Top 10 Public Library Websites 2012

Here is my annual review of public library websites. This year I reviewed over 200 sites using a simple 4-question usability test:

  • Is the library open on Sundays?
  • How do I get a library card?
  • Does the library have a copy of Huckleburry Fin? [note spelling]
  • Does the library have a storytime for a 4-year-old on Saturdays?

Here’s what I was looking for:

1)  Usability: The site was highly navigable and information was easy to find.  One area where many libraries failed: I could not get back to the library website once I was in the catalog.

2)  Understandable: Language was jargon-free, or, if jargon was used (i.e. “catalog,” “interlibrary loan”) it was explained.

3)  Searchable: I could easily search the site. Sites with a catalog search box disguised as a site search box (no explanation of what the box does) did not pass this test.

4)  Attractive:  Extra points awarded for artistic, aesthetically pleasing, and modern design.

The Winners:

1)  Cleveland Public Library  – Best Overall Library Website.

  • Menu dropdowns for easy navigation
  • Site is searchable on every page
  • Hours and locations are on home page
  • The catalog search box contains a “find: title, author, or keyword” explanation
  • Recurring events are presented in searchable HTML format, not just calendar format
  • Use of Bibliocommons catalog includes “Did you mean?”

2)  Daniel Boone Regional Library

  • Their catalog search box on homepage is highly visible and contains nice explanations

3)  Johnson County Library

  •  A highly functional site –  second year on this list!

4)  Saint Paul Public Library

  • Nice “How do I” on the left-hand menu
  • Font size is adjustable
  • Attractive, well-laid out, easy to read

5)  Salt Lake City Public Library  — Most Attractive Public Library Website

  • Sparse, uncluttered, sleek, and modern
  • Large easy-to-read font

6)  New York Public LibraryBest Large City Website

  •  Very clean and easy to understand
  •  Use of inviting language like “Using the library” or “Explore”
  • They have a link called “How to find things” that I love!  Every library needs one of these.

Honorable mentions for large cities: Boston, San Francisco, Austin, Denver

7)  Steamboat Springs Public Library —  Best Small City Website

  • Overall a very classy, impressive, and usable site for such a small city
  • Mouse-over explanations on top menus
  • Catalog login in upper right where expected

Honorable mentions for small cities: Princeton Public Library, Thomas Ford Memorial Library, Ipswich Public Library, Waterville Public Library

8)  Iowa City Public Library

  • A catalog search box included on the “Books” page
  • Breadcrumbs so you always know where you are

9)  Monterey Public Library

  • Site search and catalog/article search boxes are separate and understandable
  • The library catalog is identified on the “Collections” page as the best place to search

10)  Oak Park Public Library

  • Clean, easily navigated site

Want to nominate a great public library website?  Please comment on this post!

Want to see more libraries? Here is last year’s list:  Top 10 Public Library Websites 2011

14 thoughts on “Top 10 Public Library Websites 2012

  1. Hi Katie,

    I had not seen this website. Thanks for bringing it to my attention – I like it! Here are some of the things that I appreciate: The catalog search box is explained (“find books, music and videos”); Google Scholar is right on homepage – more and more we are using this great resource for research; the site has accessible language like “Getting started” and “Borrow from other libraries.” Great! I also like that the word “articles” is there as well as “databases.” All the best, Emily

  2. From everyone at Princeton Public Library, thank you for the honorable mention. Thank you also for drawing my attention to these other wonderful sites– Very inspiring! You’ve got me already mentally planning for our next re-design 😉

  3. Thank you for doing this! I’ve been referencing your top 10 lists the past few years to gather ideas for our own site. It was extremely helpful.

    We recently debuted our newly redesigned website. It’s always a work in progress. What do you think? Do you have any suggestions for us?

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thanks for the positive feedback! It is good to know the blog is helpful. I love your website! Very attractive, nice modern look. I like the easy-to-read font and lack of library jargon. I also love the way you’ve branded your Sirsi catalog to match the site.

  4. Hi Emily,

    Thank you for the award and your research, we were stunned to hear the news and overjoyed. We look forward to reviewing all of the other sites since we are already thinking of next steps.

    Kind Regards,

  5. Hi Emily,

    Great list! I’m just wondering how did you come up with the questions in the simple usability test? Is it inspired by anything in particular? Apologies if you posted about this in another area of your site!


    1. Hi Kahli,

      Glad to hear you like the list! The questions were based on some common user needs in public libraries (catalog searching, hours, getting a card, etc). I also wanted to test how “siloed” the sites were – for example, could I easily search the site for a library event, or was that only possible from an external event site? Best, Emily

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