The design of the Olin Library website has been a theme of this blog from very early on. Almost no one in the Library is particularly satisfied with the website as it is now, but we have been waiting to do a major redesign because the College is engaged in a wholesale redesign of the College web presence as part of a wider strategic marketing initiative.
But we have not been able to resist making some changes. Even though I have been trying to put the brakes on too much change in the website, while encouraging people in the Library to think about what kind of website they would like to see and use in the future, the pace of change has recently quickened. I thought it would be a good time to acknowledge some of these changes and talk about where they might lead us in the future.
Use the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to look at the website as of August 2006
We have cut down on the number of quicklinks, changed the orientation from two vertical columns to two horizontal rows, removed the bottom row of links to library departments, and switched from a Times to a sans serif font.
More importantly, we have added a quick search of the library catalog and selected other databases, a beta of federated searching and more ways of connecting with librarians (see the Meebo IM box.) Hopefully these are the beginning of new ways of enabling people to search and new ways of communicating with our users, and more importantly, them communicating with us. In general I think we are seeing a move away from a website designed around how the library is organized and towards a website designed around how people want to use our library.
Moving beyond the homepage, our link to article indexes and databases has also changed significantly. Again, we are trying to provide multiple forms of access to the major reason people use our site -- to find information resources and documents. Instead of trying to find the one best way, we have given people lots of ways. Previously we had a two column list of databases, followed by a duplicate list of databases with descriptions. It worked, but people got confused by the two columns. Now they can choose from a quick list at the very top, a linked alphabet that takes them to databases plus short descriptions that start with that letter, or scroll down to that list of databases plus short descriptions . In my humble opinion, it is not there yet, but it is closer. We need to emphasize a sophisticated form of federated search for our users, reducing the need to choose a database unless they really want to.
Another page that is, I think, all new is the ask a librarian page. Just a very different design from other pages on the site. I will be interested to see what our students make of it when we conduct usability testing. What I really like about this is that we have really expanded the potential channels of communication between our users and librarians. We now need to find ways to get those channels off the library website and out to where our users are -- Foxlink, the student intranet, Blackboard, department websites etc.
Finally, our About page has changed. The design is still as clunky as ever, but there is some new content. We have begun to recognize that most people, most of the time, do not want to know about the library. So this is the place to put access to departments, to people, to plans, etc. I am happy to see access to the current plan, and that is a wiki, so that is constantly developing. Also the calendars are now part of the wider campus calendar. This calendar system is not perfect, but I think we are on the right track when we use existing infrastructure rather than trying to make our own.
Expect to see more radical changes in the future, I think we will soon see a website that emphasis find, help, online services, communication, and interactivity, while being aesthetically pleasing and amenable to small parts being broken off and added to other webpages. In the meantime, I want to recognize the changes that have taken place so far and also complement Paul Gindlesperger and Bill Svitavsky both of Electronic Resources who have done most of the web editing and development that has got us here, and to everyone else who has participated in making these changes.
I would love to hear your comments about these changes.