Seeking ten attributes of website design for participatory library – Part 1



Do we need to look at the basics of effective website design in every subject?  Who is not in more need of realistic practical team-based application than theory? Ah, to answer my own question even mental pathways need to be marked out by repeated treading.  Even so, couldn’t we focus on the subject? Sighs.

…self-discipline. Glen Edelson (2010). CC:BY/2.0 at Flickr.
aside: Starting point

My starting point would be from most recent studies on the fundamental goals of information architecture: findability and usability – and principles such as those outlined by Brown (2010) [pdf])

Reading agenda: ‘participatory’ attributes

This website section of module 3 begins “Imagine ten thousand members of the general public outside the entrance to your library…this is what your web and online presence is all about.”  This may be the ambition, but it is not likely to be true. “General public” implies the larger pool of community members who might not already be members and might not think about their library from day to day.  Given the size of the internet, your community members are as likely to be at the other side of the country or the world.  Bringing the community to the “door” (your website) requires (if you can resolve the relevance question) effort in all four of offline community presence, broader online presence, website information architecture and design.

Next it declares “How we engage our users and potential users with collections, research and online resources is all about web site design and social media presence. ”  I think it is all about whether–and if so how–community members *want* to (or would want to if they could) engage with library collections, collecting, and [fill-in-applicable] services. Are library goals and individuals’ goals aligned?

Audience Participation. amanda farrah (2008) CC:BY-NC-ND/2.0 at Flickr
How would this translate to community participation in library collecting?

Will this set of reading offer ME something new and reliable? Considering the topic of the module: “participatory library services” I will look to identify specific mention or demonstration of website attributes that seem likely to entice me to collaborate, converse, commune and/or create content.  AND/OR I will see how highlighted libraries incorporate social media within their websites.

For this to be useful for my final OLJ I would expect to find either:

  • ten that are new to me, or which I understand better now as a result of rereading in this subject.
  • ways that ahem “web2.0” technologies make a website more effective.

Perhaps if I am lucky
I might find examples
of excellent social media practice
to reference in the second assignment.

The task specifies four particular works, but I also have notes from David King’s presentation, do any of those speak to the library being “participatory”?

King (2011)

(worth noting that Topeka&Shawnee County Library’s (TSCPL) website (I think) and catalog have changed since David made that presentation–kudos on the catalog improvement TSCPL)

… convenience

  • for libraries to continue to appeal to community members they must address convenience
  • (compares to use of laptops with wireless internet, & DVD rental booths at McDonalds)
  • – [I agree AND believe this is doubly important if I am expected to feel inclined to ‘participate’]

… listening

  • first step in designing the experience:
    • search for mentions of the library in social networks… [I believe Aaron Tay, the ubiquitous librarian and the swiss army librarian have all explored more extensive network search strategies (for example how can you discover what people want when they’re not talking about the library?) – and a compendium of such strategies would be very handy.]
    • ask focus groups [Ask them what? if we’re aiming for ‘participatory’. ]
    • examine your website usage stats & hit-trails [I’d love to get a look at some of these]
    • observations – well this is fundamental IA (but if you’re not already ‘participatory’ what kind of observations would lead you to discover how to become so? )

… improving touchpoints

  • stickers on bananas – [triggered a line of thought about making it easy for library members to lifestream their library experiences. Applied to the website, it suggests having tweet/like-worthy content–or more than that: what would be the equivalent of members putting a sticker on their forehead and smiling?]
  • what do attractive children’s areas suggest?… marketing: having images that convey how desirable the library is as destination – meh; more on destination later
  • long lines – what is irritating about the website – FIX IT
  • consistency & wayfinding
  • don’t show “your process” – [not sure how that applies yet.]

… Going where people gather

  • mall – [does this necessarily equate to Facebook (etc) presence? or is it more:]
  • ensure you have a good mobile site. [will those ‘participatory’ elements function via mobile?]

… Its a destination

  • In terms of the website, is it just about showing what happens at the branches or
  • [is the website a destination or a doorway – should (?digital branch) show online library member activity (by library members)]

… Interaction

  • is key (I think, from his encouragement to bring staff photos and names forward, that he means between people)
  • “Foursquare, Go, Flickr, Facebook, yelp, twitter, youtube” [ and I know that TSCPL has buttons to follow them on Facebook and Twitter.  While most people might only want to follow, their site does not really make it super easy to lifestream about the library’s services – such as getting a personalised reading list: wouldn’t that be something some people would lifestream (I would)?]
  • “your staff” should be highlighted – [ I agree.  I’d like to know who I’d be dealing with if I go into the library, for that matter I wouldn’t mind seeing who will be handling my requests. Not so many people appear on TSCPL’s home website now, but faces (of leaders) are visible at “Contact us”… are these the people I would see if I walk in the door?  What does that say about ‘belonging’? And some of the blogs show who authors the blogs.  Although the capacity to comment is available on blogposts, I do not see many enticing discussion – and I could not see any indicators of open discussions to browse in case I felt like chatting. But would I?  Is it not possible that the social web lets us chat with people all across the world because/when we do not want to talk to people in the neighbourhood?]

Digression – Pinterest

Last time I had visited TSCPL’s website was to the digital branch blog: reading their post about exploring Pinterest.  They also had a “follow our Pinterest” button in the footer then, and are the pins new this week?  Browsing their pins again, this one…

… made me wonder “would it be great to be able to pin from a catalogue” (one that has book covers obviously)–ooh and to see in the catalogue how people have pinned an item?  It’d also be nice to add from my local library catalogue to My Library Thing “read not owned” category with a “@TSCPL” tag (actually it would be the initials of my own local library or the consortium from whom I borrow: @SWIFT). It would be good to offer an auto tag and the option to change / add others.  All of that (if it was used) sounds like a lot more work for the catalog – all of which I guess would cost the library more?

Would libraries fear too many draws upon their server by sharing the book covers? Does Pinterest draw from the original source every single time it shows an image?

But back to the point of my digression: David was talking about interaction – the big thing discussed about all of the social tools of the last decade is that success depends on what is in it for the individual.

What do tweeters want?
Something interesting & easy to tweet.
What do Facers want?
Something interesting to share in their timeline, or something worth commenting on in yours.

Mathews (2009)

I disagree about how much you can tell about a library from their website – if it is great it might just mean they lucked upon a great designer; or that library leadership values its website face – not necessarily all of the community.  For evidence look at all the lovely/slick websites whose catalogues remain crap, and who cannot promise an information response in under 48 hours (or a week).

… Promotion (participatory)

  • hm, not finding this very practical, yes you want to promote a lot, keep it refreshed so people have reasons to come back?
    • [I don’t go back to the library website until I’m looking for another book.
    • I want to receive an email notice when new exhibits or types of programs are planned, with the option to sign up to receive reminders of particular types of programs (eg author visits, but not children’s storytime, or advanced rather than beginner technology sessions). Sure I follow the local library on twitter but who sees every tweet?
    • On the other hand, when I become aware of an interest event I want to be able to share the event through different streams.
    • When I attend I want to be able to snap a picture of something remarkable to then share ]
    • When I visit the website I want to see what others have been saying/pinning/liking about the library or what contributions have been made from the community to local collections.
  • Orange County were used as an example (although that was 3 years ago, has it changed since?)
    Not necessarily striking, but what I would want (Account links) is easy to get to.
    • All the things I regularly want to do are in one spot (if not top left where I would expect). Request a Title! that is participatory – but not enhanced with social media technology (ie no indication of how many requests the library has filled, or its response speed). While I happened to be doing that I would browse current events. It doesn’t look participatory in an online sense, in that I cannot see what anyone else in the community is saying at/about/through the library.  From the home page, if you scroll down bottom left, you can link to facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Youtube etc.  Great to see stories being told in video –no captions 🙁 — and that the storytelling video collection (and I think events & databases etc) has share buttons; but there are no invitations to comment.
    • I would not care about those awards
    • I hate it when a menu link takes me to a different layout – to me pages that use different layouts should be set apart somehow – and the top navigation space should never change except to show when one is logged in.

… Segmentation

  • Different sites for young children and teenagers. [Okay, but so few libraries do it appealingly.  How many manage to appeal to a broad range of teens?
The Orange County Library System’s Teen website is colourful. But the important thing is how teens feel about it. I see no sharing buttons.
  • Oddly, Brian highlighted academic libraries, neither of which demonstrates his point well.  Orange County on the other hand, did.  Has anyone seen any examples of libraries successfully providing (at their websites) participation opportunities for different patron groups (let alone any patron groups)?  Local issues FORUMS anyone? (It would be pointless to provide subject forums because the wider world is better at that)   ]

… visual cues

  • use icons to break up lots of text [yes but: I think this has been shown to be insufficient – more important to trim the fat, chunk information carefully and work more on better navigation menus – it is certainly not evident at his example any more]

… inspiring photos

  • use wisely, showcase distinctive features. [but beware download burdens]

… always accessible search box

  • “Embed a search box on every page, maybe in the header or in the navigation bar, so patrons can perform a search wherever and whenever they want.” – I agree: when I do happen to browse my local library’s website I get very annoyed at the stinky menu system trying to get back to the catalogue. Beautiful example of search box at University of Virginia Library

    Its responsive! Marvellous. Great search box. My account at top right- YAY. Socia media buttons below the fold. More notes at Flickr
  • “offer a tabbed, federated search box” – it does sound attractive doesn’t it… but I haven’t seen very many achieve it well. Except Colorado State University Libraries:

    Love it. Clean, uncluttered, straight to the point, and easy to find everything else.
  • okay that was fun, but how relevant to participation is the placement & design of the search box? Essential perhaps: content is still the most important thing the library has to offer – but not quite the aspect on which I am supposed to be concentrating.

Mobile-Friendly Pages

  • As a library user – I want this, or an App
  • His example is a “reported attack page”… so I could look for other examples, but my questions will be – does the library’s mobile website or app facilitate participation? (which is a different question than whether libraries facilitate participation by taking advantage of the proliferation and the lifestyle of people with mobile/smart phones & tablets?)


  • ” Dedicate a section on your site to posting user feedback along with the library’s official response.” [I have always believed this would be a good idea, but Brian’s example only offers answers to “Frequently asked questions” and a variety of forms for different kinds of questions. David Lee King once spoke about TSCPL’s engagement with community through blogs, which is not really the same thing.  Any examples? ]


  • Dan Brown calls this the principle of multiple pathways.  Not expecting website users to all use the same links.  [In participatory service terms this would mean sharing buttons on every page anyone might want to share–anything else?]


  •  No argument they’re vital in general. And equally for evaluating efforts to become a ‘participatory library’.  Combine analytics with A/B testing perhaps to find the best place for social media buttons (or more participatory invitations/displays if I ever find any)]
  • While I’m here… oh, I might have mentioned in my posts on delicious how it can be difficult (?impossible?) to detect usage of embedded content.

Easy Way To Ask for Help

  • Drat I saw a great example of this recently and didn’t screenshot it.  ? partici… – ah not really in the public-social context. Would there be a way to make it easy for happy helpees “Like”/tweet their content with help received?  I’d tweet it.

Enough note-taking and thinking for the night

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands!

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands by Patricia van Casteren (2008). CC: BY-NC-ND/2.0 at Flickr


King, D. (2011, September 30). Creating customer experience: On the web, in the library, in the community. Retrieved from
Mathews, B. (2009). Web design matters. Library Journal. Retrieved from

Tired of “2.0”

Joyful learning

Endless blathering over definitions of “web2.0” make my eyes glaze, and turn my mind towards the nearest off-web activity. Thus I was inclined to not even try to post about this suggested thinking point in the modules.  My learning philosophy prioritises joyful activity. I disdain a notion that one should do things one finds unpleasant just because someone else thinks you will learn something from it. On the other hand I believe that, in some circumstances, reframing an activity until it appears more pleasant might be constructive.  Is this one of those?

While “summarise in your own words what you think Web 2.0 is” eludes my inner-Pollyanna; I had a little fun looking back through my posts over the years at moonflowerdragon to see whether there has been any change in my views since doing the original “23 Things” program. Unfortunately, back then the focus was on the term “Library 2.0” and I appeared to be just as disinclined to enter a pointless discussion:


Another piece of fun for me was trying to remember how to embed just a section of a Youtube video, to extract the point I think most salient in Christopher Barnatt’s explanation:

(though I’d extend the analogy from being “as difficult as nailing jelly to a wall” to “as useful”)

What’s the point?

Is there a point to discussing definitions of web2.0?

Linda Berube (2011) felt that her book “Do you web 2.0?: Public libraries and social networking” could not respect itself if it did not attempt to reconcile the different definitions of web2.0 and library2.0 (p. 4).  I believe I’d have found the book more useful if she had forgone the web2.0 jargon and given a lot shorter shrift to definitions and discussion over the relative ‘level’ of “2.0”ness various library webprojects achieved. It would have been 3/4 smaller unless that space was turned over to more indepth discussion over the suitability of projects which use social media to public library goals and considered their improvability and reproducibility.

Do the changes in the definition at Wikipedia (2012) over time–Berube (2011, p. 22) observed two different versions between 2008 & 2010 which are different to the one there today)–indicate improvement, development, collaboration or just the views of different people at different times?

In the end, I place no value on definitions or whether an endeavour qualifies as “web2.0”, whether it “harnesses collective intelligence” (O’Reilly, 2005, p.1), uses the collaborative, connective (Barnatt, 2008, t=0:41), “sharing” features of “social” web-based tools or any other criteria. What I care about is whether the community needs intended to be met by libraries are in fact superbly met by library activities.  Even if the term “web2.0” arises in a shared project, I would prefer to refocus discussion on the real goals, not jargon.

Image Note:
Cover of Pollyanna (edition undated) from Books Should Be Free (free public domain ebooks and audiobooks). If the image itself is not in the public domain, please contact me.


Barnatt, C. (2008). Explaining Web 2.0. Explaining Computers. Retrieved from
Berube, L. (2011). Do you Web 2.0?: public libraries and social networking. Chandos internet series. Oxford: Chandos.
O’Reilly, T. (2005, September 30). What Is Web 2.0. Retrieved July 21, 2012, from
Web 2.0. (2012, July 20). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Retrieved from