Best Libraries

April 7, 2023

According to a 2015 EBSCO survey on undergraduates’ research workflow, 40 percent of students rate their library websites moderate to very challenging and 15 percent never use them.

A challenging library website is a research roadblock to an already time-constrained student. Here are 7 Best Practices to ensure your website is utilized by all your students and meets their expectations.

1. Have a Vision: A vision defines your library website’s goals. It also guides and inspires decisions about your library website.


  • Keep the statement to one to two sentences.
  • Align it with the library’s and institution’s mission statements.

2. Easy Access to Search: Search is the primary action a user takes on the library website.

  • Make the search box prominent on the home page.
  • Have one search box on a page.
  • Provide a description or an example within the search box or search box area to set users’ expectations.
  • For a multi-tabbed search box, label tabs in plain language and default to your discovery service.

3. Keep Navigation Simple: Too many navigation options may prevent your users from accessing what they need.

I don’t want to have to navigate this site the way they want me to. I just want to find the thing I’m looking for.” - Jakob Nielsen

  • Display five to six main navigation items at the most. Do not overwhelm your users.
  • Top-level navigation should represent high-level categories of your content.
  • Common top navigation items include: Search, Services, Research, About Us, Help, My Account.
  • Validate your navigation by conducting a paper card sort, or use these online tools: OptimalSort & Treejack (free and paid versions available).

4. Home Page is a Gateway: First impressions are critical. Your home page is typically the most visited page, and where your users begin their research.

  • Do not clutter your home page with too many options.
  • Give users just enough detail to make the decision to explore. “3 click rule” is not always the best practice.
  • Items to display on home page:
  1. Primary user actions (i.e., Search)
  2. Book a Study Room
  3. Location(s) & Hours
  4. Library News & Events
  5. Contact Us/ Ask-A-Librarian

5. Eliminate Library-ese: Library jargon (aka Library-ese) is one of the most reported issues identified in user testing. Unfamiliar terms are barriers to users fully utilizing library resources/services.

Terms Not Understood by Students

  • Boolean
  • Catalog
  • HTML Full Text
  • EPUB
  • e-Book Full Text
  • Database
  • Trade Publication
  • Weed your content!
  • Write in plain language.
  • Be aware of library-ese when branding your link resolver and/or discovery service.
  • Provide explanatory text when needed.
  • Do not rely on a glossary!
  • Ask a non-librarian to validate your content.
  • Conduct a survey or usability testing.

6. Empower All Your Users. Make the Library Website Accessible: Inaccessible websites are barriers to all users. Students with disabilities are faced with frustration and helplessness.

The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect. - Tim Berners-Lee, Father of the World Wide Web

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