Redesigning our website: Starting from the beginning

What’s your library’s main service point?

No, really.  Ask yourself.  In your library, what’s your main service point?

As I sit here, at our Reference Desk, with clear line of sight to our Circulation Desk and Minerva’s Cafe, I know what many of us would like that answer to be.  “Well, our service desk.”  Circulation, Reference, the Help Desk, the lobby, the Info Kiosk, whatever we call it.  Our smiling, helpful staff assisting users in meeting their needs.  That’s what we think of first.  It’s where we dedicate our most valuable human resources.  It’s what matters.

But we’re wrong.  Our websites are our main service points.

If we continue today’s trend as indicated by the data sheet in front of me, we’ll be answering about a dozen questions at the Reference desk today.  We’ll circ several hundred books to several dozen unique users at our two service counters in our two libraries.

And we’ll get hundreds, if not thousands, of hits on our website as our users dive into our information resources, our subject guides, our course pages, our service descriptions, our online help.

So.  Given that more of our users spend more time with our website than they do with our face to face services, is our website good enough?  Does it meet our standards of excellence and service?  We’re very good at talking about service standards in our one-on-one interactions, but less good at talking about our web services with that same perspective.

It’s time to talk about web services with that same perspective.

We’re doing three things to change our approach.

1.  We’re hiring a Web Services Librarian.  Interviews are going to commence soon, and I’m excited to see who we might bring on board to join our team.

2.  We’re going to discuss our thoughts on best practices, goals, and outcomes for our website.  What do we want it to be?  What do we think it should do?  How do we think it should do it?

3.  We’re hiring INFLUX to tell us what our users love and hate about our current design.

All three of these things should play together like interlocking puzzle pieces to help us make something that meets our vision of what our services should be.  First, we’ll have a new, energetic, and qualified staff member who can look at library web design as a primary responsibility instead of something that we have to learn on the fly.  Secondly, we’ll have an internal collaborative understanding of what we hope to accomplish with our website and what we value about the libraries’ website, which should give us a common vocabulary and sense of purpose about the redesign.  And lastly, we’ll have data.  Data gathered from our users, about our website and resources, and delivered just as we need to begin figuring out what to save from our old design, what to build into a new design, and what to fix for our users as we go forward.

Aside from sounding like a satisfying way to begin a project, I hope that this plan will also help us to effectively mentor and nurture the success of a new librarian.  I personally can think of few jobs scarier than being hired and told to redesign a major element of the libraries’ services, about which everyone on campus has an opinion, from scratch.  Oh, and be collaborative!  But have a vision, and be a leader!  No challenge, get to work!

No.  Let’s not do it that way.

I’m hoping that what we’ll be able to do is use the information and expertise Influx can provide to inform our discussions of what we value and envision, and that our new librarian will be able to use those as the guardrails to start on a straight and level track as we do our redesign.  I’m hoping this approach will help us succeed.  I’m hoping we do great things.

I’ll keep you posted.


  1. I’ve been saying stuff like this at MPOW for a while, but it’s hard to convince some people.

    I’ve just started to think about what exactly is the purpose of the library’s website. I’m starting to think that it’s not “education”, but “promotion.” Not promotion of us, but promotion of the services and content that we provide access to. In a sense, both the educator and the promoter have the same goal: to get users to connect to things that we want them to use. But does thinking about it as promotion rather than education change the way that we do it?

    I wish I hadn’t been so deathly ill at CiL; I wanted to talk to you and the other big brains about this.


  2. I absolutely agree — the website is a tool to lead people to where we want them to go, and usually that’s not about the content we create for the web. It’s about the content we’re directing them to. And I don’t know if it changes how we think about it. We’ll see, I guess?

    You can talk to me anytime. We should lean on Amy again this summer for a librarian geekfest in Montreal. I promise to be less stressed out this time. 🙂


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