Designing for Your Users …

Five Steps to a User-Friendly Library Website

I was already in the process of writing my first blog post when I shared a bus ride at the AISL Conference in Boston with David Ring, Library Director at Pomfret School. He had attended Designing a User-Friendly Website session I presented at the 2017 NEAISL Conference at Cheshire Academy, and mentioned he made some changes to the design of his site, which now has his search box front and center. At conferences, as on this blog, you share your passions and hope that someone takes away something of value, so it was heartening to hear about David’s experience.

Designing or re-designing a library website can feel like a daunting task, especially if you are in the middle of a busy school year or have never tackled a project of this scope. Over the course of four months, starting in September 2018 and running through January 2019, I worked on the redesign for our library website here at Kent School. I was fortunate to work with a great team: Amy Voorhees, Library Director; Laura Zibro, Digital Resources Librarian; Rebecca Klingebiel, Asst. Cataloging Librarian; Joseph Russo, Asst. Circulation Librarian; and Bethany Booth, Director of the Academic Resource Center—all of whom gave invaluable feedback on the students and the school. The final result? Our new library website, which we officially launched March 26th of this year.

Whether you are looking to update your site to increase its usability or are creating one from the ground up, designing a user-friendly site begins with a focus on your users, why they come to your site, and then presenting it in a way they will actually find useful. It’s really all about the user-experience (UX). This post presents one way to think about that process and will walk you through five steps to follow, keeping usability and UX foremost in your planning and implementation.

Step One | Understand Your User     

How well do you know the research habits and information needs of your students? The first step in creating a user-friendly website is knowing where your students go for their information and why. There are any number of ways to collect data. You may need to try more than one approach to get the information that will best help you in the design process. Here are a few I’ve used in the past.

  • Database Access
    If students are required to use databases, how do they access them? If you use a content management system like LibGuides as a jumping-off point for research projects, you can view usage statistics to see how your students access your guides i.e., the entry points.
  • Broad Surveys
    Surveys provide a wealth of information. Do your students know about all of your electronic resources, the equipment you loan, or citation management tools available? In the busy life of a student or faculty, it can be difficult getting them to respond to surveys, so including names in a raffle or offering a small reward when completed forms are turned in increases your chance of a higher response rate. Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or a simple paper survey are all formats you can use to collect data. Use what makes the most sense for you and your community.
  • Targeted Surveys
    Targeted surveys generally reach a smaller audience but can be just as valuable. Try having students complete a survey at the start or end of any instructional session offered through the library. An entrance or exit ticket works fine for this.
  • One-on-One Conversations
    Since we work in small institutions, take the time to speak with faculty and students about what they would like to see. I taught two semester-long New Student Seminar courses for new students this year and frequently talked with them about the challenges of finding library resources. This type of information is invaluable because it’s informal and there’s no pressure for them to “give the right answer.”
  • Your Own Experience
    Think about the information you use on a daily basis; if it would be helpful for you to have all those links in one place, it will probably be helpful for others. Are there questions students ask of you on a daily basis? For me, students frequently asked where books were located in the library (ours are spread across two floors), so I made sure to include a map of the library. It was a small addition with big impact. I noted the resources I bookmarked to add to the data. Asking others which resources they have bookmarked can also help you identify those used most often by your community.
  • Analyze Your Results
    Collate your results and use them to help define categories of information, resources, and services. If you plan to do a card sort later on, start by using these results and see how your users would organize them.
  • Be Open to Feedback
    Be open to what your users are trying to tell you. It’s easy to feel defensive if the feedback is less than positive, especially if you think your site is meeting your community’s needs. Try to remember, the feedback isn’t personal and will help as you move to Step Two.

Step Two | Form Follows Function

These three simple words will help you to distinguish between focusing on creating a visually attractive website and creating a purpose-driven website that is easy for users to navigate.

  • Define Your Goals
    The data gathered in Step One will help to inform your website design. Start with defining goals for your library website. What do you hope to accomplish? What are the information needs of your students? It’s natural to want to include everything and difficult to decide what to leave off. Your goals are something you can turn to when struggling to decide what makes the cut.
  • Categorize Your Data
    You will find there is more information than you can include links to, so try to define broad categories. This will help keep your navigation simple. Again, a card sort is a natural extension of this data organization.
  • Design for Your Audience
    Keep in mind an elementary or middle school website will look vastly different than a secondary school website. Likewise, if your school is project-based, your website just might differ from that of an International Baccalaureate school. Keep this in mind as you window shop.
  • Highlight Your Search Box
    Research shows most users come to the library website to do research. Put your search box front and center to make your site invaluable to your users. Need evidence? Check any college library website.
  • To Parallax or Not to Parallax
    Current website design trends employ the use of a single page and parallax scrolling of text over stunning graphics; gone is the homepage on most sites. Keep in mind this design may not be the best for your library website, which is really more a portal than a destination. Large graphics can be distracting and the endless scroll can be a difficult way for your user to find specific information or for you to include the numerous links you’ll probably need. If you’re set on following design trends, make sure you customize it to meet your users’ needs. Be willing to let go of a particular design if you find it’s just not working how you envisioned. Curious about parallax scrolling? Check out what the user experience gurus at the Neilson Norman Group have to say.
  • Adhere to Style Guidelines
    Check with your Communications Department for style guidelines – every school has them. While you may not choose to do so, I think it’s important to come up with a library brand, then keep your overall website design true to your school brand. My site has a classic, traditional look because my school website has a classic, traditional look. I want my users to know they’re on the John Gray Park ‘28 Library website, so I aimed to keep the essence of the school site, not necessarily mirror it.
  • Window Shop
    Get out there on the web and see how other schools in your demographic have organized their website. Check out university websites, as well. They need to organize exponentially greater amounts of information, but you can get a good idea of the overarching categories they use that may align with ones you’ve already identified.

Step Three | Create a Wireframe

Once you have defined the information needs of your users and the tasks they come to your site to perform, create a simple wireframe to help you visualize your site. A wireframe is a simple black and white drawing or schematic that focuses on navigation, placement of features, and page elements. This stage of the process doesn’t address the design, content, color scheme or typography – that will follow in the prototype design. Skip this step at your own peril.

  • Use a Flipchart
    I prefer to use a flip-chart to create a wireframe. The large size makes it easy to sketch my ideas quickly and I haven’t invested too much time if I decide to scrap it and start over. You can really use anything for this step, even a whiteboard as long as someone doesn’t come along and erase all your hard work! This is the final iteration of my flip-chart wireframe, but if you look closely at our website, you’ll see I eventually moved the EDS OneSearch to the second tab – here I have it on the last one.
  • Establish Navigation
    Once I have my first iteration of the design on paper, I explore navigation, content, and elements. Much like a research paper, creation of the wireframe is an iterative process. Because I prefer not to have additional navigation tabs on my portal, it was important for me to carefully organize the links within the portal itself. Using a card sort can be helpful at this point if you are starting from scratch because it gives you insight into how your users would categorize, or sort, information. Here is a great video to give you an idea of how to do this.
  • Create a Final Copy
    Once I’m happy with the wireframe, I’ll create an electronic copy. I use Google Slides which allows me to easily convert my scribbles to ordered boxes and text, but any tool you find helpful is fine. I find it much easier to share a wireframe slide than a paper one.
  • Look for Problems
    It’s much easier to find navigation and content issues at this stage and correct them before you go live. You don’t want to be trying to fix issues while the site is live—trust me, it’s stressful!
  • Take Your Time
    Those who know me know I love to work quickly to get something into the hands of my students and faculty. But … I have learned it can be a positive growth experience to take time before the release to look for weak areas and make small changes to avoid future problems. It is so important that your site be as well-functioning, intuitive, and as error-free as possible. It may sound trite, but first impressions do matter. Aim to have your users’ first experience with your new site be as positive as possible, because change. is. hard.

Step Four | Create Your Website Prototype

I’ve used everything from Adobe Dreamweaver to WordPress to LibGuides to create library websites. For the past nine years, LibGuides and LibGuides CMS has been my platform of choice; it’s designed for functionality and ease-of-use, plus allows for continuity with your current guides. Our students are familiar with using them for research, so designing the library site on the same platform was a no-brainer. Using my wireframe, I begin to build the site following these guidelines:

  • Keep it Simple
    Simplicity and usability go hand-in-hand. Follow your school’s Style Guide for color and text choices. Use a color palette that has no more than three or four colors. Use serif text for headings, but stick to sans-serif for the body text as it is much easier to read on screen. Our site is heavily customized using CSS, but that’s not necessary. If you are interested in customizing your site, you’ll find helpful videos on the Springshare site, and direct support through their helpdesk and the community of users on the Springshare Lounge.
  • Position Your Search Front and Center  
    This is the primary reason users come to your library website. Make sure you only have one search engine visible at a time. Tabbed boxes work well if you want to make the best use of your prime area above the fold. We are currently doing a trial for EBSCO Discovery Service, so it was important to keep that accessible. Our Library Director wanted to see the research guides above the fold and I was having a hard time envisioning how to do that. I decided to try creating widgets and it’s turned out to be a great addition for our users. Without the widgets, folks would need to drill down to the guides landing page, then click on the subject and then on the specific guide. Now, they can choose the guide and in one click access the information needed. If you haven’t tried creating widgets for your LibGuides, put this on your to-do-now list! Remember: users also scan and skim in an F or E shape, so try to keep important content along those sight lines.

    Tabbed Boxes to the Rescue
    Because I wanted to make the most of the top area of my main column, I used a tabbed box for the following: our OPAC search box, EDS search box, research guides, citation guide, and information on how to create an account for our NYT GroupPass and other major periodicals. That’s quite a lot of information sharing “prime real estate” on the portal.
Tabbed Box on LibGuide Website
  • Pare Down Your Navigation
    The more navigation tabs you have on your site, the less intuitive your site will be. The new Kent library website was designed as a single page, forgoing tabs. I prefer to have all of my links located on one page so my users will have fewer navigation decisions to make. Although it’s tempting to add as much information and links as will fit, this will overwhelm your user and can lead to cognitive overload, never a good state of mind. Choose five or six main categories to link out to. And avoid the endless scroll – it can be frustrating to scroll back and forth to find what you need. Above the fold is prime real estate, take advantage of that. I keep my search boxes and guide widgets front and center and then work out from there adding additional resources.
  • Do Include the Most Important Information  
    Hours, early closings, room reservations, contact information, and news and events should be listed, if possible. Don’t overwhelm your site with lengthy descriptions. Keep them short and to-the-point. I have organized information about our library in one tabbed box: hours, staff, map, and a link to our Academic Resource Center. We don’t have online room reservations, but if we did, I would try to include it there. At some point common sense has to prevail. You will get lots of feedback about what should be on the site, so be prepared to give it your full consideration, but also be ready to exclude something if it falls outside the scope of your vision.

    Tabbed Boxes to the Rescue, Again
    Again, the tabbed box in our left column let me fit four times the information in the same amount of space.
Left Column Tabbed Box
  • Avoid Jargon or “Librarian-speak”
    Boolean, full-text HTML, trade publications – this is confusing terminology for most users. I love to nerd out over jargon, but when possible, use informal and conversational language. Instead of ‘Catalog’ try ‘Find a Book’. Your usability study will help identify confusing and off-putting language.

Step Five | Test Early – Test Often

Finally, you have your prototype. At this point, the only way you will know if you hit the mark with your website is to conduct usability tests with your community. It takes a surprisingly small pool of users to find your website’s weak spots. It’s important to remember, usability testing isn’t a “one and you’re done” thing. You must “test early – test often” to find issues and improve the user-experience of your site. So how exactly does a usability test work?

  • Find a Handful of Users
    You don’t need to have dozens of users to test your site. Nielsen (2012) found that five users representing your user groups, i.e., faculty, students, etc. is enough to find the flaws. Give your testers small incentive items such as a gift card for Starbucks, your bookstore, etc. for taking the time to help you improve the library’s website.
  • Ask Them to Perform Typical Tasks    
    First, identify three to five tasks your users do on a regular basis. These are called representative tasks and need to be realistic and actionable (Nielsen 2012). Create a scenario around the tasks (or activities) and ask users to complete them. Let your users know that you are testing the site and not them.
  • Have Users Talk Through the Task   
    Don’t ask users to tell you what they would do, ask them to complete the task and talk through it out loud. For example: I need to find an article on the Revolutionary War. I’m looking for a place to do a search. I see the main search box for EBSCO, etc. Don’t give hints, clues, or suggestions. This is hard, especially if your user is struggling. Put a time-limit and if they can’t complete the task successfully, assure them it’s fine and have them move to the next task.
  • Measure the Percentage of Tasks Successfully Completed
    Figure out where most users had difficulty. Make small changes and test those changes. Have the process be iterative. The more tests you conduct with small groups, the greater the chance to find usability flaws and correct them.
  • Perform Your Own Usability Test
    Before you launch your site, have your staff and any other folks whose input you want use your prototype on a daily basis. If using LibGuides, publish it as private or wait to create a friendly URL – no one will find that wonky string of letters and numbers. You’ll know if your design is spot on – you’ll enjoy using it and want to share it with others right away! You also might find a design flaw you otherwise wouldn’t before the launch.
  • Prepare to Be Surprised by the Results
    The first time I did a usability test on LibGuides, I was truly shocked to discover both faculty and students thought the guide search box could be used to conduct a Google-type search. When they didn’t get the results they were expecting, most were stumped as to the next step to take. Maybe you wouldn’t make the same decision I did, but after seeing all the testers struggle, I removed the site search box from the guides and haven’t looked back or regretted it.

Launching Your New Site

Once you’ve completed your usability study, you’re sure your links* are going to the right destination, your search box and other widgets work, you’ve edited for typos, checked images, text, and color contrast for accessibility, you’ll want to roll-out your new site during a relatively quiet time of the year. Making a change during periods when people rely on your website can lead to a negative first impression, something you’ll want to avoid.

Start with a Soft Rollout

We planned to launch our new site after Spring Break as it’s a fairly quiet time before AP research paper season in May. Several weeks prior to March Break, we chose a soft rollout using a button on our then current site encouraging users to “Try the New Library Website” (above right on the image). We kept track of our usage statistics, which showed we had over 250 hits in the following weeks. Since we didn’t receive any negative comments, we felt fairly confident that the launch would go smoothly. We still use the Koha library catalog page you see, which was our library website before the redesign.


*A point about links
I set my active links from the website to open in a new window so I don’t lose my users if they close the window instead of clicking the back arrow on the browser. On a regular guide, I have tabs open in the same window, and any external links open in a new one. You can set the default window target for links in the Admin System Settings.

Position Yourself for Success
Finally, make sure you market your site once you roll it out. If possible, set the home screen on any library computers to your site and send a school-wide email to let your community know it’s live. You will need to continue marketing your site – I know it may come as a shock, but not everyone reads their emails!

Baby Steps
As we all know, change doesn’t happen overnight. Even though we did a soft rollout, sent an all-school email with a link, set our library computers homepage to the website, we didn’t really know how it was being widely received. Cue research season: that wonderful time of the year when AP Exams are finished and students take part in the time-honored tradition of researching and writing the long-form research paper. A number of our AP U.S.History teachers have been bringing their classes to the library to work and for formal instruction, which has given me an opportunity to introduce our students to our new library website “in the field.” I’m happy to report “show, don’t tell” really does make a difference! Our final website has gotten quite a bit of use in the time since its rollout—just under 3600 views! We’re thrilled with how it’s turned out and think our community is, as well.

Final Thoughts | Your Website is a Living Organism
If you’ve followed some version of these five steps, you really shouldn’t need to make any major changes to your site, but do expect to occasionally find small issues that need to be addressed. About a week into our site going live, I was obsessively checking links and found one for The New Yorker icon mis-directed to The New York Times. Keep in mind a small army of librarians reviewed the site and somehow that one slipped through. Things happen. It was a simple fix, but a good reminder that your site, like your library, is a living organism that needs regular attention to function at its best.

Rethinking Your Digital Presence

In one of my favorite chapters from Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things, a kid from his neighborhood has hidden so well in a game of hide-and-seek that he’s still under Fulgham’s window long after the other kids have been found and are just about ready to give up on him. Fulgham, in his wisdom, leans out the window and yells, “GET FOUND, KID!” Sage advice.

This year, in my position as research librarian at the John Gray Park ’28 Library at Kent School, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of helping students find the information they need and what contributes to a successful learning experience. How we organize and provide access to our resources can make the difference between our students developing into independent learners and those who constantly need us to navigate the process for them. There is a fine line between an appropriate amount of struggle that leads to a successful learning experience and an overwhelming amount that can frustrate and ultimately hinder the learning process. There probably isn’t a quick and easy solution to this challenge, but I do know our resources shouldn’t be hidden so well our students give up trying to find them. Seems like someone needs to yell, “GET FOUND, KID!” to our digital resources.

The Library Brand

I was fortunate to be able to attend this year’s AISL Conference in Boston, which meant I got to visit a number of other school libraries – something I love to do, but rarely have the time because I’m, well, working in a school library. Even though each library we visited was unique, they all could be identified by what I think of as the “library brand.” The library brand’s superpowers can be credited with creating a sense of place and helping users find what they need. As librarians, we’re pretty adept at marketing that brand. We post our hours so everyone knows when we’re open. Our circulation desks are staffed with friendly librarians. Book groups, displays, reviews, and booktalks are just a few of the ways we encourage reading. We offer a variety of seating ranging from traditional library tables to comfy chairs with ottomans, and group study rooms if we’re fortunate enough to have the space. Letting our community know what’s available just makes good sense. We want to be found—and it works!

Milton Academy (left), Nobles (center), Beaver Country Day (right) – AISL 2019

At Kent, our library has a steady flow of students throughout the day and into the evening. Our circulation spikes when we send emails about new additions to our collection. Our group study rooms are at full capacity during evening study hall. Close to 100 students participated in our most recent Poetry Month event, which we advertised with posters, emails, and on Instagram and Twitter. Getting found is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Reordering of Ranganathan’s Five Laws

Regardless of how many hours we’re open, our doors eventually have to close. I recently re-read “Reordering Ranganathan: Shifting User Behaviours, Shifting Priorities” by Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D. and Ixchel M. Faniel, Ph.D. Although the article was published in 2015, I still find it relevant in the way they have reinterpreted Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science for the digital age. Connaway and Faniel’s take on the Five Laws are user-focused yet also incorporate a systems approach to resource delivery. In place of solely addressing how to get a book into the hands of the individual user, their chart incorporates access to digital as well as print resources for each of the original concepts by recommending you analyze your community needs, know your users well enough to understand how they access information, create or use platforms to curate resources, and finally, make sure those resources get found by the users.

My main takeaway from this article? The library is still a growing organism and if you want all of your resources to be discoverable and accessible, in other words, to “get found,” you’ll need a digital presence that is as well-defined and user-friendly as your physical space.

Source: Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, and Ixchel M. Faniel. “Reordering of Ranganathan’s Five Laws.” OCLC Research, OCLC, 2015, Chart.

Your Website: A Portal to Your Digital Resources

If your library is like ours, you subscribe to a significant number of databases and digital resources to support scholarly inquiry and prepare your students for the rigor of college-level research. Regardless of the type of resources you offer, whether it’s eBooks, streaming videos, databases, or a content management system like LibGuides, your students, faculty and staff can’t use those resources if they can’t readily find them, or worse, don’t even know they exist. How many of us, at one time or another, have lamented our database usage statistics come renewal time and wonder what can be done to increase their use and justify their expense? Return on investment is always on our minds this time of year. Check out David Wee’s March 24th post, “on databases that spark joy (and some that don’t) …” and see how he’s trying to make sure his library’s get found – his ideas might help as you evaluate your own databases.

Your Web Presence

Today, your library’s presence on the web is as important as its physical one, and if you’re like most librarians, it’s probably up to you to design and promote it in much the same way you promote and market your physical space. You see when your library is being used, books checked out, research support accepted. It’s more difficult to tell if you’re hitting the mark with digital resources. Are the members of your community aware of the library resources available to them 24/7 from their home or dorm room? If a faculty needs an article to support a lesson, does she know where to find your databases? If a student needs a book for class tomorrow, does he know how to find your OPAC and place the book on hold? Same for citing sources for a paper due first period. Will your students know where to find your citation guide?

If you want to make sure your digital resources are found, it’s important to focus on access and get the design of your website right. You don’t want your resources hidden behind a myriad of clicks and language only another librarian would understand (I’m looking at you discoverable and accessible). Much like the players in that game of hide-and-seek who scatter when they hide, databases and electronic resources are “hidden” across the internet on their own sites, so users need us to create a portal through which those resources can be found.

So Where Do You Start?

Whether you currently have a library website you’re happy with, are looking to update your site to increase its usability, or are starting from scratch, the steps to design a user-friendly site follow the same process. In my next blog post, I’ll walk through the five steps to follow when creating or updating a library website or portal keeping usability and user experience (UX) foremost in your planning and implementation.

Design Thinking @ Your Library, a SI2016 Recap

Librarians are, by our very nature, selfless creatures. We think about our users constantly, in just about every area of our work. From collection development to research instruction, web design to furniture and paint colors. But do we really know them and understand the full spectrum of their needs?

Enter Design Thinking @ Your Library, the 2016 AISL Summer Institute.

This June, 36 librarians came together from the four corners of the United States, representing Lower, Middle, and Upper Division libraries, all with a single mission: to learn how to “do” Design Thinking and to return to our schools ready to tackle challenges, great and small.

My background in Design Thinking is varied. Three years ago I participated in an awesome Leadership & Design Design Thinking workshop here at Emma Willard. We designed around the downtown Troy revitalization effort. This spring, I took an ALA course that applied DT to information literacy instruction.  I have read about it and watched videos on it. I was on a committee at school where we used it to study the effectiveness of blended learning in our classrooms. There have been some awesome Independent Idea blog posts in the past that dealt with the DT in the library, but in the vein of all the other awesome posts of late where bloggers admit their limitations,

I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how it would work, from start to finish, in the library world. There, I said it.

The Summer Institute changed all of that.

We started with an opening cocktail party where we mingled and got to know one another. We enjoyed delicious food and drink but then…it was time to get down to business. We split up into teams for a quick, fun Marshmallow Design Challenge.

Photo Jun 21, 7 37 57 PM (1)Many a group has attempted this challenge before, from Kindergartners to PhDs , engineers to corporate executives. Who do you think is the most successful? The engineers? Think again! It’s the little ones! Why? Because they are completely open minded. They jump right in and start building. Adults plan, contemplate the “what ifs”, and basically eat up their 18 minutes. Kids aren’t afraid to fail. They build. It falls down. They try again. If you need a great team building activity for a faculty meeting, this is a great one.

Photo Jun 22, 2 04 45 PM

Highlights of the SI included a fantastic keynote by Steven Bell giving us a birds eye view, or WHY Design Thinking works in tackling our “wicked problems”. Two of my amazing colleagues, science teachers and experienced design thinkers, then stepped in to teach us HOW to do it. We practiced as a group designing around my nemesis: a rickety wooden book cart circa 1960-somethin’, that hurts me, literally, falling over when I least expect it, bruising my shins. My assistant and I explained our many problems with the cart, the group interviewed us further to practice the empathy stage of the DT process, then everyone broke into teams to determine what they thought the “real” problem was (ie: was it a physical cart issue or a process issue?). That was an interesting conversation in and of itself! Their prototypes were AMAZING, and included, among other features, a student-led shelving system, fancy carts with huge tires, device charging stations so that we can listen to music while we shelve, flat, adjustable shelves to accommodate oversize books and a laptop for doing inventory, among other things. Designs shared via Twitter were picked up by Demco. How cool is that? I digress…

The final part of the conference was the one that my colleagues and I were most anxious about. How could we divide such a diverse group into balanced teams, around shared challenges in varied divisions, in a way that made sense and provided them with real, applicable, takeaways from the SI?

On the fly, we asked them to take a piece of paper, write their division at the top, their challenge as a headline, and at the bottom, which “track” of the SI their challenge fell under: Research, Physical Space, Maker, or simply “Other”.

You know what? IT TOTALLY WORKED.

Rather than tell you about their intriguing challenges, their thoughtful “What If…” statements, their design horizons, and their prototypes, why don’t you check it out on your own in this SI Libguide I created? While you’re there, feel free to visit the presentations, see the recommended reading, and download the free DT Toolkit provided by IDEO.

How can we ensure that we are creating the spaces, programs, and lessons that our community needs, both now and in the future? We do what we do best: we observe, we question, we listen, we invite other perspectives to the table, we think outside the box, we take risks, we try things! Whether we realize it or not, the skill set emphasized in design thinking is very much what we as librarians do best.

SI Participants, feel free to share your reflections below. If anyone has questions or if you would like to discuss the experience further, please let me know!

SI2017 will be here before you know it! It will be hosted by Caroline Bartels at the Horace Mann School in NYC focusing on One Book One School. More info to come as planning progresses.

I wish you all an excellent start to the ’16-’17 school year!

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The All-Powerful Portfolio

Someone recently referred to me as being “mid-career”. I did a double take and gave them my best

arnold

 

 

 

 

 

With that said, I will admit that library schools have changed a bit since I graduated in ’03. In addition to a required thesis or a comprehensive exam, many schools insist that their students create a digital portfolio of their projects, not only to organize their work and to give them experience in web design and features, but also to help them market themselves to future employers. I first learned of this shift years ago when my friend Melinda Holmes, Library Director at Darlington School, emailed me excitedly to tell me of her fantastic new hire. Even though the young lady was fresh out of library school, Melinda was so thrilled with all that she would bring to the table. How could she predict the impact of this hire?

I give you Exhibit A: the one and only  Liz Overberg  (sharing with permission).

Are you thinking to yourself, “What a great idea! Why haven’t I thought of that?!”, then you aren’t alone. I did too.  I wasn’t looking to leave my job, but at the same time, I knew that if that time ever came [spoiler alert: it did.] or if I ever needed to show administration what I’d been up to, I didn’t want to be going back through my documents, my pictures, my calendars, to try to remember all that I had done.

This is my portfolio . I created it using Weebly, but you can use whichever platform you like best. Liz tells me that her first portfolio was on Yola, but that she too liked Weebly so she migrated. When I did apply for another job, I embedded some Google Analytics code within the header of each page as well so that I would get pinged when someone viewed my portfolio. The report tells me things like where the ping came from, the user’s behavior: how many pages they viewed, how much time they spent on each page, the network they used, etc. It’s interesting.

In the coming months, positions will open all over the country. Contracts will go out, people will plan moves, shifts will occur. You might consider taking some time over winter break to get something started, or if you’re like me, get those updates loaded that you never seem to have time to do. I dare say no cover letter will catch an employer’s attention the way a link out to real world examples of your work will and it’s really as simple as this (in closing your cover letter):

For examples of my work, please refer to my electronic porfolio (insert link here). I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you further.

Sincerely,

Your Name

In this one move, you not only demonstrate your comfort with technology, but you give examples of displays that you have created, newsletters that you have generated, web pages you have designed, classes you have taught, Libguides that you are proficient in creating. You can list publications, conference presentations, shoot, you can even have an RSS feed to blogs or other social media you’re speaking through to demonstrate your ‘voice’, your creativity, your marketing skills, your values, and your collegiality.

No wonder Melinda was so excited about her find in Liz! If her listserv contributions and conference conversations are any indication, I would say that the portfolio correctly identified Liz as a mover and shaker in the independent school library world. Thanks for the inspiration, Liz!

Do you already have a portfolio? Thinking of creating one now? If so, won’t you share your URL or tell us of your experience  in the comments below?