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Website Design Winners and Losers

(L-R) Jeff Wisnewski, David Lee King, Marshall Breeding

(L-R) Jeff Wisnewski, David Lee King, Marshall Breeding

Speakers in this session examined some library websites and commented on them. David Lee King from the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas began with the Seattle Public Library which has recently modernized its website. He said that in general they have done a good job. You can find all the major functions and services of the library, and it is mobile friendly. They developed the mobile site first but don’t seem to have considered other devices as much. They have a big empty box at the left with a design in it, which is using up a lot of space.

On the Topeka & Shawnee County Library’ site, news is shown as a big blog in the middle of the page. Hours are in the footer. People are finding the databases and services.  The site search engine will be changed. They had been using Google’s search appliance, but Google has discontinued it and now defaults search to the main Google site, so sometimes they sometimes see Google ads on their page. To avoid this, they will be changing to WordPress.

Marshall Breeding, Independent Consultant, Library Technology Guides, concentrated on the technologies which may run counter to library values and strategies which he has observed from his years of maintaining Key issues are security/privacy and branding. Browsers using http instead of https are flagged as not trustworthy because data transmitted using http are not encrypted and can  . Any browser request to http should be redirected to https. 56% of library websites are not secure, 48% of public library sites. Some library websites connect to ad trackers. Use tools to understand what is inside your pages.

General observations:

  • Library websites vary from exceptional to mediocre. Technical underpinnings are often weak. Some are not mobile friendly.
  • Larger libraries have more budget for staff to fix problems.
  • The library is the brand. Brands are not highlighted as they should be.
  • URL branding: It is important to have a distinctive brand for the library. Expected domains are .org, .gov, and .us.
  • Other URL issues: keep it simple, avoid URLs on root pages.
  • Should a library build a website itself or use a managed platform? Here are some considerations:

Jeff Wisnewski, Web Services Librarian, University of Pittsburgh, took the Harvard University Library as his test site after his Director recommended it as a “nice site” to him.


  • The homepage is very visual. It has a clear call to action; programs and services are identifiable; it is up to date and has meaningful graphics. Search options are clear and understandable. But the search box searches the library’s website but not its content. Users wanting to search content are directed to Hollis (the catalog).
  • Navigation links and labels contain “trigger words” (have “scent”) that users will look for to achieve their goal. Choices are ordered in the most logical or task-oriented manner.
  • The content is jargon-free. Pages make good use of headings, are error free, and use plain language.
  • Mobile usability: Is it usable on mobile, responsibly designed, quick loading?
  • Trust and credibility: Is there a real organization behind the site (i.e. a physical address or photo of the office)? Are interactions available? Is the content fresh and frequently updated?


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