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David Lee King

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!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3233987 June Yang

    I like the site very much. It’s visually very appealing and easy to use and navigate. I agree with what most Dave said about it. There is one thing I want to add is that the section “today’s event” was located below all the news items at the very bottom. As a patron visiting the site, I want to know what’s happening at the library today in a more noticeable spot than scrolling all the way down to the bottom. Just my 2 cents.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/3233987 June Yang

    I like the site very much. It’s visually very appealing and easy to use and navigate. I agree with what most Dave said about it. There is one thing I want to add is that the section “today’s event” was located below all the news items at the very bottom. As a patron visiting the site, I want to know what’s happening at the library today in a more noticeable spot than scrolling all the way down to the bottom. Just my 2 cents.

  • Anonymous

    The full name of the library is located in the browser window heading.

  • Anonymous

    The full name of the library is located in the browser window heading.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1481565 David

    “The full name of the library is located in the browser window heading.”

    Right – that’s the HTML Title tag I mentioned. I don’t think most web users look at the browser window heading – they look at the web page itself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/1481565 David

    “The full name of the library is located in the browser window heading.”

    Right – that’s the HTML Title tag I mentioned. I don’t think most web users look at the browser window heading – they look at the web page itself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/831356 lebachai

    Since you are evaluating library websites, you might be interested in this library website usability study I conducted last year for the state of Ohio (it’s featured as a link on the front page here and is in PDF format):

    http://www.therightclick.info

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/831356 lebachai

    Since you are evaluating library websites, you might be interested in this library website usability study I conducted last year for the state of Ohio (it’s featured as a link on the front page here and is in PDF format):

    http://www.therightclick.info

  • Anonymous

    pity i can’t see about a third of the site due to excessive horizontal scroll.
    flexible design, people, flexible design!
    geez.

  • Anonymous

    pity i can’t see about a third of the site due to excessive horizontal scroll.
    flexible design, people, flexible design!
    geez.

  • FML

    The site looks very nice, and it has many strengths, but the new OPAC is riddled with problems. With the old OPAC, you could look up titles in all categories (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.), and you could isolate new items. You could also place holds on items without any difficulty. Now some items that are listed in the OPAC aren’t available for holds at all, and the searches for titles and other items by genre and type (fiction/non-fiction, book/CD, etc.) don’t work at all. The old OPAC wasn’t pretty, but it worked excellently. Trying to get answers from AADL (either on the website itself or in person) about why the new OPAC doesn’t work is like pulling teeth.

    Maybe these are glitches that will be eventually worked out, but my opinion is that the new OPAC “fixed” something that didn’t need fixing in the first place. If the online catalog isn’t working, no amount of flashy CSS is going to make the site more usable.

  • FML

    The site looks very nice, and it has many strengths, but the new OPAC is riddled with problems. With the old OPAC, you could look up titles in all categories (books, CDs, DVDs, etc.), and you could isolate new items. You could also place holds on items without any difficulty. Now some items that are listed in the OPAC aren’t available for holds at all, and the searches for titles and other items by genre and type (fiction/non-fiction, book/CD, etc.) don’t work at all. The old OPAC wasn’t pretty, but it worked excellently. Trying to get answers from AADL (either on the website itself or in person) about why the new OPAC doesn’t work is like pulling teeth.

    Maybe these are glitches that will be eventually worked out, but my opinion is that the new OPAC “fixed” something that didn’t need fixing in the first place. If the online catalog isn’t working, no amount of flashy CSS is going to make the site more usable.

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