Current Practices and Future Plans of Public Library Webmasters

October 13, 2007 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Many public libraries in the United States plan to completely redesign their sites every
three years, according to Current Practices and Future Plans of Public Library

The new report from Primary Research Group is based on interviews with webmasters
from the San Jose Public Library, the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Alexandria
Library, the Los Angeles Public Library, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Public
Library, the Houston Public Library, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Colorado
Virtual Library and the Boston Public Library. A free sample chapter is available for
download. A few of the reportís conclusions are summarized below:


Libraries take widely varying approaches to the issue of how should control the website
and who should be empowered to add content to the site. Some libraries prefer to
centralize access in the hands of just a few librarians who act as gatekeepers to the
website. Others prefer to empower as many librarians as possible to contribute to the site,
and to oversee their own contributions to the site. To achieve this, some libraries have
purchased off the shelf content management systems, while others have developed in-
house content management systems that allow non-technical librarians to function
independent of the need for technical help.


Cascading style sheet, that allow librarians to edit entire sites, or subsets of site, with one
click of the mouse, have become popular ways to introduce some uniformity and lower
the labor demand of editing public library websites. Cascading style sheets are important
because librarians are finding more and more reasons to add more and more content to
their sites. Public library websites have often quickly become unwieldy monsters that
voraciously eat up librarian time. Correcting and editing these beasts by hand is
dangerous and cascading style sheets allow proper measured feeding without loss of limb.


Some of the most popular pages on the public library websites surveyed were the events
calendar, basic library info page, database gateways and childrenís and teen pages.


Relative to the importance of the library website to the overall success of the library, the
size of most library web staffs, when such staffs exist, is quite small. Usually one to three
individuals run the website, and they often have other responsibilities. The strategy that
most have pursued to overcome their small staffs is to devolve responsibility for content
to subject specialist librarians, and to empower them to be able to edit the portions of the
website for which they are responsible.


Most librarians interviewed stressed the need to develop unique content that would draw
traffic to the website. Among the type of content mentioned were: interactive storytelling
and educational games, reading lists and contests, book reviews by librarians posted
online, subject guides, and events calendars.


One of the most vibrant areas for website development has been services for children and
teens. This age group grew up with access to the world wide web and it is truly the only
generation for which web use and communication is as natural as turning on the
television for most Americans. Libraries have responded with books clubs, personalized
spaces, interactive stories and games, and other features aimed at this audience.
Nonetheless, many libraries have just scraped the surface of their potential in this area.
We like what the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Public Library has done in this area,
developing unique content, focused marketing and web teams to create a unique site for
Charlotte area children.


Many libraries have plans to digitize their special collections, or at the very least, to
digitize finding aids for those collections and increase access to them through the library
website. We expect that this will soon become a major area of public library investment
and a challenge for website administrators who must devise access schemes to digitized

For more information, to request a review copy or to place an order, please contact James
Moses at Primary Research Group. A print version of the report is available for $65.00;
a PDF electronic copy, also $65.00. Both versions are available together for $100.00
with usage restricted to one institution. Orders for the print edition can be placed through
Primary Research Group or major book distributors. Orders for an electronic version (or joint
print/electronic versions) can also be placed through our website at, or by calling Primary Research Group at 212-736-2316