or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk




CIL2011: Improve Your Website Now!

   March 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Web Team from Arlington County (VA) Library SystemLaura Solomon, Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN)
Alexandra Zealand, Social Media Coordinator & News Blog Editor;
Stacia Aho, Library Webmaster;
Jonathan Newton, Library Web Programmer, Arlington Public Library

 

Don't waste your homepage - Laura Solomon

The library homepage is the most important part of your website - here are some tips for the best use of the space

  • Spell it out - patrons don't know library acronyms and jargon. Spell it out, at least the first time you use it
  • Don't be wordy, or use large blocks of text
  • Mission statements are important to libraries and trustees, but not to patrons, so don't put it on your homepage (nor lists of staff or board names)
  • Weed your graphics - graphic loads take time and slow things down and clutter up pages - they need to be meaningful and have a point. And anything you do use, optimize for web
  • Don't use clipart - it undermines your professionalism (even using stock photography is better)
  • Be careful about using widgets and gadgets - people don't come to the library website to check the weather or news feeds
  • Don't use exclamation points!!! They are not professional!!1!
  • Your homepage above the fold is your prime real estate - don't cover it with a welcome mat (if they weren't welcome, it would be password protected)
  • Don't put a picture of your library on the homepage - your building is not your product
  • Put your library's phone number and address on your homepage
  • Label all the links to pdf as [pdf] - don't surprise people with huge downloads

 

Community Engagement on a Shoestring - Arlington VA Public Library

Case study of how they went from municipal website to library-specific website with integrated content to focus on patron needs and use:

  • First, convince county IT department to let library have a branded header with its own logo
  • Use links on homepage to direct people to library's blog, which looks like real website but is easier to update and control - this keeps the homepage and makes it useful
  • Important static information stays on the static site, in case blogger blog went away
  • Content on blog is basically news and events - things that would have been press releases

Tools used were all free

  • Blogger - easy to use (got for less tech-savvy staff), supports tags, and supports...
  • Yahoo Pipes to create news feeds based on tags - use tags to filter information for each branch, so branches can have their own identity and patrons fell more connected with hyper-local information - feeds sometimes get picked up by local news outlets, which drives a ton of traffic, and some people become regular readers
  • Feedburner to embed feeds into homepage
  • But keep in mind: the tools aren't always enough - you need good practice, staff, content, and integration

Result

  • Huge increase in comments and patron participation
  • Staff better understands patrons' point of view
  • More staff involvement and investment in public image


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CIL2011: Building Great Websites

   March 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Amanda Etches-Johnson and Aaron SchmidtAmanda Etches-Johnson, Head, Discovery & User Access, Univ. of Guelph
Aaron Schmidt, Consultant, Influx Library User Experience

Two areas of websites we don't have easy control over

  • Catalog
  • Databases

Websites must be three things:

Useful

Our Content Strategy (planning the creation, deliver and conveyance of UUD content) must address this question: What do people want to do on our site?

  • Identify your critical tasks
  • Spend a few minutes each day just asking people what they want to do, and whether or not you're meeting their needs
  • Perform a content audit - not just pages, but the images and information on each page (cataloger, being detailed oriented, are good at this). Is each page: accurate, usefulness, used, web-written, on message, last updated. Rate each piece on a scale of 0-2 to identify areas to keep, remove or improve.

 

Usable

  • Smaller is better
  • Websites should not be junk drawers - "just in case" is not the right approach
  • Design your website around your FAQs - if it's on an FAQ, it doesn't get on the site
  • Write for the Web - we keep hearing that people generally don't read on the web (though this might be changing with tablets and larger mobile devices). What people do is Function Reading - skim to find what's important to them
    • Write with a conversation and friendly tone, not like a policy document
    • Put the most important stuff at the top of the page
    • Use bolded headlines, bullets, and white space - it is easier to scan - be sure to use white space correctly to group related headlines/content
    • Use simple urls: http://library.org/kids vs. http://library.org/kids/pages/content.php?p=423
    • One idea per sentence (fragments okay), not too big, bot too small, never all-caps, use active voice, correct contrast
    • Refer to library as "we" and patrons as "you" or "I" - good example "How do I reset my PIN?"
    • Never use "click here" - make the link text meaningful ("Search Catalog" instead of "Click here to search the catalog")
  • Do usability testing - You can find this out by simply watching people use the website - walk out, ask a patron if they have a minute, give them a task ("use our website to find a receipe" or "can you find out our branch's Tuesday closing time on Tuesday") and then watch them
    • Use Google Optimizer to test multiple versions of pages with the same content, to see what content is important and which design works best

It's also important to have a mobile version of your website. Visit Influx.us/onepage - a library website template that puts this idea into practice - works on mobile devices

 

Desirable

  • Choose a good color palette - use a professional, use a free website color matcher, etc
  • Don't use clipart
  • Use common conventions, grid layout, pre-made themes from the community
  • Make content interesting - example: transmissions between NASA control and space flights presented in back-and-forth Twitter-like conversation
  • Make it convenient - definitely a mobile-friendly version
  • Marketing: put your stuff out there, and keep at it

 

Four Stages of Library Website Development

One builds on the other, and you can't move up until you finish the lower levels (like Maslov's Hierarchy)

Basic
Necessary information, relevant functionality, no major usability issues

Destination (a "destination website")
Librarian-created content, basic interactivity

Participatory
Serious user generated content, patrons creating culture - library acts as the aggregator, and patrons have reason to do this here, instead of somewhere else
example: Hennapin County bookspace

Community Portal
Library website as community platform, the website becomes a community knowledge bank (tool like this is Kete)

 

Take-away goal

Reduce your site by half - it doesn't mean you have bad content, but people cant find it because there is too much to look through - bit.ly/smallsites



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