I ran across this article the other day outlining the 5 "essentials" that every school website should have. Naturally, it got me thinking about my own library's web presence.
I'm one of those nerdy people who actually really loves tinkering with web design. Don't get me wrong, I'm no code writer, but given a little time and a few tools, I can make, if nothing else, a huge mess good effort. Additionally, I probably spend more time than I should poking around other school library websites too - just trolling for inspiration and such. It's easy to spot the sites that only get updated once per year. Typically, these sites contain only a few sad elements: there's a list of the library's hours, a brief bio of the staff and, if you're lucky, somewhere between all those virtual cobwebs, you might find a description of the library's various subscription databases. Zzzzzzzzz.
Now, I've been doing this long enough to know that the librarians who built the website described above are probably working their bifocals off. Just because they've got a boring website doesn't mean they've got a boring library. I know that. I know it because I work in a school. I know it because I visit other libraries. I know it because I have the opportunity to peek behind the boring website to find the brilliant teacher. I am an insider. And I am not your website's target audience.
That said, who is?
Seriously. Who is looking at your library's website? And if the answer is nobody, who do you WANT to be looking at it? Your students? Your (current and prospective) parents? Teachers? Principal? District administrators? Other librarians (like me!)? Elected officials? Other tax payers who vote on education bonds, etc?
More importantly, though, once these folks arrive at your site, does it provide them with an accurate and complete picture of what your library is all about? By clicking your links, do they get a taste of how the work you do actually impacts student learning? If not, it's time for a redesign. Which leads me to...
5 Things Every School Library Website Should Have:
A focus on teaching: If teaching is what you do, your website should reflect it. Whether you do it through a a library blog, a teaching/learning wiki, a collection of slideshows, or any number of other elements, your site should showcase the LEARNING that takes place in the library. Everybody already expects a library to have books. Your website should show them something they don't (but should!) expect about school libraries/librarians and how they impact kids.
Examples of student work: One sure fire way to get parents to visit your site is to make it a gallery of student work. Posting student work on your site not only provides the student with an opportunity for real world publication but it also emphasizes your role as an instructional partner within the school.
Opportunities for participation: If teaching students about digital citizenship and the ethical use of information is part of your mission, then your website should be an online laboratory where students get to put those skills to work. I know. I know. It's scary to give kids control of your library's public face, but you don't need to hand them the keys to the kingdom to do it. There are lots of interactive web 2.0 tools, from Wallwisher to ThingLink, that provide students/parents/teachers with the chance to contribute to the library's web presence. By making your website a collaborative space, you're also inviting your visitors to take ownership of your programs and the work that is created there.
Evolving resources for your evolving audience: If we want our libraries to be thought of as THE place to find the most up to date, the most relevant and the most cutting edge resources, our websites need to contain resources of equally high quality. Tired lists of out of date links will not cut it. The resources we share on our websites need to a) be updated frequently to reflect student needs b) be directly linked to student learning and/or our school(district/state)'s mission and c) be a part of our own practice in the library.
Flavor: Finally, your website should give visitors a taste of the library experience that you have created. If your library is a fun, noisy place filled with opportunities for kids to grow and learn, your website should reflect that. Every library is different as a result of all the people who spend time there learning and creating, your website should offer visitors a taste of the flavor that is unique to your school library experience.
So... am I practicing what I preach? Almost. Since I started thinking about this, I've been working on giving my webpage an overhaul. Although I'd already updated it with some summer reading stuff before donning my vacation gear, there were still plenty of remnants from last year cluttering up the corners. I've still got some work to do, obviously, but that's the thing about websites: they are a perpetual work in progress. Even so, it's almost ready for showing off at open house in (gulp) 1 week. Obviously, some sections won't take off until students arrive and we all roll up our sleeves, as it were. But for now, it's starting to take shape and represents the beginnings of what I hope will be a collaborative, teaching and learning focused webspace that offers my visitors access to great resources as well as a snapshot of what my library looks like in action.
As always, I welcome feedback if you decide to take a look. What's more, I'd love to see other examples. What's your favorite school library website? And what makes it so special? Please, please, please share! I'm anxious to see the work that inspires you!