Overcoming library website despair

Posted on April 12th, 2012 by Paul Stainthorp

Roddy Macleod despairs of some academic library websites, including the University of Lincoln’s.

In this particular case, he’s talking specifically about links to out of date “current awareness” resources on our Portal (he’s dead right to – that’s a problem we need to fix a.s.a.p.), but there’s something about library websites that seem to inspire a general sense of despair in a lot of people. They need to be good – they rarely are. It ought to be easy for a group of “””information professionals”””” to keep a small-ish set of web pages up to date and intelligible, but it’s never really been something we’ve been able to do a good job of.

Deep breath; say it with me: “our library website sucks, and it’s our fault“.

We’re trying to do something about ours: we have a project group working over the summer to bin most or all of our existing pages on the University Portal, and to create a new, much-simplified, much more user-friendly site based on WordPress, at library.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk (to be mapped over to the main library URL before launch). This working party will use Google Groups to discuss the new site and track changes. Unified discovery and access to print and e-resources will be pushed right to the front of the site.

Version 1.0 of our proposed site structure is here; comments welcome.

Schematic diagram of the new library web site

Some problems/questions for us:

  1. How do we involve the users in our design, and incorporate user changes and feedback?
  2. How do we test the site for intelligibility/usability?
  3. How do we stop the content from fossilising?
  4. How do we find out about problems with the site, and take those problems seriously?
  5. How do we keep the quality high and the writing clear, intelligible, and free of librarian’s jargon?

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3 Responses to “Overcoming library website despair”

  1. Having a heading ‘Essential Information’, to me, seems slightly peculiar, as it makes links not under that heading seem unimportant. But I see that some other libraries do this – https://portal.solent.ac.uk/library/library.aspx

  2. I think it may be that information professionals don’t think like library users. Essential information may mean something completely different to a user (for example,how do I cite references?). Using a wide variety of usability techniques, such as card-sorting with users (to determine site structure and labelling of headings), creating personas to look at how the different users of the site will interact with it, and testing it with students and faculty are ways the new site can be tested throughout the design process. Good luck with it!

  3. [...] Paul on overcoming library website despair It ought to be easy for a group of “”information professionals” to keep a small-ish set of [...]

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