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library websites

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The Yarra Plenty Regional Library Service website

In my capacity as the digital strategist at Public Libraries South Australia (PLS), I was lucky enough to visit the Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL) service when I was in Melbourne a couple of weeks back – thanks to Anita, Marcus and Felicity for spending some time with me.

The YPRL service operates nine public libraries (with potential for more soon) across several councils in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs.  It is regularly held up in ‘library land’ as a good example of a cross-jurisdictional library service with a high quality online presence.

Having spent some time playing with the YPRL website, I think that we in South Australia can learn from what YPRL have done with their online user interface and customer experience.

I thought that a quick comparative analysis of the YPRL website and the website of my own local library, the Walkerville Library, was appropriate. This analysis is intended as constructive criticism of both websites and is produced with my ‘library member’ hat on.

From a platform perspective, both PLS South Australia and YPRL use Sirsidynix as their backend library management system. PLS uses Sirsidynix’s ‘Enterprise’ as their front-end, customer-facing interface (called a ‘discovery layer’ in library land). YPRL have chosen to implement a third-party discovery layer, Bibliocommons, rather than use the ‘native’ Sirsidynix product.

The Walkerville Library website
The Walkerville Library website

Arriving at the YPRL home page, the website looks modern and contemporary. The interface is clean and uncluttered; large, striking images are used on the home page to encourage user engagement; and the colours, fonts and styles are easy on the eye (although, personally, I wouldn’t have opted for olive green as the predominant colour, but then again, I’m no design authority).

The navigation structure is simple with a series of easily-accessible drop-down menus at the top of the page, with ‘hours and locations’ prominently displayed alongside the very apparent ‘login’ button at top right.

Resizing the browser window reveals that the YPRL home page is fully responsive – that means that it renders according to screen dimensions and is useable on any device, whether it be a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

In keeping with the library’s focus on community building, the home page has an emphasis on curated lists, blog posts, news content and events information, rather than just book jacket covers.

Visiting a ‘book detail’ page (see for example: https://yprl.bibliocommons.com/item/show/457709027_breath)  reveals the power of the Bibliocommons platform. Book detail pages have their own unique, search engine-friendly URLs; availability information and call-to-action buttons are prominent at top right in their own separate action box; videos, critical comment and user-generated reviews are all available on page; and the book is cross-referenced and linked using tags, user-generated lists, categories and awards.

A Google search: ‘breath at yarra plenty’ reveals a page match in the top ten listings, which means that the catalogue is open and accessible to external searchers.

This is what appears in Google when you search for 'yarra plenty library'
This is what appears in Google when you search for ‘yarra plenty library’

Things that I saw that might be worth some attention from YPRL:



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  • Whilst the home page is definitely responsive, some underlying pages with left hand side menus (see for example: http://www.yprl.vic.gov.au/browse/books/) are less friendly on smaller devices.
  • Many user journeys on a library catalogue website start with the on-site search function. On the YPRL website, the search button is quite unobtrusive at the top right and the user must click to view the hidden search input fields. Given that a search is likely the principal activity of visitors, consideration should be given to making the search function entirely visible by default, rather than requiring the user to take two separate actions to initiate a search.
  • When I viewed the site, there were a number of new book/movies in the home page rotational component that did not have cover images. The default ‘image unavailable’ placeholder images are less than inspiring for people who are interested in exploring new content.
  • When passing from the home page to book detail pages, the browser URL shifts from the domain http://www.yprl.vic.gov.au/ to https://yprl.bibliocommons.com. For brand consistency and search engine optimisation purposes, it would be better to use a single top- level domain, rather than splitting across two domains and publicising the brand of the underlying platform provider. It’s also now best practice to have SSL encryption across the site (https://)
  • The TITLE tag on the YPRL home page is ‘YPRL’ – and that’s what shows up when you search for the library in Google (see screenshot).  It’s much better to spell this out in the TITLE tag: ‘Yarra Plenty Regional Library Service’.
  • Consideration should be given to providing on-page social sharing buttons to enable users to share book detail pages to their social networks; other ‘mashed up’ external data sources, like Goodreads reviews and star ratings or Google Books Preview could also be considered.
  • YPRL’s social media presence (eg. Facebook Page) is accessible via a series of buttons that are accessible only from the footer of each page. To increase social media activity, it might be appropriate to move these buttons to a more prominent location in the header area ‘above the fold’ where they are instantly accessible upon page load.

Upon arriving at the the Walkerville Library website, initial impressions are that its not as clean and contemporary as the YPRL site.  It looks dated, ‘blocky’ and is quite clearly not a bespoke site, but rather a standard, customised three-column ‘white label’ site (YPRL is a ‘white label’ too, but doesn’t look like it is).  The sans serif font (Arial?) and the use of red and blue coloured text doesn’t help (blue should only ever be used for hyperlinks).

The website is housed at the very unattractive URL: http://sapln.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/walkerville/?dt=list. This is not great for branding or SEO purposes – nor can it be recalled easily by members.

The site is not responsive and isn’t easily navigable on a mobile device.

Whilst important information, such as Opening Hours, events information and the search function, are prominent on the home page, there’s too much textual information crammed into the central column.

The proliferation of brands, logos and tiles (I see Town of Walkerville, Libraries of SA, One Card, BookMyne, Zinio, Lynda, OverDrive) is quite overwhelming for the user, particularly if they are new to the library and have no understanding of the various services offered by these brands. Some of these logos, such as the Premier’s Reading Challenge tile, are in low resolution and appear squished.

Navigating to a book detail page reveals a flaw with the architecture of the website – book details are served in a ‘pop up’ window, rather than on their own unique page with a unique URL.  This means that book detail pages are not linkable, bookmark-able or discoverable in search engines – a Google search for ‘breath at walkerville library’ reveals no results.  Given that over 90% of user journeys in Australia start with a search engine query, this is something that needs attention.

Like the home page, the book detail ‘pop up’ is clunky and offers little in the way of user-generated or supplementary content that is evident on the YPRL site. Overall, it’s functional, but it’s not a very inviting experience.

There’s no doubt that we have a little bit of work to do here in South Australia, but it’s great that we can look to other library services for inspiration to help us with our own journey.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “A Comparative Analysis of Two Public Library Websites”

  1. Pity someone from Yarra Plenty didn’t proof read the copy of the blurb from the back cover of Breath. Pretty sure it refers to high jinks not high kinks.

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