Where Is Your Library Link And What Does It Say About Your Institution

There was an interesting thread on COLLIB-L on Tuesday the 18th about the institution’s home page and the place of the link to the library on that page – or its lack of presence . It began with one librarian reporting her institution was about to makes some changes to its web site and its intention to “demote” the library from a prominently placed link on the home page to simply being included in a link to academic units. What advice, this person asked, could we give to help in making a case for keeping the library link prominently placed on the home page. After some practical suggestions, such as gathering page view data to show the library’s importance to the community, were offered the exchange morphed into a debate of sorts on the need for an obvious library link on the institutional home page.

I observed there were two different perspectives on the function of a library link on the institution’s home page. Was the link needed for prospective students or current students? There was a general consensus that the institution’s home page was perceived by the administration as a marketing resource for prospective students and their families. From that perspective, why is a link to the library needed to promote the institution? Surely our marketing colleagues would rather see links to student blogs or campus amenities. You could make a case that a prominent library link is a symbolic gesture that communicates to prospective students that the library is still “the heart of the campus.” Or you could make a case that the library is more important to prospective students than previously imagined. I suggested making that case for the library link by pointing to a report mentioned previously here at ACRLog that documented the library building was ranked highly among factors prospective students using in making their college decisions. If the building is important to students then it may be having a library link on the home page does make a significant contribution to the marketing effort – as well as a statement about the institution’s commitment to important values.

But if our concern is the current student what is the real value of a link on the homepage? Shouldn’t we have better ways to get them to our resources. Think about it. If a student wants to use a library database, navigating to it from the institution’s home page could mean 4 or 5 clicks which is too many. I suggested getting an INFO domain (e.g., http://yourlibraryname.info) and then spreading the word to use that domain name to quickly get to the library (e.g., http://gutman.info - note that you need to create a redirect to the actual URL of the home page). Another option could be to create a set of portals (see a prototype here as an example) for your different schools or majors that is truly focused on the information needs of those students. If we create something of value that saves students time and energy they’ll take notice and you won’t have to worry about them finding the link to the library on the university home page. As far as saving the student time and giving them convenient tools to work with, Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave a good suggestion when she shared a link to her library’s customized toolbar. This is a great idea, though there’s a bit of effort involved in creating the customized toolbar, but if you can get students to integrate the library into their web brower, who needs a link on the institution’s home page. You can contact Lisa directly if you’d like a copy of a handout about the toolbar created for a poster session.

Chris Olson, of Chris Olson & Associates, would argue that even with these tools and specialized applications, having a link to the library on the institution’s home page was a marketing opportunity for gaining students that the institution would throw away by eliminating the link to the library. Sharing her marketing savvy, Olson wrote “it’s not about visibility…it’s not about making it easy for students to find the library. It’s about positioning the library in a business context and using business/bottomline-oriented arguments to convince people of the library’s value.” She added that just arguing that the library deserves to be on the home page isn’t sufficient, but that we should argue that presenting it there makes good business sense. Sounds like that argument could appeal to business-oriented administrators. But do we have the research or data to support the argument? Tom Kirk, library director at Earlham College, also brought up the value of examining web site data, but made the observation that data alone would hardly yield the information we need about student behavior in using institutional and library web sites. Until we do know more about how students use our web sites, Tom said, we may be unjustified in arguing for what belongs on a home page. As for alternatives, Tom suggested that many of our institutions have specialized portals for communicating with current students and faculty, where a more prominent library link could be placed. He also suggested that having the library under “academics” has “become a de facto standard alternative to a link on the home page?” So if they do move your library link from the home page to academics, don’t take it too badly. Dan Gjelten, Director of Libraries at the University of St. Thomas, brought the voice of moderation to the discussion by reflecting on the tensions between campus web site as marketing space and information resource. He argued that it needs to be both but that the emphasis probably needs to be on attracting new students. He said, “It is a big world wide web and it is many things to many people. I believe there is room enough for all of us.” So perhaps there is a way we can figure out how to share the institutional home page space in a way that is mutually beneficial for the library and institution. Dan also referred the list to a new ECAR report (note – your organization needs to be a member to view online) on how the University of Toronto addressed the challenges of creating an institution-wide web space to better serve the academic community. It could be that report has some information that will help to better define how the library contributes to the institutional web site.

In the end, while the consensus on the list was that academic librarians should advocate for a library link on the institution home page – if for nothing more than purely symbolic reasons – it may be that we are lacking a strong argument backed by data for why the library deserves to have link space among the valuable web real estate that is the institutional home page. For us it seems to boil down to a set of psychological (you really love us, don’t you), sentimental (we are the “heart of the campus”, right) and territorial (we deserve this space because we’re more important than…) needs that demand we have a presence on the institution’s home page. All the arguments aside, I still think (and many of you would no doubt agree) that it makes a nice institutional statement when there is a prominently displayed library link on the home page. But in the age of “marketing trumps all” thinking and the need to provide a user experience, we may find ourselves having a tough time making a case for the library link on the institution’s home page.

6 thoughts on “Where Is Your Library Link And What Does It Say About Your Institution

  1. I also read this exchange with interest (and love the way cool toobar). I’d say having the library on the institutional page markets the institution in a meaningful way even if the front page isn’t how people who use the library will normally get there.

    Though there is a tendency now to think of the institutional front door as a brochure for prospective students, it’s also the front door for donors, prospective faculty, scholars who are trying to find someone – in fact anyone who may have reason to encounter your institution. And if it’s only a slick ad about how your 18-year-old self will have a wonderful experience you’re saying to everyone else “our main concern is to get students here” – not what happens when they get here, or what happens with the rest of their lives as a result – other than the usual advertising sleight of hand that if you buy this product you’ll instantly become a more alluring person.

    Having indications on the front page (and I’d say the library is one of them) that we’re a community where learning and creativity happens – wanna be part of that? is a much more interesting invitation than “it’s all about you.”

    I’ve always felt in investigating a choice of school I would not want to go through a portal that was purely a mirror in which I’d see myself in the place (a more alluring me, of course) – I want to know what the place is like! Institutional portals too often feel like Potemkin Villages. What’s wrong with your village that I can’t see the real thing?

  2. Very interesting topic, and one that we discussed briefly at our library (Virginia Tech Libraries) over the past 6 months, as the university home page, http://www.vt.edu, has undergone a redesign (the new design will not go live for another week). Luckily, nobody argued that the library link should be removed from the home page, as the designers recognized that the home page has a dual role — both to provide information for current students/faculty/staff and as a marketing tool for potential students.

    However, if anybody had argued to remove the library link from the home page, we would have offered strong resistance, backed by data available from a web site traffic monitor such as Alexa, http://www.alexa.com. Look up http://www.vt.edu, click on the traffic details, and you’ll see that 15% of the total traffic on the http://www.vt.edu domain is on the library web site (and 1% is on addison.vt.edu, the opac site!). You can find similar numbers for most other institutions — University of Virginia (24% at lib.virginia.edu) and Virginia Commonwealth (8% at library.vcu.edu). Sure, this is very rough data, but it’s better than nothing.

    I like the idea of having a (libraryname).info address, as the author suggests, but it gets tiresome having to remember one more site address, or bookmark one more site. Also, the library toolbars are really, really great, but getting students (especially undergrads) to actually install them can be difficult.

    On the other hand, every student knows the university home page, and I usually begin freshmen instruction sessions on the VT home page: “The library is on the university home page, so it’s great if you can remember http://www.lib.vt.edu, but you don’t have to. The library is linked right here on the home page…”

    It makes it easier for the students (and i’d bet faculty as well), and as some folks noted in the above conversation, it’s also a nice institutional statement as to the importance of the library.

  3. One important factor on the placement of a link is the set of cultural values associated with an instituition. Each institution has a specific mission stressed in the mission statement. Likewise, the library of that institution also has a library culture that places itself within the college/university. My view is that the university homepage is our public face. Do we want a public face that is glossy, leaving a user to wonder how much substance there is behind the scenes? The other extreme is to present a page high in utility but may be hard to navigate. Many of the public institutions in Wisconsin, for example, have taken to heart the “Wisconsin Idea” where the university is a living laboratory for the state. There is a link to collaborative efforts with outside concerns such as industries. Such a link projects a fundamental value of an institution. At my library’s page, it is easy to find every person, including the clerical staff, who works here and which department they work in. This reflects our view that every person makes a contribution to our library and deserves a presence on our pages. Frequently, we as librarians tend toward the utility extreme. When we make an argument to the institution, we have to reach a balance between being glossy and being utilitarian. The central point is to place our arguments within the value system of our institution. Framing becomes very important.

    As a parting note and an example of “framing”, we just cataloged many older documents from my university. Those were not converted when we went online 20 some years ago because there were no OCLC copies. They are essentially “lost” since we discarded our card catalog. In my section of the annual report, in addition to talking about number of titles converted, I talked about preserving and improving access to our institutional history. This is a more meaningful statement to anyone outside of the library.

  4. I work in an academic library shared between two institutions. One of them has a “library” button that appear in a row on the main page along with “academics,” “admissions,” “community/spiritual life,” “facilities,” and “giving.” This button links directly to our library homepage.

    The other institution has similiar buttons on their homepage, but the buttons have drop-down menus instead of direct links. The library is listed under the very vague “resources” button. Then, once you click “library,” you are taken to an intermediary page that tells a bit about our holdings and consortium. There is a link to the library page, but it is very small. I often get calls from people attempting to access the library OPAC or find additional information about the library from that institution’s page who are unable to do so.

    Our library draws a lot of independent researchers due to the specific nature of our collection and the fact that we allow in-house use of all materials by the general public, unlike the neighboring Ivy League institution. It’s a shame that more institutions don’t realize the potential drawing power of their libraries and afford them the prominence they should have.

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