I’ve been looking at the structure of my library site a lot lately, feeling that it’s just not right. We have the usual categories: teens, kids, adults. We have a link to the catalog and a link to patron information, and our calendar and newsletter. We’ve put our services into labeled boxes. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but the boxes we’ve used feel wrong.

I’m not sure why we have a category called “adults.” Perhaps at an early meeting we discussed the way librarians are put into categories: adult services, teen services, children’s services, and divided our website accordingly. While this may be a good way to distribute job duties, it doesn’t work well for a website. It makes sense to break out separate sections for kids and teens, but labeling a section for adults sounds almost like we have an R-rated section.

I still chuckle every time I hear a co-worker tell a patron, “The kids videos are over there on the right, and the adult videos are on the left.” Adult videos? Do they realize how that sounds? Apparently not. : ) 

Rather than putting all of our users into one category, “adults” (leaving out the kids and teens for now), perhaps we’d be more helpful if we think about who these adults are and how they might be using the website.

It seems to me that there is a useful correlation between what a person will use the website for and their level of internet experience. Someone new to the internet may come a library’s website just to see if we have a book. A more experienced person will look around the site for information on programs or book recommendations. And those who live and work on the web will want to interact with the site, rather than passively obtaining information.

We need to accomodate all of these users if we want to have a successful website. We need to make it easy and intuitive for a newbie, without “dumbing it down” and driving away patrons who are looking for something more. Because the library may be one of the first sites a newbie visits (After all, people look to the library understand and learn new things. That’s our business.) we need to make that first experience a positive one. And we need to provide an engaging environment that will keep people coming back for more than the catalog.

Once we start thinking in terms of real user categories, the services required by these users begins to become clear.