Before redesigning the Dominican University Library web page our committee must find a common vision for our project. In search of such a plan I reviewed other universities’ libraries’ web pages and found two examples that are obviously designed for success: North Carolina State University libraries’ web page at http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/ and Bowdoin College’s library web page at http://library.bowdoin.edu/. The strategies behind their structure enable their users to quickly find and access the services they need and at the same time learn more about the library’s services. Specifically, these strategies are single-shot homepages, grouped service lists, user-friendly language, and personality. By replicating these proven strategies Dominican University’s library’s web page will better service its students and faculty.
What a handsome site!
Single-Shot Home Page:
The library web pages for both Bowdoin College and North Carolina State University greet their users with a home page that fits all of the library’s services into a compact screen shot. Without scrolling up and down searching simply to locate everything on the page, the users are instead able to concentrate on what is on the page. In this way, students and faculty alike are more likely to notice new features and highlighted services. A single-shot home page also encourages users to read everything on the page and click on more links because the option to listlessly scroll has been removed. Finding and clicking on promising links sooner gives users more confidence using the web page and, provided the links are well titled, better results.
Grouped Service Lists:
Another helpful feature shared by the two schools is a small collection of boxes or lists of different types of links. These lists are centrally located and make up the bulk of the page. NCSU’s six boxes are titled “Search the Collection,” “Browse Subjects,” “Services,” “Library Information,” “Community,” and “News & Events.” All of the library’s links fall into one of these categories and the neatness and order of the page gives users confidence that they will be able to find what they need within a few tries. Another benefit of these boxed lists is that a short glace through the page allows users to find links to services they would not have known about or may not have considered using before. NCSU’s site adds graphics to the boxes to explain their content. For example, the “Services” box includes popular graphics from instant messaging services offered through MSN, AOL, and Yahoo! with a banner above them that reads “Ask Us.” The graphic is clickable and offers quick access to librarians. Even if users are not interested in contacting a librarian they will likely remember it for future use and reconsider the breadth of the library’s services.
User Friendly Language:
The NCSU’s site offers an example of how important it is to display the information in language students and faculty (rather than librarians) are familiar with and can quickly understand. Their links are mostly only one or two word descriptors such as “Exhibits,” “Find Articles,” “Renew,” and “Hours.” NCSU’s user friendly language extends nicely into its browsing feature “Browse Subjects” under which a list of thirteen academic departments is listed in casual language. Clicking on one of these descriptors does not navigate away from the page (always a bonus for users) but brings up a floating box of further descriptors. These more specific terms can be selected for pathfinder-like pages of information about searching within the subject including links to the best databases, journals, and even the names, titles, phone numbers, and email addresses of librarians most knowledgeable in the subject.
The last example above explains how easily a user can find a person to talk to and find real answers from when the web is not enough. This is the epitome of the strategy I call a web page’s personality. The web page must have a character that allows the user to feel that he or she is not just dealing with a cold building or machine but with a group of people. This personality is also demonstrated through pictures, instant messaging or “Live Help” as Bowdoin calls their live support interface. Bowdoin also adds personality to their page by including a column with a picture and a “Did You Know?” blurb that changes every time the page is accessed or refreshed. The “Did You Know?” information is usually interesting and offers users the chance to take at least one thing away from every trip to the web site.
Using these strategies in our efforts to unify and organize Dominican University’s library pages is urgently needed to allow the students and faculty to better find, use, and relocate library services. Specifically, I recommend starting the Dominican University library web page all over again using the two above mentioned websites as guides.