Looking @ 6 Steps to Create a Great School Library Website

6 Steps to Create a Great School Library Website - A school library website is the virtual version of the school library and the school librarian, and it's a powerful advocate for our services. Here are 6 steps to create a school library website that is a valuable information resource for the school community. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #schoollibrarywebsiteA School Library Website is our most valuable online presence. We may have a blog, social media accounts, and resource links on proprietary services, but none of these will serve our students and our community—nor advocate for the school library—the way a School Library Website can.

Creating a School Library Website happens not with the tips of the fingers, but in the depths of the brain. It isn’t the result of fancy software, but rather of good planning. School Librarians aren’t professional Web designers, so here are 6 recommended steps to create a great website.

1. ESTABLISH AN IDENTITY & USE IT CONSISTENTLY

Viewers should know exactly who we are, and after following a link, should know that they’re still within our school library website. That doesn’t mean every page looks the same, but identifying characteristics are consistent throughout the site.

Decide on a theme to clearly convey our identity: the graphics and the color set (an eye-catching combination of colors for images, background, text, and links). School colors, the school mascot, and library-related images—books, the alphabet, numbers—are an obvious, but excellent, theme for a school library website.

Choose the main identifying image and colors for the homepage, and complementary graphics and colors for sub-pages. For example, we could have school mascot images in school colors, then use a light outline of the mascot for a background image. Or, we could have books, singly or in stacks, then use ABCs or Dewey decimal numbers as a border or background.

Sample images of Bronco school mascot as website images

Flashy graphics won’t help an inconsistently applied theme, so keep it simple and be sure that viewers see “us” on every page of the site.

2. KNOW USERS & SUPPORT THEIR NEEDS

School Librarians know their users and are responsive to their needs; successful school library websites are the same. Students, parents, and community members visit our site for information about the school and the library: they want to know what’s going on, how we can help them, and how they can get in touch with us.

Provide the school library phone number and all staff email addresses on the homepage, and include our School Librarian email on every page. Parents and students don’t want to click through several pages before they can send an email to us.

Student requests and parents emails can pinpoint the information we offer on our school library site. We can also ask the school’s phone receptionist what information our community requests most often.

Instead of duplicating existing information, link to District webpages for book searches, online resources, and other district services. Web users know how to use a browser, so insert a short message under the link inviting visitors to return to our page by using the Back button. These intra-district links promote interactivity and support the entire school district. (And relieve us from having to keep them updated!)

Teachers usually have their own webpages for instructional purposes, but we can determine what students may need from the school library to support their classroom learning and provide links from our homepage to that information.

Mapping out what to provide and how to provide it will save time and effort later. All websites change over time, but we want that due to changed user needs, not because the site didn’t meet user needs in the first place.

3. CREATE USER-FRIENDLY NAVIGATION

A school library website provides quick access to information through well-planned site navigation. Our site may start small, but imagine the complexity when we have webpages for information, for instruction, for student projects, and for various programs and activities. By developing good navigation now, our viewers quickly get what they need, and we can easily insert new pages of content as the need arises.

Create a site map to organize information, grouped by users or topics. A site map can be a simple outline with sub-pages indented from top level pages, or it can be sets of bullet lists, or we can use a table with colorized cells to identify similar types of pages. Make it easy to add new types of pages so site navigation continues to be user-friendly.

A site map is also valuable for web viewers. It’s like the table of contents or index of a book—it shows what’s there and where. By linking each page of the site map, we provide another navigation tool for visitors.

Determine the hierarchy of the website and create page templates for each level of navigation. We might want the homepage to have very few links—10 links is the most we can expect young students to comprehend at a time. For higher grade levels, we can provide more links so students can scan the full range of available information to find a specific piece.

  • School Library Website few-to-many: For a school library homepage with few links but numerous support pages, create a unique homepage, a different unique template for 2nd-level navigation pages, and 3rd-level templates for each identified sub-group, using the same template for all a particular group's pages. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary

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    For a school library homepage with few links (1-6) and numerous support pages, create a unique homepage, a different unique template for 2nd-level navigation pages, and 3rd-level templates for each identified sub-group, using the same template for all a particular sub-group’s pages.
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  • For a school library homepage with many links (10+), but fewer links off 2nd-level pages, create a unique homepage and a different unique template for each group of lower level pages. Use a unique icon on the homepage for each link to its 2nd-level page so the distinctive identity of each group is carried through all its sub-level pages (for example, school library pages have books, student pages have pencils, events pages have yellow stars, clubs have notepads, parent pages have apples).

The real test of site navigation is what happens below the homepage. Don’t expect viewers on bottom-level pages to return to the homepage and then re-click through the same intermediate pages. Use a chain of links in the same place on every page showing the navigation:
Homepage↔2nd level page↔3rd level page↔current page.

4. PAGE LAYOUT FOR USER READABILITY

We want pages to catch viewers’ attention so be creative with page layout, but don’t confuse viewers; rather, give them the information they need. The better we do that, the more likely they’ll use our website again and again.

Analyze how text will be most readable: a busy background image would be unsuitable behind a lot of text, and don’t use a dark background and light text color on a page we expect to be printed out.

Here’s a basic rule from print: use margins and empty space for balance and symmetry. Our eyes see empty space as a block, just as we see a block of text or a block image. An eye-catching webpage uses empty space to highlight page elements and enhance readability.

The human eye encompasses about 4″ of text at a time, so text stretching from one edge of a browser window to the other is difficult to read. Blockquote margins make heavy text pages easier to read by indenting sections of text, creating a larger margin on both sides of the page.

Creative Webpage table layout example - Tables are a tool with enormous variety for webpage layout. Using merged cells in rows & columns can make unique designs. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibraryTables offer enormous variety for page layout. We can adapt an appealing table layout from anyone’s webpage—HTML is open source. One disadvantage of tables is that navigation inside tables may not be readable by machines for the disabled, so provide text navigation at the bottom of each table page.

Size, shape and color of text areas can convey our theme, and highlight or contrast with our images. Text in bright crayon-box colors suggests children, while dark, grayed colors suggest maturity and stability. Just be sure text is easy to read.

Note: A browser displays text in fonts that are installed on the viewer’s device, so use standard fonts, such as sans-serif Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana, or the serif Times New Roman. Since serif fonts don’t display well on computer screens, use sans-serif fonts for small text.

5. CRAFT PURPOSEFUL CONTENT

Viewers come to our school library website for information, and if they don’t get what they need, flash and glitz won’t bring them back. Pack essential information into well-organized segments, and write clearly and concisely; give the what, where, when, why, who and how. Then, cut it in half: our webpages aren’t the place for flowery writing.

Web users prefer concise, 2-3 sentence sections, with topic headers, so they can scan for the information they need. Use bullet or numbered lists to focus the eye on specific points.

A question-answer format is user-friendly, so create FAQs—Frequently Asked Questions—pages. Add information that might be needed when the school is closed.

6. USE GRAPHICS WISELY

A school library website filled with images can have charm and impact, but they can overpower the viewer. Use graphics to enhance the theme and identity of the website, and bring clarity to content. There are 3 types of images we can use on webpages: GIF, PNG, and JPEG.

  • GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) are clipart-type images. Some are animated by a string of movements which cycle continually, or cycle once and freeze on a single image.
    A single animated GIF at the top of a page punctuates a theme and adds a bit of whimsy. When the visitor scrolls down, animation scrolls off the window, so a viewer is not distracted while reading. On navigation pages with little text, we can use more animated images because the viewer spends too short a time on the page for movement to become annoying.
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  • PNG (Portable Network Graphics) was created as a replacement for GIF and supports a wider range of colors. It’s the most widely used format on the Internet.
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  • JPEG images (Joint Photographic Experts Group) are typically photographs, with subtle shading and blending rather than crisp lines.

Size of Images

Webpage example with Icon Links - Icons are small GIF or PNG images, about 24-32 pixels square. Visually descriptive icons can represent various links, especially if the icon is carried through to the page being linked to. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary

click to enlarge

Icons are small GIF or PNG images, about 24-32 pixels square. Visually descriptive icons can represent various links, especially if the icon is carried through to the page. Intuitive icons, such as arrows, help navigation when used consistently throughout a site (but always provide text links at the bottom of a page for accessibility by the disabled).

Digital camera photographs can enhance content, but remember that school district access may be faster than that of a visitor. Photos that display quickly on our workstation may load slowly for visitors, and several on a page can take much longer than viewers want to wait. (Average wait-time is 10 seconds before clicking away.) For faster loading, use an image editor to reduce the file size and limit large photos to 1 or 2 per page.

For better page balance, we can change the viewing size of an image. A large image can easily be reduced, but maintain the aspect ratio to avoid distorting the image. Avoid enlarging small images, which causes blurring and pixelation.

Placement of Images

Where we place images on a webpage can enhance or undermine a page. A right-facing graphic looks better on the left side of a page, and a left-facing graphic looks better on the right side of a page. Use an image editor to flip an image for better orientation.

Webpages are more 3-D than printed pages. We unconsciously experience gravity, and our senses are jarred by composition that ignores it. Place weightier graphics further down the page than lighter ones or balance them with heavy text areas.

Pages are often longer than a single window, so if a webpage looks odd, try rearranging text areas, graphics, and empty space for better balance within each window.

Include ALT tags for every image

What are ALT tags? ALT stands for “alternative text” and is part of the HTML that displays an image on a webpage. Use a descriptive phrase to identify the picture, like Westside Middle School Eagle Mascot.

ALT tags serve viewers using audio screen readers or braille displays. Without ALT tags, images are shown as the word “image” so a disabled visitor doesn’t know what is displayed. When the image is a link to another webpage, a disabled visitor is at a particular disadvantage if no ALT tag is provided–they don’t know what the link is or where it will take them.

We can also use ALT tags to increase our site’s identity with search engines. For example, with a school logo at the top of the page, incorporate the school motto or some special recognition or award: “Westside Middle School—A State Recognized Mentor School where every child will succeed.”

FOR CONTINUED SUCCESS

Keep the school library website current. Remove dead links and outdated information. Create a discussion forum that invites users to interact with us and each other. Periodically, add a survey to invite reader feedback about the school library and about the website.

We can also embed various features and media in our webpages to make the site more attractive and useful. For some ideas, read my post An “Embedded” School Library Website.

Our school library website is our virtual library, and it’s seen by the entire world. Build it wisely and it is a valuable information source for our school community.

For more in-depth information about creating a website, visit Ms. P’s Web Design Tutorial.

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Looking @ Easy Weeding of Fiction Books

Looking @ Easy Weeding of Fiction Books - As School Librarians we want to offer our students a stimulating collection of Fiction books, so it's necessary to periodically weed out books that are no longer in line with our population's interests. Here's my easy method for weeding Fiction books. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #weedingbooks #FictionLet’s talk about one of a School Librarian’s 3 most dreaded tasks: weeding (the other 2 are inventory and overdue books, right?) Earlier I explained my 6-step process for weeding Dewey books, so now we tackle weeding Fiction books.

When I began as School Librarian at my middle school, it was only 2 years old. We still had 3 years of higher funding to build our collection, so my first 3 years I didn’t do any weeding of either Fiction or Dewey. Needless to say, by the 4th year, the Fiction section looked pretty good, but I wasn’t satisfied with some of the titles on the shelves.

If you didn’t know, new school libraries are often begun with a vendor package of book titles purportedly chosen for the grade levels of the school. I discovered that what they actually do is clear their warehouse of old books that have been sitting there awhile and throw in enough new titles so the average age of the collection isn’t some time in the Stone Age.

That first time weeding Fiction was, to say the least, a learning experience, and it helped me develop an easy system that served me for a decade.

WHEN TO WEED FICTION

The beauty of weeding Fiction is that we can do it any time. Think about it: any books that aren’t on the shelves—that is, checked out or on re-shelving carts—are actively used by someone so they don’t need to be weeded! That’s still a lot of books to consider, so I do mini-weeds.

What’s a mini-weed? It isn’t necessary to weed the entire Fiction collection every year. If we set up a schedule and consistently weed small sections each year, we’ll regularly rotate through the entire collection. I typically section books into those on one side of an aisle. As time presents itself during the school year, I do one section, then later another one, until I’ve completed those on the schedule.

WHAT TO WEED IN FICTION

First, we need to decide our purpose in weeding Fiction:

  • We can weed for currency, that is, remove old publication date books to update the average age of the collection. (This is, BTW, my criterion for Dewey.)
  • We can weed for relevancy, that is, remove books that haven’t circulated for awhile to increase the circulation numbers for the collection.

Except for my first weeding, I always weed Fiction for relevancy. If the purpose of our Fiction collection is to promote independent reading, then we want books on the shelves that are appealing to students. Relevancy means students are drawn to a book—for whatever reason—and will check it out. Relevancy allows older, popular “classics” to remain, but weeds out other old pub date books, accomplishing both purposes.

Second, we need to decide the cut-off date and circulation numbers to set up our report in the automation system. Many librarians weed Fiction books with under 10 checkouts in 5 years, and you may want to do that, too. For my report I choose to weed any Fiction book with 0-5 checkouts during the past 4 years. How do I justify these numbers?

In our middle school, we have every-other-week library visits with all ELA classes for book checkout and sustained silent reading (SSR) which we call DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read). I’m not good at probability, but here’s my reasoning:

  • A student can check out 3 books at a time, so a book has 3 chances of being chosen by 1 student during a single library visit.
  • ELA visits the library 15 times during the school year, so a book has 45 opportunities to be chosen by a student during a school year.
  • We have roughly 650 students, so each book has 29,250 chances to be chosen within a school year.
  • As a 6-8 middle school, each incoming group of students has 3 years of visits to choose Fiction books, so each book has 87,750 opportunities to be chosen during a 3-year period.
  • I allow an extra year, just to be sure, which puts it over 100,000 chances for a book to be chosen. If, after that many opportunities it hasn’t been checked out, it’s cluttering the shelf and preventing other books from being noticed.

When weeding Fiction, we need to decide the cut-off date and circulation numbers for our report. For my report I choose to weed any Fiction book with 0-5 checkouts during the past 4 years. Here's how I justify these numbers...

For my population & collection, I choose 0-5 checkouts because my minimum appeal number is 2 students/year. I figure, if a student likes a book, they’ll tell a friend about it. If that happens each year for 3 years, the book will be checked out 6 times and I’ll leave it on the shelf. Fewer than that isn’t worth the shelf space. Even if a book had high circulation after initial purchase, when it’s checked out fewer and fewer times within any 4-year period, then it’s lost its appeal and needs to go.

HOW TO WEED FICTION

When setting up the report, I identify a certain range of Fiction books. Before I reorganized Fiction into Subjects, I set the range for particular Call Numbers, like FIC AAA – FIC BRO. When I re-organized, I assigned the book’s Subject to the system’s Home Location field, so now I set the report for the specific Home Location of the Subject section I want to weed. In either case I set the report to sort by Call Number so it’s in alpha-author order, the same as the books on shelves.

The final step is to take a cart and a printout of the report to the location, and simply go down the aisle, pulling books to the cart. I don’t bother crossing off the list; I just indicate where I stop in case I get interrupted. Once I’ve gone through the entire report, I take the cart to the circulation desk and scan the book barcodes into DISCARD. Then I remove identifiers and pack the books in boxes, ready for pickup by the district warehouse, who does our book disposal for us.

The weed report goes into the trash, even if there are books on the list that didn’t get pulled: they’re either checked out or on the returned book re-shelving cart, so they’re being read and don’t need to be weeded. Even if a book is mis-shelved, some student put hands on it, so it’s still of interest. If not, it’ll get weeded next year!

WHAT IFS

What about lost or missing books? They’re extraneous to the weeding process; because they’re already off the shelves, they’re a matter for inventory, not weeding.

Many School Librarians share stories of horrified teachers and admin seeing them throw out weeded books. Here’s a possible explanation you might use to justify what you do.

Books are like great food, but instead of feeding the body, they nourish the mind. When we encounter food in our kitchen or—gasp!—at the grocery store that is past the expired date, we know that food is no longer healthful for us. The same is true of a book: when it’s past the time that it’s accurate or relevant, then it’s no longer nourishing, and in fact, can be damaging. That’s why we weed: to be sure our school library is providing wholesome and beneficial sustenance for the intellect and the soul.

If you’ve been holding back on weeding for whatever reason, I hope this article stimulates you to jump in. It’s actually quite a satisfying process, knowing you’ve cleared away the “weeds.” Students are better able to notice the remaining books on the cleared off shelves, so they read more and our circulation improves.

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Looking @ Best Practices for School Librarians

Looking @ Best Practices for School Librarians - Are you a Librarian Influencer? On Dr. Laura Sheneman's Podcasts, veteran School Librarians share their expertise to help us build our personal learning network & be effective instructional partners in our schools. Listen in to The Legacy of Librarianship Continues Because of Best Practices. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #bestpractices #readingpromotion #libraryadministration #teachercollaborationMY LIBRARIAN INFLUENCERS
PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH
DR. LAURA SHENEMAN

I believe our only purpose as a school librarian is to educate our youth. Books may be perfectly arranged on shelves and electronic devices hum, but the students that pass through our doors are the most important reason we are where we are. We can’t forget that. A kid is more important than a book or a piece of equipment or any other material in our school library. All those other things are expendable; a child is not. Even the difficult ones.

I’ve made this point on my blog, and I make it in my interview with Dr. Laura Sheneman, the producer and host for the Librarian Influencers Podcast.

The Librarian Influencers Podcast highlights experienced librarians who share their knowledge and expertise with other K-12 school librarians, especially those new to the field or studying to become school librarians.

Dr. Laura Sheneman taught Library Science graduate courses for more than 10 years at Sam Houston State University, and is currently Coordinator of the Division of Instructional Support at the Texas Education Agency Region 1 ESC along the Rio Grande River in South Texas.

Looking @ Best Practices for School Librarians - Are you a Librarian Influencer? On Dr. Laura Sheneman's Podcasts, veteran School Librarians share their expertise to help us build our personal learning network & be effective instructional partners in our schools. Listen in to The Legacy of Librarianship Continues Because of Best Practices. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #bestpractices #readingpromotion #libraryadministration #teachercollaborationI feel so honored to be part of the group of librarians Dr. Sheneman has presented in her Podcasts. She gives an introduction and overview of our talk as a post, which includes links to both her podcast page and her libsyn.com page for the audio interview.

To hear our interview, which I hope you find helpful,
please visit Dr. Laura Sheneman’s Podcast
.

I had a wonderful time talking with Dr. Sheneman. We discovered a shared vision about what a School Library Program can be, and much common ground on policies & procedures.

I’ve read Dr. Sheneman’s blog and listened to all her podcasts. She is now an important part of my professional learning community. When you listen to her podcast interviews with veteran librarians, I know you’ll want to add her to your PLC, too.

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