Revisiting Ranganathan: applying the Five Laws of Library Science to Inclusive Web Design (Part 2)

Part 2 of Antony Groves‘ article which applies Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science in a digital context. Find Part 1 below.

FiveLawsEvery book its reader’ | ‘Every webpage its visitor’

As every book has its reader, every webpage has its visitor and every service its user. Analytics and interviews provide information on what visitors are trying to do but how can this be foregrounded when developing a solution? One way is to use this information to create user stories. This involves writing a short scenario about exactly why a particular visitor would be coming to a page. When we updated pages, we thought about which people would be visiting that page and what they would be trying to achieve (based on the research that we had carried out and not our own assumptions). This meant that we could focus on the user whilst writing the page and make it as easy as possible for them to carry out the task for which they were visiting the site, a consequence of which would also be to save them time.

‘Save the time of the reader’ | ‘Save the time of the visitor’

Two of the main ways in which we attempted to save the time of the visitor involved the structure of the whole site and the structure of individual pages (along with the services that these pages may deliver). It is important to us that people can easily navigate through the site to find the page that they need and on that page be able to quickly locate the information that they require. To do this effectively, as the Manifesto for Agile Software Development champions, we collaborated with customers.

To improve the structure of the whole website we ran card sort exercises, learning from our community how best to organise information for their needs. This involved asking users to group together different labels (which represent corresponding pages of the website) in a way that they thought most sensible and giving that group a name. For example if there was a label for pens, another pencils and one for books, you might think that pens and pencils would be a logical group and that you’d call that particular group ‘stationery’. This helped us to make the architecture of the site as intuitive to visitors as possible and enabled them to find pages more quickly.

Similarly, with the help of our user stories, we structured the pages in a way that we hoped would save the time of the visitor. We used headings more effectively to make it easier to scan through a page and moved the most important information to the top using the inverted pyramid. I’m not sure whether it is a consequence of our profession, or just me, but I sometimes feel guilty of overwhelming people with information (see, well, this blog post). If someone wants to book a study room do we need to preface that with information about the range of different study areas available to them? Yes, that might be useful information but they’re trying to book a room – this should come first. The inverted pyramid reminds us to put the most important information at the top of the page and save the visitor time.

‘A library is a growing organism’ | ‘A website is a developing organism’

A website may not need to ‘grow’ in the sense of more pages and content being added unnecessarily but it should continue to develop. Through design iteration we have moved from prototypes of the homepage through to a completely live site, getting feedback at every stage. There is still work to be done and over the coming term we will be testing the website with users, making any changes that become apparent after this testing. And this development will continue as we learn more about what our community needs.

I believe that the same should also be true of our profession. From organising card catalogues to organising card sorts, the skills of Information Professionals need to continually develop in order to effectively support our communities. This post may not provide a comprehensive guide to redeveloping your website but I hope it offers a more familiar lens through which to view this work, one that shows how the Five Laws of Library Science should also apply to our digital services.

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