Webmasters Group

I just got back from the first meeting of the newly formed Library Webmasters Group held at Rochester Regional Library Council. There was a good-sized group of us from a number of different libraries, both public and academic. The group formation was the brainchild of Linda Hacker, webmaster for the Drake Library at SUNY Brockport, who thought it would be a great idea for all of us working on library websites to get together and discuss what we’re doing and what we’d like to be doing.

We talked about various resources we can use to make our jobs easier and our websites more interesting. Christopher Harris discussed content management systems in general, and Drupal in particular, as a way to allow library staff to focus on content rather than site construction.

(A little poking around on the web led me to discover that  the creators of SecondLife use Drupal to manage content on lindenlab.com and teen.secondlife.com. I’ll be talking about SecondLife in the very near future; I’ve been having some fun exploring this world and have found a ton of interesting things going on at the SL Library.)

Personally, I find this kind of interaction very useful. Like-minded people getting together to discuss what we’re all working on helps all of us. Whether we’ve been doing this for 10 years or 10 days, we all benefit. I’m looking forward to the next session with this group!

Technology Leadership Institute

I attended an extremely invigorating seminar yesterday! The Monroe County Library System presented it’s Technology Leadership Institute in downtown Rochester. The presenters — Stephen Abram, Michael Stephens, and Ed Vielmetti — were excellent. It was a great opportunity to hear about what others are doing to take advantage of new technology to provide better library service. And it was also nice to have some of my own ideas validated. : )

Stephen Abram is very knowledgeable on all sorts of technology topics, and he’s also funny and irreverent. His talk was delightful. Two key points he brought up early on were that libraries need to shift marketing toward what patrons need, not what we have (they already know we have books), and also that we need to think about how our users Feel in our library. We need to provide a positive, comfortable experience.

Michael Stephens echoed this idea as he talked about “stories.” What are the stories our libraries are telling? Are we a welcoming place? Or do we have too many barriers that keep patrons from having a rich user experience? Michael provided specific examples of services we can provide — easily and cheaply — to positively impact the user experience. I’ll talk about these more when I’ve had a chance to look through my notes.

Ed Vielmetti, the Superpatron, provided a nice balance to the seminar by talking about library service from the patron’s point of view.

And during the break I drew up some sketches for a website prototype! This was an incredibly productive day for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll be writing more, like I said, when I’ve had a chance to go over my notes and digest it all.

It’s a Library Thing

A co-worker just turned me on to librarything.com, a great website for anyone who loves books. As stated on the site, LibraryThing is a place to “Enter what you’re reading or your whole library—it’s an easy, library-quality catalog. LibraryThing also connects you with people who read the same things.”

It’s a great way to keep track of titles you’ve read, or to list titles that you haven’t gotten to yet.

Signing up at this free site is easy, and once you’ve logged in you can type a title or author into a search box (and it’s very forgiving if you don’t remember exact name) and select your book from the list that comes up. The book is added to your library and you can rate it, write a review and add tags to decide for yourself how to categorize it.

The fun thing is that you can then find other users who have read the same book and look at their libraries, or find other books that are tagged similarly to your own.

I highly recommend creating an account and exploring. It’s fun and it’s easy! For years we’ve had patrons at our library asking for a way to keep a list of what they’ve already read. Now they have it. And for the books I haven’t gotten to yet, but which I want to keep track of and get to eventually, I’m going to tag as “unread.”

Blogroll additions

I’ve added a few blogs to my blogroll today.

I will be attending the Technology Leadership Institute presented by the Monroe County Library System in a few weeks. They’ve put up a blog of their own:


with links to the blogs of the presenters:
I’ve added those blogs to my site for those of you who may be interested to see what the “Library technology experts/trend watchers/prognosticators” are talking about.

There’s quite a bit of interesting reading material contained in the MCLS blog. Definitely worth taking a look!

Also, I’ve added Hidden Peanuts to my blogroll. It’s written by Chad Haefele, a former co-worker who is now at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He’s been working on some interesting things at his library. (Be sure to look at his browser tools for a great example of how to meet the needs of your patrons.)

My Logic Model

My logic model began with me at my desk with a few sheets of blank paper and a handout from the Logic Modeling workshop I’d attended. There were times when I wanted to just read over the handout and move on; some of the questions were not easy to answer. I had to push myself to really think this through and come up with real answers before moving on.

Here’s a recap of what I had in front of me:

Situation: What is the problem or issue? Why is this a problem and what causes it? For whom does the problem exist? Who was a stake in it’s resolution?

In my case, the problem was a poorly designed website that is not easy to use. This is a problem because information is not accessible if it cannot be found. We currently have an ok website, but much of the information is hidden under meaningless tags, and there is some library jargon that needs to be changed. This is a problem for experienced internet users, but moreso for those with little or no computer or internet experience. If information cannot be found, this is a source of frustration for both library staff and the public.

Priorities: What is the purpose/goal of our website?

We’d like to have structure based on function. (We currently have our structure based on age level of intended audience, for some reason. We also have structure based on random topics that for one reason or another rose to the top of the hierarchy, but the reasoning behind it cannot be defined.) We’d like strong content and visual appeal. While these sound very nebulous, as an overarching goal of the website, I think this works.

Goals I’ve defined are as follows:

1. To facilitate access to information resources
2. To provide awareness of library programs
3. To encourage interest in library materials

Inputs: What do we invest in the project?

In our case, our investments are staff time (the biggie), which includes research time and production time. Our other investments are money (minimal), software, and equipment (which we already have.)

Outputs: What are the activities, services, events and products that reach people?

Outputs lead to specific outcomes.
What we do: provide information, provide education, provide recreation
Who we reach: library users, non-users, all demographic groups

Outcomes: What are the expected outcomes?

Short-term impact: Website is easy to use, information is found
Mid-term impact: Number of users is increased
Long-term impact: Interactive environment, users return due to ease of locating information/fun, a virtual community is established

Assumptions: What are the “givens” here?

Web standards lead to ease of use: Don’t reinvent the website concept, take advantage of users’ current expertise.
Usability testing uncovers flaws: No matter how much you think you know about web design, you need to test it on your users to uncover any problems they encounter.

External Factors: What are the external issues that will affect your project?

Access to internet: economic barriers to use, server downtime
Ability: how to meet the needs of the disabled or elderly

Critique Your Site

If you already have your website up and running, and are working on a redesign, take the time to do an objective critique of your site.

Don’t just say, “This site is not working. I need to redesign it.” Without having a clear idea in your mind of what is wrong with the current site, the next release will end up being just as bad. Maybe for different reasons (which you still haven’t defined), but bad nonetheless. You need to take the time to do this step.

Keep in mind that “critique” is not a negative word. I once took writing workshop led by Nancy Kress (who writes a column for Writer’s Digest, along with numerous novels, short stories and books about writing) and she made it very clear that a critique contains three parts: What’s working, What needs work, and a Conclusion. Nothing is all bad or all good. So look at your website and determine what it’s strengths and weaknesses are.

Here’s a condensed version of the critique I wrote for my website.

What Works
We use our home page to highlight special programs or services. The basic site is the same, but the main screen on the home page changes frequently to point out upcoming events and to keep people coming back to see what’s new. Pages are uncluttered — white background, lots of white space — making reading and navigating easy. Hours, location (complete address) and phone number are all included in the heading, so it’s at the top of every page. Also, I’ve put a “freshness date” at the bottom of each page. Some of our links provide clear identification of the content: My Library Account, Catalog, Ask a Librarian, etc.

What Needs Work
Vague links: Friends (does this mean anything to anyone who doesn’t work in a library?), Kids, Teens, Adults (what do these labels mean to the public?), Resources (what is underneath this link? Could be anything.) Our subdirectory structure is confusing. I have no help pages, privacy statement or site map.

Age-specific link headings need to be changed. It may make sense to separate out a section for kids or for teens, but not for adults. Navigation needs to be clarified. Resources page needs a complete overhaul.

Without going into the nitty-gritty details of my site’s critique, this should serve as a base from which to start your own site critique. Be specific and put it in writing. Sometimes it helps to set it aside for a day or two and then look at it again.

Logic Modeling

As we work toward redesigning our library’s website, a recurring issue keeps pushing itself to the forefront of our discussions:

What is the purpose of our website?

In the past, this question has come up but we never arrived at a solid answer. I dove into building our website without a real sense of where I was going, or why. This has been a difficult question to answer, in terms of a library website. We are not trying to earn a profit, which is the category many of my other web projects have fallen into. We are not serving a core demographic — library service is for everyone, isn’t it? We are not using a corporate model, are we?

What are we trying to do?

This is a tough question to answer. I found a way to focus my thoughts around this after attending a seminar on Logic Modeling last summer. A logic model is essentially a roadmap for problem solving and is a method for pinpointing exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish. You have to answer the tough questions, like it or not, and the results help you to focus in on specific steps you need to take to reach the goals you have set.

A great place to get started on understanding the concept of logic modeling is this slide show on the University of Wisconsin’s website:

Enhancing Performance with Logic Models

Module 1 explains the concept in excruciating detail, while Module 2 gives a real-life example on using a logic model to create a community nutrition education plan.

Although I attended the seminar last summer on this topic, the UoW site helped me put all the pieces together and got me started on my redesign.