It’s been a month since we launched the updated ALA website, with its user-centered design and new look and feel. Because my contact information is on the “404” or error page, I’m probably the heaviest user of the site, spending much of each day hunting up information for visitors to the site and using the site to answer one of the 500 or so queries received by the ALA Library each month. What have I found?
- I’ve abandoned use of all my division bookmarks, using the “dropdowns” in the home page banner for the divisions, round tables, and other frequently accessed areas of the site. Great change; gives me more room on my browser toolbar for other bookmarks.
- As I pass through the home page on my way to respond to inquiries, I like being able to note the headline on the ALA news. The news section has a three-tab structure that guides intended audiences to information about the ALA, library related legislation and advocacy, and U.S. and world news affecting libraries. News is updated frequently, using RSS feeds.
- I like the great images my colleagues have selected for the “highlights” promoting upcoming events … I just have to be sure to stop long enough to click through them all.
- The home page also has some “pods” for quick links to some key sites—the most popular right now being the link to the Midwinter Meeting information. There are pods on some other pages, too: find the ALA President Jim Rettig’s blog at http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/hqops/governance/index.cfm, or get the theme of National Library Week 2009 at http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/hqops/pio/index.cfm Watch for more as we learn to use these effectively!
- Most importantly, I like that the information architecture doesn’t require users to be familiar with internal ALA structure in order to browse successfully. Now, I do (usually) know which office or division is working on what, but it is ever so much nicer to browse to one of the listing pages and find resources from across the Association. Or will be—this is an area where the 100+ web content developers, both volunteer and on staff, have some work to do yet.
- And when browsing doesn’t work, the new Google search appliance and custom Search Engine Results Page (SERP) do. There are three parts to the SERP: “key matches” that take known search terms and point searchers to appropriate pages; the usual kind of search results, and some ranked results from Google.
During the first few days after the launch, there were all kinds of unforeseen problems. There were times it felt like we were in some crazy cartoon, trying to hammer down something popping up under a carpet—hit it here, but it pops up there; hit there, and it’s to the left, then the right. Those have largely dissipated, and we’ve been fixing the remaining broken links as fast as we can find them. Louise Gruenberg, ALA’s new senior usability officer, has posted on another blog about why we haven’t been able to make redirects for everything, but we can be sure linkages from one part of the site to another work. So keep letting me know about your problems.
We also have a long, long list of additional changes and improvements we’d like to make—starting with such things as the development of consistent layout standards for committee pages, navigation for browsing round tables, alt tags for images and a complete reworking of the information structure for key areas. Watch for surveys so you can make your voice heard.
Is anything gone? Yes—outdated content, or at least some of it. All the important documents are still there—the Library Bill of Rights, the Code of Ethics, the Newbery Medal criteria, the list of accredited library programs—and the information how to make a mini-READ poster, the surprise recurring inquiry!