OpenRoad’s vpl.ca revamp is now a reference design in the library community
When the Vancouver Public Library sought to have their site redesigned in 2007, the navigation structure of the site had essentially been unchanged since its 1996 launch. While the Library wanted to take advantage of many improvements in web user experience practices and increased user sophistication, they also wanted to begin leveraging social web tools to better reach their patrons. Behind the scenes, the VPL desperately needed to escape managing their site through some 1400 mostly static HTML files.
OpenRoad worked with an extended team that included partners Karo on visual design and Performance By Design on usability testing. OpenRoad’s comprehensive user research process, which utilized surveys, patron and staff interviews, observational research at multiple branches, and patron focus groups, found several key opportunities for the library to achieve its vision of a Virtual Branch. The family of library personas that OpenRoad produced illustrated the finding that even loyal patrons were not aware of the breadth and depth of library services available. A content audit discovered a wealth of valuable librarian-curated resources buried deep within the site hierarchy.
The site was redesigned to expose the previously hidden range of library services and highlight the unique research guides and lists that the VPL had developed. OpenRoad recommended a “mash-up rather than build-up” approach to integrating social media – allowing librarians to manage their lists through the delicious.com social bookmark tool and have them appear on the site via the new ExpressionEngine Content Management System. The new vpl.ca made itself more welcoming to patrons by providing essential library information in multiple languages and by letting site users customize their vpl.ca homepage with hours from their area branch.
The vpl.ca redesign achieved its user centred design objectives. VPL staff describes the site as “very patron-centric” and it has become a reference design within the library community. The Library began to realize truly how easy the new site was to use when only a handful of patrons system-wide felt the need to register for the “Using the New Website” training sessions. The personas developed for the project resonated very strongly with VPL staff – “I know this guy!” exclaimed one workshop participant – and will offer a reference point for site enhancements well into the future.