Usability, usability, usability

Develop your own set of criteria (up to 10 criterion) with regard to effective library website design; evaluate the effectiveness of a selected library website based on your set of criteria, and identify aspects of this website that could be improved using Web 2.0 technologies.

This is an interesting task for me as I am about to be closely involved with the development of our library’s website. Even though it will be created through LibGuides and therefore restricted to a template-based approach, I have already seen a range of different examples of LibGuides in use and there are definitely some that look and function much better than others.

For this task I read the recommended readings but from following up leads within them I came across Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited by Steve Krug (2014). After reading it I almost decided that I only needed one criteria – usability. As Krug says, if your website is effective “A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth” p. 9. The book is an easy, and very worthwhile, read – I’ve found myself viewing every website I’ve visited differently since reading it. Any website that has been set up with his usability principles in mind should, by definition, be effective.

That said, from this and other reading for this task (Mathews, 2009; Bartlett, 2014) I have come up with a list of ten criteria for effective library websites and to test the criteria I had a look at my local library’s website. Yarra Plenty Regional Library has nine branch libraries servicing the 350,000 residents of Banyule, Nillumbik and Whittlesea local government areas.

 YPRL website homepage

Criterion YPRL website
1. That the catalogue provides a link back to the library home page or if not it should open in a new window Search occurs within the webpage (ie doesn’t go to a different site) so it is always easy to get back to home.
2. Search box in consistent position on every page. What will be searched should be obvious ie the catalogue and/or the site itself. Search area consistently located in the header area. Choice to search catalogue/events/site (radio buttons) – usually defaults to “catalogue” except when you’re on the What’s On page when it defaults to “events” – clever!.
3. Responsive design – ie layout changes according to device type Not responsive. The display is acceptable for iPad/tablet but not for a phone sized display. However, they have iPhone and Android apps available where the most important features from the website can be used (search, holds, renewals, location etc.). The apps can be accessed via QR code.
4. Looks uncluttered, clean and simple The look is clean with three main colours from their logo used on a white background.
5. Multiple pathways to required information/services – menus that dropdown when hovered over; sidebar; footer. Easy return to home Main navigation from drop-down menus under the header, they expand when hovered over. Some items also linked in left or right sidebar, presumably those considered the most important – My YPRL (information about the users loans etc); Hours & Location; Upcoming events. Minimal navigation in the footer. Hours & Locations also appears above the header.
6. Easy and obvious means of seeking help There are FAQs and Ask A Question options in the sidebar; links to Contact information and Feedback in the footer. Depending on the page there will be different FAQs displayed to the right, minimising the clicks to get to the most likely questions.
7. Place for easily changed temporary alerts Yes, top of centre section
8. Place for regularly updated promotional material The central section has a display of new titles which can be filtered by Fiction/Non-Fiction/Kids/Youth. Below that are staff picks (link to a list curated by a staff member); and then recent comments from reviews shared by users.
9. Minimal clicks required for any purpose = the “Don’t make me think” principle (Krug 2014, p. 11) Choices are obvious, there is little superfluous information and I didn’t find any redundant steps.
10. Oh, and did I mention usability! Yes, very. At the simplest level users of a library website want to know where the library is, when it is open and if they have the book they are after. All this is very easy and obvious.


In terms of Web 2.0 features the catalogue provides the option to add books to your “shelf”, to add a review and to follow other library members who have posted reviews and shared their shelves. As a member of this library service I’ve never really explored this feature until this activity. I was quite surprised to discover, by exploring the reviews, that this is part of a much larger service – the people involved are not just from YPRL but from all over the world. I don’t know if this makes this more or less useful, certainly it means there is a much bigger pool of people to generate the reviews but are the reviews of someone on the other side of the world relevant to me? Not sure. I am, however, very impressed with how seamlessly this fits into the YPRL website.

The library service has a Facebook page and Twitter account (tweets are almost exclusively links to Facebook posts) but there are no other options for connecting via social media – users can only share their reviews and shelves with the community, not with Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

Overall I found YPRL’s website to be very usable and effective.

After reading Krug’s book I will definitely be looking into usability testing for our own site and (thinking aloud here) I might start by doing some tests on other LibGuides sites. Our library staff have already started discussing our approach – consistency of look and placement of certain elements has been identified as important and this exercise has only served to confirm that.


Bartlett, H. (2014, February 27). Best Practices for Library Website Design. Retrieved from

Krug, S. (2014). Don’t make me think, revisited: a common sense approach to Web usability (Third edition.). Berkeley, Calif.: New Riders.

Mathews, B. (2009). Web Design Matters. Library Journal, 134(3), 24.

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 icons by zipckr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  zipckr 

The “2” in Web 2.0 can be seen to mean two-way. Previously, in Web 1.0, static webpages only allowed one-way communication. You visited a site and read or viewed what was there. Web 2.0 opened up options for ordinary people to have an input to the sites they visited, what Will Richardson calls “the read-write web”.

While individuals with the skills and access to hosting facilities had been able to publish online for some time, Web 2.0 enabled user-generated content to be published without the need to use specific web-authoring software. To me a key feature of Web 2.0 is that I expect the “how” to be intuitive or at the very least easy to do with the help that is provided or available elsewhere (usually on Youtube!). I expect to be able to create and post my video, share my photo, build a website, and connect with others, all with a minimal learning curve, with accessible help and information readily available. In the world of Web 2.0 I do not need to do a six month course or be trained by a guru to learn how.

Social networking is one thing that Web 2.0 technology has facilitated but they are not synonymous – not all Web 2.0 tools are for social networking (although all online social networking tools can be categorised as Web 2.0). There are many Web 2.0 sites and services that are not fundamentally about connecting people or community formation (or if they do have an element of this, it is not their core purpose). Things like

can all be effectively used (and are very useful tools) without engaging in their social aspects.

Another aspect of Web 2.0 that isn’t social networking is the ability to mash together two or more tools, for example putting a Google map onto a website or embedding a Youtube video in a blog.

Tagging and folksonomies are inherent in Web 2.0, something that we librarians with our authority files must also embrace.

Finally, an oldie but a goodie. This video which I first saw in early 2008, sparked an a-ha moment that has lead me on an incredible journey. It might look a little dated but all its messages are still very relevant. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it but I find something new to think about every time.