Walking Paper

A library design consultancy and blog by Aaron Schmidt

21 Oct 14

Library Websites Worth Looking At

Last week Chris Zammarelli asked Amanda Etches and me for some library website inspiration. So we decided to compile a short list of some sites that we’re liking right now. If we missed one that you really like, please holler!

Hennepin County Library


We like:

The huge search box. The visual design of the site is pleasant, but the best part of the HCL website is the catalog integration. Totally into it. Search results are legible, and bib records aren’t filled with junk that people don’t want to see (though additional information is available below).

Red flags:

At 1440 x 900, there’s some odd white space on the left of most pages. (A somewhat minor gripe, to be sure.)

Addison Public Library


We like:

Legible typography, calm visual design, restrained content.

Red flags:

Wish the search box was a bit bigger, but it is in a conventional location so maybe that’s okay. Also, the site uses the classic and ever popular public library audience segmentation of kids/teens/adults. We understand the problem that this solves but think there’s probably a better solution out there somewhere.

MIT Libraries


We like:

Great homepage! Nice, clear, bold typography. Useful content.

Red flags:

Catalog isn’t integrated, lots of content thrown into link laden libguides.

CSU Channel Islands John Spoor Broome Library


We like:

Another great homepage! Very welcoming with friendly writing. Task oriented and a big search box.

Red flags:

Not responsive.
20 Oct 14

Showering in the Library

It was a hot, dusty day in Moab, Utah. I drove into town from my beautiful campsite overlooking the La Sal Mountains, where I’d been cycling and exploring the beautiful country. I was taking a few days off from work, and even though I was relaxing, I had a phone call I didn’t want to reschedule. So back to town I went, straight to—naturally—the public library. I had fond memories of the library from a previous visit a few years back: a beautiful building with reliable Wi-Fi. Aside from not being allowed to bring coffee inside, it would be a great place to check email and take a call on the bench outside. Setting up a bitcoin library enables easy transactions. It helps you to maintain a wallet and helps you send and receive currecny without needing a local coin. Check https://kryptoszene.de/bitcoin-wallet-vergleich to learn about setting up bitcoin wallets. As I entered the library, I decided that transitioning from adventure mode to work mode required, at least, washing some of Moab’s ample sand and dust off of my hands. I washed my hands and what happened next I did automatically, without consideration or contemplation: I cupped my hands and splashed some water on my face. Refreshing! I then wet a paper towel to wipe the sunscreen off of the back of my neck. It was at about this point that I realized just what was going on; I was the guy bathing in the library restroom! Half shocked, half amused by my actions, I quickly made sure I didn’t drip anywhere and sully the otherwise very clean and pleasant basin.

Contextually appropriate

I can’t say I’m proud of my mindless act, but it did get me thinking about the very sensitive issue of appropriate behavior in libraries. I’m not going on a campaign encouraging libraries to offer showers to their patrons, but not because I think the idea is ridiculous. I actually think it is a legitimate potential service offering. That such a service would likely be useful for only a very small segment of library users is one reason why it isn’t worth ­pursuing. But as a theoretical concept, I find nothing inherently wrong or illogical with the idea of a library offering showers. It is simply an idea that hasn’t found many appropriate contexts. Even so, with the smallest amount of imagination I can think of contexts in which this could work. What about a multiuse facility that houses a restaurant, a gym, a coworking space, and a library? Seems like an amazing place. And don’t forget that the new central library in Helsinki, Finland—to be completed in 2017—will feature sauna facilities. These will be contextually and culturally ­appropriate.

Challenging assumptions

This is about more than showers and saunas. It is about our long-held assumptions and how we react to new ideas. When we’re closed off to concepts without examining them fully, or without exploring the frameworks in which they exist, we’re unlikely truly to innovate or create any radically meaningful experiences. When evaluating new initiatives, we should consider the library less and our communities more. Without this sort of thinking, we’d have never realized libraries with popular materials, web access, access to materials related to testing trading apps such as the news spy test and instructional classes, let alone cafés, gaming nights, and public health nurses. Learning about our contexts—our communities—takes more than facilitating surveys and leading focus groups. After all, those techniques put less emphasis on people and more on their opinions. Even though extra work is required, the techniques aren’t mysterious. There are well-established methods we can use to learn about the individuals in our areas and then design contextually appropriate programs and services. To the Grand County Public ­Library in Moab, my apologies for the slight transgression. I did leave the restroom in the same shape as I found it. To ­everyone else, if you’re in Moab, visit the library. But if you need a place to clean up in that city, try the aquatic center. It has nice pools and clean ­showers.
28 Jul 14

Our New Book: Useful, Usable, Desirable

By designing your library with the user experience in mind, you have the potential to deepen the connection your library has with its community, and make your library a place that people love to use. Amanda Etches and I wrote a book to help you do just that. schmidt_fullsize_RGB
The book is a practical guide to assessing and improving all sorts of touchpoints in your library, and also covers foundational UX theory. Each chapter deals with a different part of the library and provides a list of checkpoints that you can use to assess how your library is doing. Each checkpoint states why we think is important, and tells you how to improve your score (should that be necessary). Yes, there’s even a scoring system.
As the subtitle says, this is about applying user experience design to your library. Think of it is as a big heuristic evaluation for the whole library, with supporting information about why UX matters, some practical user research methods, and helpful tips on design thinking. Check out the table of contents below to see what’s covered. What’s more, I’ve been told that the book is “genuinely entertaining.” Not bad, right? Big thanks to Amanda for making the writing process fun, and for making the book really great! You can ILL it via WordCat (or locally maybe!), buy it on Amazon, or at ALA’s store.

Table of contents:

1. Introducing Library User Experience
1.1 What Is User Experience Design?
1.2 Why UX for Libraries?
1.3 The Trinity of Good UX
1.4 The Principles of Library User Experience Design
1.5 How to Use This Book
1.6 A Note on Terminology 2. User Research Techniques in This Book
2.1 Attitudinal and Behavioral Research
2.2 Other User Research Techniques
2.3 Additional Reading 3. Physical Space
3.1 The Library Building Is Clean and Functions as Intended
3.2 The Library Building Is Free from Clutter
3.3 Furniture Adequately Supports Member Needs
3.4 The Building Supports Diverse Behaviors
3.5 Members Have Easy Access to Power Outlets 4. Service Points
4.1 Members Readily Approach Service Desks
4.2 Service Desks Adjust to Changing Needs
4.3 Members Receive Assistance When and Where They Need It
4.4 Members Receive the Kind of Assistance They Need
4.5 Additional Reading 5. Policies and Customer Service
5.1 Your Library Has a Service Philosophy
5.2 Your Staff Members Know and Live Your Service Philosophy
5.3 There Is as Little Policy as Possible
5.4 Library Policies Empower Staff
5.5 Staff Members Are Friendly and Genuinely Want to Help
5.6 Service Is Consistent across Departments and Modalities
5.7 Service Is Consistent across the Organization 6. Signage and Wayfinding
6.1 Your Library Has a Brand Manual That Is Consistent with the Principles of Graphic Design
6.2 All Signage Uses the Same Visual Language
6.3 Different Types of Signs Are Visually Distinct
6.4 There Are as Few Signs as Possible
6.5 There Are No Paper Signs Taped to Walls, Doors, Tables, Computers, or Any Other Surfaces
6.6 Regulatory Signs Are Written in a Plain, Polite, and Friendly Manner
6.7 Library Cards Contain Useful Information and Employ the Library’s Visual Language
6.8 First-Time Visitors Can Easily Locate All Parts of the Library
6.9 Additional Reading 7. Online Presence
7.1 Members Can Easily Search for Library Items and Place Holds
7.2 Members Can Easily Accomplish Critical Tasks
7.3 The Size of Your Website Is Commensurate with the Amount of Effort You Can Devote to It
7.4 Web Content Is Engaging
7.5 Content Is Written for the Web
7.6 Website Employs Web Design Conventions
7.7 Home Page Clearly Expresses What People Can Do on Your Site
7.8 Website Is Easy to Use on All Devices
7.9 Website Employs the Library’s Visual Language
7.10 You Use Social Media in Meaningful Ways
7.11 Additional Reading 8. Using the Library
8.1 The Technology in Your Library Is Relevant, Useful, and Usable
8.2 Collections Are Relevant to Member Needs
8.3 Marketing Materials Are Relevant to Member Needs
8.4 You Merchandize Your Materials
8.5 Library Services and Programs Solve Problems
8.6 Additional Reading 9. Wrapping Up: Philosophy, Process, and Culture
9.1 Whole Library Thinking
9.2 The Design Process
9.3 Your Organizational Culture
9.4 Parting Words
24 Jul 14

What if your library website disappeared?

What would happen if your library’s website disappeared? You’d probably get a lot of phone calls. If I had to guess, most would be about:
  • Finding library items
  • Renewing library items
  • Library hours and locations
To a lesser extent, there might be questions about:
  • Loan periods
  • How to get a library card
  • Library events
  • Library services
  • Ebooks
However, I’d guess you would not receive many calls about:
  • Book reviews
  • Library value calculator
  • Homework help
  • History of the library
  • Library mission statement
  • Library policy
  • Library board minutes
  • Podcasts
This thought experiment gives us some perspective about the things library websites should be focusing on—the critical tasks users are trying to accomplish. It also offers perspective on the aspects of our websites that are comparatively unimportant—everything else. Plainly, a lot of the content on your library’s website could be a complete waste of time and effort. Are your users looking at it? Check your analytics. Are those who do deriving any value from it? One way to find out is to remove it temporarily and see if anyone speaks up. Given the hard work it takes to create and maintain content, you might find that your return on some investments is low.


Why do some libraries insist on developing website content that is not being used? There’s no doubt it would be great if library users came to our sites to read book reviews, listen to podcasts, and calculate the value that the library delivers to them. We want to be a valuable resource. We want people to trust our opinions and rely on us for guidance. But just because this would be wonderful doesn’t mean it is going to happen. We’re ever hopeful that if we advertise our websites in the right way, or create the right sort of graphic, or make the visual design more attractive, people will begin to use our content. This is pure fantasy. We need a healthy dose of reality. By living in this dream world, we’re doing ourselves and our members a disservice. It is time for us to adjust our expectations about what it means to create and maintain a library website. If we liberate ourselves from producing scads of content that no one wants, we’ll have some surplus resources. We can use this extra horsepower to achieve other library priorities that meet user needs, such as improving our catalog interfaces.


I’m not yet aware of any libraries sending out great niche newsletters; please get in touch if you’re doing so. But here are three libraries that have reduced the scope of their sites and focused on what’s important. Addison Public Library, IL
A very lean (and attractive) website. Lane Public Library, Hamilton, OH
This site’s content is quite restrained and presented in an effective, attractive manner. Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, KS
There’s still a decent amount of content on this site, but the staff have done a lot of whittling down from the previous iteration. The result is an easy-to-grasp understanding of what users can find on the site and targeted information that’s worthwhile to those interested.


Instead of creating content for your website and hoping people will visit, consider delivering it to their inboxes. Email newsletters are experiencing a ­renaissance and for good reason. Nearly everyone uses email. And sending an email is a sure way to get something in front of someone’s eyeballs. Marketing experts have observed that people are much more likely to take action as the result of an email than a tweet. I’m not advocating spamming your users’ in-boxes with generic library information. Instead, consider creating one or two newsletters based on the interests of your community. These newsletters will not appeal to everyone, and that’s the point. Find a niche—such as cooking, gardening, or hiking—and invest your efforts in developing a relationship with the folks who are passionate about that activity. It is a lot easier and more effective to deliver value to a select group of people about a specific topic than it is to create a website that appeals to everyone. Start small, and if you’re successful and have extra time, create a newsletter for another group. Library print newsletters face the same problem as library websites. While they’re useful for providing a comprehensive look at what’s going on at a library, they’re too general for anyone to get excited about. Consider rolling your newly developed niche content into a complementary print newsletter, too.
7 May 14

For Sale: Library Logo/Barcode iPhone Cases

cases Put your library’s logo and patron barcodes on iPhone 5/s cases. Great summer reading prize giveaways and Friends’ fundraising items. More info on Influx’s site

Random background info

This idea is a response to the type of library-chic fetishization that Jessamyn wrote about so well here. Don’t get me wrong, I like geeky library pride stuff as much as the next librarian. But I figured: why not making something in the same vein that promotes actual libraries and encourages library use?
2 Apr 14

Earning Trust

Earning the trust of your library members is crucial to delivering a great user experience. Without trust, it is impossible to connect to library members in a meaningful way. Libraries benefit in all sorts of ways when they’re trusted institutions. Trust breeds loyalty, and loyal library users are more likely to take advantage of the library. What’s more, loyal patrons will also be more apt to sing the praises of the library to neighbors and colleagues. For libraries, thinking about trust highlights the importance of recognizing members as individuals. Thinking of users not as a homogenous group but rather as persons will allow your library staff to develop more empathy and build stronger ­relationships. There are many ways to earn—and lose—people’s trust in a library. Let’s take a look at a few:


As we are social creatures, the human interactions that happen inside of our buildings are often a make-or-break aspect of building trust. In fact, customer service is so tightly linked to trust and the overall user experience (UX), it is often the only aspect of UX that librarians consider. Genuinely friendly and helpful interactions lead people to accomplishing their goals, demonstrate respect, and tell people, “Yes, we really do care about you as a person.” Poor customer service usually diminishes even the most desirable services. Customer service also involves ­follow-through. Libraries must do what they say they’re going to do. This applies both to small- and large-scale claims. On the granular level, it is important that librarians carry out the tasks they promise members; reserving an item or phoning them with the answer to a reference question, for instance. On a broader level, libraries need to back up the big claims often found in mission statements. Things like “improve the quality of life for all citizens” and “provide access to the world of social and cultural ideas” can only be demonstrated through action. Simply pasting some nice words onto a web page won’t cut it. Show, don’t tell.


It is easier to relate to a group of people than it is to a building. I’ve worked with a lot of libraries’ staffs over the years, and I don’t think I’ve met a single group that didn’t have at least a strong contingent of enthusiastic and fun employees. Letting librarians’ personalities show makes it easier for individuals to relate to—and therefore trust—the library. There are plenty of opportunities for this: displays, events, contributions in newsletters, emails, and on the web, among others. Have some fun, be yourself, and ensure that your library’s brand makes it apparent that it is an organization filled with people. Remember, being fun and engaging folks doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dumbing the library down. Only people who take themselves too seriously think that way!


A great way to earn loyalty is to help patrons to be successful. When it is apparent that the library has their best interests at heart, people are likely to use the library more—and advocate for it. Remember, people’s actions in a library don’t exist in a vacuum. When they check out a DVD, they’re hoping to be entertained. When they ask a reference question, they probably have a goal they’re hoping to attain. Even if that goal is a barroom bet (maybe especially so!), helping people to reach their ends is an important way to earn their trust. Would your library be a different place if you started thinking of it as an organization that works with members to accomplish goals?


The content on your website, what people can accomplish using it, and its visual design all impact the level of trust people place both in the site and in your institution as a whole. A website with outdated information or poor legibility raises a red flag and leads people to believe the site is sloppy or ineffectual.


In “The Transparent Library: Living Out Loud” (LJ 6/1/07, p. 34), Michael Stephens and Michael Casey illustrate how transparent libraries set themselves up to build long-lasting relationships.
“Transparency and arrogance are like oil and water—the two simply don’t mix. This is a very good reason for encouraging transparency in any organization. It’s very difficult for a transparent library to lie and shy away from the truth….”
If a library isn’t honest with its members, it is unlikely that a trusting relationship will form. Making it known why your organization makes the decisions it does and being forthright when it makes mistakes are effective ways to humanize your library. Engaging patrons with participatory design methods and involving them in the planning process take this idea further. The more deliberate the transparency, the better the result.
18 Nov 13

23 Color Views of Mexican Libraries

I was in Mexico City last week and it was great. Why was it great? Aside from having a completely transcendent taco experience I got to see some more Mexican libraries. Super good stuff: The Biblioteca Amalia González Caballero in El Parque México.
park2 park park3 dia The public library in San Miguel De Allende.
sanmiguel Biblioteca de México “José Vasconcelos”
b_m4 courtyard anoche2 The National Library has a project called “City of Books” which houses the personal collections of five Mexican authors. The spaces function as part archive, part research libraries, part tribute, and part all around amazing places to be. The building also has an amazing space for the visual impaired, an inspiring general use area and a popular area for kids. Carlos Monsiváis liked cats. The art in his library reflected that.
b_m3 Looks like cat hair. Totally gross.
hairbooks cv From the collection of Jaime Garcia Terres.
?2 ? Kids’ space.
kids2 kids A great room for meeting, talking, studying, reading, laptopping, etc… The lifted ceiling makes one feel as if they’re still outside.
b_m2 Here’s the space for the visually impaired.
blind Tactile wayfinding.
blindwayfinding The art in this room is audio. Press your ear against the wall to hear a soundscape.
blindart Section for visually impaired children.
blindkids Okay, not libraries, but two museums. First, the Museo Rufino Tamayo.
tamayo This wasn’t even an exhibit in El Chopo. Just some amazing storage organization!
chopo And in the bookstore: To read is a pleasure.

Previous Mexican Library content on Walking Paper

4 Nov 13

Decision Notebooks For Sale

decisions notebooks Here’s another notebook for jotting down all of your great library improving ideas! They measure 3.5″x5″ and contain 32 pages of dotted grid pages. Optimized for brainstorming, they fit in your pocket so you can have one you wherever you go. I think it is best one yet! $3 each
$8 for 3
$25 for 10
(plus some modest shipping charges!) notebooks_-01-01
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