About a year ago my partners at Influx and I released One-Pager, a free template for library websites.
We’ve updated it and it is better than ever. In fact, good implementations of One-Pager will be better than most library websites.
With this update the code is cleaner and more efficient, and we’ve added some responsive elements so that it formats well on any browser. Check out what happens on a mobile device. The image disappears and the menu adapts so that the most important tasks can be taken care of easily.
One-Pager is intentionally different than most library websites. Try out the demo and read more about the ideas behind One-Pager on Influx’s site.
If your library has a website, you are in the publishing business. Taking your role as website publisher seriously means taking writing seriously.
Librarians are already experienced with many types of writing, having written reams of pages for school and thousands of emails on the job. But writing for the web is different and requires a special skill set that isn’t necessarily intuitive or offered as part of a librarian’s graduate studies. Luckily, these skills are easy to understand and can be developed with a bit of practice. Good thing, too—featuring appropriate writing on your website is a kindness to users, a timesaving mechanism that will let them find what they want with greater ease.
Below are seven tips for web writing, but you don’t have to wait for new content to get started. Rewriting content already on your site is an extremely effective way to make big improvements and a good way to take stock of what you’ve got online. Just as collection development librarians periodically take stock of the materials in a library’s collection, think of this exercise as the best way to keep relevant info for your users close at hand.
1. Use fewer words
People are impatient and dislike when they’re forced to comb through a mess of words to find what they want. Be economical. Don’t bother writing marketing fluff, and judiciously use modifiers. Instead of telling people, “We’re really committed to providing the most excellent service!,” just give them what you’re promising.
2. Write like a journalist
Very few people will voluntarily read an entire web page when they’re just looking for one piece of information (cf. “people are impatient”). Web writers can borrow from the journalism world and place the most important information at the top of the page where people are most likely to see it. This is known as the “inverted pyramid” and places supporting information next, followed by any background or historical data. People who are interested in this ancillary information will seek it out even when it’s neatly tucked out of the way.
3. Make pages easy to scan
Large blocks of text are impenetrable. Instead of writing essay-length instructions or descriptions of services, break things up into discrete chunks or steps. People then will be able to skip over the sections they don’t need.
4. Use headings
Be sure to label your easy-to-scan chunks of information with a heading. Headings should let the reader know what they’re about to read so they can determine if it is relevant to what they’re trying to accomplish. Don’t let headings and body text blend together. Set the headings apart with basic graphic design techniques like increasing their size or making them bold.
5. Employ lists
Since they are easy to scan, lists and tables are an effective way to present information. Any time you’re contending with a series in a sentence—just look for that serial comma—ask yourself if converting the sentence to a bulleted list makes sense. Your loan period and late fee specifics are obvious candidates for this treatment.
6. Use images judiciously
While images can add visual interest to a web page, they can also be distracting and add clutter. Use images when they’re relevant, authentic, and add value. Avoid clip art—full stop.
7. Be friendly
You don’t have to be bland or institutional when you’re writing for the web. Conveying friendliness and making people feel welcome is just as important on the web as it is in your physical library.
Where to Start
Spending one or two days rewriting your website’s most visited pages is a great way to tune up your site—no tech skills required. Take a look at your website analytics and choose which pages you want to edit in order of their importance.
A typical rewrite process can look like this:
Assess accuracy. Check in with the owner of the content to make sure all of the facts on the page are correct.
Remove words. It will be possible to simplify sentences while conveying the same information.
Remove information. Web pages don’t always need to be as explicit as possible. Consider further simplifying pages by removing extraneous information. If you have trouble assessing what information people need on a page, just ask them. Spend an afternoon talking with patrons about their top questions on a topic. It will be clear what you can remove to increase the visibility of important items.
A Step Beyond Publishing
Though we began with the notion of taking our duty as publishers seriously, there’s one important difference to our benefit: our content isn’t canonical once it is published online. Plan to review it constantly and, if possible, improve the most important materials on your site.
Consider your site as a point of dialog and interaction with your users. Like any good conversation, it will develop over time and take new shape as the context around it develops. Your users’ needs will undoubtedly evolve and with them so should the copy and materials available on your site. Where once patrons needed explicit driving and transit directions, now an embedded Google Map might replace a section of text. Likewise, if your library offers streaming music or video services, see if the amount of text devoted to those is commensurate to the traffic they receive. Meanwhile, if you still have long pages dedicated to VHS lending guidelines, it might be time to revisit.
The goal here is to take writing for the web seriously but not to treat it as a blunt instrument bereft of life and unable to evolve. As you add and edit content, consider how your users are reading your site and how to save them time and hassle whenever possible—they’ll thank you by making the most efficient use of what you publish.
Drawing on our experience with libraries and library websites of all types we distilled our knowledge into a website interface that is good for libraries and good for library users.
We love libraries. In our work, we’ve watched users struggle, we’ve learned from mistakes, and we’ve applied what we know to this template. Every library and every set of users is unique, but we can confidently say that One-Pager is founded on the common ground that libraries and library users share.
Whether your patrons are 8 years old or, 85 years old, viewing the website on a phone, tablet, or a PC, One-Pager offers one consistent, usable interface for giving them library information they need.
What ideas informed the development of One-Pager?
- Designing for Mobile First
Patrons access library websites on a variety of devices. Not only did we want One-Pager to render well on all of these devices, we knew thinking of mobile sites first would force us to include only what’s important.
- Saving the Time of the Reader
People want to quickly grab needed info and move on. Very few libraries have the organizational bandwidth to create excellent destination sites to captivate patrons.
- Librarians are Busy
With budgets spread thin most libraries can’t give their websites the attention they deserve. Providing less content frees librarian to spend more time making the important material excellent.
- Writing is Important
If you have a website you are a publisher. You can create a great website only by taking this role seriously.
- Clarity through Simplicity
Simplicity isn’t decoration. It is the result of a design process meant to create usable products
Isn’t the One-Pager demo site quite small?
Yes, purposefully so. Many library websites are filled with information that users don’t care about, largely because library website development is stuck in a rut. It is focused on solving problems in one way: the additive way.
Smaller sites are easier to maintain and allow patrons to find what they want faster. You might think that there is a lot of essential content on your library’s website. A proper One-Pager implementation process will expose the parts that are extraneous and make maintaining and using your website easier.
One-Pager isn’t interactive. Why not?
While we value two-way communication with patrons, we value usable library websites more. Patrons are better served by being able to easily find what they want than by being able to leave a comment. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, however, and One-Pager is a solid foundation from which to grow.
We are happy to develop One-Pager as a Drupal, WordPress, or Joomla theme specifically tailored to your library’s needs so your patrons can comment as much as they would like.
I’m interested. What should I do next?
Well, next you should take a good hard look at your library website and go for a quiet walk around the block.
Download One-Pager’s code. Tinker with it. Then, shoehorn your current site’s content into the framework and see what works and what doesn’t. Test it with a few people.
Finally, when you are ready to make the principles behind One-Pager really work for you, we invite you to work with us to turn your library website into a lean, efficient, content delivery machine.
Will One-Pager automatically solve all of our website problems?
No. A good website doesn’t arrive swaddled in blankets, delivered by stork. Effectively using One-Pager will require user research, content strategy, writing skills and good design intuition.
What if my library doesn’t know how to do this stuff?
We can help guide you through a user-centered design process that makes sense for your library. We can help you determine critical tasks, assess library needs, rewrite content, help with usability testing and more.
Contact us at [email protected] with any questions.
I don’t want to interact with my hard drive; I want to interact with my friends. [litl :: philosophy]
The Litl webbook can be used in two configurations: like a traditional laptop, with full keyboard, used to surf the Web; or flipped upright, like an easel or picture frame, for broadcast of photo and video. The laptop configuration has been conceived as a “lean forward” mode, for active participation; the easel configuration conceived as “lean back,” for watching. – [via]
The cards based UI reminds me of the Palm Pre. $699. Starts shipping on 9 November. I’m kinda smitten with this cute device and am interested to see if it, as marketed, does less better.
Last month when I was in Mexico I had the opportunity to visit a number of small and sometimes rural public libraries. I was totally impressed with the enthusiasm of the library workers and the pride they took in providing library services.
Even more inspirational was the signage treatment provided, I think, for libraries across the state of Veracruz. These pictures came from a number of different libraries but you probably wouldn’t guess that if I hadn’t of mentioned it.
I saw zero 8.5×11″ pieces of paper taped to walls.
Are there any libraries in the US, perhaps in a consortium, that have worked together to provide uniform wayfinding devices for library users? This would make sense where people use a few different libraries that are in close proximity.
We could have a universal signage system for all libraries. It seems to be a logical extension of sharing the same classification systems. Then again, I’m not sure how this 1920s-esque Rationalist idea fits with my previous post advocating for fun, human language on library websites.
In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you’re in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of manoeuvre. There’s a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds. I try to provide constraints for people. – brian eno
Southwest Airlines. The airline has succeeded in large part due to its embrace of constraints. For example, its fleet consists exclusively of aircraft from the Boeing 737 line. By flying only a single aircraft, the company spends less to train pilots, ground crew, and mechanics. And maintenance, purchasing, and other operations are also vastly simplified, which reduces costs too.
More ways that Southwest keeps it simple: It offers flights only to select cities, no seating class distinctions, a simple pricing structure, a bare-bones frequent flier program, no meal service, etc.
Shows how executing on essential functions and leaving the rest out can still take you a long way. – 37 signals