Academic Web Site Design and Academic Templates: Where Does the Library Fit In?

Article excerpt

Academic Web site design continues to evolve as colleges and universities are under increasing pressure to create a Web site that is both hip and professional looking. Many colleges and universities are using templates to unify the look and feel of their Web sites. Where does the library Web site fit into a comprehensive campus design scheme? The library Web site is unique due to the wide range of services and content available. Based on a poster session presented at the Twelfth Annual Association of College and Research Libraries conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 2005, this paper explores the prevalence of university-wide academic templates on library Web sites and discusses factors libraries should consider in the future.

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College and universities have a long history with the Web. In the early 1990s, university Web sites began as piecemeal projects with varying degrees of complexity--many started as informational sites for various technologically advanced departments on campus. Over the last decade, these Web sites have become a vital part of postsecondary institutions and one of their most visible faces. Academic Web sites communicate the brand and mission of an institution. They are used by prospective students to learn about an institution and then used later to apply. Current students use them to pay tuition bills, register for classes, access course materials, participate in class discussions, take tests, get grades, and more. Online learning and course-management software programs, such as Blackboard, continue to increase the use of Web sites. They are now an important learning tool for the entire campus community and the primary communication tool for current students, parents, alumni, the community, donors, and funding organizations.

Web site standards have developed since the 1990s. Usability and accessibility are now important tenets for Web site designers, especially for educational institutions. As a result, campus Web designers or outside consultants are often responsible for designing large parts of the academic Web site. As Web sites have grown, ongoing maintenance is an important workload issue. Databases and other technologies are used to simplify daily updates and changes to Web sites. This is where the academic template fits in.

An academic template can be defined as a common or shared template used to control the formatting of Web pages in different departments on a campus. Generally, administrators will mandate the use of a specific template or group of templates. This mandate includes guidelines for such things as layout, design, color, font, graphics, and navigation links to be used on all Web pages. Often, the templates are administered using content management systems (CMSs) or Web development software such as Macromedia's Contribute. These programs give different levels of editing rights to individuals, thus keeping tight control over particular Web pages or even parts of Web pages. Academic templates give the Web site administrator the ability to change the template and update all pages with a single keystroke.

For example, the Web site administrator may give editing rights to content editors, such as librarians, to edit only the center section of the Web page. The remaining parts of the page such as the top, sides, and bottom are locked and cannot be edited. The result of using templates is that the university Web site is very unified and consistent. This is particularly important in creating a brand for the university. Well-branded Institutions have the opportunity to increase revenue, improve administration and faculty staffing, improve retention, and increase alumni relationships. (1) But what about the library?

Libraries are one of the most visited Web pages on a university's Web site. (2) Thus, the design of the library page can be crucial to a well-designed academic Web site. The library Web site can set a tone for an institution and help prospective students get a feel for the campus. …