I just read this post by M. Ryan Hess from 2013 and found it well worth a reblog:
Hess points out that the poor usability of library websites is often due to how they are created: by committees of librarians, with little or no usability training, who are under great political pressure from administrators. He identifies three key usability inhibitors:
- Clutter: the desire librarians instinctively have to put everything on the website.
- The Web Committee: often the “primary cause of clutter” due to everyone on the committee needing to have their content priorities front and center.
- Lack of usability training or awareness – he points out that usability is not yet a “core component of our profession.”
Hess does more than criticize, however: he offers some compelling solutions. Instead of a Web Committee, he suggests having a “Web Curator Committee” that would be:
- “Small: Limit membership to one representative from each part of the library that is the main service provider for any given content. Typically, this might be one curator from instruction, one from reference, one from access services, etc.
- Focused: Each member should be a knowledgable expert from their department, that knows the audience their content addresses and the key services being offered. And that one person will have sole responsibility for the pages they are assigned.
- Skilled: Each member will either come trained in usability or be trained to do their job well. “
He also has some good, practical design advice, such as:
- Plan for growth: “Build your architecture so that it anticipates “runaway growth” in a way that doesn’t overwhelm your typical library user.”
- Users prefer to search, rather than navigate your site: “make sure your search tool is central, easily reachable, and works.”
- Keep the left menu clutter-free: “This should be considered the easiest, most usable spot on your site and every effort should be made to keep it free of content that can mislead or confuse users with too many dead-end options.”
- Put your site search where users expect it: “The above the fold, below the nav bar area just to the right of your left rail is critical. This is where your search must be on your homepage and if you do this, all the clutter in the world will not stop most users from ignoring everything else and getting to your resources.”
And he concludes by providing an example of a usable library website: check out the ETH Bibliothek in Switzerland.