CIL11: Building Great Websites

First up this morning (for me) Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches-Johnson.

  • Disclaimer 1: That pesky catalog problem – we really don’t have any control over this in most of our systems
  • Disclaimer 2: Like the catalog we don’t really have a lot of control over what all the other systems we subscribe to look like

0% of searchers start their research at library websites (according to perceptions survey). Aaron and Amanda think that there are are certainly things we can do to improve our websites to get a better percentage here.

Introducing a new concept: Useful, Usable, Desirable – library websites need a balance of these three things.


What is the #1 thing people want to do on our library sites? This is where we need to address our content strategy (plan for the creation delivery and governance of useful content). One way to find out what people want on your site is to ask them! This is a good place for me to put in a plug for LimeSurvey (an open source survey application that lets you create and manage web based surveys – a great way to ask your patrons what they want/expect/hope to see).

Content on library websites is pretty much like our spice cabinets at home. You don’t know how things got there, where things are, if they’re good anymore, etc. One way to handle this is a content audit (a great task for a cataloger). The first part of a content audit is the quantitative listing of all the pages (create an id for each page and include other info about the page itself). The second part of the audit is the qualitative portion. This is the most useful bit of the audit. Here you ask is this info accurate, useful, used, on message and updated recently? Using that data you then rank those pages (don’t use a scale of 1-10 – that’s too granular, do something like a scale of 0-2).


Amanda and Aaron believe that less is more when it comes to library websites. Library websites are kind of like the junk drawer! A lot of library sites take the ‘just in case’ approach to design and put things on there ‘just in case’ someone might need it one day. Instead you should be focusing all of your development goals on the majority of your users and what they want. There is way more value in delighting 50% of your users than having 100% of your users feel kind of blah about your website.

They have come up with a template they can use to create a simple library website at A great way for libraries to create a completely useable site that helps patrons find what they really want at your library. If you do decide to try this out Aaron and Amanda would like you to let them know about it.

To make your site useable you want to make sure you are writing for the web. When on the web, people don’t really ‘read’ they ‘skim.’ Conversational tone is very important for writing on the web. Instead of saying “A library card is required to check out items” say “You can check out all sorts of stuff once you have a library card.” What we were taught in school is not appropriate for the web .. a page that has a lot of paragraphs (an intro, a body, a thesis) is not going to work on the web. Instead use conversational language and break things out in to bullet points for easy skimming and making the important points findable. Another way to make your page useable is to add headings so people can find the area they are most interested in – also putting extra white space in there to make the content more scannable. Along those lines, par down your URLs! Don’t have super long addresses that aren’t easy to remember or type.

Use friendly words. Instead of ‘the library’ say ‘we,’ instead of ‘the patron’ say ‘you.’ Instead of ‘how you reset your pin’ say ‘how do i reset my pin’ – make it more personal and friendly. Also (and this has been said forever and ever now) do no use ‘click here.’ Instead of ‘click here to access your account’ say ‘access my account.’

Finally make sure you do usability testing!!


First tip – you can’t just choose random colors! Find a professional or use one of the many color pallet websites out there to find colors that work together. Next (and I whole-heartedly agree with this one) skip the clipart!!

Another way to make our sites desirable is to make them convenient and that means making them work on mobile devices. If you design for mobile first you’ll probably create a better website simply because you’re designing for a device with a smaller screen it will force you to follow a lot of the instructions already mentioned above (less is more).

The future:

There are four types of library website development that we need to focus on.

We need to start with the Basic – and many libraries don’t have even basically good sites. This site should have necessary info: how to pay fines, get a card, etc. If all of us got to just this state the library world would be much much better.

Next a Destination website. A site where librarians create the content and have conversations with their patrons.

The Participatory website is a lot less common, but this is the site where the patrons are very involved in content creation. Providing patrons tools in house to create that content and the librarians aggregating this content and making it available to all. An example would be Hennepin County Library’s BookSpace.

Moving beyond those sites would be a Community Portal. This is a place where the patrons go to help solve community problems. Kete might actually work to meet these needs.

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