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BFTP: Creating GREAT Library Websites for TODAY's Learners!

With a nod to the great Doug Johnson, from time to time, I'll be using this space to revise an old post. Today's BFTP (Blast From The Past) post is...

The truth is, I should have updated this post a long time ago. Despite the fact that it's nearly nine years old now, it remains one of the most popular posts on this site - getting hundreds of clicks per week. Last summer, when (with the help of my dear friend John Downs) I moved my blog to this new site, this missive on library websites. was the third most visited post - with well over 100,000 hits. That, coupled with the fact that the world has changed a bit in nine years, should have been reason enough to update it!

Instead, however, it took a request from some librarians in Kansas to get me moving on this long overdue work! (Thanks, friends!) I'm using the session I created for them as the inspiration for my revision of the original post.

If I were going to rework this post today, I'd tackle it differently. While I don't think the suggestions I included in 2011 are completely obsolete, my thinking around the purposes of our virtual spaces has shifted.

Here are some things I think average library webpages do:

  • serve as an "all in one" landing page to frequently used resources.

  • communicate important information about the library to stakeholders.

  • archive library happenings

Here are some things I think GREAT library webpages do:

  • Flood community book/resource deserts

  • Reflect/celebrate your community of readers.

  • Help visitors understand what the librarian values.

  • Help visitors understand the value of the library.

  • Are designed around authentic learner/teacher inquiry.

  • Invite the community to participate.

  • Evolve with the needs of the community.

Today, as I write this we're in the middle of day number 438203 of COVID19 related quarantine (or thereabouts). Most of the teacher librarians I know are not teaching daily classes to kids, as classroom teachers are. Many are supporting classroom teachers in locating resources for that instruction. Some are crafting choice boards for parents to use as a resource at home with kids. Others are working to make sure kids have access to reading material. All are working hard.

In preparing for this session, I spent some time sneaking around library webpages, looking for evidence of how librarians were serving the needs of their communities during this time and found a broad array of examples that included webpages that hadn't been updated since October, those that linked to the school's or districts' remote learning resources and one that was completely empty except for the text: "If you need a librarian during this time, email me at _______." (I wish I were making that up).

Now, before you @ me with comments about how I'm a bitter, mean, divisive librarian shamer, listen... when you love someone, you tell them the truth. And I love librarians, so I tell them the truth (as I see it) - even when it's tough to hear. And the truth is, our virtual spaces are (in many cases) a missed opportunity. And while right now might be the hardest time ever to tackle this work, there's also never been a time when our virtual spaces were more important and more necessary.

What's more, this may be our LAST opportunity to create the virtual spaces that our kids and communities need.

In the last week alone I've been contacted by six school districts whose budgets for next year do not include librarians. Three other districts I've been in contact with are cutting librarians in some, but not all, of their schools. I know that right now we're all just focused on getting through this school year... but school leaders are already preparing for the approaching cliff. School librarians are already an endangered species in many states. I fear things are about to get much worse.

That said, I'm not proposing that a great library website is the key to saving library jobs. But what I am saying is that we cannot afford to maintain spaces (physical or virtual) that leave people wondering what our value is. Every ounce of real estate we control should send the message that our work changes lives - because it does.

It's in that spirit that I'm including a link to the slide-deck I shared with my friends in Kansas. I'm proud of work they are doing there to ensure that all school librarians have a robust online presence that is an extended part of their learning community. Go get 'em, y'all!

And finally, a quick post script: several generous librarians gave me permission to share their websites as part of this presentation. Examples included in the slide-deck represent positive steps toward the work I'm advocating for. Thanks to everyone who allowed me to show off their virtual spaces.


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