In the autumn of 2018, the iSchool Public Library Initiative (IPLI) worked on a project that involved collecting library statistics. One of the main sources for this data were state library websites. As a former web developer, as well as a patron of these pages, it was difficult for me to not notice the lack of consistency in usability and design. I began brainstorming what made certain websites great, and what any library could do to improve their patrons’ experience.

Download the IPLI Paper: What Makes a Good Library Website? (PDF)

That process inspired this paper. This paper was developed as a tool to evaluate their current web design and features for librarians and their website administrators. It involved using and evaluating all 50 state library websites and noting what made some websites more successful than others, as well as general trends in design.

How websites and libraries should co-exist

Some library websites feel disconnected from the library as a whole. Rather than looking at a library’s web presence as a burden or an obligation, libraries should see their website as an extension of the library itself.

Like the physical library space, library collections, and library services and programs, the library’s website is an iterative project that requires maintenance and care. Websites should be updated and evaluated regularly. They must strive to meet the specific needs of the community the library serves.

What needed improvement

There were several features that consistently came up as needing improvement. One was outdated design, and how those designs often equate to inaccessibility for patrons using screen readers, or how difficult those websites might be for patrons to use. Improvements in one area can often lead to solutions for other problems patrons may face. For instance, updating a website’s design will likely make it more accessible.

Not all library websites need to look alike or perform the same functions. But they should all take into consideration security, accessibility, design, contact information, and what can make their website stand out as particularly useful to their patrons. This paper addresses those topics, and proposes potential solutions to the following problems:

  • Avoiding an ADA lawsuit by improving accessibility for all patrons
  • Making a website’s design look more modern and easy to use
  • Implementing HTTPS improves search engine optimization (SEO)
  • The importance of web security

I hope that this paper proves useful in evaluating library websites of all types. Especially working as a tool for advocacy. Websites and libraries together could provide a new dimension to education and accessibility. This spreads the love for books and libraries everywhere.