a little bit this month is the main library website. (Note that I am an academic librarian, so I may have a focus on college based resources.) While you can never please all of the people all of the time, the design of the website should not “get in the way” of most users. In general, the library website should be easy to navigate with plenty of
white space without a lot of text. If your patrons find the website difficult to use, they may find other resources to use instead. They might even go to a different library or use a different service.
Some libraries think of the website as if it is a digital branch of the main library. The library should have key staff who take care of the feeding and the maintenance of the site. If you are a solo librarian or if you are in a small organization, then that responsibility might fall completely on you. If that is the case, then you may need to carve out some time each day or each week to update some sections of your website.
I recently found a blogger (Matthew Reidsma, currently at GVSU) who writes a bit about library website design. One of his posts is: “Bad Library Websites are just a Symptom.” (http://matthew.reidsrow.com/articles/15) Here, he noted: ”Understanding your users isn’t one step in a long process to make a great web experience. It’s the foundation of that experience. This is about building a relationship with your users. How many successful relationships have you seen that do a quick check-in once every 3-5 years? You should always be doing it. ALWAYS.”
I also like some advice from Aaron Schmidt. For example, he recently wrote in the post “The OPAC: Yesterday’s Problem” that “we’re expecting people to learn two interfaces — and often two suboptimal interfaces — when we should be providing a single great one.” http://www.walkingpaper.org/5300
I have been through a number of library website redesigns, and it is often done by a committee with many different stakeholders. But, websites designed by committee can often provide a mishmash of results. If the main designer or coder relies on gut feeling instead of knowing the needs of the patron, then the redesign can also result in a suboptimal experience for some patrons. Hopefully, several people on the committee will be good advocates for the needs of the patrons.
In short, it is recommended to have a library website where there is iteration in the process of updating pages, and staff have an ability to quickly change pages and sections if needed. Some of the larger organizations might manage a website using Drupal (http://groups.drupal.org/libraries), Joomla
(http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/4226) or some other content management system, but smaller organizations might find software like WordPress to be capable. For example, the Cal-Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies Library (http://library.its.berkeley.edu/) has a nicely designed website using WordPress.