Review of the Ann Arbor District Library’s Website

A friend of mine recently mentioned that he’s been waiting for my review of the Ann Arbor District Library’s newly redesigned website… and I had to laugh. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing occasional library website reviews on this blog, and thought “well, at least one person will read them, so why not?”

So, without further adieu, welcome to my first Library Website Review (said with a boomy, echoey voice :-). Plans might change… but for now, I plan on arranging these reviews in two sections:

  1. A quick Website At a Glance section highlighting “hits” and “misses,” complete with a 1-5 cups of coffee rating system (hey, we’re all caffeine-addicted techno-nerds, are we not?)
  2. A Further Reflection section that provides more detailed thoughts on the site.

Remember – these are my opinions on the websites I review. Everyone has an opinion, and I’m full of them! I could be dead-wrong about something – if I am, feel free to point it out to me! Then again, websites aren’t perfect – every site can benefit from some constructive criticism (except maybe if God made a website for Heaven – that site might just come close to perfection :-)

Now, on to the review… and what a perfect website to start with – when Ann Arbor’s redesign went live, I almost audibly heard “oohs” and “aahs” throughout the wired library community – everyone, it seems, loves this new site!

Website At a Glance

Further Reflection

Strengths:

  • Visual Design – awesome! Someone obviously put a lot of thought into color schemes – the colors of the site work well together. The site also uses a current website “skeleton” (a three column page design), and they’re most likely using CSS and other current web design standards… all of which make for a very appealing visual design.
  • Site Navigation – this site is very easy to navigate. Everything makes sense.
  • Usability – the site seems very usable to me. Most information presented is easy-to-use, is labeled well, and matches other websites (except for one thing listed below
  • The library catalog blends in with the design of the website – that’s very cool, and not seen very often. Blending the look-and-feel of the catalog and the website seems like a little thing, but that cohesiveness really provides a better online experience for customers
  • Focus on content – the main page of the website lists events, services, library-related news, etc. That’s a great way to showcase library content.
  • Blogs! They have a number of blogs with RSS feeds – even the library director has a blog. That rocks!
  • Customers can leave comments on many pages throughout the website, and staff actually respond to those comments.
  • Events section is easy to use, and is searchable by location and event, browsable by location, type, subject and age
  • When you log in to the website, a few more options are offered (and I’m assuming this will be expanded to other library services in the future).

Weaknesses:

Big Stuff:

  • What library is this? The website calls itself aadl.org, but there’s no mention of the library’s full name, or that they are even a library… except in the html title field (which most customers won’t notice). It’s quite possible that the library’s local customers know and understand who aadl.org is… but a website is a global thing. It’s good to also list a library’s full name somewhere on the main page (i.e., in a footer).
  • Featured services and events can be found on the main page of the site, but they are slightly hidden. They fall below the huge login box on the right-hand side of the page, and are pushed underneath the fold for most browser/monitor resolution combinations. More on that in the next item…
  • Logging in to the site: The main page of the site features a huge Username and Password log-in area. What’s it for? Why should I login? Do I have to login to use the website or the catalog? There’s nothing on the main page that helps me understand why I should login to the site. Clicking on My Account or Login in the header provides some explanation, but a little more info would probably help users – even a link under the Create New Account/Request new password links saying something like “what is this?” would go a long way.

Small Beans (or the “picky stuff”):

  • Contact us page doesn’t have many options – no address, no phone number, no email – just a web-based form to fill out. Online forms are fine… but what do I do if I printed something out and want to contact the library for more info? What if I don’t like online forms? There should be more than one option of contacting the library.
  • Here’s a picky thing: the RSS button on the RSS-ified pages is at the bottom of the page. Moving the button up to the top of the page, or even the top right hand side of the page, would place the button in a more usual (and easier-to-find) place (and please don’t look at where my library placed the RSS button… :-)
  • Events: a search by date option would probably also be useful.
  • Another login thing – do you really need three mentions of logging in on the main page? There’s the big login box, the My Account link in th emenu bar, and the Login lik in the header… that’s a lot of redundancy!
  • Database listing is having some CSS problems in my version of IE 6… it looks like table fields are stretching out a little too far. This doesn’t happen in Firefox.
  • Lack of a footer. Footers on website are very handy creatures. They visually “end” a page, plus you can add some simple-yet-useful items, like the library’s name, address, phone number, some other choice links, etc. Plus, most website use footers these days, so it’s a recognizable part of a website.

In summary, Ann Arbor has done an excellent job at creating a modern, easy-to-use library website. Library webmasters, model this site, and you’ll go a long way towards helping your customers! Ann Arbor, your site already rocks. Work on the weaknesses, and your site will be the Bono of the library website world!

Dave’s Informal Rules for Commenting on Dave’s Blog

Someone commented on one of my posts yesterday, I commented on his/her comment in another post, that person then commented back… which I think is great! That’s one of the advantages of RSS and blogs, right?

But I also realized that this blog is read by many people, and someone else might have considered commenting before, or getting in touch with me, etc… and they might not know how. So…

Dave’s Informal Rules for Commenting on Dave’s Blog:

  1. Feel free to post a comment on anything here – it adds to the global discussion (in my little virtual neck of the woods, anyway)
  2. Leave a comment by clicking on “Comments” at the bottom of each post (you have to go to the actual blog site)
  3. Understand that I have the option to post about your comment, agree/disagree with it, use it as an example, think “yes” when I see it, but not post anything else about it, or ignore it… however I see fit
  4. So that said, please feel free to comment away!

And, if you want to contact me, go to my website – you’ll find email and IM info at the bottom of the page.

Someone Doesn’t Know Me Too Well

Just received a comment on one of my posts, “Luddites have XML Feeds, too!” … from, of course “Annonymous.” Here’s the comment:

I think, also, it is important to point out to those who are concerned about disappearing printed materials that the rise of new media/technology (radio, television, telephone, phonograph, audio and video cassettes, cds, dvds, etc.) has never supplanted all of our old and familiar means of transmitting and storing information. The printed book will likely outlast every new innovation in technology simply because it is an irreplaceable part of human culture. There is no need for fear mongering or even mild concern. Luddites should sit back and relax. Once upon a time, the written word was considered an innovation beyond the spoken word. We all still talk to each other, however.

Hmm… where to start? First, my take on the printed book. A Book is a large body of text. Paper is one of many ways to display that large body of text. Books used to be stored on leather scrolls. Thankfully, people figured out bound paper worked better.

I think we’re seeing the beginning of moving away from paper to electronic form. I can now read a book in paper, on my PDA, on a cell phone, at my PC, in email form, using an e-book reader, etc. It’s still a book – just not in paper.

Now, to deal with the comment itself:

“…the rise of new media/technology (radio, television, telephone, phonograph, audio and video cassettes, cds, dvds, etc.) has never supplanted all of our old and familiar means of transmitting and storing information.”

I wonder if Anonymous has heard of a relatively new-fangled invention called an Online Public Access Catalog? I believe the OPAC has supplanted the “old and familiar means,” don’t you think? Also, the typewriter has been supplanted by the computer.

And… does the printed word actually “transmit?” That I’d like to see.

“The printed book will likely outlast every new innovation in technology simply because it is an irreplaceable part of human culture.”

Hmm… “irreplaceable part of human culture” …. that’d be sorta like:

  • Horses and carriages
  • morse code
  • LPs
  • Cowhide and pottery shards for writing material
  • Pants that ended at the knee
  • Plows
  • Swords as weapons

NOTHING IS IRREPLACEABLE. Longlasting, yes. Irreplaceable? No.

“There is no need for fear mongering or even mild concern.” and “Luddites should sit back and relax.”

Hey, I actually agree…

“Once upon a time, the written word was considered an innovation beyond the spoken word. We all still talk to each other, however.”

Apples and oranges… apples and oranges… Annonymous, the point of your comment is about paper-based information, so you can’t logically use the spoken word as support for your argument.

I have had fun with this comment, to be sure. But I’m hoping someone learns something from this post, too. As I once heard someone say, “eat the meat, and throw out the bones.”