Friday, May 4, 2007

Extreme Makeover: Library Website Edition

Elizabeth Thomsen & Kevin Grocki
NOBLE (North of Boston Library Exchange)

The full slide presentation (with links and examples of some old/new/in progress NOBLE websites) is on the web.

I’ve heard Elizabeth Thomsen before and she’s great—enthusiastic and very funny. Her main point was that websites are like gardens or laws or houses or relationships—they need regular tending. Even a website with great content will become a “lava lamp land” of old looks and dead links if it is not evaluated and redesigned regularly.

Planning a website is like planning a new building—how will people enter, move around, and find what they need? But mistakes are less costly and can be changed more easily than in the physical world. So planning is good, but don’t get stuck there.

Writing for the web needs to be short and simple--“talk like a human being.” Use newspaper style, i.e., put the most important facts first or you’ll miss your audience (nobody reads to the end). Choose headings and links carefully, and avoid the “click here” syndrome (that highlights the *least* important information):

Think about your users—who are they and what do they want to know?--and make sure basics (hours, address, phone number) are easy to find. Put a catalog search box directly on the page if possible (save the time of the user). How did users get to your site (look at search logs)? When they get there, do they know where they are (not everyone comes in through the front door)?

Try to have just one link for databases, not “home” and “in library” (we need to change that one on *my* library’s website).

Add visual interest, but lose the old, bad clip art, and most animated graphics. The best images to use are photographs, book covers, book displays, and art by children & teens.
E.g., the website for Butler University Libraries has a right hand banner with an “Ask a Librarian” box, linking to a “how to contact us” page, and showing different librarian photos.

Keep the digital camera handy and take pictures of everything, and enlist patrons as volunteer photographers. Libraries should have a discussion about privacy rights and signed releases. Be careful about copyright.

Many photographs in Flickr have a creative commons license and can be used with attribution (e.g. flowers for a gardening booklist, etc.). Sort photo results by “interestingness.”

Try to have some dynamic content (content that changes, by JavaScript, an RSS feed, etc.), and get creative.

Then she got more technical, so for more complete notes, see the presentation slides.

Elizabeth and Kevin spent a LONG time after the presentation with me and another librarian answering some technical questions, which was much appreciated. We pretty much closed down the conference (all the cars were gone when I left). I came away with a lot of good ideas to implement for our website.


Elizabeth said...

Thanks! I just wanted to note that I just uploaded a slightly revised version of the Powerpoint.

Several people talked to me after the program, wanting more information about WordPress.

WordPress is free, open source software, and you can learn more about it here:

If you're interested in using it for blogging or as a CMS, check with your webhosting service or IY department to see if it's available.

You can get a free WordPress blog at, a service similar to Blogger. This is a good service for individuals or small organizations, or anyone who just wants to try out the software. However, using this free service limits your options for customization, and it's better to run WordPress through your regular hosting service if possible.

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