WebJunction “redesign” status update

WebJunction is in the middle of a design refresh project, which I guess is somehow different from a plain old redesign. For a site that is becoming a state portal for a great deal of library content nationwide, it’s distressing that only 27% of their survey respondents found the site very easy to use. It also concerns me that for a site that has been around for so long with such esteemed and established partners, they seem to still not be section 508 compliant and accessible, or at least that’s how I interpret “We are in the midst of defining some 508 remediation work“.

The only search box on their home page goes to Worldcat which seems odd considering that many of the WJ members are not Worldcat members. The entire state of Vermont for example doesn’t have many Worldcat member public libraries, but when you go look at the Vermont portal… oh hey they don’t have a Worldcat search box at all! I can’t find a discussion forum on the Vermont portal that’s had any activity since August. What I’d love to be able to do, personally, is figure out which content on the Vermont portal is specific to Vermont and what is just general information that is supposedly of interest to Vermonters. This is unlikely to happen, I think, because then it might be more clear just how little Vermont-specific content is on this portal, a portal that I’m fairly certain the Department of Libraries paid for, and may continue to pay for. The “new” Focus on VT Library Programming section mentioned on the main page is over a year old, so maybe we haven’t renewed the lease.

It is an improvement over my state Department of Libraries home page (yes that’s a 2002 copyright statement, WJs is 2004)? Absolutely. Are big projects like this difficult to do, especially when you need to cater to a group of people with a very wide range of technical abilities? Almost certainly. However I think some problems can’t just be solved by one more web page, even if it does “Improve traffic by enhanced synergy”. WebJunction does a lot of good things for a lot of people, but if you don’t already “get” the web, or if you’re not very tech savvy, WebJunction is harder to use than the average website. This passes on the “computers are hard” myth. This keeps people from getting help, because more and more people help by saying “Hey it’s on WebJunction!” Well, what if WebJunction doesn’t help? The libraries I work with are more likely to have wireless, Flickr accounts or blogs than WebJunction logins. Why? Because those things are easy, and tiny libraries find them to be worth it.

One Response to “WebJunction “redesign” status update”

  1. Joe Anderson Says:

    Jessamyn, thanks for calling attention to our design efforts. We decided to call it a “design refresh” to point to our focus at this point on dealing with the ugliest usability issues (many of which you so rightly point out) as opposed to a major overhaul of the look and feel (which we’re not doing right now).

    We know that we are far behind the times, look-and-feel-wise, since for a multitude of reasons (some of them good, some of them not so) we haven’t not done a major design update since the site launched in 2003. We’re confident this initiative will address that.

    The great news, as you say, is that there is a very lively and substantial community underneath that dorky exterior–when we wash our face, so to speak, we anticipate that a lot more of that will shine through.

    Just to cite one example: we’ve got a great community of rural library folks in our Rural Library Sustainability program that are very excited about WebJunction and actively using it. Here’s a window into that wonderful world: http://webjunction.org/forums/category.jspa?categoryID=103. Yes, we need to make the storefront more suitable for folks of this kind. But we’re very confident that WebJunction will continue to get better-looking and more useful for libraries of all kinds.

    Thanks again for your thoughts–let’s keep up the conversation!