What I’ve been working on: A new bpl.org

Homepage for the soon-to-be new bpl.orgSo today, I can finally show you what I’ve been working on at my new job, that I started a little less than six months ago.

The Boston Public Library unveiled today its new website, now available for public preview.

The website can be viewed here: https://bpl.bibliocms.com/, and we’re really excited about a few features:

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photo of a public library website within a city library's website

What Not to Do on Your Library Website, or the Library Websites’ Hall of Shame: Not Having Your Own Website

This is a continuation of my Hall of Shame series. One of the many things I work on as a librarian is websites, more specifically, the usability, accessibility, and navigation of a website. In this series I will show examples of website sins libraries commit, and explain why they’re not good ideas. In all of my examples, the names of the libraries, and any other identifying information, will be blacked out to protect those guilty of these sins.

Before I go into this month’s post, I want to say this disclaimer: The issues I’m pointing out are very relevant, and should be rectified if there is a chance to do so. I don’t claim to know the budgets of these libraries or the reasoning behind their decisions, so I can only go off what I see on their websites.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin. This post is about libraries that don’t have their own website. Their website is folded into the university or city’s own websites. Below, are three big reasons why that is problematic, with screenshots of library websites to back up the evidence.

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So…What does a Web Librarian do?

This post expands on one of my earlier posts, Who and Where are the Librarians?.

I am currently employed as a Web Services Librarian in a public library, and I frequently am asked, what does a web librarian do, and why did you go to library school for that?

As a web services librarian, I’m basically a user experience professional, but I work specifically for libraries, and I work for one library instead of working in a company assigned to various companies’ projects.

With regards to my degree from library school, if I wanted to keep doing my job in the library world (which I do), I would be required to have one, but it also really prepared me for several key components of my job.

User Experience

So, what is user experience? One professional said, “A user experience, if it’s done well, it’s invisible, right?…by taking these bad experiences away, customers are happy, they come back.” My job is to make my library’s website easy to navigate and search so that the user feels the process is seamless and doesn’t have any problems finding information. This means looking at the organization of content, making sure the website is accessible to people with disabilities, and learning more about the users so I can make sure the website doesn’t do anything the user doesn’t want it to do.

Knowing the Users

One of the things that helps to create a good user experience is knowing our users, which is one of the parts of the job where having a Masters in Library Science (MLS) comes in handy. One of the many things I learned in graduate school was about how many different users interact with the library, and how people interact with websites in general, and their expectations for those interactions.

I also learned about survey design from grad school, since libraries constantly have a need to survey their users, either about their web presence, or about their services in general, or even to find more information about the population they serve. I use surveys in my job to learn more about the users who use the library and what they are most interested in finding at the library and on the website.

Organizing Information aka Information Architecture

One of the major components of library school is learning how to organize information. I don’t just mean cataloging, which is a required course, but studying library science is basically learning how best to organize information, and then do things with it, like teaching it, or deciding what information is worth purchasing, etc. This comes really in handy with library websites, because like all information, information on website needs to be organized too. Creating organic pathways for users to discover the information they seek is a big component of the job and making sure the categories used to group pages are both intuitive and explicit. You want your users to know exactly what you mean when you say, “Visit Us,” so that they hopefully know that they can find your hours and holiday closures in that category, and that they don’t expect to find the organization’s mission statement in that section.

Managing Content

One of the challenges of working on a website within a services profession, and this is especially true of librarians, is that they want to help. What this means is that they frequently have the urge to include all information that may be useful on the website, just in case the user wants it. However, there’s a point at which there’s just too much information, and the user can’t find it, or it becomes too overwhelming to process, and neither of those are good scenarios for the user’s experience. One of my jobs is to step in and talk to the librarians and get them to think realistically about what are the most important, and most needed things the users need on the website, and what are things they might need occasionally, and won’t have a problem contacting a librarian to obtain.

User Testing

Another aspect of my job is user testing. In this case, we are completely overhauling our current website, so before we unveil the new website, we want to do significant user testing. We especially want to make sure that we haven’t created any problems with people who have disabilities, as well as users who aren’t as savvy with technology, or any other group of users who come to our website. The more people who test out the website and can tell us what they think, the better that is for us. But, when we do this, I have to keep in mind that we cannot please everyone. We will never be able to make the website 100% perfect for everyone, so I have to take each suggestion with a grain of salt, and that can be hard to do. It can be really hard to decide what is an actual problem, and what is a minor inconvenience or something that’s just unexpected as users adjust to a drastically different website. While I might have been able to learn about this through another program, I was able to learn about user testing though library school, which gave me a good foundation to learn about how to create usability tests, as well as those judgement calls on user suggestions.


This is not at all an exhaustive list of things that I do in my job, or that other people with similar jobs do, but it represents some of the bigger items that I have to grapple with, and how library school prepared me for them.

The Impact of Research Accessibility on Future Research, Part 2: The Effect of Open Access Articles on Research

This is a continuation from last month’s post Part 1: Researchers’ Information Seeking Behavior, so if you haven’t read that yet, I would suggest you read it first.

In the post, I explored the question, how much of future research is impacted by whether someone can quickly and cheaply gain access to other research? Last month’s post focused on how researchers’ information seeking behavior has an impact on the research they find, and therefore, future research. This month’s post explores how open access research has made an impact on emerging and future research.

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The Impact of Research Accessibility on Future Research, Part 1: Researchers’ Information Seeking Behavior

I was recently visiting a friend who has recently started a Master’s and PhD program at a large U.S. university; while I was visiting him, he had to work on his research, as many graduate students have to do in their “spare” time. After doing some searching he determined that the nearest book available on the topic he wanted was in Ireland, and since he needed the information in the next couple of days, he decided not to request the book through interlibrary loan (ILL). This got me thinking, so much of what people do happens so quickly, that there isn’t much time to wait to get access to research. This made me wonder, how much of future research is impacted by whether someone can quickly and cheaply gain access to other research?

Taking the book from Ireland, for example, how much does the fact that the nearest copy of a publication is in another continent affect the future of someone’s research? If I’m working in a field that’s emerging, it stands to reason that there’s not an abundance of publications available on these topics. And if I can’t access a certain piece of information I want quickly or cheaply enough, I’m likely to forgo reading it, and rely on other sources that comply with my time and money constraints. If research builds upon other research, does the inaccessible research get lost?

It’s nearly impossible to design and carry out a study that could measure this definitively, because there are so many variables like the subscription resources offered from institution to institution, the availability of research from different disciplines, and the variability of how quickly a researcher needs the research they seek.

As I started looking into this question, I realized there are many components to this, so I focused on two areas, and I’m publishing this post in two parts. The first part, is about researchers’ information seeking behavior, and how their behavior towards research that is not quickly accessible may affect future research.

The next post will be about how open access and subscription articles affect the future of research.

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