Internet Librarian 2011: Tips on Redesigning Library Sites
Michael Epstein, Virginia Franklyn, Amanda Foust, Anna Jonsson, and Julie Magnus
Michael Epstein (University of San Diego) kicked the session off by talking about collaboration and negotiation in a library website redesign project. The relationships we build and negotiate are just as important as the tools and technologies we use. Successful collaboration requires conversations with stakeholders. You have to be able to communicate the unique needs of a library website to parent agencies. His university had embarked on a redesign and not involved the library in the redesign conversation. They got templates (you know the kind—the “put your stuff here” boxed in locked down things). The library director retired and the CIO was named the interim director, at which point a new redesign process occurred and the library staff were able to work through the CIO to be involved in the redesign process. A library website redesign team was formed including both librarians and IT personnel. Both IT and the library staff were somewhat defensive at first. Look for opportunities to collaborate with non-library personnel and build relationships through conversations, negotiations, and compromise. Be sure to communicate the unique needs of library users. Be willing to give up some control in return for a truly collaborative approach.
Virginia Franklyn (Pikes Peak Library District) spoke about their library’s website redesign. The site was way too small for the scope of what their library was doing. The first thing was to read Project Management for Dummies. This helped her draw up a timeline for the project which kept everything organized and provided for some accountability. The project plan was made in the staff wiki, easy to update. All staff could access it. They looked at WordPress and Joomla but decided on Drupal. The framework is flexible and robust and the interface allows for easy staff data entry and patron participation. And it’s free (!) with a supportive community. They used WAMP (the Windows version of LAMP). She read Drupal 6 by David Mercer. She became active with Drupal groups: Drupal Southern Colorado User Group, Drupal Camps, DrupalCon, and Library BoFs (birds of a feather). But she admits the development process was mostly trial and error (mostly error). They did a few usability studies—and found that people wanted the catalog and my account predominantly (no surprise), with occasional needs for info on programs, finding a good book, and research. They also did card sorting with staff and the public to help build the information architecture. They used OptimalSort to do the card sorting digitally (nice!). She recommends Steve Krug’s most excellent book Don’t Make Me Think. She recommends to start testing once the basic infrastructure is built. Have a Usability Hot Team. Make sure your users are a combination of different user groups. They did four different tests; several are optimal. And their new site is up: http://ppld.org.
Julie, Amanda, and Anna discussed the Marin County Free Library’s new website (where I had my first librarian job!). They showed the evolution of the library’s website over time (including a few of my designs, talk about a flash from the past!). They’re launching their new site 11/1/11 (nice!). They’re incorporating social media with the new site to make it more interactive. One of their big takeaways is that you need patience, passion, and perseverance for a project of this size…even when there are inevitable little break-downs in the system. You might have to combat staff burnout—give them a chance to vent and listen to their opinions. You’ll also be managing people you don’t supervise…so how do you do that? Rely on the relationships you’ve developed in your organization. That person to person interaction is critical. And you will need people who are tenacious and willing to slog through the sometimes boring work necessary to get the project up and running. Rebranding your library at the same time as developing a new site isn’t a good idea. Other tips: when evaluating vendor proposals, see if they can provide you with some previous project examples with a similar budget to yours. Using Google Docs as a central repository for documentation was handy. Carrying a printout of your wireframes at all time was also helpful for them. I have to say, without any real bias—their new site looks nice. Really, really nice. Good job guys!