Recently, at my place of work, we decided to do a broad survey of Ohio’s public library websites for some basic functionality and features. We wanted to get an idea of just how many websites still had major problems (or not). We looked at 169 different systems*.
The results were a bit discouraging. Here is a quick summary of what we found, out of the 169 libraries’s websites:
- 47 libraries do not have their library’s address on the home page. This is a standard convention and is generally easy to do, yet 28% of the sample didn’t have this.
- 40 libraries do not have their library’s phone number on the home page. Ouch.
- 35 libraries do not have their hours on the home page (or a link to the hours on the homepage). Hours are one of the most commonly-sought bits of information on a library’s website. Make them easy to find.
- 48 libraries do not have a search box on the home page. No kind of search at all, not even for the catalog. And this number didn’t even include those sites that had some kind of search, but contained other search issues.
- 42 libraries do not list their Board of Trustees on their website. Not anywhere that we could find, anyway. Why?
- 38 libraries do not have a calendar of events on their website. In some cases, there may have been a PDF listing events, but there was no true, interactive calendar of any sort…not even an embedded Google calendar.
- 96 libraries do not use responsive web design. This was a very alarming problem: not having a RWD site means that the library is not friendly for mobile users. If a library has a separate mobile version, that is not a responsive web site and is not considered best practice.
- Only 3 sites passed a basic Section 508 automated accessibility test. This was perhaps the worst news of all; barely 2% of the sampled libraries were even minimally accessible to the blind and/or visually impaired.
All kinds of things can get in the way of a library resolving these issues. These are just the ones I can think of, off the top of my head:
- The library prioritizes “pretty” over “practical.”
- The library doesn’t have any kind of in-house expertise to advise them about current guidelines for web sites, and/or doesn’t have the staff resources to investigate these topics.
- The library thinks that having a website at all is quite enough.
- Internal politics prevent change.
- The library doesn’t have staff/can’t afford to fix some of these issues, even if the library is aware of them.
- The library is stuck with an outdated or stagnant system for managing its website and doesn’t have the ability to effect changes with the system it has.
I suspect that there are other reasons (please feel free to share in the comments), and surely some situations combine some of these factors.
Why is this so distressing?
We’ve seen increased awareness of user experience in libraries, and, at least here in Ohio, many building renovations that make better use of the space to meet the needs of patrons. Yet, one of the most important patron touch points, the library’s website, is often in desperate need of some basic upgrades. For a good number of libraries, it seems that the website is a forgotten piece of patron experience. A lot of reasons contribute to that (see above), but it does force me to wonder what the consequences will be, especially as mobile begins to replace the desktop and users continue to be even more task-driven.
What do you think?
*We worked with the assumption that large, metro libraries have the resources to deal with user experience issues. We did not include our client libraries, as they would have represented nearly a third of Ohio’s libraries and the vast majority do not have the issues were were evaluating. Two of the 171 libraries we did evaluate did not have a website at all.)
Also published on Medium.