Building the Digital Branch – A Webinar for ALA Techsource

Yesterday, I gave a webinar for the ALA Techsource folks on building digital branches … and here are my slides for that.


Update – Slideshare was having problems when I posted this, so I deleted the slideshare version and started over. This time, it works. Yay!

Check Your Signs!

I was room 429 ...A couple months ago, I stayed at a hotel in Wisconsin with this sign … seems pretty useful, huh?

Except if you’re in room 429, like I was. I actually had to hunt a bit to find the room (it wasn’t obvious).

The point? Make sure to check your digital “signage” once in awhile. Make sure your labels and headings still make sense. Did you change the name of a room or a service? Make sure to change that name everywhere on your website, too.

Has your budget shrunk and you needed to drop a few databases? Make sure you removed those links on your database page (and any other page that mentions them, too).

Have you checked the driving directions to your library lately? At a previous job, I checked them out after starting, and discovered they were WRONG. So I actually hopped in my car, and drove around for awhile, taking notes of different ways to get to the library – and updated those directions.

Website maintenance never stops, huh?

Oh – and Happy New Year, too! I am looking forward to a fun, challenging 2010 – how about you?

Digital Branch Style Guide

Thought someone might find this useful – it’s the styleguide we use for my library’s digital branch! It’s a long document, broken up into these sections:

  • General Guidelines for Blog Posts
  • Citing/Attribution
  • Featured Section
  • Comments – What to do with them
  • Creating a “Voice”
  • How Can I Get a Conversation Started?
  • I have a suggestion/problem. What do I do with it?
  • Staff Responsibilities


Digital Branch Style Guide

Please follow these guidelines when writing blog posts on our public website. This document is a start – I hope to add to it as needed. Notice something glaringly obvious that I haven’t listed? Email it to me.

General Guidelines for Blog Posts

Post frequency/length:

  • Frequency:
    • 2 posts per week for each Subject Guide
    • Posts in the Services section – as needed
  • Length:
    • sufficient to cover topic
    • shorter is always better – just enough to cover the content


  • one space between sentences – not two!
  • avoid ALL CAPS
  • use a spell checker
  • break post into small paragraphs rather than one large chunk of text

Post titles:

  • keep them short, snappy, and descriptive
  • capitalize every word except prepositions (like a book title)

Internal Post Structure:

  • Bulleted lists are great
  • Subheads are great – helps people quickly scan content
  • Images that complement article tend to attract readers

specific words – Be consistent with these terms:

  • email (all one word, all lowercase)
  • website (all one word, all lowercase)
  • webpage (all one word, all lowercase)
  • web (lowercase)
  • Internet (uppercase “I”)
  • Our library – first reference is “Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.” Second reference is “the library.”
  • Our website is “the Digital Branch.”
  • Refer to our Neighborhoods by their full title (i.e., the Travel neighborhood, the Health Information neighborhood)

Summary of post

  • Each post should have a summary – there are two ways to do this:
    • Create a summary paragraph in the summary box
    • Leave the summary blank – the beginning of the post will automatically be used as the summary


  • Use 2-3 descriptive tags for each post
  • Tags are usually keywords that are descriptive of the content of a post
  • These should be different from a category. Ex – a post could be in the Books Subject Guide with a Category of Sci-Fi, and have tags like Steampunk, Robots, and Mars.


  • For book titles
    • make the book title the link text
    • don’t include the URL with the book title
      • Do this: The Hobbit (where “The Hobbit” is the text used for the link)
      • Don’t do this: The Hobbit – (where “The Hobbit” is NOT the link text, but the URL is also used as the link text)
  • Other links
    • When linking to webpages or blog posts, make the webpage title or the blog article title the link text
    • Refer to the link within a sentence, like this: “Topeka has a great library that everyone should visit.” (“great library” would be the link text used for our library’s URL)
    • Another example: don’t write “you can read the full report here” – using words like “here” or “click here” is generally bad practice. Instead, say “the charity released a report, which said…” (“a report” is the link text, and is incorporated within the sentence). This type of internal link reads better.

Citing / Attribution

It’s important to give proper attribution to sources, even online. Here’s how to do it:

  • Blog posts, newspaper articles, other websites
    • See the Links section above for linking
    • When you quote someone else’s text, make sure to link to the original source.
    • With the link to the original source, reference the site. For example, say “Here’s a lovely article on the Topeka Ave. bridge project (from the Topeka Capital Journal).” “Lovely article” links to the specific article, and “Topeka Capital Journal” links to the newspaper’s main site.
  • Images
    • If using an image from flickr, photobucket, or some other photo sharing service, include some type of attribution/pointer back to the original photo at the end of the article (i.e., “photo courtesy of JimBob” – “JimBob” would link back to the original photo).
    • Use photos with a Creative Commons license when possible
  • Videos
    • Include some type of link/attribution/pointer back to the original video (i.e., link back to the YouTube video if you use a video from YouTube)
  • How much of a quote can I do?
    • The U.S. Copyright Office FAQ on fair use ( says this: “it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work.”
    • Don’t quote the whole thing!

Featured Section

The Featured Section is structured this way:

The first Feature Box is called Featured.

  • It features big programs, events and special features of the library.
  • Populated by PR and Event Resources

Guidelines for the other Feature Boxes:

  • The other feature boxes include Books, Research, Movies & Music, Gallery, Kids, and Teens.
  • These sections usually focus on content (Gallery, Kids and Teens boxes can post about a program)
  • Handouts, booklists, links should be part of that post. No programs with registration and limits should be posted there.

Comments – what to do with them?

  • respond
    • thank them for their comment
    • add something if possible – point to another similar book, a link on our site, etc.
    • if it’s a question, answer it
    • if it’s a criticism, answer it – or refer it to someone who Can respond appropriately
    • If the comment is negative, don’t repeat it! Respond without repeating the negative question/comment.
  • In general, don’t edit the comment. Usually, it’s better to correct in another comment. Only edit if the comment:
    • Has “bad” words (that our automatic naughty word filter didn’t catch)
    • Is derogatory
    • Has an unrelated link
  • delete if spam. For example: “I have checked that really there was great information regarding that. There was another also –” is a spam comment. Usually, spam comments include this type of stuff:
    • poor grammar (sounds like they don’t really know the language)
    • PLUS links to unrelated websites
  • What to do if you don’t know what to do – ask the web team to read the comment.

Creating a “Voice”

  • Write in a conversational tone:
    • goal is to start conversations
    • if you wouldn’t say it in conversation, don’t write it
    • write “friendly” – just like we are at the desk!
  • Use active voice. Example – don’t write “The tree was struck by lightning.” Instead, write “Lightning struck the tree.”
  • Use inverted pyramid writing style (explanation at Wikipedia:
  • The first couple of sentences of your post displays as the summary, and appears in various places on our site as teasers to the whole article – so make it snappy!
  • Write in present tense when possible. Ex:
    • Don’t write “the book signing will be held next Tuesday”
    • Instead, write “the book signing is next Tuesday”

How Can I Get a Conversation Started?

Here are a couple of ideas on getting conversations started on your blog.

  • Write great content (always top priority)
  • Take part in the conversation:
    • read blogs and Topeka-area newspapers that allow comments
    • read blogs in your area of expertise
    • leave comments on those blogs, linking to your post in the comment
    • also link to those blogs in your post
  • Focus your posts on goals:
    • Before you write, answer this – “what do you want the reader to do?”
    • Provide a call to action (ie., tell them what you want them to do)
    • Ask for a response
    • Point them to things (like books in our catalog)

I have a suggestion/problem. What do I do with it?


  • email the web team
  • tell us what’s wrong
  • include links or descriptive text if possible

Ideas for the site:

  • Email the web team/Digital Branch Manager:
    • Include description of idea
    • Digital Branch Manager will set up meeting if needed, share idea with web team and/or Managers, etc
    • Remember – all ideas are great, but not all ideas will be implemented on the site
  • hold regular meetings
    • i.e.., fun in Topeka blog meeting
    • discuss ideas
    • make suggestions to the web team

Staff Responsibilities

Blog moderator

  • make sure there are 2 posts per week
  • encourage writers
  • check in with Digital Branch Manager periodically
  • schedule regular meetings of content area
  • all the blog author stuff

Blog authors

  • write posts
  • check links
  • respond to comments
  • delete spam
  • periodically touch base with blog moderator

Digital Branch Manager

  • big picture development of branch
    • strategic planning
    • trend watching
  • talking to internal groups
  • talking to external groups
  • mentoring digital branch staff
  • developing new content areas and unique services and tools

Web Team

  • Webmaster/designer and Web Developer
  • designs new pages
  • keeps design fresh
  • day to day operations
  • maintenance and upgrades
  • builds new stuff