Does your Website Look Professional?

Would you buy a house from this business? I giggle every time I drive past this sign. It’s in the new construction part of my subdivision. Yes, you read it right – “Hack’s Quality Custom Homes.” Hack’s … as in hacked together. Definitely NOT a name that inspires trust OR quality, to me anyway!

But the sign made me think – how does your organization’s website look? Does it look professional, or does it look like “Hack’s Quality Websites” built it?

Here’s something fun to do – browse through a list of libraries in your state, and poke around on their websites for a bit. If your state is anything like mine, you’ll find some nicely-designed library websites, and many others that … well …  come up a bit lacking.

And I know why:

  • Some libraries, especially small ones, don’t hire web managers. They possibly can’t afford that position, so they have someone on staff do the web stuff as a small part of their many job duties, whether or not they actually have web skills.
  • Some web managers have more of an IT/Technical background rather than an online/web background. It’s really two different skill sets, though both are related to technology.
  • Some libraries simply haven’t yet prioritized their web services. Or it is a priority but there’s not much planning involved. Instead, they keep tacking new things onto an outdated website.

My point? I think this needs to change. If the front door of your physical building were broken, maybe creaky or even coming off its hinges, you’d fix it. No one wants the main entrance of their business/organization to not work right! It gives people a lasting impression … and not a good one, either.

Guess what? Your website is one of the front doors to your library. For many of us, it’s broken. We need to get it fixed! And not by Hack’s Quality Websites, either. Your website doesn’t have to be the most amazing thing they’ve ever seen on the web … but it DOES have to have all the basics, it should be attractive and balanced visually (or at least not be ugly), and shouldn’t cause anyone to stumble.

I think we can do better. I know my library can (which is why we’re redesigning again). I’m certain your library can do better, too. Even if you have little or no dedicated web staff. If you’re small, what can you do? Here are some ideas for starters:

  • Goals come first – figure out what you want your organization’s website to be/do, then work backwards from there
  • Can’t hire? Why not partner – with local ad agencies, with a local media organization, or even with a local school/college.
  • In a regional cooperative/consortium? It’s possible they can help.
  • Start learning! You probably have HTML and basic web-building books – it’s never too late to start learning a new skill.
  • Use a free design template, rather than designing from scratch. In fact, take this time to make your website blog-based, as well. Then it will be easy to update, as well.

What else? Anyone have other suggestions? Please share!

  • davidleeking

    Alan – that’s a cool idea. It wouldn’t be that hard or expensive, either – a nice-looking wordpress template, an easy-to-use WP-based website that local staff can update, and voila!

  • Alan Kirk Gray

    I've often thought that it would be cost-effective for ten libraries that are similar in appropriate ways but in different geographic locations to form a combine to contract for a professional design that each could use, perhaps with minor tweaking on color, logo, etc. Paying one-tenth the going rate for a significant design project would gain a lot of bang for the buck.

  • GMLGeek

    I think you made another point that could (and maybe should) be another post — the difference between an IT/Technical background and an online/web background. My degree is in programming, but not web programming. I’ve learned the web side of things on my own, but I still tend to think like a programmer rather than an end user.

    What you said about using a free web template is spot-on. Some hosting services will supply them and there are TONS of other sites where you can choose a free template. Google is your friend here!

  • Anonymous

    We upgraded two years ago from an amateurish frontpage website that had been controlled by our IT folks (with more IT than web experience) to a modified template which gave us content management. We were able to give each department responsibility for their own pages. We did a lot of prep work before we went live and it was completely worth it. Our website is now much more professional, always up to date, and it cost us a fraction (we paid about $2500) of what neighboring libraries paid ($20,000+) for a professionally produced website.

    Now that we have complete creative control of our site, we are continually improving it, striving to make it interactive, and revamping pages that don’t work. We are far from done with it, but when I think of that original frontpage website, I’m amazed at how far we’ve come.

  • Colleen Greene

    David, I like that you listed “goals come first” as the very first item. I think the reason so many library websites are such a mess is due to a lack of project management. Our library's current website is horrid — a mashup of 10+ years of fresh coats of paint. But, we recently launched a full redesign, as a formally managed project. The first task?…. having our key stakeholders identify our primary audience, and identify goals for how our website should be serving that primary audience.

  • davidleeking

    Excellent! Those are some very important things to figure out first!

  • ireneiwan

    Totally agree- the one essential product all ILS vendors/professional organizations/state libraries should provide to member libraries is a hosted portal. All libraries need to provide the same basic info about location, hours, services and links to all other content on the home page. Standardized navigation, professional graphics and ease of use all go a long way to project a positive image and build community support.

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  • Amy DelCastillo

    I recommend testing your new design on everyone you can find. After spending days or weeks staring at your own site, you don’t see it like a new user would. Get input from as many fresh pairs of eyes as possible. Don’t forget to keep updating your site periodically to keep it new and interesting.

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  • Christine

    The Colorado State Library offers a free website hosting and creation service called Plinkit to public libraries in Colorado. We are also working on our first public school library website. (

    Originally developed by the Multnomah County Library with an LSTA Grant using open source software (Plone), Plinkit is now maintained by a multi-state collaborative (

    This service provides a template for libraries to customize with their own branding, and logo as needed, as well as resources, a calendar, a community organization database, a staff area (intranet), and much more.

    My job is to work with the libraries to develop content for their site, provide hands on training, and to serve as their IT backup.

    Plinkit allows small libraries the ability to create a dynamic web presence without additional staff and money.

  • Ivonne

    I agree when David says “goals come first” because without plannig a library has no idea about what to do, how to respond.

  • Jean

    Hi frontline – would enjoy visiting your site. Can you share the URL?

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  • Va infotech

    cool Website looks