A few more thoughts on library websites

November 7, 2008, 9:59 am

With the last post I offered a handful of library websites that admire. I would not go as far at to say that they are best designs, but simply that they are great examples of what I have found to be helpful for starting a conversation about redesigns.

Here are a few more I'd like to share.


I can't recall about their old design but I know that I didn't like it—however their current design is great. It is very clean and friendly. When I talk with students about library sites intimidation is a theme that comes up a lot— I feel that Duke has done very well to reduce that fear. Some (many) of us try and cram so much onto our front-page that it becomes a blur– I like the balanced design of Duke.

Buffalo State

I mentioned Buffalo in my original post, but I'd like to draw your attention to their cross town rivals Buffalo State . This site also has a “new design” feel to it. The colors bother me, and in fact, the whole page feels compacted—but what I really like is their Information Common page. This is of personal interest because our Commons page must have 100 links on it—I like BSU's approach because while there is a lot of information it is elegant in its simplicity. I like their “quick computing guide” and the icons they use beside the links. I really like the toggle button between faculty and students—this is great feature because we know that we need to highlight different services and use different language with these segments.

Ville de Saint-Herblain

My intent with this was to showcase sites that I find inspiring, so let's go global. This site was very recently brought to my attention and I have to say that it is my favorite right now. It is a French library and it feels like it was designed by Dali, Sartre, and David Lynch. It is so bizarre and fascinating. It is an incredible work of art. I'll include a few screens shots, but I strongly encourage you to experience it yourself. It is beautiful, which is a strange thing to say about a library site. The only flaw is that it is Flash which doesn't work with my iPhone.




Two Trends

I follow academic library websites quite regularly. Once a year I go through the ARL list to see what is new. I also have about ten non-ARL's that I follow regularly as well.

The biggest trend over the last 5 years has been the movement to the column or the box layout, typically with a sidebar filled with news, events, announcements, and spotlights. We use this ourselves at GT. It is easy but conservative. What I like about Duke, Buffalo State , and the French library is that they break the mold. They don't trap themselves in the category mentality but have flexible, even playful designs. I commend any library that breaks out from this pattern!

Another mega trend is the tabbed search tool. I am not sure who did it first— libraries are very cannibalistic stealing from each other constantly—but the design has run rampant.


The Google Scholar API and the widespread adoption of federated searching have led to this. I often hear (from old timers) about the library's battle with Google and the belief that these types of tools will distinguish us. Personally I like this design element, the turn-of-the-century Amazon inspired tabbed searching, but the critics say that students often don't know what they are looking for and the tabs make it confusing.

The next big thing will be the one box that searches everything at once. And after that it will be customized library websites (a la myspace) where everyone has access to the same core features and services, but also the ability to customize the look and the suite of services they want to use. Imagine a set of dynamic themes or templates based on the users experience level or their disciplines/assignment. Beyond content, users could also choose or customize the visual style they prefer– but that my readers, is a post for another day.

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