Done in WordPress: The Grove Library

By Amanda L. Goodman |

Editor's Note: This is the second 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.

The Grove Library website

The Grove Library website is a beautiful, seemingly simple website with a great user interface. The needs of the online patron have been thought through thoroughly. For instance, the navigation uses simple, direct language such as “Find” and “Services For,” which eliminates some of the uncertainties of where to click to find information. By hovering over one of the top horizontal menus, a drop-down menu appears, which also responds to natural questions a user may ask. Examples include: “What you can borrow or browse,” “How to join,” and “See what I have out.” This kind of forwardness is an illustration of best practices from Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. This bestselling usability book boils down to this: remove any obstacles that make your user pause to think what that image/word/navigational element means. One of his best examples is that job is a more user-friendly word than career or employment. Be short, simple, and direct. The Grove Library website exemplifies this philosophy.

Simplicity, as we have seen above, rules this library’s website. The clean theme is Suffusion by Sayontan Sinha. Branding in the site’s header dominates the eye immediately, with the orange standing out in sharp relief to the white and gray of the rest of the site. The main navigation looks like tabs, which reveal drop-down menus when hovered over. Below is a second row of navigation in the form of buttons for the user’s account, the library’s catalog, hours, and a contact us link. Beside these buttons is a search box. The website’s home page shows main content in the form of posts on the left and a single column on the right. The column includes a newsletter subscription link, newsletter archive, a link to the events calendar, a button to the local history images, featured events, social media buttons, a widget displaying how to get a library card, and finally a virtual tour video. The website’s footer is the library’s logo written in a large font. Comments are turned on for posts. The site’s other distinguishing feature is the number of outside platforms that are neatly integrated into the website. For example, the library’s catalog is displayed within the same framework as the rest of the website, so you have the library’s header, navigation, and footer surrounding the vendor’s embedded catalog. By keeping the library’s website around most of the outside content, the user never has the impression that they are leaving the main website at any point and thus have a unified experience.

Kathryn Greenhill, associate lecturer in Information Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, answered the survey about her library’s usage of WordPress. She was formerly the special services librarian at the Grove Library in Perth.

The Library and Its Users
Perth is the capitol of the state of Western Australia, located on the southwest cost of the continent. The population of Perth is 1.74 million people as of June 2011. The Grove was created and funded by three government areas: the Town of Cottesloe, the Shire of Peppermint Grove, and the Town of Mosman Park. Nestled amongst these three areas, the Grove Library is located in an affluent suburb of Perth between the Indian Ocean and the broad Swan River. Thus the majority of patrons are “older, well-educated and from a European background,” Greenhill writes. She also notes that the library’s members tend to be young families, teens, tourists, the elderly, and some business users. The surrounding neighborhood includes a few public housing residents. Users are more likely to use a Mac for their web browsing than the general population.

Why They Chose WordPress
In July 2010, the new Grove Library opened after the three aforementioned government areas came together to build a library. A major change included renaming the library, it’s the former Cottesloe/Peppermint Grove/Mosman Park Library. With the new imaginative, inviting name of the Grove, it was also decided to rebrand the library’s online presence with a new website. The previous website had been hosted on the server of a marketing firm. To make any changes to this website, such as adding multimedia or an RSS feed, was very expensive.

The library was fortunate to have Greenhill, who was already an expert in WordPress. She was able to build the website in-house and make all the customizations the library needed. As well, Greenhill was supported by her colleague, who shared the job of special services librarian with her. The colleague learned WordPress as well. The funding for this new website venture came from the city librarian’s budget.

At the beginning, WordPress was meant to be a “‘stopgap’ measure before transferring the library website to Drupal a year after the new building opened,” Greenhill states. It was then realized that the vast support community, the variety of customization offers available through themes and plugins, and the flexibility of WordPress were all an ideal fit for the Grove Library. At year’s end, it was decided that the library would stay with the platform.

Building with WordPress
Greenhill set to work on designing and developing the new website. First, server space had to be purchased from Bluehost. Then, Greenhill reports, the library purchased multiple domain URLs in order to prevent “typo squatters” from trying to edge in on the library’s turf. (A nonlibrary example of “typo squatting” is that Blockbuster purchased the domain of so that when someone mistypes the user is redirected to Blockbuster’s website. Blockbuster and Netflix are business rivals). The library considered hiring their marketing company to create a new WordPress theme before realizing this was beyond the agency’s capabilities. Instead, the library requested “a style guide that included colours, fonts and provided us with a number of standardised brand-based images that we could use in the header-banner throughout the site,” Greenhill writes. The library then placed these agency created images within the website’s Suffusion theme. (More information about the decision to use Suffusion can be found on Greenhill’s blog.)

The site’s architecture is built using pages and posts. Pages are for long-term information, such as “About the Library” and “What Are Member Benefits.” The posts are time sensitive and list upcoming events and happenings. In the sidebar, each section is made up of different widgets. Some widgets are just clickable images, while another is a list of featured posts using categories.

The timeline for the new website’s development was four months. The major milestones involved creating a test website and deciding on the website’s information architecture. Once the site’s structure was in place, the library launched the new website using the old site’s branding elements. This strategy was used to give patrons a continuous experience as their community library evolved from the old to the new. The members could access their library’s new website a month before the new library building opened. To mark the transition, Greenhill switched out the old site design elements for the new one—and thus the Grove Library website was born!

Since Greenhill has left the Grove, Jonathan Gurney, the e-services librarian, answered questions about how the new site continues to meet the library’s needs. He reports that the revamped website has been successful. Using Google Analytics, the library saw more than 93,000 visits between November 2010 and November 2012. Users are spending 2.25 minutes on the site on average. The Grove has also responded to user feedback, such as adding a drop-down menu for digital subscription services, event registration forms, and a widget for users to sign up for a newsletter. These subsequent adjustments have continued to provide a great user experience for site visitors, Gurney reports.

Special Features
The forms on the Grove Library website are done using the cforms plugin. (Please note that this plugin is not available from the WordPress plugin repository because the plugin dod not adhere to WordPress’s open source license. However, it is now released under a General Public License (GPL).) Greenhill writes that cforms creates more customizable forms than other plugins. Examples of how other websites have customized their forms can be found on the plugin’s website by clicking on the Random User Examples link. The Grove uses cforms for the membership registration, general inquiries, interlibrary loan, and the library’s “homebound” delivery services forms, Greenhill notes.

Another standout feature of the library’s website is the seamless experience of having vendor platforms integrated into the library’s website. Greenhill writes that “the embedded catalogue uses the