Softlink IC Blog

Subscribe to our quarterly update

The role of technology in library outreach – Websites

If you missed the introduction to our “Role of technology in library outreach” series, we’re defining library outreach as the endeavours that are aimed at

  1. Providing library services to those who for a number of reasons cannot physically get to the main library.
  2. Turning non-users into users by providing services to those who find traditional library services to be inconvenient.
  3. Generating invaluable goodwill within a community

The good news is that your library website is a great platform for all of those 3 things!

Your library website is the portal where your users can log in to your library management system and, with web-based systems like Liberty, there is so much your users can do remotely that they may never have a need to physically step foot in your library!

It’s also the place where people are most likely to go looking for information about how you can help them – your library’s services, programs and events. This is particularly important for attracting non-users to your library, as your website may be the only way you can communicate with them.

And regardless of who your “community” is – your website’s news and blog sections are the perfect place to share the stories of how you have helped others.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “post it online and they will come”.

Improving the impact of your website on your library outreach program

As promised in our introduction to the series, we are looking at some realistic ideas, that you can implement in the short term, for improving the effectiveness of the tools you are using to support your library outreach program. That means I am not going to suggest a full-scale website re-design!

Below are a few simple things that everyone can do to improve their website that will go a long way to improving your library’s outreach. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but by taking some of these initial steps, your library outreach will be in a better position!

1. Prepare to hear the honest truth

It might sting, but getting a fresh, unbiased review of your website can be a great motivator for change and there are a number of ways to find your “fresh eyes” for usability testing.

You could use a free service such as the Usability Testing Exchange and have unbiased strangers cast their eye over your site. There are also a number of subreddits where you can ask for feedback from the online community.

If you run a library induction program for new library users, you could use this as an opportunity to set a few simple tasks for your user and watch how they navigate your website to find a solution. This will give you a feel for how intuitive your website is. Tasks should be realistic and actionable, and avoid directing your tester on what to do. has written some helpful tips on structuring your scenarios.

Or, you could use a free online survey tool, such as Surveymonkey get feedback from your library users. Many of these sites have sample questionnaires to get you started, but it’s a good idea to adjust the questions to explore issues that are specific to your library. Even if you can’t connect with your library patrons, the traditional pen and paper survey still holds value!

2. Watch your language

Are you subconsciously writing your website content using YOUR jargon? To get people engaged with your library outreach program you need to speak in a language they understand, so avoid using acronyms or terms that are not in their vocabulary.

For example, instead of using the word “periodical”, would it make more sense to use “journals and magazines”? Do your library users understand what a Reference Desk is, or would they find it more relatable if you called it an “Information Desk”?

3. Paint the right picture

It’s the old cliché – a picture paints a thousand words. So have a look at the photos you are using on your website and think about the image they are projecting.

  • Do the photos look “old” – for instance are people wearing “out-of-style” style clothes or using outdated devices?
  • Do all your images look obviously posed? This can be tricky with stock imagery, but try balance posed images with “photojournalistic” style images.
  • Are they clichéd or cheesy? Avoid using anything that looks like it could have been taken from the vaults of Microsoft’s clip art library.
  • Do the people look like your library users? If you’re a legal library for instance, you should incorporate images of professionals in corporate settings, not college students laughing over coffee in a hipster cafe.
  • Is there any text that could be enhanced with a photo or infographic (the brain processes images faster than it does text)? And on the flip side – do you really need a photo? Too many pictures can be a distraction.
  • Do you have permission to use these photos? Beware of Google images, or “free” stock images as you may be infringing on copyright. Look to use licenced images from sites such as 123rf, or better yet take your own images (just make sure they are good quality – if you have a hobby photographer on staff, see if they can assist!).

If you don’t have access to design tools like Photoshop, consider using Canva to help you jazz up your photos for free. And if a full image refresh isn’t possible, start with your homepage images, then make sure that all new content has to adhere to these standards.

Next in The Role of Technology in Library Outreach Series>  the library Search interface