Designing Digital Experiences for Library Websites

On Sunday, I had the privilege of presenting about digital experiences with John Blyberg, Bobbi Newman, and Toby Greenwalt. The room was packed, there were great questions afterwards … and I think it went well!

Here are the slides for my portion of the talk (and here’s a link to Toby’s too).

Inviting Comments

Sometimes, a blog post or article on a library website doesn’t get any comments. And that’s fine – not every post is comment-worthy, right? But there are ways to prompt, or “invite” visitors to comment … even by using the website’s built-in comment functionality. Let me show you what I mean.

Here are two examples – the first from my library’s website, and the second one from Atchison Public Library. Both of these examples are screenshots taken from the main page of both websites – each a teaser for an article.

Mine first (screenshot below):

no prompting

We let the comment functionality simply announce that no one has left a comment on this post (and darn it – it’s MY post!). We do that via the text “0 Comments.” This works fine – it’s what that functionality is supposed to do.

But check this out – here’s what Atchison Public Library does (screenshot below):

prompting for comments

See the difference? Atchison uses their lack of comments to … invite people to comment. They do this by prompting their website visitors to “be the first to comment.”

I know – it’s one of those little detail-y things. But it’s that type of detail, that focus on inviting patrons to participate, that just might prompt them … to participate. It might just convert that lurker into a more active participant.

Nothing wrong with that – good job, Atchison!

Conversation is Experience

Some web designers, especially those with a marketing or graphic design background, say they want to build an experience – but their designed experience, no matter who the website is for, tends to be designed like a movie or a rockstar’s website¬† – heavy on the Flash, on the intro page (complete with low-pitched ominous music), and it makes cute noises when you click on a link.

That’s great for a movie or a rockstar website. But most of us are building library, organization and company websites. What type of “experiences” should we be creating for those types of websites?

Conversation Spaces

Visitors to your website want to talk – with you, and with each other. Are you providing conversation spaces? The web is FULL of conversation now – check out Amazon, most newspaper and TV news sites, YouTube, this blog, Facebook, Twitter – all spaces where conversation can happen. And conversation DOES happen, because that’s what people do. We like to talk, we like to share, we like to voice our opinion (as I hope some of you do in the comments!).


So, my simple digital experience tip for today is this – make sure to create conversation spaces on your websites. Places like comment boxes, online forums or discussion groups around a topic, Twitter accounts for feedback, online places to Ask a Librarian, etc.

Enable Conversations

Also remember to actually enable conversations once you build the space. What’s that mean? In my library’s case, we allow unmoderated comments to fly free and easy onto our digital branch. I know what some of you are thinking – “OMG, David! Don’t you have a TON of cussing, swearing, name-calling, and other highly inappropriate things being posted? How could you EVER allow that!???!!??”

Um. No. We simply don’t have that. Yes, once in awhile we have some negative comments. But why would we moderate or not show those? Instead, we respond appropriately.

But some of you will need to moderate comments for one reason or the other (i.e., those old-fashioned city attorneys who haven’t yet discovered the joys of Facebook). If you DO moderate comments, make sure to do it quickly. Same day is good. Same hour is best. Why? Because it’s a CONVERSATION. If someone starts a conversation and you don’t get around to moderating the comment for a few days … well, you have killed the conversation. And that’s really no conversation at all.

pic by Adventures in Librarianship