Usable Library of the Week – Hennepin County Public Library

This week’s usable library is:

Hennepin County Public Library

What I like:

  • Recently redesigned:  The previous design had a left menu with somewhat jargon-heavy links like “databases” and “subject guides.”  The new site has a modern, fullscreen, fully responsive layout with large, clean fonts, lots of white space, a prominent search box, and less clutter.  The essential links (e.g. “My account”) are easily found in the upper right, where users look for them.
  • Instead of lumping all databases in to a big, confusing list, the new site presents intuitive topic pages like “Business and Employment” or “Genealogy and local history.”
  • The Events Calendar is fully integrated into the site, and searchable.
  • The library catalog is fully integrated into the site, and looks great!

I learned about this redesign thanks to Aaron Schmidt, who reviewed the site in his recent post “Library Websites Worth Looking At.”

HCPL redesigned homepage: 

Hennepin County Library website detail

Hennepin County Library website detail

Homepage before redesign: 

Wayback Machine snapshot from

Wayback Machine snapshot from May, 2014


One thought on “Usable Library of the Week – Hennepin County Public Library

  1. The new site is more usable, in some important ways, but alas much less useful than the previous site.

    Sadly, a rich and engaging website supporting an online community of readers, often cited as an exemplar for public libraries, has been stripped bare.

    * robust sub-sites for kids and teens each developed and supported by their own dedicated YS librarian;

    * 325 research guides maintained by subject experts throughout the Library, about the furthest thing imaginable from “a big, confusing list” (careful making assumptions based on a screenshot);

    * 30+ staff-written blogs (over 720 articles), for kids, teens, researchers and book-lovers;

    * 2740 patron-created annotated book lists shared with other readers;

    * yep, more…

    Kudos for locating the research resources; you had to click on “Browse” then “Online resources” to find them. Are common but meaninglessly vague words and phrases preferable to descriptive terms for navigation?
    If I’m looking for help finding a job am I likely to self-identify as browsing or am I researching?

    On the bright side, search is brilliant! Built from scratch (by some of the smartest people I know), it’s not a catalog but a discovery layer on steroids that can be blended with the site in ways not possible with a commercial product. Can’t wait to see what they with it next!

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