Usability of Facebook Tool (MCL)

Usability-wise, Multnomah County Library’s Facebook site is friendly to a new user. The presence of familiar services such as YouTube and Twitter ease the transition to this environment. Of course, the new user can quickly become active on the site. He or she is encouraged to write something by the active participation of those around her/him.

In his blog, Derek Wenmoth shares his Four Cs diagram to explain a person’s participation online. The user begins as a consumer, moves to commentor, contributor and eventually, commentator. The first phase, consumer, is when a participant “simply read[s] and explore[s] the posts of others.” At the next level, commentor, the user “make[s] comments on others posts (either on blogs, or in discussion forums), often seeking clarification, agreeing with a statement, or offering a suggestion or link to something similar.”

First-time users of the Multnomah County Library’s site may explore at first but due to the inviting environment, they will quickly become commentors and even contributors, “those who have started their own blogs or who initiate new threads on discussion forums.”

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Facebook Suggestions (MCL)

Multnomah County Library is an overall-savvy user of Facebook. The staff posts often and keeps the discussion open and engaging. It is the kind of optimal interaction that Educause Learning Initiative describes in 7 Things you should know about Facebook II: when a group with a shared interest “can come together, define standards for interaction, and collaboratively cre- ate an environment that suits the needs of the members.”

One thing to remember is to interact even with unsatisfied users. I noticed a comment by a user that asked, “Why are there so many lazy people working at the Library :(“ The user was never engaged. It is easy to think that because this person is not physically present, one can ignore or postpone answering but a valuable learning opportunity, for both parties, was lost.

 

My Opinion on MCL’s Facebook

If I were a patron of the Multnomah County library, I would visit the Facebook page often. There seems to be so much interesting material to explore. Their built-in YouTube channel fascinated me. I am not a patron but I watched a few of the videos on the inner workings of the library.

I think they are on to something here. They are not pushing library services at the user and paradoxically, that may encourage the patron to seek them out. The first visit is so welcoming and fun that you want more. “Oh, you offer books too? Swell!” Reluctant users let down their guard and those who thought the library was only about books are surprised by the embarrassment of technological riches present; links galore, Twitter feeds, a blog with book recommendations.

Interaction is light and informal. Many of the postings are by patrons and local businesses. Multnomah County Library does not dominate the conversation. This is important. If other users see that they are only supposed to interact as commentors, they may never move to be contributors. I see that this is not the case at this site.

Locating Facebook (MCL)

Locating Facebook on the Multnomah County Library’s homepage is super easy. I couldn’t miss it. The button link, along with its Twitter partner, is on the lower right-hand corner of every page. I dare say that this library really, really wants users to visit their Facebook site. The link is given more prominence than their library logo.

 

Andy Burkhardt, in his Information Tyrannosaur Blog, writes that to grow their social media presence, libraries should “link everywhere [they] can.” Multnomah County Library goes beyond his recommendation to include a social media link on their library homepage and makes it available to users in every area of their website. In a few of the pages, particularly the longer ones, the icon is not readily visible. However, when I scrolled down, it was always in the same place.

With so much exposure, natural curiosity takes over the user. I clicked on the Facebook link when I was actually supposed to be evaluating the website’s design. It just begs to be explored. I think that users who are Facebook users, like myself, will immediately gravitate to the familiar icon as we do when we visit other sites. The possibility that we will friend Multnomah library increases. And if users are not already members of Facebook, seeing the icon so often will pique their interest and may lead them to join. If their local library is present, Facebook can’t be that bad.

Facebook’s Fit with Other Services (MCL)

Interestingly, Multnomah County Library does not try to provide access to traditional library services through their Facebook page. There are no links to e-mail forms, IM or chat services that redirect the user to their website. At first, this decision seems odd and self-defeating. Don’t they want to connect users with library resources?

In his blog, The Other Librarian, Ryan Deschamps emphasizes the importance of building rapport in Facebook by reconciling the aspects of this social tool that clash with library culture. “Facebook wants the World Wide Web to be ‘outside’ Facebook; libraries want to try and bring such resources ‘in.’” The goal is to be on “the same wavelength as Facebook” and yet not sacrifice what makes “libraries unique and important.”

Multnomah County Library has chosen to play by Facebook’s rules and kept resources out in the World Wide Web, in its website. It chose instead to share information appropriate to this social tool such as YouTube videos, links and an abundance of photos. All of these are not merely frivolous and relate back to the library. In other words, they showcase what makes it “unique and important.”

Web Design Evaluation: Multnomah County Library

Navigation

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.

Accessibility

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.