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

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:


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.



  • 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



  • 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)

Necessary information, relevant functionality, no major usability issues

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

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

CIL2010: Well-Organized Sites and Portals

   April 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Well-Organized Sites & Portals
Mr. Chris Jasek, UCD Portfolio Manager, Elsevier
Emily R Shem-Tov, Research Portal Program Manager, Global Market Research & Planning, Adobe Systems, Inc.

Jasek offers best practices on how libraries can organize all of the features that their websites offer. He shares a five-step process that explains how to get from understanding users and the main tasks they come to accomplish to making the right choices on links or features to present. He recommends broad categories for organization of tasks/content to help web browsers find exactly what they need by improving the overall organization of features offered. Shem-Tov presents a case study of how a team of special librarians collaborates to provide services through a taxonomy- and search-driven research portal, physical and online libraries, information skills training programs, and a variety of social media tools. Find out how they continue to push the limits of what they can do by incorporating new technologies and tactics to better serve their customers and raise awareness of their offerings and of better information skills in general, and how they tie in the different elements through coordinated campaigns.

Chris Jasek:

Well-organized refers to

  • page layout, visual design, perception
  • user's mental model, user's tasks, intuition

"People don't come to a website to admire in, they come to get work done."

5 Steps to a well organized site

  1. Research your users Understand their needs and tasks, why they're coming to your website and what their abilities and expectations are.
    • Allow for multiple ways to locate information (by name, by suject, by material type)
    • provide detail (people want description, fulltext, and good suggestions)
    • Need help in recovering from wrong paths
    • Use words they understand
    • They want speed
  2. Survey similar sites Look at how other libraries are doing it. But don't blindly take ideas - test it with your patrons.
  3. Follow best practice design
    • Use page real estate wisely (top left is most important) and cut down on junk/ads/noise
    • Minimze number of clicks - shoot for 2-3 clicks
    • Use consistent navigation
    • Treat links according to convention - don't get fancy with colors and underlines. It's easier for patrons if your links look like what they're used to, and all of yours should be the same
    • Be consistent with design elements (provide help and contact links in upper right corner)
    • Use minimal colors and fonts
    • Make sure your site is accessible
  4. Test your design with users
    • Getting feedback is key, and make sure stakeholders and decision makers observe user tests
    • Plan first before development
    • do usability studies - observation is the best
    • Track stats
  5. Address issues and repeat
    • Identify problems, not solutions (figure out what is wrong, don't implement a fix that doesn't address the why
    • Multiple iterations are important - prioritize and realize that you are never done

Tags: , , , , ,

CIL2010: New and Hot: The Best of Resource Shelf

   April 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

CIL2020 Gary PriceNew & Hot: The Best of Resource Shelf, with Gary Price, Publisher, ResourceShelf

Keeping up with all the changes in our industry and staying one step ahead of our clients require solid strategies to deal with this challenge. Our popular expert shares his ideas, learnings, top tips, and techniques from the search and search engine world to ensure that you stay in step with the fast-changing online information world.

Complete list of links at http://www.resourceshelf.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bor2010cil.html, but I have some annotations below:

Web searches

Ready Reference

  • Wordnik - shows word-based results: definition, number of mentioned, examples common usage, etc.
  • Wolfram Alpha - educators are focusing on this as a replacement for almanacs and also as a computational engine. They're always adding and updating data.
  • MRQE - Movie Review Query Engine - reviews coming from traditional and social sources
  • AllMusic - info on singers, albums, groups, songs, and it also provides "related songs" and "influenced by" suggestions. Now all features are available without login. There's also allmovie.com and allgames.com.
  • Lyrics Wiki - great for song lyrics. One of the first spinoff wikis hosted on Wikia.com by a specialized group of Wikipedia editors
  • Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection - the go-to place for maps in the news, for education use, map research, or for general use

People Search

  • NNDB Notable Names search and biographical information. And NNDB Mapper is a visualization tool that shows relations between people.
  • Whitepages.com - like a typical people search, but uses public data to build a personal profile, including ages and neighbors
  • Muckety.com - similar to NNDB, but does it for business and business relationships between people
  • Go to http://www.resourceshelf.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/bor2010cil.html for more useful links

    Tags: , , , , , ,

    CIL2010: Experience Design Makeover

       April 12th, 2010 Brian Herzog

    CIL2010 David Lee KingMy first session at Computers in Libraries 2010: Experience Design Makeover by David Lee King

    Have customers said your website is confusing? Does your website desperately need an experience design makeover? This session guides you through a real-life library website extreme makeover, focusing on experience design elements used. It provides five ways to jump-start your own experience design makeovers and leaves you with solid ideas to use on your own website!

    Review of Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library website

    • Their website uses Expression Engine, will likely move to Drupal in the next interation
    • Modern websites should allow comments and provide feeds
    • Have Subject Feeds with new resources in those subjects, including Delicious bookmarks and new books
    • 240 staff person maintain 20+ blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook web presence

    How did they get there? Ask.
    Staff: What do you like? What don't you like? What do you see patrons struggling with? What would you change?

    What would you change?

    • Too noisy - too many tabs, too much movement, too busy
    • Content - need to separate out emphermiral blog content from permanent library services info, too much jargon
    • Catalog - needs to be more Amazon-like (more like everywhere else on the web)
    • Functionality - doesn't print well, not kid-friendly (not a parents page about kid information), footer is wasted, accessibility (need text-only)
    • Services - not everything is listed on website

    Patrons: will do focus groups with the same questions as above

    It's good to surprise people with how cutting-edge you are. It doesn't hurt the people who don't care, but it will really impress and involve the people who do.

    Once you decide what you want, you need staff with the right skills to get you there. Just like you need the right staff at a service desk or branch library, you need to think the same way about your website.

    Maintenance is key - staff need to be taught how to write for the web, use a digital style guide, train staff on Web 2.0 tools so they're using them correctly, delineate responsibility

    5 Ways to Jumpstart Your Own Makeover

    1. Write an Experience Brief - the experience what you want people to have when they visit your website. Think about what you want it to be, and then plan for it and find the tools to support it. Think about target audience, what their needs are (from their points of view), how to put the information they need where they'll find it in terms they'll understand, including things relevant to them that they may not have thought of (classes, magazines [“deep web” subscription resources])
    2. Take a Touch Point Journey around your website (“touch point” is every time a patron comes in contact with the library) - “Get an Account” should be “Get a Library Card” (with prominent link text); form shouldn't be text-heavy - just use a picture of a library card
    3. Conversation is Experience - visors want to talk. Are you providing this ability? Do you answer them? This goes for your website but the rest of your online presence - Twitter, Facebook, etc.
    4. Answer the Why Questions - Put yourself in the patron's shoes and ask, Why should I read this? Why should I care about this page? Why should I attend this event? Do I care about “databases” or know what they are?
    5. Focus on the patron - Flip design from “staff-centric” to “patron-centric.” You can train staff, but you can't control patrons and you'll lose them quickly. Use patron-centric language, services, etc. Website should be as easy as a light switch to use.

    How do you handle department responsibilities for content management?
    We don't really have a gatekeeper - we train the staff and then trust them.

    Can you eliminate the RSVP link in Facebook events?
    We don't really use it. But there is a website for how to design a Facebook fan page.

    How do you decide to cross-post and cross-promote everything?
    We have a marketing director who handles most of that, but she does look at stats to see who our target audience is and use the appropriate tools

    Cross browser-problems?
    We have fewer problems with this, but we do check them

    How do you get staff doing content?
    Management team included “digital branch” in strategic plan, so creating content is a priority for staff (ranked in with shelving books and everything else)

    Do you do usability testing?
    Yes, we use focus groups just for questions, but we'll do limited “watching” of tasks

    Tags: , , , ,

    Going to Computers in Libraries 2010

       April 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

    cil2010 logoNext week is Computers in Libraries 2010, and I'm lucky enough to be going and co-presenting a pre-conference workshop with Nicole Engard.

    Our workshop is Implementing Library Mashups, based partly on the book Nicole edited, Library Mashups. I'm looking forward to hearing Nicole speak, and I'll present* my chapter, then the rest of the workshop will be hands-on building mashups with the attendees. Keep an eye on Nicole's presentations page for the slides.

    There will be lots of other great speakers and workshops, so it should be a good time**. If you're there, be sure to say hi. And if you need help convincing your boss you should go, CiL provides help on justifying your trip, complete with a draft memo [doc].

    I'll try to blog, tweet and flickr as much as I can while traveling, both library and touristy things.

    Update 4/7/10: If you're going to Cil2010, here are some resources to check out. If you're not going, for you there is a list of bloggers who'll be taking notes.


    *Ah, public speaking, we meet again.

    **Not to mention sightseeing in Washington. I [heart] that city. And this time, I'm going to the International Spy Museum, tour the Capitol and see Senate in session - all outside of conference hours, of course.

    Tags: , , , , ,

    CIL2007 Sunday & Monday

       April 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

    computers in libraries 2007 badgeA coworker of mine and I are in Washington, DC, this week for the Computers in Libraries 2007 conference. So far, I’ve been to just three sessions (and some sightseeing), and it’s already worth the trip.

    First I went to Michael Sauers’ Sunday afternoon preconference session on integrating RSS into websites. This notion had always kind of intimidated me, outside of the built-in feeds provided by WordPress. But Michael showed us about 20 tools over the course of three hours which can make adding feeds very easy. Those that looked the most promising were:

    • ListGarden for writing the rss code and managing the feeds (it also supports podcasts and has built-in ftp feedspring and RapidFeeds)
    • feed2js for getting an rss feed to display on a webpage (like rss viewer, rss2html, feed digest, grazr and many others)
    • RSSCalendar for a free, web-based, rss-fed calendar of events (which can also be outputted to your own website)
    • Something that was neat, and I might like to try, was feed2podcast, which will automatically read your text feeds and convert them to podcasts in a computer's voice
    • All of this and more is available on Michael's cil2007 del.icio.us account

    Next was David Lee King's Monday morning session on planning and implementing Library 2.0 projects. This was a quick session on why and how libraries can use Library 2.0 tools, and what absolutely must be kept in mind – planning. He covered blogs, wikis and flickr in very general terms, focusing mostly on why proper planning is important, and what could happen when projects are launched without planning. Basically, a lot of effort is wasted, not to mention an opportunity to communicate with patrons.

    Then it was on to Jessamyn. I love her. Her pre-lunch talk was on how to sup-up your Firefox browser. She shows a bunch of plug-ins, extensions, and skins, and, in her own way, convinced a crowd of hundreds why Firefox should be on every library's public computers. I only hope they take her advice, and that I can convince my library of this.

    She also spent a lot of time on greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that allows you to run little scripts to modify webpages. I've played a bit with greasemonkey in the past, but it was great to see what someone else does with it. Now I've got some ideas, and that's when I'm at my most dangerous.

    The schedule for Tuesday looks like it'll be a little more filled out. Plus, the exhibit floor will be open all day, so I can talk to some vendors, too. And then in the evening, I'm meeting up with my cousin Elizabeth, who recently relocated to the DC area after finishing her MBA. So all in all, it should be a good day.

    cil 2007, cil2007, computers in libraries, computers in libraries 2007, david lee king, greastmonkey, jessamyn, jessamyn west, libraries, library, michael sauers, public libraries, public library, rss

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,