We all have our specialties. If you're a librarian in today's world, you know that your library needs a website. But, what makes a good website? What do library users need online? Are you going to have to figure out what HTML, CSS, AJAX, and all those other scary technical acronyms mean? Where do you possibly start?
At The Ivy Group, we have melded our library expertise with our professional web design and development capabilities. We're here to provide some suggestions on what your new library site might need. Of course, the possible components are infinite, but there are some core standards to keep in mind when planning your new website.
Your library website needs to be usable.
One way or another, any functional site will be "usable". But how does it rank in usability? Could you call it user-friendly? Usability means that people can figure out easily how to use the site. It means removing guesswork for the user, and making the site as intuitive as possible. Usability includes the following:
- Attractive, well-balanced design
An interface that is aesthetically pleasing will promote usability. Clutter--in terms of either text or graphic elements--may be harsh on the eyes, and even make it difficult for users to find what they want. A balance is needed.
- Understandable navigation
The website should make it easy for a user to find information and resources on the site: intuitive navigation is vital in this regard. This includes the structure and display of the links in the header, footer, sidebar, and breadcrumb areas. Effort should be made to create user-centric navigation. Keep in mind that a navigation structure that makes sense to internal management and staff may not be logical at all to your audience.
- Quick access to the most used features
With proper site architecture and navigation, not everything needs to be, or even should be, on the homepage. The homepage feature areas should be reserved for showcasing things that your users use often or care most about, such as upcoming events or library updates. On secondary pages, feature boxes can be an unobtrusive invitation to view such content.
- Clear indications of how the site's components function
It should be easy for a user to use any resource on the site. Helpful iconography and text that is clearly-written and easily understood, as well as an intuitive layout, should alleviate such questions as, "How do I use this tool? What will happen if I click this link? Will I go to another site? Will I open another webpage, or perhaps a file of a type that I don't expect and possibly cannot even read?"
- Carefully-written content
Users should find the content useful, fulfilling a need; engaging, evoking emotion and appreciation; and credible, giving proof of the site's trustworthiness.
- URL persistence
Each page of the website should have a unique URL so that users are able to bookmark pages or get permalinks.
- Mobile responsiveness
Because more and more people are using mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) to access the web, your site needs to look great and function well on smaller screens. Do you need an app? Or a separate mobile site? Maybe, maybe not. But at a minimum your site needs responsive design that adjusts the layout so that the mobile display maintains all of the usability features that the desktop platform provides.
- High level of accessibility, based on W3C Standards
Accessibility involves making sure that all content is available and functional to all users, regardless of a user's browser, device, assistive technology, or physical impairment. Read a little more about accessibility in our blog post, Accessibility: It's for Your Site, Too.
Your library website needs to feature content that your users care about.
Remember: your website is for library users, not YOU. For example, avoid organizing content to reflect your organizational structure. Users should not have to understand the internal workings of your library to locate the content they need.
Standard content includes:
- Ways to contact the library
E.g., contact information, contact form, find a library (ex. Power Library)
- Various ways to get help from a librarian
Phone, email, or chat--make sure your users know all their options.
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Users appreciate this quick and easy resource.
- Branch locations and hours
This information is extremely helpful if you have multiple branches with varying business hours.
- Library blog
A blog can provide your users valuable information so they keep coming back to the site and using library resources. A blog can also indirectly highlight your library's diverse and knowledgeable staff.
- RSS feed
This is a great way for users to keep up with the very latest.
- Social links
E.g., Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, etc. If you include these, make it clear whether these are "share links" or links to the social media page.
- Calendar of events
Users should be able to quickly find information on upcoming events and maybe even register online for an event.
- Site search
Web users are very comfortable searching for everything and anything. (Ever used Google as a spell checker?) Even if you already have an easy to navigate page structure, some people simply prefer to use the search bar.
- Directory of library staff, including areas of responsibility
Helping users put names to faces is always a nice touch.
- Gateways to the library’s electronic resources
The world is full with people who think Google is "it" for online research. Make it easy for your users to learn otherwise.
- Online catalog
Your library website needs an easy-to-use content management system, like WordPress.
After you go through the whole web development process, you want to make sure that you end up with a website that non-technical people can actually manage and keep up-to-date. Doesn't your staff have enough work already without having to learn how a website works? The back-end user interfaces we build with WordPress are intuitive so that whoever is managing the site's content can keep it fresh and relevant, regardless of IT skills. The programming code which actually makes up the website is something about which library staff need to know nothing!
Using the content management system (CMS) is as easy as filling out a form, and we can customize the system to be able to collect whatever kind of information is useful to the library. After entering the information, the options as far as how to use it are endless. E.g., feature boxes, “top 3” lists, archives, slideshows, RSS, maps, search tools, etc. Inherent in many of these features is the fact that information can be entered just once, and the update will "cascade" through potentially many pages.
What features have you found useful in a library website? Have any frustrated you? Why? Send us an email!