Top 10 Academic Library Websites 2012

My annual review of academic library websites.  This year I reviewed sites based on the following 10 criteria:

  • Help with research:  If I’m a novice researcher and need to find scholarly sources but don’t know what a “database” is, can I learn to find what I need?
  • ILL:   Can I request a book without needing to know what an “interlibrary loan” is?  What I really wanted to see was point-of-need request options within the catalog or discovery tool – this was very rare!  
  • Technology help:    If I’m having trouble accessing resources from off-campus is there information that can help me troubleshoot even when the library is closed?  
  • Faculty info:   If I’m a faculty member and need to know how to put books on reserve, can I find that information easily?
  • For large research libraries:  Was the site equally accessible for both novice and graduate/faculty researchers?  For example, could undergraduates easily navigate search options, and could graduate students go directly to the database they need?
  • Integration with external sites:   In 3rd-party platforms like the catalog, discovery tool, or LibGuides, is it clear how to get back to the library home page?  And are these external platforms well-branded and navigable so that I don’t feel like I’ve left the library?
  • Navigable:  Is the site easily navigable?  I was looking for consistent menus, breadcrumbs, clickable logos, and overall functionality.
  • Readability:  Is the site easily readable?  I was looking for readable font sizes, good use of white space, neutral colors, and an uncluttered layout.
  • Searchable:   Is there a library website search box in the upper right?  Points were deducted if the site was not searchable at all, or if the college search site could be confused for library site search.
  • Modern, attractive design:  The better-looking the site, the more I liked it.

Here are the winners for 2012:

1)   Virginia Commonwealth University

This is my choice for Best Overall Academic Library.  What I liked:

  • Jargon-free, accessible language and lots of point-of-need help (i.e. “What am I searching?”)
  • “Research help” and “getting started” right on home page.
  • ILL presented two ways: under “Borrow, renew request” as well as a direct “Interlibrary Loan” link.
  • Research guides and catalog well-branded and integrated into site.
  • Attractive, clean, well-organized design.

2)   University of California San Diego

I was impressed with all the University of California libraries, but this one was my favorite.  What I liked:

3)  Cornell University

Cornell is my choice for Best Large Research Library.  What I liked:

  • Research Help is prominent on home page and “Introduction to research” helps novice researchers navigate a huge library with ease. 
  • Good mouse-over explanations for different search options.
  • Good help page, including “trouble connecting.”

4)  Ithaca College Library

Still one of my favorite sites – on this list for a second year in a row.  I like:

  • Excellent layout and design.
  • Lots of point-of-need help like “how to read an article citation” on the Articles page, or call number explanation on the Books page. 
  • I love that when you use the site search box, the search results include sidebars asking if you were “Looking for a book?” or “Looking for an article?” This eliminates a common source of confusion. 

5)  Marygrove College Library

Marygrove College is my choice for Best Small Academic Library Website. (Small libraries are defined as those with fewer than 3,000 students.)

Runners-up:  Wheaton College,William Jessup University, Adrian College.  See also my previous post on small library sites.

What I liked:

6)  California State University – Channel Islands 

Another good California site.  This is my choice for Most User-Friendly and Accessible home page.  I loved:

  • “Hello there. Looking for something?”  for the search box.  Beats “Catalog,” that’s for sure!
  • “Try our rockin’ research page.”  OK, cheesy, but I’ll bet undergraduates are less intimidated by the library!
  • Great “Research Tips” page.

7)  Oregon State University

Overall, a very usable and accessible site for a big state university. I liked:

  • Portals for faculty, undergraduates, and distance students.

8)  Texas A&M University

This site is my choice for Best Interlibrary Loan Feature.  Here’s why:

  •  ILL is labeled “Get it for me (Document Delivery/ILL)” on the home page, making it understandable for novice and experienced users alike.
  • This is one of the few sites that links to ILL from within a catalog search.  Search results have a nice sidebar asking “Looking for something else?” 

9)  Northeastern University

Another very good large research institution.  This library is my choice for Best Technology Help:

  • Under “Get Help” they link to a very comprehensive “Tech Support” page.  If only all libraries had pages like this!

10)  Saint Xavier University

This is my choice for Best LibGuide CMS site.  Runner-up:  Allegheny College

More good library sites

I looked at over 200 libraries while compiling this year’s list, and it was hard to narrow it down to just 10!  Here are 10 more I liked:

University of Miami
Ohio State University
SUNY Buffalo
University of Texas Austin
Emory University
Rutgers University
University of New Hampshire
University of the Pacific
University of California Davis 
California State University East Bay

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5 thoughts on “Top 10 Academic Library Websites 2012

  1. Great job on this! VCU has a great site. They’ve hired some real web design professionals, and it shows.

    Oregon State also has a great mobile site.

    A few other great sites: Northwestern, Brown, William & Mary, and the truly breathtaking site for the University of Rochester. Northwestern and Rochester also have great mobile sites.

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