7 Essential Elements to an Awesome Library Website

First up this morning was David Lee King sharing library website tips with us. I’m not working in this field so much anymore (web design) but I still wanted to see what cool tips David had for us all so here I am.

David started by blaming Ned Potter, author of The Library Marketing Toolkit (http://thewikiman.org) for this presentation because Ned asked him for some tips for elements every website should have. It started David thinking and he went where we all go – hours, directions, etc. But that’s not we should all be thinking.

#1 Customers want something to read, watch and listen to when they visit the library

At least that’s what it’s like in our buildings, but not so much on our websites. An example is a blog post on your website that talks about a neat art exhibit at the library – writing/reading about it is not the real goal. We all have a link to our catalog, using the catalog is not the goal of the patrons – the goal is to read!

So some examples of giving patrons something to “do” on your library website is to include steaming videos, provide downloadable ebooks, and download free (or subscription) music.

Ebooks for example are perfect for your ‘digital branch’ or website. It’s not easy to download ebooks once in your physical building. They’re meant to be downloaded on mobile devices.

Another way to interact with patrons is to use social media and ask questions and promote discussion – an example from Topeka Shawnee was that they asked patrons what books kept them up late at night. You could also sign up for sites like GoodReads and LibraryThing and then embed a group’s activity right on your library website.

You could also do videos of book discussions or interviews and once again people can watch them on your website.

The Goal? These are all things that people can ‘do.’

#2 Customers have questions and ask at the library

We all answer questions in person when patrons come up to us. How about our digital branch? Do we make it friendly and easy to use?

Add an ‘Ask Now’ or ‘Ask a Librarian’ button that is big and colorful and easy to find. David pointed out a cool tool for this (and an open source one at that!) called Spark. You can use this to communicate with your patrons. For text messaging you can use Google Voice. These two tools are both free to use (but Spark does take some time to set up).

Another way for patrons to contact you is to allow for emailing questions

Arapahoe Library has a nice ask us page where they list all the ways to contact them including Twitter, Facebook, Email, Texting, etc.

The Goal? Answering questions!

#3 Customers need to know the normal stuff too

Patrons need to know things like your address and phone number. Don’t make your patrons dig for this!!

A footer is a common place for people to look for this info. Include hours, phone numbers, address, contact us link, etc. Also include on every page of the website a way to ask a librarian, get a library card, contact the library. These are the normal things people come to the library site to find.

When it comes to directions to your library site, make sure you get in your car and try out the directions you’re providing! David has worked in two libraries where this info on the website was actually wrong.

Make it easy to find frequently asked questions like circulation policies, fine policies, etc. And don’t make these PDFs filled with Library Jargon.

The Goal? Tell people the normal stuff!

#4 Library’s need actual staff

David asked how many of us hire volunteers to design our library buildings? People who just kind of think they know how to catalog to catalog your books? Why do that for your website?

Websites = Actual Work

Hire someone to do your website! Don’t just ask the most tech savvy person in your library and hope that it turns out right. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need an IT person, there are many content management systems such as WordPress and free themes you can get. This allows the staff to focus on the important stuff – updating the content!

Website = Real Staff

Include a staff directory on your website! Many libraries don’t include contact info for specific people at the library. It makes it really difficult to contact someone specific. At Topeka Shawnee they not only have a directory, but a photo of the staff member. So many libraries are about hiding the staff when it comes to the website. This is not good customer service!

Every blog author at David’s library also have an author bio page. There is a picture and short bio for each of them. They also include links to social networks for the blog authors which is a nice way to connect with the librarian in the digital world.

Shockingly at David’s library they want people to contact them!

The Goal? Staff the website

#5 Have Goals!

A lot of us strategic plans in our libraries, sometimes also a technology plan and other goals. Our websites need to be in these kinds of plans as well! There should be overlap between the library’s plan and the website plans. So if you have a collection development policy include things in there like writing blog posts about the new titles.

Keep statistics to see what tools are successful.

#6 Reach beyond your webbish boundaries

Go where people gather! Find out where you patrons are and then make sure you’re there. If a new one pops up – like Pinterest – do a pilot project. Ask patrons if they’re there and if they want the library to be there too. Topeka Library is on Pinterest now because their patrons asked them to be and they told their patrons to test it. They’re keeping stats and watching patrons usage to decide if it’s worth staying on there.

You can also turn these online gatherings in to in person gatherings like Tweetups or the PodCamp Topeka.

This is a way to meet your digital branch patrons.

The Goal? Be where people are.

#7 Be mobile friendly

A way to do this is use Boopsie to create a library mobile app.

You could create a mobile website using examples like this. http://designmodo.com/responsive-design-examples

Make sure you brainstorm first though. Don’t just jump in to creating a mobile site. Think about how your patrons are going to want to quickly interact with the library website while on the go.

Also once you go live, ask for suggestions. What else do your patrons want to see on the mobile site or app? The whole point of providing this mobile site is for your patrons to use it!

The Goal? Be Mobile Friendly!


At the Disney Store there is a sign that says to visit the store online to get the full experience. Maybe we should do the same thing on our library websites. Use the website to provide the full library experience.

Technorati Tags: ,


  1. Thank you, Nicole, these notes are nicely done, complementing & filling in important details for the slide deck over at http://www.davidleeking.com/2012/03/26/my-computers-in-libraries-2012-presentations/!

    I utterly agree w/this point, for example:
    “Websites = Actual Work
    Hire someone to do your website! Don’t just ask the most tech savvy person in your library and hope that it turns out right.”
    Also, I’d go even further along the lines of the strategic planning (#5) – I’d say that #6 & 5 could go deeper and be merged, since – a la the same guru/presenter (David Lee King)’s Digital Library Branch concept. Your whole online presence should have a strategy. This includes content & goals, first. The tools then need to be chosen to help you meet those goals.

    Heck, I think I’d almost make the technology plan say “see also: Online Strategy/Digital Branch Strategy”. In there, I would start from user experience, then talk about the many pieces of that experience modularly. Only later should tools be talked about. It still drives me nuts that the catalog is considered different than the website. It isn’t to the library user who’s online. When I go to L.L. Bean’s site, I don’t get a different experience of shopping their catalog vs. using their site, even though there’s the brochure-type “about the company” and bricks-and-mortar store support, in addition to the transactional system that allows site users to shop for things & buy them online.

    Lots of discussion these days in pro web dev world about content strategies, as well as how to plan web presence via the use of such agile methods as creation of personas & Use Cases. The biggest trend, moreover, is responsive design – finding ways to build an online presence that can shape itself to any device, since mobile will exceed desktop usage of web presence by 2015. Use of a web content management system is a necessity these days to support all of these goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *