I took over management and development of the Hartness Library website (http://hartness.vsc.edu) in the fall of 2010. In the time I have been responsible for the site, I have developed some basic beliefs about how library websites should be designed and managed. These beliefs stem from my experiences and from my continuing study of web design, usability, and learning technologies. Here are the basic touchstones of my library development philosophy, along with examples of how these ideas have been put into practice managing the Hartness Library website and in my other work at CCV.
Library users’ ability to use the systems we create (e.g. find what they need, learn new skills, etc.) should be the primary concern of library web development. Furthermore, we need to actually test usability with our target users, as the intuitions of librarians and web developers do not necessarily coincide with the experiences of library users. At Hartness I have done full-scale formal usability testing and implemented several changes in the information architecture, layout, and navigation of the site based on the findings. I have also developed protocols for ongoing smaller-scale testing of changes and newly developed tools. Currently I am leading a fully user-centered redesign and migration of our main site – starting from basic user research (interviews, card sorting, etc.)
I am also a firm believer in the value of web analytics to inform development and refinement of online tools. On the Hartness website, I use a combination of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager to record user interactions with the website, including paths through the site, search queries, and external links followed.
Integration of third-party systems
A major usability concern common to academic library websites is the wide range of third party systems and interfaces that we use to provide resources to our users (discovery services, catalogs, link resolvers, subject guides, etc.) Without special care, this can lead to fragmentation of user experience. I work to customize the interfaces of such systems and integrate them into the framework of the library website as much as possible. At the Hartness Library, the primary examples of that are our main search – a highly customized implementation of EBSCO Discovery Service (link goes to a screenshot, since most of EDS requires authentication) and our subject guides (using LibGuides).
Accessibility is of vital importance in the development of online resources. Beyond keeping the resources I maintain compliant with standards and best practices (and trying to keep up-to-date on new developments in this area), I have provided multiple faculty training sessions in accessible course design at CCV.
Responsive design and support for mobile devices
Users are accessing library websites and resources on a wide range of devices and at a variety of screen sizes. It is vital, therefore, that we design for good user experience across that entire range. Last year I migrated the Hartness Library website to a responsive template and adapted our content to work better on mobile devices.
Information Architecture and Content
Library websites are complex ecosystems, with lots of content and multiple stakeholders. As such, it’s vital to establish and follow information architecture and content guidelines for the website. As the head of the Hartness Library’s website committee, I’ve seen how issues having to do with what content should be on the website and how it should be organized can sometimes be contentious, and I have gained experience with the strategies necessary to achieve consensus. This is also an area where having data from usability testing and analytics is invaluable.
Library integration into the LMS
We need to bring the library to our students where they are. This means integrating library content into the LMS and making it easier for faculty to include library content in online and hybrid. As a web designer, this means creating tutorials & learning objects that can be easily integrated into classes (see CCV examples here) as well as providing tools for faculty to easily integrate library resources (see, for example, the CCV Custom Library Links widget builder).