The Library Website: More Than A Conundrum

March 18, 2008

After several years of working in library systems, I have come to the conclusion that the most challenging, difficult and frustrating part of my job comes from the fact that I am responsible for my library’s website – and assorted web-based systems. Currently, the college where I work is in the midst of both a website redesign and a migration to a content management system. Because of this, the usual love/hate relationship that I have with this part of my job responsibilities is more of a hate/hate relationship – which has created vast amounts of stress, some questioning of my career choice and eye strain from spending too much time looking at code. This is all a rather large headache that is consuming almost every waking moment of my life (except for that which is being consumed by my ILS680-Evaluation & Research project). I have been spending an exorbitant amount of time and effort on producing something that may well be inherently flawed.

After all, how can we build effective library websites when we have little understanding of what this even entails? Can we ever have effective online presences when we piece together disparate systems and fit them into existing architectures? Do we know what our goal is? I have been wrestling with these questions for a long time, and it scares me to admit that I don’t have a good idea of how to start answering them. For me, website design, creation and management seem like add-ons or secondary responsibilities. I do general maintenance on a regular basis and spend more time doing design or creation when we add new systems or services. However, it isn’t until outside forces converge in the form of a college-wide-website-redesign project that I spend any significant time on the library website. And even then, this process seems to be one where I try desperately to carve out a niche for the library website from a project that is driven by forces with vastly different needs and goals. Thus, the end result is flawed before it even comes to fruition.

So, this is where my head is at right now. I’m immersed in carving out a niche from a market-driven redesign project with templates that were not created with the library in mind. I’ve been trying to figure out where to go from here – how to figure out the right way to move forward. Fortunately, a post from Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog, An effective web presence?, offered some insight. There is a link in this post to a Library Web Consultancy document prepared by the University College Dublin Library. The library wants to get a sense of the context into which the library website should fit. This is a step they are taking in advance of even thinking about a redesign project. They are hoping to understand their entire online environment and how the library fits into it. They are also trying to figure out how they want their website to work for 2-3 years into any redesign. This seems like a very well thought out project that aims to truly figure out how to design an effective online presence. I can only hope that the people at the University College Dublin continue to post information about the process. I know that I could learn quite a bit from what they find out – and maybe, in time, come to embrace my website job responsibilities.

Web Usability Resources

February 5, 2007

The University of Michigan Library has a web site dedicated to information about usability – the goal of which is to “provide open access to our reports and working documents in order to share our findings with the University of Michigan libraries as well as the community-at-large.” Of particular interest to me is a page of usability resources. A big thanks to the folks at the University of Michigan Library for sharing this great information!!!

found via

BBC’s Web Design Principles

February 5, 2007

From The Creative Librarian:

Tomski: The BBC’s Fifteen Web Principles

  1. Build web products that meet audience needs: anticipate needs not yet fully articulated by audiences, then meet them with products that set new standards. (nicked from Google)
  2. The very best websites do one thing really, really well: do less, but execute perfectly. (again, nicked from Google, with a tip of the hat to Jason Fried)
  3. Do not attempt to do everything yourselves: link to other high-quality sites instead. Your users will thank you. Use other people’s content and tools to enhance your site, and vice versa.
  4. Fall forward, fast: make many small bets, iterate wildly, back successes, kill failures, fast.
  5. Treat the entire web as a creative canvas: don’t restrict your creativity to your own site.
  6. The web is a conversation. Join in: Adopt a relaxed, conversational tone. Admit your mistakes.
  7. Any website is only as good as its worst page: Ensure best practice editorial processes are adopted and adhered to.
  8. Make sure all your content can be linked to, forever.
  9. Remember your granny won’t ever use “Second Life”: She may come online soon, with very different needs from early-adopters.
  10. Maximise routes to content: Develop as many aggregations of content about people, places, topics, channels, networks & time as possible. Optimise your site to rank high in Google.
  11. Consistent design and navigation needn’t mean one-size-fits-all: Users should always know they’re on one of your websites, even if they all look very different. Most importantly of all, they know they won’t ever get lost.
  12. Accessibility is not an optional extra: Sites designed that way from the ground up work better for all users
  13. Let people paste your content on the walls of their virtual homes: Encourage users to take nuggets of content away with them, with links back to your site
  14. Link to discussions on the web, don’t host them: Only host web-based discussions where there is a clear rationale
  15. Personalisation should be unobtrusive, elegant and transparent: After all, it’s your users’ data. Best respect it.

Web Design & Accessibility

August 17, 2006

There is a great post over at Ab’s Blog, Web Accessiblity: Failure is Not an Option. While failure shouldn’t be an option, I think that very few web sites are actually designed with accessibility in mind. Most sites do fail the accessibility test. This is an issue that needs higher visability and – from my perspective as one with web design responsibility – greater understanding.