Build joy into your library’s website

What libraries can learn from eCommerce

I’m passionate about Web analytics. This passion ignited before I came to OCLC as I’ve spent most of my career working on eCommerce teams for brands like American Eagle Outfitters and DSW. eCommerce teams use web analytics to optimize experiences for shoppers to ensure that they can find what they are looking for and ultimately click that purchase button.

Honestly, we often pushed past passion to complete obsession. We used to get our key metrics emailed to us every hour on the hour before one VP requested that the emails stop coming out after midnight so the team could get some sleep. Since I’ve been here at OCLC, I’ve found that a lot of what we do in eCommerce can be leveraged for improving library websites as well.

Joyful stacks

When I first joined OCLC, I reflected upon how my new calling intersected with my favorite user experience quote by Don Norman, who has done a lot of interesting things in his career, including work in the Psychology Department at University of California, San Diego. I love this quote from him:

“It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.”

book_cover_postThat sure fits into our mission, doesn’t it? It reminds me of the first time I ever experienced a library. I was around five and still remember that magical promise: “Choose any book you want.” As I entered our small public library, I saw a long book sticking out of the bottom shelf. I remember pulling it out and seeing the Jumanji cover.

I loved that book, and it’s one of the most joyful memories of my childhood. Do you remember your first memory of a library?

So, libraries’ physical spaces already bring joy and beauty to people’s lives. I think our goal should be to make our online presences as amazing and as joyful as the in-person experiences. Web analytics can help.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure

Web analytics will help you spot trends and behaviors about your users so that you can make adjustments that improve their experiences. We recently did a survey of our members about library website redesign projects. The majority of respondents indicated that redesign projects were top of mind, either in-flight or just completed.

Surprisingly, 41% of those working on website redesign improvements told us that they did NOT plan to use web analytics to track those improvements. If that’s the case, how will you know if you’ve logically organized the content for your users?

Are people wandering out of your library?

Imagine a person coming into your library, getting as far as the front lobby, then turning around and leaving. Another person does that…then another. That would make you reconsider your physical layout and procedures, wouldn’t it?

How can simple web analytics help make your library’s website as joyful as an in-person experience? Click To Tweet

Without web analytics, on the web, these lost souls are invisible. Analytics gives us the opportunity to intercept the poor, confused people wandering around your website. To build them an experience that they find intuitive and engaging. And get them to the beautiful, joyful materials and services they need.

So where do you start?

Analyzing traffic patterns and page views is a great place to start. In fact, many of the surveyed librarians said that they already look at these metrics. However, the magic really begins to happen when you look at how successful your users are at completing key workflows using conversion funnel analysis.

To analyze key workflows:

  1. Identify a key workflow (e.g., scheduling a consultation, searching the catalog, etc.)
  2. Identify each step/page in that workflow
  3. Tag pages and establish a baseline
  4. Identify points of failure and tweak the experience
  5. Measure for improvements against the baseline

And then, of course, repeat.

We do this all the time at OCLC. For example, when we added a “did you mean?” suggestion feature to searches within WorldCat Discovery. We moved the “Did you mean?” phrase from here:


to here:


We DOUBLED the number of clicks on that option. Because having the call-to-action up front is usually a good idea from a user experience standpoint. Sometimes it really can be that simple. Small tweaks can yield huge results for our users.

Treat your library site like another branch. Measure what works and what doesn’t. Then improve it a little bit, every time you make a change. Soon, your online presence will be just as much a place of joy and beauty as your most beloved physical space.