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Lessons Learned From Library Websites

Darlene Fichter (L), Session Moderator, and Julie Stam

Darlene Fichter (L), Session Moderator, and Julie Stam

Julie Stam, from the Eisenhower Public Library District in Norridge and Harwood Heights, IL (suburbs of Chicago), redesigned the library’s website in 2013.

She described some of the lessons they learned in the redesign.

  1. Interview multiple developers, if only to compare price quotes.  True professionals will not mind and will understand that you are reviewing your options.
  2. Check your developer’s references.
  3. Clearly outline your expectations. Will the developer be available in the time leading up to launch?  Will they be available all day on launch day? Who do you contact to address problems? Is there a warrenty on the site?
  4. Do not skip the environmental scan. Look at your current site and decide what needs to be kept and what should change? Look at numerous other libraries’ websites. Here are some websites they liked.img_3816 img_3817
    What We Liked

    What We Like

    Also look at non-library websites. Make a list like this of what you want on your new site and share it with your developer.

    What We Wanted

    What We Wanted

    img_3819

  5. Remember that form follows function. Make decisions on content first, then design items. The goal is to make it easy for users and staff to navigate the site, easy to update it, and easy to integrate it with social media outlets.
  6. Begin fostering staff buy-in ASAP.
  7. Start the training cycle once you decide on a content management system. Training materials and style guides should be easily available to all staff. A style guide ensures professionalism and uniform presentation of information.

    Website Style Guides

    Website Style Guides

  8. Go with your gut. You are the boss, not the developer, so you should have he final say. If you need data to back up your opinions, do some usability testing.
  9. Edit mercilessly. Get rid of every unnecessary thing you can. Krug’s 3rd law of usability in his book Don’t Make Me Think is useful.
  10. Let it go. Sometimes you just have to let things go if they are not working well. But make notes of things in case a future system can handle them.
  11. Test early and often. Testing can begin earlier than you may think. (See Krug, Rocket Surgery Made Easy) Testing should continue as long as you have a library website–you will find things you missed. Suggestions can come from users as well as staff
  12. Learn how your design works. Be prepared for many questions once you launch. Make sure your front line staff knows what is in your website and where it is.
  13. Resign yourself to a delayed launch date. Give your stakeholders a general launch date.
  14. Respond to all comments. You want feedback from users, so make it as easy as possible for them to submit comments. Every comment should be responded to; have a plan to address comments. Take the time to thank people for their comments. Get out in the community and tell them about your wonderful new site.
  15. Prepare yourself for negativity, from both users and staff members. Sometimes negative comments have no solution; don’t look at these as a condemnation of your work.
  16. Make iterative design changes is key. You must keep your site fresh and working well. Don’t forget to test the changes.
  17. Library websites are like toddlers; they need supervision. Watch that toddler closely.
  18. Be ready for the “terrible twos”. The 2 year mark is a good time to take a full website inventory and review and decide what you would change if you were starting over. (They decided to recreate the site using WordPress instead of Drupal.)

Julie’s lessons are in her book, Redesign Your Library Website, Stacy Ann Wittmann and Julie Stam, ABC-Clio, 2016.

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