The Role of Program Administrator in Establishing and Enhancing School Library Websites:

What's the Evidence?

In evaluating the efficacy of school library websites, it's important to consider the "big picture" of the school library program in a school.

When developing school library websites as natural extensions of the physical space of the facility, the school librarian's role as program administrator ensures that the library program goals and objectives are aligned with school and district long range plans. (Ballard, 2009) The library, its mission, resources, and services should be integrated within the entire educational program for a school or district, not perceived as an "add on." In order to accomplish this goal the librarian advocates and promotes 24/7 access to the library services through a website that is embedded within the school or district website that is the "face" of the educational community. The library website should support not only the various curricula with print resources and links to information databases and other online resources, but interactive opportunities for students to participate in retrieving and sharing information, as well as reading enjoyment.

As program administrator, the librarians meets with principals, curriculum coordinators, technology directors, and other educators and staff members to make sure that they are on the same page. If there is an action plan, the librarian should be in on the planning, and offer input and do the "boots on the ground" work.

Questions to ask (criteria):
Does the library website have a prominent link on the home page of the school? Is it buried and hard to find? Is it part of an academic listing?

Within the library web page:
Does the library home web page banner echo the school web page?
Does the user always have the sense that the library page is part of the larger educational community?
Is there any evidence that the mission and goals for the school and the library are connected?
Is the physical space promoted through images, or evident information about library hours, circulation policies or other FAQ's?
Is there a prominent link to the library catalog?
On the website, are there ways to reserve print or other library resources housed in the physical space?
Contact information for library staff?

So in evaluating the three websites, let's see how they are integrated into the main school site or present the "face" of the library program:

From the home page for the school, the link for the library appears at the top of the navigation guide under the banner. The thematic colors for the main site are tones of dark and light blue. A similar color theme appears in the library website when you click from the main page. There does not seem to be a link back to the school main page from the library page. The library page banner is simple and elegant with an image of a stack of books. At the bottom of every page, basic information appears, address, phone number, library hours, etc. The main body is in a blog format, with changing information each day. Consistent blocks to the right of the blog entry are designed in sections with simple images. The link to the library mission is linked from library home page along with policies and FAQ's. The mission is simple and direct "ensure students are effective users of ideas and information. The school mission does correlate generally, but there is a rubric for information literacy, and I thought that was significant. Contact information links appear in that block. The navigation guides at the top of the page feature "Find a book" a link to the OPAC. I did not see an option for reserving books from the website, but it may have been within the catalog. I did not have a sense of interactivity available for the user, only for leaving general comments on the daily blog, but there were lots of ways for accessing information. Overall, the home page for the library website provided program information and links to the content within the website in a clear and readable manner. The link from the main school website was featured prominently.

Springfield Township HS:
There are a number of steps for the user to reach the library page from the Springfield Township High School home page. On the left sidebar, there is a link to the high school library listed towards the end of the menu. The district mission appears at the bottom of page, along with the option to go to Google translator to translate the page. The link to the library takes the user to another page that describes the library and lists hours, and provides the portal to the virtual library. The library portal is totally separate from the high school site in look and feel.

Once at the wikispace page that is the home page for the wiki, there are an array of choices listed in the left sidebar, and well as a visual image (Glogster) that has visual links to topics. In using the list of topics in the list on the left of the page, the user has to scroll through a number of sections to locate information. The visual graphics on the visual image of the library are also links to the same information, but are in more user friendly language for high school students. Several of the links go to the same interface that shows the links for the library catalog and the databases.

There are a number of options to interact with the library staff by leaving emails and posting comments. Scrolling the page to the right, there are blocks that allow the user to link to the LibGuides, databases, and OPAC in a simple direct way. Links are also there for interesting choices in reading.

The mission is visible from the left menu and from the graphic on the main image. The mission itself is directly connected to the school and district mission, and elaborated upon with how the library supports it. The staff link on the menu does not work, but there are options for emailing the director built into various pages. The annual report is available in both a print and video version.

I think that users, both staff and students would have to spend a lot of time sorting through all the possible options for using the website, and while there are links in the menu bar to go back to the HS and district home pages, there is not a sense of continuity.

Northfield Mount Hermon:

The library website for Northfield Mount Hermon is embedded within the main page of the school website by clicking on the Academics tab within navigation toolbar at the top of the page. The basic format of the main page is consistent throughout the library portal, and is simple, clear and direct. The menu on the left of the page opens to a sub menu of library links for direct access from the menu. The address for the school, phone number and links to FB, Twitter, etc., are found at the bottom of each page. To the right side of the page are links to Student and Faculty profiles and other timely information about the school. The library links are listed in the portal page and connect to the catalog, databases, resources for citing sources, LibGuides, staff, and so on. The mission of the library is front and center on the page and connects with the stated school mission. There are links to suggest new resources, reserve through ILL, look through new acquisitions that are very effective for user interactivity. While it is not a flashy page, with bells and whistles, it is user friendly in a scholarly way. Since the the library site is integrated within academics and is clear in its intent to support the mission of the school, it can be seen as an important piece of the school culture.

In evaluating websites, it is important to consider how the site creates a learning environment that is inviting, safe and conducive to learning for users who can't access the physical space.

Other responsibilities of the administrator include creating and maintaining a teaching and learning environment that is inviting, safe, flexible, and conducive to student learning. This concept extends to the development of a virtual library, not just the physical space. Also, ensuring equitable access to school library facilities should also extend to the implementation of the website. Users who are not able to access the physical space during normal hours, either for scheduling conflicts, or other reasons should find the website resources relevant and user friendly.

According to David Walbert's (2006) "Best Practices in school library website design," accessibility and usability are critical components of website design. His suggestions for creating a 24/7 virtual library that is inviting, safe and conducive to student learning, as well as accessible for diverse learners fit like a glove for the program administrator. Advising school librarians to do what they know best, and keep it simple, Walbert presents some criteria to use to develop effective and dynamic websites sites for school libraries that apply to evaluating existing websites, too.
Here's an interpretation of Walbert, with other criteria ideas thrown in:
For accessibility-consider the learner who might have visual, or other learning disabilities:

Does the website overly rely on images for navigation? Is there a written description (clue) for the image?
Is there an audio assist mechanism for visually impaired users?
Are the font and font size simple, large and clear?
Is the use of colored fonts consistent and simple? Is red used? (not good for color blind folks)
Is the overall design simple and clear, with interesting, engaging choices for the user?

For usability:
Does the website met the needs of the appropriate audience(s)? What are the needs of the audience? How do you know?
Is the organization of the website logical and inclusive of content for 24/7 learning? Can it be updated and added to easily?
Does the navigation reflect the logical organization of the website?
Do open links come back to the website using the back button? Can you move easily between pages using breadcrumbs?
Are the content pages clearly written, well organized, and readable? Are headings use to break up the text into manageable chunks? Is the content appropriate for the needs of the audience? How are the needs identified?

In looking at the criteria for user accessibility, the PRHS library website does a good job in its design to meet the needs of most students. Overall the design is simple and clear. The font size varies in color and size and are set off with white or light blue space. Some of the light blue fonts within the blocks are a bit hard to read. The tabs under the banner are very clear, white against a dark blue background. There are images that bring the eye to assorted "interest" blocks/links within the main page. It was not obvious that there was any description of the images for any visually impaired students, nor were that any options for audio assist, or podcasts.
As far as usability, the design for the website of the website also meets the needs of high school users. While the front page is engaging and eye catching without being cluttered, the navigation guides and banner are placed in the upper section of the page, and are clearly evident. Drop down menus from each navigation tab offer choices to the content of the site. Navigation bar language is clear and to the point, so that the high school user can identify with the terminology. "Find a book" takes the user to the catalog, "Research guides" to the list of content that connects with teacher assignments, and so on. The banner appears on every open page, and the user can return to the main page by using the navigation bar. Information about the library-address, phone number, appears on the bottom of each page also.
On the right side of the home page, there are links within blocks to other important or interesting content information. Some of the blocks have small images, other graphics and print. The blocks are linked to other school information of importance to students. For example there is a link to the portfolio assessment that all students are using, and also a link to information about colleges. There are also links to library mission and policies and contact information for the staff. The blog tool is prominent and encourages some interactivity with students/staff who might like to comment on the daily postings. The archive tool appears in the lower right hand side of the page. The content pages are well organized and logical, with a simple layout and a few judiciously included images. The research guides are set up using LibGuides and display live web links, books in the OPAC, and databases according to topics. Users would be thrilled to find these resources all in one place!

Springfield Township HS:

In his article, "Best Practices...," David Walbert used the Springfield HS website as an example of what not to do in a website. He was referencing the "old" website that has been revised into the present wikispace format. His criticisms about using images do resonate still. The images take a while to load and there are lots of them. There is an option at the bottom of the pages to view them in a print screen or mobile app version that is actually less distracting. The overall design for access to the information in the website has many options for the user. There is the option of using the graphic index card links on the Glogster image, the list of topics in the left hand menu, and simpler direct links to the OPAC, databases and LibGuides, but you have to scroll to the right for those. It may be that those options would work for users with diverse abilities, but they would have to be trained to use the appropriate way to access what they might need. It's not really simple or intuitive.
The content in the site is overflowing and at times overwhelming. There are lots of fabulous links for resources, databases, etc., and the use of images and screenshots take time to load. The information is all valuable, but for the novice user, there might be too many choices. The organization seems to be scattershot from the main page. I can imagine that this site will continue to be revised and updated easily, but there is so much here, I can't picture the time it would take to check all the links.

Northfield Mount Hermon:
As far as accessibility criteria, the NMH library website has a simple and clear format that is user friendly for visual and print based learners. The website and the school website rely on red as a background for navigation bars and for highlighting or setting off interest blocks. Red is a problem color for those who are color blind, but at least the font is not red. The font color is light blue for the important links within the website, and is a bit difficult to read. The images that appear on the banner are students centered and attractive, but the use of images as navigation guides within the library portal are not evident, and are seen within the OPAC, with covers of books to engage interest. There does not seem to be an option for audio assist or podcasts within the pages either. There are various options for interacting with the library staff by requesting new materials, or inter library loans from other libraries, and contacting staff with questions. There is also a link to a blog, that can solicit comments.
For usability, the design of the website is clear and consistent with the rest of of the school website-it appears as a seamless aspect of the school environment. That being said, it lacks a dynamic interface that might create excitement and motivation. The content that is linked from the main library page is considerable. The databases are arranged in a very user friendly manner, with sections that lead the user to the "best for" research topics. A student might appreciate a heads up like this! The citation page is clear with appropriate links, also. The links to the content are logical and well organized. Breadcrumbs take the use to links back to the other pages in the website. There is also a link within the main page to share and email through social media. The basic design of the website is very business like, no flash here, but it is efficient and user oriented if you have visual and print literacy skills. Overall it has accessibility and usability for the online library resources.

Works Cited

Ballard, Susan. (2009) Developing the vision: an L4L job description for the 21st century. Knowledge Quest, 38 (2), 78-82.

Walbert, David. (2006) Best practices in school library website design. LEARN NC. Retrieved Oct.4, 2011.