The Library Web Site of the Future — TODAY!

In LIS, we’ve been thinking of ways of incorporating the widgets into our teaching and into our websites in a way that provides a context for their use outside of the Widgets page. I thought Steven Bell’s recent column on Inside High Ed, “The Library Web Site of the Future,” was an interesting accompaniment to those conversations we’ve been having. Bell discusses changing faculty expectations of the library’s website as a portal to information, suggesting that faculty no longer see the website as a gateway to electronic information and positing that users have developed their own pathways to these subscription resources that don’t necessarily involve the pathways we’ve designed. He discusses the findings of the recent Ithaka Group study on the digital transformation of higher education:

“Compared to earlier years of this Ithaca study, faculty no longer perceived the library as an important portal to scholarly information. While the library Web site is not specifically mentioned in the report, for the 21st century library, the Web site is the de facto gateway to electronic research content. The report makes clear that faculty increasingly access what they need elsewhere or simply find alternate routes around the library Web site to get to their desired library e-resources.”

He cites several other studies that suggest the same thing — users often bookmark the subject database that they use most often, use Google Scholar to access our holdings — all of which invalidate the library web site as a portal to discovering what other electronic resources are available.

He goes on to suggest that enhancing the website as a marketing tool is one way for the library web site to survive all of this, saying:

“They should devote the most eye-catching space to information that promotes the people who work at the library, the services they provide and the community activities that anchor the library’s place as the social, cultural and intellectual center of campus. That shifts the focus from content to service and from information to people. Academic libraries must promote their human side. The library portal experience should emphasize the value of and invite stronger relationships with faculty and students.”

He continues by advocating for the repacking of the content previously served up through the portal model into course pages and LibGuide-type customized sites, continuing, “With faculty advocating e-resource awareness and distributing links to the library’s e-resources throughout the academic network, a dedicated portal to those same resources makes less sense.”

Reading through all this, I felt encouraged that we’re heading in the right direction in our thinking and that we’ve been responsive to all of the changes he describes. But I’m wondering if there’s anything we can take away from his column that might help in our consideration of integrating the widgets more fully into the design and content of our sites. How can we highlight them in a way that provides each user with some idea of why they’re relevant to him or her while also reflecting their utility in their placement on the website? I’m hoping we brainstorm some ideas during the RIOT, sharing and building on the conversations we’ve had in LIS.

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