It’s 2017 and the website of every single library in the country suffers from the same old, cruel, schizophrenic, UX nightmare dichotomy: the website and the catalog, the website versus the catalog. Two products, two experiences, two silos, two staff members behind them. Both are wannabees. The website is almost a catalog, and the catalog is almost a website. And together they are redundant, cluttered, confusing, and pointless to patrons.
The first library to figure out a true single user experience – that is to say, a real website – gets Library of the Year.
Library of the Decade.
I truly believe that. We have come a long way, but we need to jump this hurdle. Our online presence – specifically the home page – is now more important than ever, more important than our physical space. With eBooks and eAudiobooks integrating into Search (sort of), with various providers like Overdrive, Hoopla, 3M, and Zinio – all of which are confusing to patrons; with online articles (if you can find them), online registration, online room booking, and online programs (and don’t get me started on online library cards which still don’t exist)….
Yeah, the website matters.
So who will be the first library to stop using the word ‘catalog’ – to eliminate the concept from our consciousness? I know the obstacles are huge, but who will be the first library to make the commitment and priority to fully integrate the search experience into the home page. Like this:
Who will be the first library to figure out a seamless “my account” feature of the website, where a patron doesn’t have to log in twice, where a patron is automatically logged in (like Facebook), and where a patron can see all their checkouts simply by hovering over the My Account icon, like this:
Recently our library did a UX Study on our website and catalog. My interpretation is this: people go to the website to find books, place holds, check their account. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Let’s embrace that. Who will be the first library to transform the homepage into an Amazon experience? With gigantic book covers, curated lists, staff picks. Browse, click, hold – as few clicks as possible. Like this:
How Do We Get There?
- Open Source ILS
Currently, none of the ILS products, catalogs, or so called discovery layers allow for a real website. I’ve seen impressive library sites, but nothing close to modern. The ILS – the soul of the library – is probably the fundamental roadblock. We cannot make a product do something it can’t. Therefore, an open source ILS like Evergreen might be the only option – although I’ve heard very promising rumors and mockups at my library that we can do it with Sirsi’s ILS. Or, even more radically, I wonder if a library could build a completely original ILS from the ground up, designed specifically by a library for a library? Yikes: is that naive of me?
- Library Consortium or Collaborative Design
Clearly building an ILS or Catalog from the ground up is a giant project, requiring several years and millions of dollars. One way to mitigate that is by joining up with other libraries, or state-wide collaboratives, or getting grants from the government. The best example of this is the amazing discovery layer created by a Colorado team called Pica, which looks similar to an Amazon experience (but it’s still just a catalog, not a website). Our library almost got it. The downfall with collaboration is that technology designed for many libraries tends to get watered down. They want to be everything for everyone and thereby become clunky to everyone.
- Budgets Reflect Priorities
We’ve heard that phrase before, but it’s true. If libraries really want to do something, they will find a way. If libraries need to hire a team of web developers and designers, they will find a way to fund it. How important is this? That’s the question. And with all the other priorities we are committed to, it’s a healthy debate to have.
- We need Web Developers on Staff
The number of third-party technology products that we buy is mind blowing. Most of them are crappy, a few years behind, and some don’t play nice with others, although there are exceptions. Wouldn’t that money be better spent by simply hiring one or two web developers, really smart in-house people that can build products to meet our specific needs? For example, our library has recently hired a very smart IT professional. In his first few weeks, as if by magic, he had already created a brilliant internal website for staff – on WordPress, for free. I think the time is past to have more IT professionals work at libraries. Maybe I’m being naive here (I probably am).
Could Kalamazoo Public Library have the first real website?
I wrote this article probably a year ago and I’m happy to say that Kalamazoo Public Library might be forging a new and innovative path to the age-old website/catalog conundrum. I won’t go into the details, but it involves bypassing the catalog altogether, grabbing the data from the catalog and displaying it exactly how we want on the….wait for it….on the website. The team – composed of the web guys, the ILS guy, and a design guy – is making incredibly promising progress so far.