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When it comes to your library’s website, are you a climate change denier?

Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.

W. Edwards Deming

One of the least comfortable parts of my job as a web developer/designer is to convince library clients that certain things they may think they want are not actually in their best interests. People often have things in mind that they think “look cool,” but those features or functions may not have anything to do with making the site easier for the library’s patrons.  Carousels come to mind: they “look cool,” but are well-known obstructions when it comes to site usability. Heck, they’re even part of a UX (user experience) drinking game.  It has gotten to the point where I now dutifully tell people why they’re a bad idea, then, having done my due diligence, I go build sites with them anyway. Why? Because I’m tired, that’s why.

Many functions of a library’s site become territorial or political footballs. So-and-so doesn’t want to make their colleague mad by taking something away or changing it. Carousels make it so everybody gets to have their “stuff” on the homepage, visitors’ convenience be damned.  A singular patron didn’t like it when the link to the catalog moved, so, good heavens, don’t move that. 

Carousels are not the only issue where this kind of denial comes up, but it is perhaps one of the most egregious in my work.  I often wonder how people who call themselves “information professionals” and teach patrons about subjects such as digital literacy and source authority can ignore existing scientific studies and evidence in favor of their own convenience or anecdotes. It reminds me of people who continue to deny the reality of climate change, because it is an uncomfortable truth.

These types of battles are ongoing in libraries (and other fields, I suspect). Too many are likely stuck in the mindset of the very early days of the web, when there were no true concrete rules and web professionals were literally guessing how users would behave around certain types of elements or layouts.   I don’t care if you think your site should have a carousel or not. The web design and user experience fields are based now on science–there’s not a whole lot of subjective stuff under the hood anymore.  Professionals have been studying human behavior online now for the better part of two decades.

Change is hard, but I’ve watched it happen in libraries. We’ve made ourselves relevant in the internet age, when many predicted that people would stop coming and we would slowly die out. Even suggesting that libraries are irrelevant anymore gets you roasted on social media. (Heck, I remember when most libraries thought social media itself was just a fad!)  We’ve adapted and evolved. Why is this so difficult for us?

The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it. –Neil degrasse Tyson