Monday, April 16, 2007

Web Managers’ Academy Overview (CIL2007)

The focus of the web managers’ academy at the Computers in Libraries (CIL) 2007 preconferences was “Survival Guide for Library Web Site Redesigns”. With seven small presentations, capped by a group exercise, the event was an all-day extravaganza that left this library webhead spinning!

The presenters were: Darlene Fichter, Head, Indigenous Studies Portal, University of Saskatchewan; Jeff Wisniewski, Web Services Librarian, University of Pittsburgh; Frank Cervone, Assistant University Librarian for Information Technology, Northwestern University; and Marshall Breeding, Library Technology Officer, Vanderbilt University. All knowledgeable, excellent, and fun!

In the first presentation, Darlene Fichter went over the levels at which a library website redesign activity can occur. She cited the 5 “layers” of a website that Jesse James Garret identified in The Elements of User Experience:

  • Surface/visual design
  • Skeleton – interface, interaction, and info design
  • Structure – information architecture, interaction design
  • Scope – functional requirements, content
  • Strategy – user needs, objectives.

These “layers” are listed in order of most superficial to most profound. The level of redesign that you are doing will, of course, dictate both how difficult and long the process will be. Theoretically, a surface change can be quick and fairly painless, in contrast with a change in strategy or scope.

Additionally, Darlene reminded us that the website is seen by the end-user in its totality. So even if only the interface is “visible” to the user, the more labor-intensive “invisible” aspects of the site (such as its architecture) provide the framework that ensures the site’s success.

She also raised the issue that many library websites were developed as just a “thin veneer over” traditional library services and organizational structures. This is not the best model for website development.

Darlene noted that successful library websites are:

  • externally focused
  • have sophisticated design
  • employ multiple approaches
  • offer users discovery tools (are designed to enable social discovery as well)

She finished up this presentation with the notion offered by Kathy Sierra in her “Creating Passionate Users”: if you’re just tweaking the site, there’s only so far you’ll ever get in making your site successful. To get where you NEED to be, you need to provide “revolutionary” improvements.

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