In late August I gave a shout out to a new ALA initiative, the Privacy Revolution. By then I’d been following libraries long enough to feel reticent about endorsing a web effort, however the early site—which was more like a wireframe than a live site—seemed promising1. So I went out on a limb on this one. Privacy Revolution has been running for three months now, and it’s really awful.
For starters, the page layout is too wide and truncates the top nav and all the content in the right rail. None of the content is dated so users cannot assess how fresh it is or what might be new since their last visit. Content headlines break with standard convention and do not link to the individual posts, and the “Read More” links are used in a variety of ways — even within the same post. Many of them go to unlabeled and seemingly unrelated RSS feeds which I found baffling at first.2
The “Our Team” page is representative of the site’s poor execution and lack of content. This brief page dispenses with the typical info about who is responsible for the site and what their roles are, and refers instead to an unidentified “movement of librarians dedicated to intellectual freedom“. (Hmmm, I thought most librarians fell into this category…) It cites the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom for leadership without even a link back to the ALA website. (I googled to find out who they were.) The word “allies” does link somewhere: to a page with nothing more than a list of names and logos linked to company websites. There’s little content and absolutely no context provided — and no incentive to keep clicking.
The page does say it wants to “invite [users] into the conversation on privacy” yet nothing on the site reveals who is participating in the conversation, where the conversation is taking place or what it’s about. This metaphor is particularly unfortunate because most pages have no utility for comments, sharing or social bookmarking — and in fact, the site doesn’t even have a contact form.
I could go on, but it’s just too painful. Privacy Revolution is par for the course for an ALA website. It conveys that the organization has overreached on subject matter and does not understand the internet — technologically, as a communication & community medium or as a reference tool.
Why call the ALA out for such harsh criticism? Because I believe its awful websites harm libraries’ image as facilitators of credible information and substantiate perceptions that they are unadaptable early 20th century institutions. The ALA is not a library, however it is their primary representative. And while there are examples of outstanding NextGen libraries, many of the public library websites (hundreds) I’ve visited over the past year have also been weak … so it’s something that needs to be addressed as a viability issue.
I urge the ALA to take the lead by fixing its websites. A competent consultant with true support from ALA management could quickly consolidate their profuse number of sites, cull out the good content and implement a CMS to power effective websites that are strong resources for the profession, the press and public officials.
Note 1: The strengths I highlighted in August remain, although it appears the ALA does not have the resources to make this an effective campaign or manage the website.
1) This link signifies a longer post and links to the full article, which is common practice.
2) The RSS feed behind #2 has links to two articles from March 2007; one a simple chronicle of the growth of internet advertising and the other a paragraph on the fact that companies can use the internet to market unhealthy food & drug products. ???
3) This link goes to another RSS feed, that contains a link to only one content item—a blog post on another site… so the user has to click twice and experience 3 interfaces to get to un-contextualized content. Yowsa.