Time to Update?

Ever seen a library website that had many of the “normal things” in place, like the library catalog, a handy database link, and an easy way to ask questions … but the people in charge of the site had obviously forgotten to update some of the “little details?”

Here’s what I mean – take a peek at these two screenshots. Here’s the first one:

don't do this!

The “site best viewed with…” statement has a problem or two. First of all, it’s simply not true – I was viewing it FINE using Firefox on a much larger resolution.

Secondly (if the statement’s true), it makes “visiting the library” much harder for a pretty significant chunk of people. For example, at my library’s website, 68% of our web visitors use some form of IE – but that’s most likely weighted, since our 177 public PCs have IE installed, and everyone hits our website upon opening the browser. On my blog, only about 30% of you are using IE… again most likely skewed a bit, since y’all are amazing people who know your stuff (and like to use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc, etc, etc).

My point? If you design for one browser, you are in essence making the digital library visit harder for 30-50% of your customers. Would you do that with your physical library? Like make all the doorways 5ft 8 in high, so anyone taller than that would either have to stoop to go through (or would bump their heads) … and then put up signs that say “Library Best Entered by people under 5′ 8″ tall?” I’m guessing not.

[And one other tiny little thing here – if you don’t want people to email reference questions to the web email address… don’t put the address on the page. Just funnel everything through the large “Contact Us” link, and call it good.]

And one more very similar problem (sorry for the tiny text! Click the pic to see a larger version):

don't do this!

Same stuff, but worse:

  • There is no Netscape Communicator anymore
  • Copyright 2002-2007? What happened to 2008 and 2009?
  • 4.x browsers and above?

I’m guessing the main problem is that the footer has been ignored for at least 3 years, probably longer.

Why bring this up? It’s probably a good idea to check on those little hidden details of your website every so often. Do they still make sense? Does it still hold true? Is it even necessary? Think about it … and edit as needed.

Seth Godin’s Good Advice

I recently read Is It Too Late to Catch Up? at Seth Godin’s blog. The post is great – it includes ideas on how to “catch up” if you haven’t really done much in the web & social media world for the last 14 years.

But the one point that interested me the most was this: “Refuse to cede the work to consultants. You don’t outsource your drill press or your bookkeeping or your product design. If you’re going to catch up, you must (all of you) get good at this, and you only accomplish that by doing it.”

His point? You don’t outsource your main stuff.

Now think about the web for a sec. I can name more than one library that hasn’t done a whole lot with their website, but has “woken up,” so to speak, and wants to create a strong, dynamic web presence. For that matter, I know of more than one library association that has done the same thing.

I think Seth’s point, and I’d agree pretty strongly with it, is this – you need to create your web presence yourself. Especially if you want that web presence to reflect your library’s values, be truly dynamic on an ongoing basis, and be one of your major service points.

“But David, we can’t do that – here’s why:”

  • “We don’t have any money” – most of the tools and services on the web are free, and training (especially if self-led) can be, too. It’s a start, anyway.
  • “We have a web dude, but he/she isn’t up to snuff” – train them (or re-hire).
  • “No one in our library knows much about building websites/interacting on the web” – set up a learning program.
  • “Our library director/administrators don’t understand the importance of the website” – Talk to other library directors that DO get it, and ask them how to convince your administrators. Also, show your own leaders strategy and goals – not shiny cool tools.
  • “Our IT staff won’t let us do this stuff” – who’s in charge again? Do some strategic planning for the library, then make sure your managers enact it.
  • “Our city/county attorney won’t let us” – lots of other city/county/university/etc libraries ARE doing this, so call them up and figure out a convincing strategy that will fly with your attorney.

Thoughts?