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

Appearances can be deceiving

   October 4th, 2006

As you are all no doubt aware by now, I haven't put much effort into this website over the past few years (which is why I felt the need for an overhaul). The content was stale, the design well past its prime, and the coding not even close to current standards. All this, despite the fact that I developed websites for a living. You'd think that a web developer would have a wonderfully designed website of his own, but that is not the case (but I'm working on it).

In addition to being a web developer, I am also a librarian. When the two are combined, the result is someone who looks critically at a lot of library websites. Now, one would think that libraries, who are all about organization and information access, would have easily-navigated and content-rich websites. But I find that this usually isn’t the case. It seems pretty hit or miss, depending on the people at the library, and, I surmise, how much they care about “new” technologies.

But then I thought, perhaps the idea that libraries should naturally have great websites isn’t all that logical. After all, libraries generally don’t create information - they organize it. The various classification systems libraries use were given to them, and don’t really take any input or creation - it’s just a set of rules to follow. So, perhaps that is the approach that should be taken with library websites. If you take away the creation aspect (which does take time and skill), and just provide libraries with a structured framework to fill in with their content, online patrons would have a better chance of finding what they need, and the librarians could spend more time doing what they do best.

I know this sounds very draconian and like it would lead to blandly identical websites, but I don’t think it would be that bad. Besides, I’m still working on the idea.

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2 Responses to “Appearances can be deceiving”

  1. Laura Orr Says:

    Have you seen http://www.plinkit.org/?

    It’s one solution (among others) to this problem. The other problem (and every solution has one), is that a lot of library administrators don’t understand this very point: Not all librarians are good web designers (in fact not all web designers are either :-). If web design is a job requirement, what happens to those excellent (and very smart) librarians who know their limits.

  2. herzogbr Says:

    No, I haven’t heard of it, but I’ll take a look at it, as it does seem to be one of the better options I’ve seen so far.

    But really, tools like this are what I’m talking about. I don’t think web design is a realistic job requirement for most public librarians. But, library websites are important enough (I think) so as to deserve deliberate attention – a “we’ve got a web presence that hasn’t been updated in four years” has the potential to do more harm than good.

    When possible, web design skills (or at least, interest) should be sought out in candidates and fostered in existing staff by sending them to training sessions, as web design is becoming as important as book selection or customer service. But when web design limits are reached, third-party solutions like PlinkIt or Library Websites, Inc., while far from perfect, should still be used. That lets web people do web stuff, and librarians focus on what we do best – organizing information in an accessible way.

    Which is all easy for me to say, I know, but it just pains me when I see a public library with a bad website.