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.