Suffolk Libraries website
I design, code and write for the Suffolk Libraries website.
We prefer speed, clear language and logical navigation to fancy graphics and animations, which helps customers complete important tasks with minimum effort.
We use Jekyll, a static site generator. Static sites simply serve HTML files to browsers. There's no database in the background, which means less moving parts, more speed, more reliability and more security.
We regularly put the site through the industry standard Pingdom test, where it scores 94/100, achieving an A Grade. Load times average under half a second.
That doesn't mean it can't do lots of complex things. For example, we handle events in a far more sophisticated way than any other library, linking one-off and recurrent events to 44 locations, and creating microsites built on event categories.
There are just two of us in the Suffolk Libraries web team. We can do all this because we use state of the art hosting and APIs such as Google Maps and Mailchimp, linking the two together with Zapier. Anything a dynamic site can do, we can do too. And we have a strategy…
Find out more
- How we built a static Suffolk Libraries website (an overview)
- Coding one off and recurrent events in Jekyll
- Why we'll be using a CSS framework like Tachyons to rebuild our website
- Doing a Liverpool
- Carrying out a web content audit
- Your website is not as important as your catalogue
- Library websites, catalogues and their poor UX
Suffolk Libraries digital strategy
You'll need a strategy to figure out what you should be doing online, when and how. It consists of answers to questions like:
- What do we publish online?
- How do we write online?
- Who does the writing?
- Who does the editing?
- What's our house style?
- Who's responsible for producing content?
- Where do we publish?
- Do we need an app?
- How do we integrate all our disparate content?
- What are the most important things we need to be doing first?
- What work do we do in house and what do we get an agency to do?
- How do we make our content accessible?
Some of these questions will always have the same answers (for example, you should always code content for screen readers in order to make it accessible and search engine friendly), while others will depend on your organisation's structure and its history.
Suffolk Libraries is a complex organisation. It consists of 44 libraries and their staff, a central, operational office and 44 friends groups. Our strategy tackles questions like:
- how do friends groups and libraries fit in together online?
- should libraries have their own social media accounts?
- how does website content help us reach the targets in our business plan?
The strategy determines what the web team does, how it goes about it and establishes good relationships with other teams and libraries.
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Managing sites: Content audits, kiosk testing and card sorts
We run a content audit every six months, reviewing our site structure, content ownership and visitor numbers. We use insights from the audit to remove pages, relabel them and discuss changes with content owners. Find out more:
If we make a major change to the site we'll kiosk test it. Kiosk testing provides a fast and easy way to test different designs and labels. It sounds formal and scientific, but it's not; it consists of setting tasks, observing five or so people try and complete them and acting on how they did. The art lies in expressing the tasks as neutrally as possible, reassuring your testers and getting out of the way once the test starts.
What we think is a good idea may confuse customers: running simple tests will soon reveal any design and language problems, providing a way to proceed with some confidence. Of course, you can only *really* test a design choice on a live site, so we monitor feedback to see how our changes are doing in the wild and, if necessary, make changes, test again and repeat.
We run online card sorts to test our site structure, using Optimal Sort.
We have an idea of how our site should be structured, and how we should label sections within that structure. However, we've worked for the library service for years; our view of things is jaundiced, and probably completely different from our users'.
A card sort does two things. Firstly, it provides a starting point for organising a website. Secondly, it helps determine what labels we should use in our navigation menus. Remember, customers don't know your acronyms and lingo. Usually, a good navigation system uses plain language that anyone can understand.
Working with outside agencies
We work with agencies on projects where we need specialist expertise. By keeping abreast of the latest developments in web technology (check out my blog to see several hundred articles on all things web), I know who the best people are to work with, and what you'll need to look for in an external agency.
That's why we chose Clearleft to conduct the research phase of our project to develop library self-service software. In the space of a week we got a project plan, a written report on what to develop and even design prototypes.
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If you'd like to work with me get in touch: