4 Views About Web Sites That Hold Libraries Back (and how to fix them)

At MPOW, we are going through a strategic directions process which has the potential to radically change the way we operate. Something that has come up, many times and not just in “Strategery” as we have coined it, is the library’s web site.

When I think of our website, I think the words awful and confusing. The website alone is the army that is currently keeping all other efforts at bay. We are working on it, never fear, but work takes time, and until then, we have to deal with some attitudes that I think are not indicative to this particular library.

Thus, I offer 4 views of library web sites by staff which keep us from progressing:

Belief number 1: It is better than the one we had before. This belief baffles me because this is the equivalent of saying, “We do not burn books here, we just keep them off the shelves.” They are both still bad! Both options are not acceptable. Just because the current crap is better that the crap you had before does not mean you should settle. Libraries spend too much time settling for crap.

How we can fix this: Do not accept crap in the first place. Reject the things that are not going to work from the beginning and build something better. Hire the people with programming experience and give them the staff to make things happen. Do not be afraid to try new things.

Belief number 2: A web site can be built and abandoned. One does not create a collection of books and then never order anything new or weed. You could also liken it to someone having a child and then throwing it out into the street saying, “Survive!”
Libraries should be spending as much time and money on their virtual spaces as on their buildings and collections. A web site must have the ability to and must be constantly evolving or it is defunct as soon as it is live.

How we fix this: Combat the attitude of slap it up and leave it alone. Use those nodes of technology geekery on your staff and support them in finding new applications and new ways of using technology on our sites. Give these people the time to do this and use those who are good instructors to be evangelizers among the rest of the staff.

Belief number 3: A library web site has disparate parts that are not meant to be together. This belief makes sense to absolutely no one except a handful of librarians. Our users make no distinction between OPAC, databases and indexes, subject guides, and informational pages, so why do we? If we are truly going to rebrand ourselves as premier information providers, we have to serve up a “one stop shopping site” that allows our customers to search in one place and find a variety of all formats.

How we fix this: More libraries need to utilize effective federated searching and open URL applications. Increasing our findability on major search engines would not hurt either.

Belief number 4: Our web developers should spend all their time updating the content of our web pages. I think it is time we stopped making the people who have the power to innovate better sites for the library update things like library hours, services offered, and that misspelled word on the home page.

How we fix this: Create Content Management Software that distributes responsibility of pages to the departments which created the original content in the first place. Think wiki on a grand scale. Anyone (staff) could make a change to a page and then it could be “approved” by the page owner, like moderated comments. Heck, why stop at staff?! My PiC (partner in crime) here is working on a similar set-up for us and I think it will streamline the work and make it much easier.

Who else has some beliefs about web sites or other things that hold us back? How can we combat them?

–Jane, a positive attitude really is the first step