5 Best Practices for Designing a Library Website

Today, designing a library website is more than just creating web pages with information. Rather, it’s now about building a platform geared toward engaging users. Patrons have no shortage of content, media, and other experiences to choose from online, especially when we consider social media. As there’s now so much content out there for users to choose from, it’s easy for websites to quickly fall out of favor. In fact, users can decide in as little as 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds) if they want to stay on your website or leave.

The few platforms dominating user attention (e.g., TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) are multimedia-heavy and incredibly engaging. Though it’s not realistic for public library websites to aim exactly for those design attributes, they can carve a specific niche in the digital lives of their patrons.

For example, most of the web fails to meet accessibility standards, thus leaving a huge gap for public libraries to fill with web experiences that support those who need the web the most. Likewise, libraries create pathways for people to connect with their local communities and build social bonds with their neighbors, teachers, and other local figures in ways that the big online platforms simply ignore.

Your website can drive your public library’s growth, be it in patrons, community presence, or stakeholder and decision-maker support. The key is to carry the amazing in-person experiences you already have, but imagining them for digital needs. This isn’t a ‘nice-to-have’, but a necessary strategy. Successful library websites serve their online patrons with tangible value, memorable experiences, and social connections.


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Here’s how you design that into your public library website:

1. Prioritizing Accessibility

Image of someone typing on a keyboard

There’s no doubt that you want to run a public library that’s inclusive and open to all. But what about your website? It’s imperative that you look toward creating an inclusive and accessible library website.

WCAG 2.1 is the latest in website accessibility standards today. However, as accessibility is a continual process of improvement, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which is responsible for WCAG, will keep updating its standards. In fact, WAI will finalize WCAG 2.2 in August 2023. Thus, accessibility is a best practice you should not neglect.

In fact, did you know that the average homepage suffers from 50 errors (Source: 2023 WebAIM Study)? In addition, 96.3% of the top one million homepages had WCAG failures, and that was an improvement of only 1.5 percentage-points compared to 2022! Visit our guide if you’d like to learn how to identify and address accessibility issues with your current library website.

2. Focusing on a Good Homepage



Website Example: Arapahoe Libraries

Your homepage is the first impression users get of your library, and you want it to shine. An engaging public library homepage centers on the services and resources your patrons prioritize the most.

It should be a dynamic page that goes beyond traditional information (e.g., location hours or announcements), and instead, serves unique, fresh and interesting content to your patrons. This can include a window into your digital and physical collection, pathways to popular resources, a list of upcoming events, calls-to-action (CTA) and so on.

Aim to deliver tangible value so that your patrons feel they’re getting something right from the start.

3. Developing an Intuitive and Useful Main Navigation

Screenshot of Arapahoe Libraries' navigation suite

Website Example: Arapahoe Libraries

Build a strong understanding of your patrons to provide an intuitive and informative main navigation experience. Consider the patron’s use cases – such as reserving meeting rooms, getting a library card, browsing staff picks, or signing up for programs like story time – and gauge if your main navigation reflects what users come for when visiting your website. Ensure your users understand the terminology and flow of your main navigation so that they find what they’re looking for.

4. Using Responsive Design

Image showing how Chicago Public Library's website adapts from desktop to mobile.

Website Example: Chicago Public Library

In 2013, 83% of all web traffic came through desktop. Today, a decade later, desktop accounts for 32.19% of traffic, with mobile driving the rest at 67.81% (Source: Oberlo).

This tells us two things: First, you can’t afford to ignore mobile when building your library website design. Second, user habits have changed and will continue to change over the long-term, so you need to stay on top of emerging technologies. The latter drives key aspects like accessibility, security, and performance, all of which impact user experience.

5. Automating Content Population


Website Example: Chicago Public Library

The idea behind automation is to reduce or remove manual, repetitive work so that you or your staff don’t need to be as hands on when managing the website. Leverage automation in your library website through simplified page-builders, templates, smart widgets, and other rich toolsets.

These assets eliminate the need for coding or complex web design skills, enabling your staff to build and maintain a first-in-class web experience. This can also empower your staff to use the website for their own work, thereby unlocking more creative diversity and fresh ideas.

You can use automation to auto-populate fields (like reading lists or staff recommendations), repurpose existing content in different ways (instead of building from net-new), and overall reduce time and workload for your staff. These tools can eliminate the friction involved in keeping your website fresh.

Next Steps

There’s no doubt that designing a library website that puts you at the top of your patrons’ minds is difficult and resource-taxing. However, it would be a mistake to trade the optimal website away for a lower cost – the design elements above are all essential best practices on the web. You can’t omit any of them if you’re planning to launch a library website project that drives impactful results.

Ignoring these investments today can lead to costly problems in the future (e.g., lack of compliance across accessibility and security), and technical issues. In fact, organizations spend on average 20-40% of their technology budgets on dealing with technical debt.



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Compromising on your website neither supports your library’s strategic goals (e.g., connecting with more of your community, driving more foot traffic, generating more item circulation, etc.) nor does it help your core teams, like marketing, public services, technical services, and IT.

That said, it’s not realistic for public libraries to have the internal resources and expertise necessary to run a web development project of this scale. Moreover, your library has many other key priorities to manage, so it likely can’t divert resources away from those to create a website. You’ll need to find web development support that will achieve the right outcomes, but without the burden of owning the project alone.

Seek an external partner that makes cutting-edge library website design and development their primary focus, with accessibility being a critical part of their mission. This strategy gives you the benefit of gaining a partner that heavily invests in the necessary skills, technologies, and infrastructure to deploy a first-in-class library website, but without dealing with the cost and complexity required.  

This strategy might exceed your current website budget, but that could be a sign that you’re not investing enough in your patrons’ online library experience. The benefits of investing in an engaging and dynamic library website are strategic in nature and support many key areas, such as driving more ROI from your collections, enrolling more patrons, boosting event participation, supporting compliance, improving staff satisfaction and retention, and much more.


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