Revisiting Ranganathan: applying the Five Laws of Library Science to Inclusive Web Design (Part 1)

MmIT Committee member Antony Groves discusses updating the library website at the University of Sussex, applying Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science in a digital context. [This is the first of two blog posts on the topic]

By September 23rd 2020 all of our websites will have to comply with much-needed accessibility regulations. As the government make clear “you’re legally responsible for your website meeting accessibility requirements, even if you’ve outsourced your website to a supplier”. To achieve this, and in turn support our communities more effectively, we should all be working to make our websites as accessible and usable as possible – one not necessarily leading to the other. Whilst this work draws upon the emerging skills of our profession (coding, data analysis, UX research and design) it could also be seen as building on the legacy of S.R.Ranganathan and The Five Laws of Library Science; a framework that some may be more familiar with and one which I hope will provide an alternative entry point to this area of work.

This post will show how the Five Laws can be applied in a digital context, how they align with approaches from other sectors, and how we have used these to start updating our library website (a task that some of you will also need to undertake in the coming months).

‘Books are for use’ | ‘Websites* are for use, by everyone’

The two main drivers behind our website redevelopment were accessibility and usability. As books are for use, so too websites. We wanted the site to be easy for everyone to use and for everyone to be able to use it. To make sure that inaccessible online content can be identified the government provide information about how to perform a basic accessibility check. Should parts of your website not meet the required level there is plenty of guidance on how to address this. For us this included changing background colours to ensure that text was visible, using headings more effectively, and adding ARIA attributes to accordions so that they worked with screen readers.

*our goal should be to build digital services, not websites per se. People will be visiting our sites in an attempt to do something; read a journal, renew a book, pay a fine etc. They are unlikely to be coming with a specific goal of navigating through a website, unless it’s a fellow librarian ‘benchmarking’ (which we also did).

‘Every person his or her book’ | ‘Every visitor their webpage’

This law echoes the first point on the Manifesto for Agile Software Development: valuing individuals and interactions. Every visitor comes to our site for their own particular reason and interacts with a specific part of it. Trying to understand the needs of the user is key; why are they visiting and what are they trying to achieve? We took a user-centred design approach and started with user needs. To begin we reviewed Google Analytics for the site and interviewed our community in what the Design Councils Framework for Innovation describes as the ‘Discover’ stage. We gathered feedback and identified top tasks to focus on what key services the website provides.

[To be continued]

FiveLaws
The Five Laws of Library Science.  Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tinfoilraccoon/5489218642

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