I don't spend much time browsing around in bookstores or libraries any more, and only partly because I work at one. Mostly, I find books I like online, and then reserve them online, for work and pleasure. This afternoon I spent an hour or so with three windows open on my work computer: one for surfing around the kidlitosphere for reviews and recommendations and awards, one set to my local public library so I could put reserves on for books I want to read, and one on amazon.com so I could update my school's wish list, enabling parents who want to donate books in honor of their kids' birthdays to browse and buy and send the books right to my hot little hands, where they'll (the books, not my hands) be cataloged and stamped and covered and adorned with a nice bookplate noting the kid's name. (And at a different time in my ordering cycle I would've had a fourth window open, so I could add books to my order list with the vendor I usually use. But we're about to have a book fair, so I'll wait.)
When I stop and think about it, it's weird to do all this reserving and buying and donating without ever touching an actual book until it gets bought or comes in on reserve. It means that library web sites (and bookstore sites, too, but I'm a librarian so I'll stick with libraries) are the front door, the welcome sign, the New Books display and the reference area for most patrons. For me, all I need to know about the actual library is where to pick up the reserves and where to do self-checkout; the website is where I do my browsing and database searching and actually use the library.
Even though I work at a school library, the same holds for a lot of my patrons-- especially the middle school kids, who (like many adults who use libraries) have Web access and busy lives. So I try to make as much as possible available via the library website: our catalog, links to public library catalogs and online reference sources, some information about the library, and some booklists. This is pretty bare bones for a library site, and I know I could do a lot more.
Not surprisingly, I am far from the first person to think about this. The Library Success Best Practices Wiki has a ton of resources on library website design. I guess it's a measure of my library geekitude that I just spent a while on the browser emulator, checking to see what bookbk looks like on, say, NCSA Mosaic, or Netscape Navigator circa 1995.
More practically, the "Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design" should make just about every librarian cringe--especially Mistake #1, which is perpetuated by most library catalogs. By this measure, the old card catalogs were actually easier to use. Progress really means that we all have to know how to spell everything, apparently.
This concludes our Library Web Design Geek moment. We'll be back to books tomorrow. Though of course they'll probably be books that I found through some website or other.