A Bit About Library Websites

I’ve taken this recent (self imposed) quite time in my employment to do a bit of re-education and reading on various subjects related to libraries, usability (uxd), and graphic novels in libraries (planning something).  I’ve recently finished reading “Usability Testing: a practical guide for librarians”, by Rebecca Blakiston.  It is an interesting read, and you can see my review of it on Goodreads (widget over there on the right).  But there was a great paragraph in the book that I thought I’d share with everyone.

“…Historically, institutions have put significant funding into website redesign projects, but haven’t built the infrastructure to then maintain and iterate on those new websites. All too often, especially for libraries that have small if any web design and development staff to join in,redesign efforts are contracted out to web design firms.  These expert design teams can conduct usability testing as part of their process, perhaps inviting library staff to join in,  and can create great websites that provide an excellent user experience.  Yet, once the website is launched, the library staff doesn’t have the tools, people, or workflows in place to keep it going.  Websites being what they are, they eventually become problematic.  Perhaps content becomes outdated and inconsistent, design elements don’t beet the new brand, and the site isn’t accessible on new types of mobile devices.  needless to day , a few years later, library staff and administrators find themselves again talking about the need for a redesign.  So the redesign is then repeated again and again, every few years.  This model of focusing effort on your website just once every few years is clearly unsustainable.  it doesn’t treat websites as the ever-evolving entities that they are, and doesn’t give them the attention that they deserve.” (page 109)

Basically all that says that (some) libraries don’t put nearly enough planning into on going maintenance and updates of their websites.  Having worked in different libraries where this pattern (redesign-wait-broken website-redesign-repeat) was the norm I can say that it doesn’t work in our modern WiFi enabled, mobile downloading, streaming world…at all.  The author goes on to say that usability testing should be involved in every step of the redesign (and in my opinion maintenance) process…and she’s right.

A libraries website, in my opinion, should not be considered a digital duplicate of the library.  It should be its own digital entity that happens to inform users about not only its offerings but the real world libraries offerings too.  Being a digital entity it also needs constant maintenance and updates to keep functioning properly.  I know it will probably never happen but I would love to see libraries have dedicated web designers on staff to keep their digital doors open…and opening properly.  Usability testing staff or user experience design staff would also be nice but maybe I’m a bit biased on that point.

So to any library out there planning a website redesign please have some usability people involved in the process, and please please make a plan (and stick to it) for constant website updating and maintenance.

Blakiston, R. (2015). Usability Testing: A Practical Guide for Librarians. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

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