Web Design Evaluation: Multnomah County Library


Full disclosure: I live 30 minutes away from a branch of the Multnomah County Library and yet I have never visited their website. Well, I can say that it is fairly easy to navigate. The first thing that caught my attention was the image map. It is a super handy “home base” to have while visiting. Since it is present in every page, I never needed to click on the actual homepage to find my way around; I could just click on one of the seven offerings present on the image map.

The body (content) of the website is not grouped into long paragraphs that are hard to scan. Rather there are many hyperlinks, with descriptive sentences underneath, that one can scroll through.  I found one problematic area under the “Services” tab: a comprehensive list of hyperlinks organized alphabetically but with no subheadings. The list would be more efficient if users were offered alphabetical groups under which to look.

Interestingly, the navigation lists are on the right-hand side. I am used to seeing them on the left. And yet, this makes sense. According to M.K. Holder, an affiliated scientist in the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior at Indiana University, 70 to 95 percent of us are right-handed.

After some initial bumps, I became familiar with this set-up. Only to have to change again when I visited the “Kids” section. Here the initial list is on the left-hand side again…but switches to the right once you click on the hyperlinks. Kids need consistency.

Visual Design

I’m quite a visual person and love good design. This website has a simple layout that my eyes became fond of. Calm colors like blue and brown brought back fond memories of the Pacific Northwest. I commend Multnomah County Library for not being afraid to use a white background. So many websites feel that they have to dazzle visitors with jazzy wallpaper that distracts from the content.

Visitors that would prefer some jazziness, children mainly, are given a lovely yet calming “effervescent” background in the “Kids” section. More color is present here but a consistent palette is used. I expected that the “Teens” section would receive a similar treatment but was pleasantly surprised to find that, design-wise, it was indistinguishable from the “adult” sections. I feel that this sends a clear message to teens: we won’t treat you like children. Nice.

With all the beautiful simplicity in their site, I wonder why Multnomah County Library did not make their logo larger. Maybe they reason that the user already knows where they are or maybe this was a measure necessary in order to fit additional information in the heading. Remembering the importance of touting one’s brand, I feel that they should more prominently display their nifty logo and name.


How exciting to see that this website is bilingual. On the right hand side of the heading, a link titled “Español “ is present. When I clicked on it, the language of the whole website became Spanish. I am personally familiar with the growing Latino population of the Northwestern US and their Internet disadvantage. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Just one in three Latinos who speak only Spanish go online.”

By providing a safe reliable website in their native language, Multnomah County Library increases the likelihood that their Spanish-speaking patrons will learn skills that they can then use to venture out into the greater web. While the Spanish website is almost a twin copy of the English one, I was sad to see that the “Niños” (Kids) section here does not follow the design layout of the “Kids” section in English. All little ones like color and to have the same things other kids have regardless of their language.

Multnomah County Library’s website meets many accessibility guidelines. It offers a simple, consistent layout with plenty of contrast and descriptive links. Ironically, the link to learn more about accessibility services is hard to find. It is indistinguishable from other hyperlinks in the vast list found under the “Services” tab. This is one link that I would place right next to the “Español” link on the heading. Even better would be a special icon representing accessibility, present on the main page, that would quickly direct users to the pertinent section.

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