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Website Design Obsolescence

Website designs tend to become obsolete within a few years.  A website created, say, in 1996 (when I first started making them) was largely static content and a few graphics in basic HTML.  By the year 2000, such a website was outmoded, with the advancement of Javascript and more sophisticated web-based encoding.  Increased bandwidth with faster modems and broadband devices enabled more animation and graphic-laden, interactive content.  The faster technologies improve, the quicker websites become outdated.

A quick review of my library's website history demonstrates this trend.  When I began working at Mooresville (Indiana) Public Library (MPL) in September 2007, we had a basic HTML website filled with text (some hyperlinked, some static) and still images.  It was, frankly, plain and disengaging.  In 2008, a new website was launched that introduced more hyperlinking and limited interactive content.  It was, honestly, quirky and difficult to navigate.  It was replaced in 2012 by a much-improved, WordPress-based, interactive website, incorporating videos, graphic-hyperlinking, animations, and other Javascript features.  (This is our current website, for which I serve as webmaster.)

All of these MPL websites have one common quality:  They were designed primarily to be viewed using traditional computers (desktops and laptops).  Due to cost considerations, it was not until 2016 that MPL introduced MPL2GO, a mobile app that could convert its website to be optimally viewed using mobile, handheld devices.  Our promo trailers elaborate.

MPL2GO Mobile App Promo Trailer,
by Mooresville Public Library

Our New Mobile App, Featuring Cauli Le Chat
(Promo Trailer by MPL)

Viewing MPL's website using the mobile app eliminates sidebar features to focus upon the central content (i.e., the "main" text columns of a given web page).  To fully interact with the website, one still needs to use a desktop or laptop computer to view it.  Since patrons increasingly utilize mobile, handheld devices exclusively to access the internet, this design obsolescence demands a website upgrade.  Fortunately, MPL will be evaluating the cost of updating its website later this year (2017) when it will probably opt for a primary interface crafted for mobile devices.  Many libraries have already gone in this direction.

One of the drawbacks to mobile device-focused website design is that considerable content must be pruned to streamline the website so that mobile device users may conveniently navigate its menu options.  But less is more in our speed-addicted society, where attention spans grow shorter and substance thinner.  If libraries are to remain relevant online, their websites must move with the times.

It has been argued that library websites are totally obsolete and that libraries should concentrate upon the "major" social media (Facebook and Twitter, presumably) to present their online content.  That view is premature.  Websites can still serve library patrons well for the foreseeable future.  They afford often unique, highly specialized content that is prized among interested individuals.  Consider two of MPL's most popular web pages (local history and famous hometown folks).  You won't find such content anywhere else, at least as compact and organized.  (You could ferret it out from our Indiana Room blog, but that would be time-consuming.)

Still, website upgrades should be done every few years (perhaps five years is a good rule-of thumb--Hey, it worked for the original Star Trek Enterprise's "five-year mission"), unless this would be cost-prohibitive.  An updated website may well be worth the expense, though. After all, libraries want to serve patrons effectively, and a website can only accomplish that if people are visiting it.


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