Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Essential Elements of a Library Web Site

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Essential Elements of a Library Web Site

Article excerpt

Over the course of the last 5 years or so, I've visited the Web sites of at least 10,000 libraries. One of my long-standing projects has been the lib-web-cats online directory of libraries. This data-base-driven resource provides a way for researchers to find the sites of libraries and their online catalogs on the Web. I started this database in 1997, and released it to the public in May 1999. For the general public, lib-web-cats serves as a finding aid for libraries. But for my personal research, it works as a rich data source for library automation trends. Part of the information tracked in the database includes the current library automation system and any previous systems each library has used. Although some of the Web sites in lib-web-cats have been self-contributed by libraries, I personally review each entry and view each Web site referenced.

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At my primary job at Vanderbilt, I participate in the Web Task Force, a group responsible for ongoing development and maintenance of our library system's Web site. For that group, we regularly scout the Web sites of other large academic libraries, using what others have done to inform our decisions as we approach a given issue or problem.

In today's world, a library's presence on the Web ranks only slightly behind its building in shaping its users' impressions. In the course of my excursions through multitudes of library Web sites, I've seen that the vast majority of them do an impressive job of representing the library in a positive and effective way. For a small minority of these sites, however, I've found it hard to find key bits of information, or I've experienced problems with basic site navigation. If I have these difficulties, I worry that their own library users are also not optimally served. This month, I offer some of my observations and tips on issues that strike me as essential elements of a library Web site.

URL Persistence. Help us find you on the Web! Create an easily remembered URL and stick with it. Changing your library's Web address should be done with the same level of care and frequency as that of its street address. The URL should stay the same even if the library changes physical Web servers, hosting services, Internet service providers, or page delivery applications.

I've seen lots of smaller libraries that use Web hosting services and take the URLs that come with those services. These URLs might not necessarily give the library a memorable Web address. Moreover, if the library changes hosting services, it is forced to find a new identity.

Today, registering a domain is cheap and easy, allowing a library to craft its own URL. Once the library has registered a domain name, it can be used as its online identity regardless of whether it hosts its own Web site, relies on its parent organization, or depends on a commercial Web hosting service. Libraries must be careful, however, to maintain registration of their domain names. Once registration of a domain has lapsed, it may be difficult to get the name back, again forcing an unwanted change of address.

One of the trends that I have seen involves public libraries selecting domains such as www.clevelandlibrary.org rather than those reflecting geographic conventions, like http://www.lib.cleveland.tn.us. I find the name-oriented domains to be much easier to remember and type than the geographic ones.

URL Simplicity. A library should use the simplest possible form of a URL as its basic address. The library's home page should never be tied to a particular file name, but should take advantage of the Web server's ability to deliver the right page if no file name is specified.

A library home page, for example, might reside in a file called index.html. For my library, it would be possible to advertise this URL:http://www.library.vanderbilt.edu/index.shtml. But, with the proper configuration, the simpler http://www. …

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