I came across an interesting thought at a website by David Lee King recently about “doing things on your website”. We have been thinking about getting our own website for the Carleton Place Public Library recently and this article brought into focus a few important questions for me. First of all, why have a website for our library? We have an online catalog where patrons can search for books in our library, place holds, see what they already have out and renew their books online. The catalog is growing with new options all the time. We recently added a link to Google Books for each book. Now, patrons have access to a bit more information regarding the book they are looking at. And we are seriously considering the option of allowing patrons to be able to do book reviews and rate the books they have read. A lot of options just from the catalog, I think.
Secondly, we have a library blog (with a few branches coming off of it for kids and for our local history, soon). Calendars, photos of events, updates for programs, book lists, book reviews and great search engine ideas are all a part of this blog, as well as daily informative articles on the world of books, libraries, language and anything related to our interests. Our blog is a way for us to connect with our patrons on a different level and allow them to communicate with us as well, along with encouraging interest from readers wherever they might live.
King’s post was interesting in that it asks what your library website actually does. Can you do all of the things on your website that you could physically do in your library building? If not, what’s missing? He cites the idea of online businesses as compared to their physical sites and which experience is better (for example, visiting Chapters online vs. actually going to the store). He goes on to ask the question regarding your usage of the library and how your experience online could be better. Can you communicate with your librarians through instant messaging? Can you read a book online? Can you take notes and do research from home through your library website alone? For most of these questions right now, our answers would be “no”. But these are good questions to consider when designing a website. You have to think about much more than just providing more of the information that you already have on another site in a new format. You need to actually have a PURPOSE for your website and I think we’d do well to consider why we want a website before creating one. Do we even want to be able to answer instant messages or allow patrons to reserve internet time online? We’d do well to answer these questions honestly first and go from there.
So what do you want from a library website?