At the beginning of the spring semester, our school transitioned to a new website with a more modern look but a much more rigid architecture. As often happens with new website launches, there were obstacles to overcome throughout – 404 errors to fix, a new navigation to learn, resources to update – but the library in particular was hit pretty hard, with significant aspects of our old website simply not transferring at all. As upsetting as this was – we were bombarded with complaints within minutes of the website launch – rather than throw a fit to the administration, we did what libraries do best: assessed the situation, came up with creative and cost-effective solutions, and moved forward. For this post, I thought I would describe some of the issues we faced and how we’ve addressed them, in the hopes that this might be helpful to any other libraries either facing a similar transition or looking for a solution of their own.
Where we started:
On the old site, the library pages had a multi-column structure, organized so that, at a glance, the user could see the entire top-level organization of the site. The didn’t alter the top-level organization for the most part, but the architecture of the new site forces all content into a one column layout so that the user is required to scroll down the page to find the various categories of content. The purpose of this design is to make the site mobile friendly, but it also made navigation considerably more difficult.
With issues to fix all across the law school’s site, it was several weeks before we received content manager training so that we could begin fixing the errors in the library site. In that time, I went through the entire site, page by page, and made a list of everything that was missing or failed to work, so that we’d be ready to move once our training was complete. In all, my list was four pages long. Once content manager access was granted, I fixed all the errors I could within the limitations of the new website, added a quick links list at the top of the page for easier navigation, and we moved on to the portions of the old website that simply didn’t transfer. That’s where we started getting creative.
In the old site, our databases were managed on the back-end of the library website in a program that didn’t transfer when the website moved; thus, when the new site launched in January, we suddenly had no online resources. When the online resources were finally restored in the website, the navigation was fraught with problems, and we received complaints from professors, students, alumni, and users outside the law school. We knew the resources were virtually unusable in their new format, and with only one webmaster scrambling to fix all of the problems across the entire law school site, we knew waiting wasn’t an option – our patrons need these resources now. Instead, we decided to rebuild our online resources in LibGuides. Ultimately, this allowed us to reconsider how these resources are organized and categorized, how best to describe their content, and how best to display the resources for ease of use. Our Electronic Services Librarian worked and reworked the new online resources list for the better part of the semester, and our patrons have been very pleased with the results.
We maintain a bibliography for all current, former, and emeritus law faculty, and these pages – numbering well over a hundred – failed to make the transition as well. We faced the task of rebuilding these pages from the raw HTML files, and once again saw this as an opportunity to rethink their design. I’ll be honest, in four years working here, I had never used the bibliography, and I had never had anyone ask to see it…until it wasn’t available. We had several students over the course of the semester ask to see the bibliographies of various faculty members, and were only able to help them because the librarian in charge of maintaining the bibliographies had the good sense to keep a paper copy. She and I worked to redesign the bibliographies and transition them to – you guessed it – LibGuides. We are nearing the end of that transition now. In their new format, each faculty member’s guide begins with a chronological listing of all publications (as it was in its old form), but now also includes separate pages for the faculty member’s books, book chapters, book reviews, and articles. I am also able to link to the faculty members’ profiles on SSRN, HeinOnline, Google Scholar, and our digital repository.
Our blog, incorporated into the architecture of the old site, also failed to transition. This issue has not yet been fixed, but we are told that the webmaster can still access it. Rather than squeeze it into the new website, our intent is to let it live externally and link to it instead (as we now do for the faculty bibliography, the digital repository, and the electronic resources). As a WordPress blog, we foresee no problems with this solution and hope to have the blog up and running again this summer.
Our summer project with the website will be to rethink the actual text we have throughout. Although it all worked in the old site, something about the new architecture makes many of our wordier pages seem awkward, and some still have navigation issues. I’m not sure we’ll ever be totally satisfied with the new website, but with a little creativity and the willingness to see opportunity where others see disaster, I believe we can make it workable and user-friendly.
Librarians: rolling with the punches since the dawn of time.
Have you faced similar website challenges and have solutions to share? Feel free to comment!