Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of posts profiling library websites developed on the WordPress platform, excerpted from The Comparative Guide to WordPress in Libraries, a forthcoming LITA Guide to be published in December.
Belchertown High School Library
For a school library, the natural target audience is the student body. In research for my book, I visited hundreds of school websites, usually not seeing even a passing nod to the other users of the library—the school’s faculty and staff. At the Belchertown High School Library, however, the librarian has built a website that supports teachers as well. He provides resources about lesson planning, the state’s standards, and more on a link clearly marked "Teachers." While the website also shines for its collection of study guides and encouragement of mobile databases, the attention paid to the whole service population makes this school library website shine.
The library relies on WordPress.com to host their website and currently uses the beautiful Oxygen theme by DevPress. This theme is responsive, which means the website will look great no matter what device is used to access it . Another showstopper of the theme is the featured images that appear on the front page’s slideshow, as seen in the screen shot. The library uses this slideshow to feature new posts, including suggestions for newer technologies such as Google Drive. Content on the home page is always fresh, and the eye-catching images draw interest to these new posts. Navigation runs horizontally across the top and down the side. The top navigation is the website’s pages and include links to the study guides, teacher’s section, library polices, and so on. The left sidebar includes catalog and database links. The sidebar also includes quick links to frequently asked topics such as MLA Citation Help, a calendar, and an RSS feed to the New York Times News. The left sidebar is a widget from Goodreads that displays six covers of books the librarian has recently reviewed. The center content on the home page is the aforementioned slider as well as links to other recent articles. The newer articles have images, while further down the page, the older articles do not display an accompanying picture. In the footer is a statement of who owns the website and who is responsible for the site’s maintenance. Individual posts and pages keep the left and right sidebars but gain a social sharing footer. However, comments are not allowed on the website.
Brennan Murray, library media specialist at the Belchertown High School Library in Massachusetts, answered the survey about his library’s usage of WordPress.
The Library and Its User
Belchertown High School Library is located in Belchertown, Massachusetts, which is just south of the state’s center. The school’s service population consists of approximately 800 students and 70 faculty and staff. Each school’s website provides ways to report bullying incidents, an important concern of schools. Murray notes that student access to Internet at home and tech savviness is mixed. Belchertown is close to Amherst, and the students come from both rural and upper-middle-class demographics, which creates a diverse range of tech access and familiarity across the student body.
Why they Choose WordPress
Murray was hired as the school’s library media specialist in 2009. The website needed a redesign to include better “flexibility and Web 2.0 integration for the site to keep it relevant and timely,” Murray states. He consulted with the school’s technology department to get the all-clear on using WordPress. Once approved, Murray built the site entirely by himself. His experience with WordPress was earned while doing projects in graduate school. He writes that he loves “how user-friendly the platform is, while allowing the users a wide range of powerful options.” During seminars with teachers, he also advocates the ease of creating websites in WordPress for anyone who can write e-mail messages and who is familiar with Microsoft Word.
Building with WordPress
It took Murray only a month to put the site together. His choice for using the hosted WordPress was a decision based upon needing a reliable server. The local school district had run into some server issues, so the library needed a better option. Of course, the ability to put together a website without adding to the library’s finances was a great selling point.
The website is completely managed by Murray. While he trusts WordPress.com’s servers, he does a periodic backup of his website’s database. Murray does not worry about updates, because they are managed by WordPress.com as part of being a hosted website.
As far as the website’s milestones, the successful launch of the new website was the biggest moment. Murray web design philosophy is that the website is “never fully complete, and should always be improved and added to in order to keep content fresh.” So his job is never-ending. (During the writing of my book, he completely revamped the site’s design—further proof that he takes his job as librarian/webmaster very seriously.)
Murray uses statistical analysis and gathers feedback to see how well the library is doing in meeting its goal to “serve the information needs of our student and faculty population.” When he looks over the reports and responses, he then adjusts the website as needed for an improved experience. For example, Murray checks what keywords are being searched for on the website. If the website has no information on that topic, the library will then update the website to add the sought-for content. This attention and analysis also tips the library off on what new resources students are looking for as they choose their research topics. Murray also notes that the site is visited when school is out, which means his library is competitive against big search engines for their local patron base.
Content rules the Belchertown High School Library website. Students have easy access to the project help guides for different teachers. Each guide is a page, which is divided into sections that match the teacher’s needs. Then each resource is a link either to the open Web or a library-provided database. A few of these guides include relevant images. By posting these guides online, the school can save on printing costs (and students pulling a last-minute all-nighter can get the quality resources for their project straight from their library).
Second, the library’s website recognizes that students are using mobile devices to access content. The website’s new theme is attractive and adjusts according to the viewport of the device that is accessing the website. While a visually appealing website may sound minor, a responsive website that adjusts its appearance for the user’s device is an accessibility issue. Pinching and zooming to see a full-sized, desktop-optimized website on a tiny screen can be physically and visually difficult for some users. The library promotes the use of mobile apps to their students by placing the link to mobile apps second in their navigation. Students are encouraged to use apps to easily access the catalog, databases, and Overdrive’s e-books and audiobooks.