Updating the library website

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Just over a year ago I started looking at my library’s website. It was in dreadful need of updating. The style, content and organization had not really been touched since the last major update several years ago. Web designers recommend updating a website’s visual design and function every 2-3 years, and ours was certainly overdue. Before I began the project, I started asking questions.

What is the purpose of the website?

A library website is a digital sign post. At the very minimum a library website should give the name, address, hours, and phone number of the library. If the library has an online catalog, there should be a link on the front page, above the fold, and highly visible to access the catalog. Library policies such as patron account qualifications and checkout periods are usually helpful. Any other content or interaction depends entirely on the goals for digital outreach the library deems necessary. For some libraries, interactions with patrons occurs primarily on Facebook, so a link to Facebook is essential. Dynamic content like news feeds, blog postings, content carousels, fancy graphics, surveys, etc are all nice, but meaningless without some kind of metric analysis to check for interaction, such as google analytics.

It would be tempting to dump the library website entirely for some other social media platform like Facebook. The problem is that not all library patrons use or want to use Facebook. Any business that doesn’t have the bare minimum of a digital sign post is somehow not legitimate in today’s society, so I don’t recommend shutting it down all together. Libraries should be a digital information leader in their community. A website and some kind of web presence on other social media platforms is necessary to show that digital leadership.

Should I update the website?

For my library, the answer to this question was a definite yes. It should be a “yes” for your library. Style and functionality are certainly a factor. A major visual update needs to occur every 2-3 years. Longer than that and the site will look old and outdated.

I like this quote from Marcus Ledbetter

They may seem like silly things, but the Copyright 2002 in your footer makes a bad first impression. Having the latest post on your blog page several years old makes a bad first impression. You see the pattern here. Your customers want to do business with whoever they perceive to be the best. Having a bunch of outdated posts, wrong dates, staff members who don’t work there anymore – they all make a very bad first impression. Having outdated items on your website is like standing up to speak with a giant food stain on your shirt – your audience is too busy looking at the stain to listen to your message!

Updating content and information on a website usually strikes pretty low on priorities among some libraries. A regular review of website content and social media outreach is one of those tasks we probably never considered as essential or necessary. It is today. A library staff member or two should be assigned this task if the director can’t take it up. This doesn’t have to be a heavy burden. A weekly news item on the library news feed or Facebook page is usually sufficient.

How do I update?

Our library website was a major overhaul. The Soda Springs Public Library website is hosted by the Idaho Commission for Libraries e-branch project. I was able to network with the state web developer to work out the technical details and send the files to be updated to the server. Websites on the e-branch project are built on the Drupal framework. Drupal is a great platform to build a website because it is highly customizable. I selected a template that came close to what I wanted to achieve and then flipped switches on and off and added content to finally arrive at the desired outcome. I know that Drupal does have a learning curve and for non-techie people this kind of thing would be challenging. For other Idaho libraries that are hosted by the e-branch project, it would be helpful to review the Drupal documentation to understand how Drupal works. If taking on this kind of project is beyond a library, the state library web developer can help.

Soda Springs Public Library Website

The new website features an improved and simplified design, improved navigation, and bigger pictures. The link to the catalog is now highly visible.

For libraries outside of the e-branch project, a library needs to budget for library website maintenance. This includes webhosting fees, domain name registration, security updates, etc. This means hiring a web developer and/or web development company if there is no one in-house with the skills or time. A website redesign usually has an associated cost so additional funds need to be set aside for future visual improvements.

Updating new content depends entirely on the platform that the website is built on. There are a lot of possible platforms. For training help, check out YouTube. There are dozens of beginner how-to videos for Drupal.