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ALA Website Impressions: The Big Three

  1. long URLs
  2. bad search
    • The misleading "document" identifier covers PDFs, word docs and HTML documents
    • "advanced search" - 130 click boxes?!
    • Titles and summaries are not useful in disambiguating many similar documents. No KWIC summaries are made available
    • Long URLs make it impossible to do the "mouseover shuffle" to see if you really did get an acceptable result to your search before clicking a link in a list of search results
  3. broken inbound links combined with 1 & 2 above
    • Redirecting shorter links to longer links is helpful, however it does not solve the problem for people who find a link by using the ALA website. The shorter link is not evident on the page where it redirects to. For example, is a simple shortcut to the page yet this shorter URL is not available on the page. The problem is solved one direction but not the other. How does a user of the website know how to find these "redirects"?
    • Concerning the earlier response from ALA concerning the "dynamic" nature of the site. While item-level resources will perhaps be shifting, the main page of a division, is not dynamic--it may have shifting content but will always be the main page of the division--and can and should have an easy-to-remember URL. A distinction needs to be made between dynamic content and dynamically adjusted page placements.

Some Privacy Concerns/Ideas

  • An opt-out privacy policy, where users have to log in to the site and choose not to receive promotions and other items from ALA is unacceptable. Were the privacy settings from the site supposed to be carried over? In my case at least, they were not, and I had to opt out again. The ALA registration process also does not have any option for users to ask that their personal information not be sold or otherwise used without their consent. I used the "notes" field, my notes were not noted.
  • longer-term cookies would enable logins to stay stored, so the My ALA idea might take off. Having to log in with a user number not used for anything else is tiresome to do as a regular event. Getting the main ALA page to reflect your own personalized interests would be great, especially if you could include short cuts to your most-used ALA website pages!

Some Feedback Loop Considerations

  • There are many different email addresses for people to contact ALA about the website and their online presence, and many of them never receive replies, causing people to try address after address. There should be feedback, if even if it's a bounceback, to email sent to,, and
  • How will the repair and reworking of the website be communicated to members and how will their feedback be incorporated into ongoing work? While there is no need for the ITTS staff to jump when every "my link is broken!" email is received, this does not mean that there doesn't need to be accountability by ALA to membership. Additionally, ALA members are comprised of technical and non-technical people and there needs to be information available for both of these constituent groups.

Some Small UI Concerns

  • The words "advanced search" placed directly over the login box make it look like a search box.
  • The long lists of click boxes in advanced search and MY ALA are so long as to be impractical. The 800K sitemap is impossible to use via dial-up.
  • The search box for American Libraries only searches the content of AL Online, not all of AL content [like AL tables of contents, for example].
  • The "news" on front page should be dated so we know if we have read "latest updates" previously.
  • The FAQ linked on the home page is a basic "how to use the website" FAQ yet it looks like the ALA FAQ which used to be on the main page, which is not linked obviously on the main page.

Some Loose Ends

  • What is the status of, which is still live and online? Will it be styled to look like the main ALA website? Do their forms point to the same database as the one on the main website? If it is to be used as an access point, the contact links on that web site [webmaster & information] need to be live mailto links or should be removed. They have been lingering there blankly since the site debuted.
  • How will these URLs and site structure affect indexing of ALA pages via Google and other search engines. We already know that the URLs are near-impossible to cite effectively in a bibliography or footnote. Perhaps ALA should consider an in-house version of ?
jessamyn west's ala website impressions