Web librarians, ebranch librarians, cybrarians and other similar terms are proliferating the literature of the library world. What exactly do these terms mean and when will librarians stay ahead of the curve and finally be able to provide the finished product of the best library website ever? There's the rub. They can't. What is relevant now will be obsolete before you know it. Technology changes a lot in just a few years, and sure, there are ways for librarians to create websites that can stay relevant longer (especially when taking UX and accessibility standards into consideration). But if websites aren't quick to adapt to what users want and when they want it, they will fail to provide a friendly user-centered experience. We have to start thinking about library web services as always evolving.
Websites aren't buildings.When we think of a library's website in terms of a digital branch, we might think of the old brick and mortar concept of a library branch building. There is a planning stage, a building stage, and a final end point where the doors are open the furnishings are well placed and the building is done. At least for a long time. The web doesn't work like that. Websites are NEVER "done." This doesn't mean that libraries and web librarians can't meet the needs of users online, or that they can't launch a redesign project to update the website. This just means that we need to change the way we think about library websites. They aren't like physical branch locations. They aren't like a project with a starting point and an end point. Perpetual beta can and should be a philosophy applied to library websites. The library website is never finished, because the needs of online users never stop changing. Web trends happen quickly and technology changes fast, so we need to allow our websites to evolve as needed, guiding the content our users want through the changing web landscape via the latest web conventions.
Library websites are for users.Since the goal of the librarian is to connect the user with the best information, similarly, the goal of the web librarian is to connect the online user with the best information by cultivating a user-centered online environment that is intuitive and friendly to the user. Many library websites are still bogged down by librarian-centered content. And you can't really blame librarians for doing this. We LOVE information. But we have to remember that library users AREN'T librarians. We need to understand what users are looking for when they visit the website, and we need to help them find what they are looking for. Something I remember, when I was part of a library website redesign team, was how much prime web real estate was given to links that we, the library staff, wanted to promote. Analytics and usability testing proved that we were just cluttering up the visual real estate on the site, making it harder for patrons to actually find what they needed. Meanwhile, non-essential information and links (the stuff library staff wanted users to want) continued to get very few clicks. Web usability testing continues to be an important part of library website design. Frequently testing, evaluating, and applying changes to address any problems with design can help ensure a website will stay relevant to users. Ultimately, I'm starting to discover that what a web librarian, cybrarian, ebranch librarian really means, is a librarian or information professional with a UX design bent to them. I found the following definition by Paige Alfonzo to be helpful:
"The user experience (UX) librarian bridges the gap between the back-end with the front end…the way computers organize data and the ways humans attempt to search for that data. User experience involves studying how users interact with a system and then creating that system to accommodate those users. A UX designer is one who executes these actions. User experience is not a new concept. Most major companies employ user experience designers who attempt to harness the wild wild web and synthesize that data into an intuitive system that users want to use." (source)
Web librarians can never stop learning.And how do we keep up with the latest web conventions? We need to constantly be in a state of learning. Always learning is how web designers stay in business. Web standards change, and to stay relevant, you need to know about it. David Stuart, a web analyst and researcher at the University of Wolverhampton, makes the case that it is imperative for librarians to obtain programming skills:
"Such skills will enable librarians to provide access to the increasingly large amounts of data, combine the data in new and innovative ways and enable access to it in the places that customers want. Equally importantly, librarians will then have a recognisable set of skills that can differentiate them in the minds of the users." (source)
A common theme I've come across as I've watched instructional videos on UX design, be it on YouTube or Lynda, is that web developers are always in a state of learning. The information is out there, and it's possible to learn so much for free. Embracing the fact that it is impossible to know everything is a good place to begin. Figuring out the scope of what one needs to learn is the next step. That's where I am; I'm embracing the chaos while I set my trajectory. I'll be happy to see where it takes me.
Featured Image Source
University of Salford Press Office. ScreenLab 0x02 - the Octave. 2012. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/salforduniversity/8241390800/
Alfonzo, Paige. "Is a User Experience Librarian in Your Future?" Librarian Enumerations. March 15, 2013.Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Stuart, David. "Programming skills could transform librarians' roles." Research Information. December 2009/ January 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
Krug, Steve. Don't Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Berkeley, Calif: New Riders Pub., 2014. Print.