Michael and the Librarian in Black have each posted their lists of Ten [Alternative for LiB] Steps to Effective Web Presence for Libraries. Here is my short list that builds on these, with particular attention to what I’ve learned from the web site building process in Vermont.
- Be accessible. If your public library web site doesn’t work for some of your users, it doesn’t work. This means visually impaired, cognitively impaired, new, and old-time users. This means ALT tagging images, using clean code, not using fixed font sizes or tables for anything that isn’t tabular data and a lot more. Crunch the numbers from your web site stats to see who is using the site, and how. Investigate which parts of the site get traffic, and which don’t. If your vendors aren’t creating web content with this in mind, apply pressure, lots of it.
- Be human. The web site is open more hours than the library and is a location on its own as well as being a representation of the library. Use photos to make the digital more recognizable. Give patrons ways to interact with the library [link link link to new programs, events, building news, board of trustee meetings, press releases and employee news] in the way they are comfortable with [email, IM, Skype, blog comments, mail form…] Bring the web site into the library in addition to bringing the library to the web site. Make your library web site the home page on your public access computers, or make a simple version that takes users to most-used sites.
- Be honest. The library web site can not and will not do all the things that patrons and staff and trustees want it to do, nor should it. Make sure you have a clear web site purpose and communicate that purpose both through actions and words. If the site doesn’t do something, say why it doesn’t and whether that idea is “in the hopper” or not part of the web site vision. If it’s a money issue, say that, if it’s a staffing issue, say that. Let your mission statement guide the site and try to overcome obstacles when it can’t.
- Be inclusive. Your library web site is part of an online community and an offline community. You need to interact with local businesses and people and events the same way you link to sites on the web. Allow public feedback on the site and respond publicly. We can’t all edit the library web site, but we can all be part of the process. Use community members as advisors in content areas. Do user testing. If your library has a blog, comment on other library blogs. If your library uses Flickr, upload some photos to some of the library groups and make contact with other libraries. Your web site should do things that a handout or flyer can’t do.
- Be an advocate. Think about new technology in terms of your users and apply it when it’s appropriate. You are the professional and you should be able to both respect the traditions of your institution at the same time as you investigate new directions and try some things out. Every web site addition isn’t necessarily going to stay in the collection for 100 years, experiment and take a few risks, remembering to communicate what you’re doing as you’re doing it.
I’m not longer at the Rutland Free Library, but I tried to bring some of these ideas to the site I designed for them.