Usability of Facebook Tool (SPL)

The usability of Seattle Public Library’s Facebook site for a new user is quite good. Patrons don’t have to wait long to become active participants in the site as Facebook’s Wall feature encourages them to “write something.” If the user was completely unfamiliar with social networking, he/she could always post a question or ask for help.

At the time of my visit, many of the library’s postings encouraged user interaction. One of them asked, “Psssst! Watcha reading?” The friendly, conspiratorial tone of the question garnered 78 comments. It may be the case that many of these commentators are first-time users. How is that possible?

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 Seattle Public Library’s site may start by just exploring but once they make a post, for example sharing their latest read, they have moved up to the next level. In a subtle way, they are “offering a suggestion” to their fellow users.

Facebook Suggestions (SPL)

My first suggestion for Seattle Public Library involves the promotion of their Facebook page. Moving the icon to a more prominent place on the website layout would help tremendously. It would make users aware of the service. The icon is small enough that it could occupy the empty space next to the date on the heading of every web page.

Regarding the Facebook site, I want to share two social networking recommendations from Sarah Houghton’s blog, Librarian in Black . The first involves the library’s profile picture. Sarah Houghton counsels against using a picture of the building. In her view, it sends a message that the library is “about bricks & mortar!” Not lively or “with it.” To make it more “social,” a picture of a person or an avatar would be best. The library’s logo is also a good choice.

My final suggestion, also from Sarah Houghton, involves what she terms, “suss it up.” Vancouver Public Library’s Facebook page is in need of jazziness. More pictures, video, music would liven it up. Posting fun, slightly wacky questions would also help. I noticed two posts that, at their core, basically asked what users were reading (Did you get any good books yesterday? Psssst! Whatcha reading?) Suss it up and they will come.

My Opinion on SPL’s Facebook

If I were a patron of Seattle Public Llibrary, I would use its Facebook page but only sporadically. Recall that a link to this service is hard to locate on the home page. If I had overcome that impediment and made it to the site, I would be expecting something wonderful. After all, I worked hard to find it. I want my reward.

But I won’t get it. The services offered on the Facebook site are not much different from those offered on the library’s website. I could find most of them by looking around. My feeling is that the main selling point of maintaining the Facebook site is the convenience it affords to users. I am already on Facebook connecting with friends. If I have an information need, I don’t have to look far for help since my local library is available.

However, my main point of contact with the library would be as a commentor and contributor as mentioned in Derek Wenmoth’s Four C’s Diagram. I would mainly comment on other’s posts and contribute some insights of my own. It would be more of a social activity with like-minded, information-seeking individuals. Josh Boyer and Joseph Ryan’s Considering Facebook in the Library essay supports this position. They concluded that “focusing on helping people connect with each other, rather than on providing another entry point to library resources, may be a more successful outreach strategy for libraries in Facebook.”

Locating Facebook (SPL)

Even if the Seattle Public Library is really keen on engaging with their users on Facebook, their website does not support this goal. At first glance, and with the color-coding scheme taken into account, the most prominent services offered are the library catalog and the library locator.

To find the Facebook link, I had to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page. If I were a busier patron, I would have completely missed it.

The icon is small and buried in the footer amongst all sorts of other information. It gives one the feeling that it was an afterthought or an obligation. Address, phone number, Twitter, Facebook…can’t have one without the others. The color of the footer does not help either. Facebook’s trademark blue icon blends into the blue background.

According to Helen Murphy’s Facebook for libraries: hints ‘n’ tips Prezi, a library who wants to enter the social media environment has to actively promote their Facebook page. “Are you doing everything you can?” she asks. The icon may be present in every page of Seattle Public Library’s website but it is not being advertised like it could be. In the suggestions section of this blog, I will offer some tips on how to improve this promotion.

Facebook’s Fit with Other Services (SPL)

Seattle Public Library has exceeded the adage espoused by Andy Burkhardt’s Information Tyrannosaur Blog: Links are good. Use them generously. The Facebook site contains not just links but embedded content of many of the library’s other services.

When a user glances at the navigation list on the left-hand side of the site, he/she encounters links to online social services like Twitter, an RSS Feed and the library’s blog.

Clicking on the links does not open a separate window. Rather, the content appears within the Facebook page. The services are meshed together and communicate with each other enabling “one-stop shopping” for the user.

If the patron prefers immediate assistance from a librarian, links are provided to IM and chat services as well as a handy e-mail form. For all of these, new windows redirect the user to the appropriate page of the library’s website. It maybe that the technology does not allow it yet but I think it would be great if these services could added to the Facebook set-up.

Web Design Evaluation: Seattle Public Library

Navigation

Visiting this website immediately after Multnomah County Library’s, I was jolted by how colorful it is. Let’s table that for now and concentrate on navigation. The layout of Seattle Public Library’s website is quite consistent. When I clicked through the different titles on the image map successively, I had visual proof that the structure, the “bones” of the pages stay pretty much the same. Good news for a new visitor.

It’s a good thing that the image map is located at the top and not to the side; it would get lost amongst all the color. I understand that the designer(s) wanted to emphasize each of the sections instead of the image map but since it is the main vehicle of navigation, it would help if the font was bigger or if it was more prominent. The baby blue shade makes it blend into the background and appear “shy.” Luckily, the image map titles change color to show the user where he/she is.

In the home page, there are two navigation lists adjacent to each other that confused me at first. Which one was my primary road map? I felt a bit abandoned. On exploring them, I noticed how different they were. The “Quick Links” list offered fast access to popular information while “Audiences” was a list that caters to specific user groups. I wonder why the “Audiences” list is present on the home page when this section has a prominent place on the image map already. I believe that removing the “Audiences” list would be best. It would reduce the confusion and clear up a busy home page.

Visual Design

Learning the visual design of  Seattle Public Library‘s webpage requires patience and persistence. I am worried that some first-time users would be turned away by this aspect. That would be too bad because someone put in much work to color-code the site.  The colors chosen for each page intuitively make sense. “Audiences” (orange) made me think of skin tone, “Using the Library” (lavender) brought to mind the calming effect of this institution, “Library Collection” (hunter green) made me think of old encyclopedias and “Calendar of Events” (grey) is appropriately an executive color. I could go on but now I am thinking that each user brings his/her own background and they may not make the same connections I did.

While the colors are nice on the eyes, they are not always consistent. The yellow of the “Library Locator” box present in almost every page is not always the avocado-green of the “Location” section that it relates to. On most of the pages, this little box is a corn-yellow instead. Compare this to the “Search the Library” catalog box. It is always a teal-shade of green and this shade connects it to the “Library Collection” page. It is possible that I am just being nitpicky about this but it’s the little things that make a difference.

Accessibility

Accessibility is an area where Seattle Public Library’s page could be improved. The website design is consistent but it is not simple. The background is busy with colors, lists, graphics, etc. Granted, this is a big library and they have much information to share. However, some users can only access part of it. I’m thinking of people with low vision primarily. There is so much for them to absorb at once. Luckily, Seattle Public Library’s ADA/Special Services offerings are easily accessible through the “Audiences” list present on their home page.  I changed my mind about it. It can stay.

That same “Audiences” list serves the needs of diverse populations such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Soomaali and Spanish speakers. Here they can find library programs in their native languages and information pertinent to their community. I can’t speak for the other languages but, as a native Spanish speaker, the Spanish sections are like a mini-website within the greater Seattle Public Library site. They don’t share the same image map titles as the English version but it is accessible and appropriate to Latinos.