Thank you Librarian Avengers for spelling out what most of us say to ourselves day after day as we navigate library websites and library catalogs: most library websites suck. In one of the classes I took for the MLS, we had to critique library websites, and we certainly found no lack of terrible websites to trash (some of them major library systems in major metropolitan areas). Although many have accepted crappy websites and slow catalogs as the status quo in the library world, there is no reason why it has to be that way. I’ve taken classes in web design and web usability, and it just doesn’t seem that difficult to design a good site if one actually pays attention to simple design principles (and has a decent command of CSS, HTML, and PHP). In fact, you don’t even need the coding skills to draw out on paper a site design and site architecture that is easy to navigate and use. But still, I see sites that look like they’ve been designed by a dozen different people, sites that lack consistent navigational elements, pages where you have to scroll endlessly, pages where every word is in bold or caps, and pages that are so cluttered you can’t find anything. Some of these sites look like they haven’t been redesigned since 1994, when we didn’t know much about usability principles.
Our favorite caped librarian crusader shows us a bunch of examples of horrible websites, horrible digital libraries and horrible catalogs. But I’m a former social worker, and I always look for the positive examples in order to capitalize on strengths (so fluffy). What about the good sites — the shining beacons we all should look to when designing our own sites? There are a few I am consistently impressed with — such as the Phoenix Public Library, the Boston Public Library (which appears to be down as I type this), and the Seattle Public Library — but I’d love to see some websites for smaller libraries that are really well designed. Do they exist? The Arlington Heights Memorial Library in Illinois and the Marin County Free Library (nice job, Sarah!) in California are certainly good examples of usable websites that anyone designing a library website should take a look at. What other library websites do you all think are super fabulous? I know it’s far easier to find the ones that suck, but I’d love to see examples of sites that are truly usable and nice to look at.
For those designing websites for libraries or for themselves, here are two interesting articles on the subject. Vincent Flanders’ famous Web Pages that Suck has come out with The Biggest Web Design Mistakes of 2004. And Digital Web Magazine offers us Accessibility From The Ground Up, a fantastic article about how to design accessible websites.
Hopefully in the future, usable library websites and catalogs will be the norm rather than the exception.