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CIL2011: Building Great Websites

   March 21st, 2011

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 -

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3 Responses to “CIL2011: Building Great Websites”

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  2. Building Better Websites | Word for Nerds Says:

    […] could have. Brian Herzog of Swiss Army Librarian did an excellent job writing up his notes on their Better Library Websites presentation. I highly recommend you check it out. The offer just a few simple tips that can go a long way to […]

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