Matthew Reidsma gave a presentation recently with the provocative title Your Library Website Stinks and it’s Your Fault [abstract]. In combination with that, he also wrote an article on the same theme, Bad Library Websites are just a Symptom. I’ll mention briefly some of the points that he made, but the main idea I want to stress here is that Reidsma has an answer to the problems he details with library websites, namely Responsive Design.

Reidsma’s predominant theme is that the way to build good websites, including library websites, is to listen to our users. Users think differently from us, so we need to spend a lot of time doing usability studies of our web pages. From usability studies at his library, Reidsma says that the overriding lesson he’s learned is that users want simple web pages — A big, fat, Google-like search box, with just a few good links.

Responsive Design

Serendipitously, about the same time I came across Reidsma’s ideas on library websites, I was reading about Responsive Web Design (RWD), a recently innovated way to make web pages so that they look good on any size screen, from smartphone to desktop. This requires that the basic page contents be fairly simple, and goes along with the “mobile first” idea that pages should be designed first for small-screen viewing.

I was becoming interested in RWD especially because our library is working on implementing it. So I was looking around to see if any other libraries were doing it, and, low and behold, the only other one I found was Reidsma’s library (actually a sub-section of it).

Interestingly (and surprisingly), Reidsma has not written anything about RWD, but he will talking about it at a work shop on it at ALA-LITA this summer. It fits in well with his ideas about library website design, and it will be interesting to see how he combines the ideas in his session in Anaheim.

Reidsma’s push for simple design on library websites goes along with the current mobile-first-RWD emphasis of modern less is more web design, that’s come with the Mobile Revolution. This is captured well in an article about designer Luke Wroblewski:

Wroblewski thinks the hard choices required to prune all but the most important features make for stronger sites. And, indeed, after they go through the mobile development process, companies often find that their desktop site looks busy, clunky and old by comparison.

What works for the dotcom companies of Wroblewski’s world can also work to the benefit of libraries. Actually, libraries have the great advantage over dotcoms that we don’t have to worry about where to put the ads squeezed out by mobile-minimalist design!

Matthew Reidsma’s Twitter – @mreidsma

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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