Website Design for Libraries
What you need to know

Librarians have long been able to assist patrons of their libraries when they enter the physical location, however when it comes to websites, there is not always a librarian there to assist patrons.

This is why the biggest key to a library website is being user-friendly … visitors need to be able to find what they need without assistance from a librarian. Here are some keys to building a library website.

Websites are like buildings

An article from the North Carolina School of Education had an interesting, yet entirely valid, assertion – websites should be built like a building. There should be no dead ends, vacant rooms, or rooms without doors. In other words, like a physical library, an effective library website needs to be easily navigable.

From every page on the site, there needs to be a way to get back “home” or to the previous page at which a visitor was looking. In addition, there should not be rooms, or in the case of a website pages, that are not useful … if something is not used or not necessary, get rid of it.

Finally, in order to get to a page, someone needs a link – no one is going to find a page that does not have a link to it, and as such, the page is just as good as a room with no door (i.e. no good at all whatsoever).

Play to your audience

Ultimately, a college library, an elementary school library, and a public library have extremely varied audiences, each of whom has specific, distinct needs. Consequently, websites for each should differ such that each caters to its specific audience. For example, a college library would want to make information on citing sources readily available.

An elementary school library, however, would probably not have as much need for that information as elementary school kids do not usually cite sources, however an elementary school library might want to house information on what books are available on various animals about which students might choose to research for an upcoming animal report.

Public libraries, however, might not have needs for either of the aforementioned, and instead might want to focus on upcoming book club opportunities. Whatever type of library you are, focus on content that plays to the needs of your audience.

Function over Fashion

The Dewey Decimal system is not necessarily flashy, fun, or exciting; however, it is highly functional as an organizational system that serves an important purpose.

By that same token, library websites should not be terribly flashy, fun, or exciting, but should be functional and serve a purpose (whatever that purpose may be for your audience, as we discussed above).

Referring to the building analogy from above, site content should be well organized just as book collections would be in a physical library – without books, the bulk of the library would be useless, and without solid content, the majority of a library website would be useless.

Spend about as much time making your website look cool as you would spend decorating a bulletin board in the physical library. Content is key, fashion is not – function over fashion.

Need for Speed

Similar to the function over fashion point above, make sure your site is not painfully slow, as that would hinder usability from visitors – look to divide content into multiple pages rather than one massive one.

Alphabetical listings of library resources are often better than one giant listing – divide it in to A-G, H-O, and P-Z to

  • Allow your visitors who know what they are looking for to find it more quickly reducing scrolling times.
  • Reduce page load times – quick page loading is good for obvious reasons – it keeps visitors on your site, preventing them from becoming overly frustrated and just giving up.


At the end of the day, the building analogy hits the nail on the head – an effective library website will have a strong foundation, useful content, and cater to its audience.

Look to focus on these great tips for library websites, and you will undoubtedly serve not only as a resource for patrons to your physical location, but also across the internet, allowing you to become a leading library website.

No matter who your audience may be, the most important thing for a library site is to focus on appealing to its audience, following the aforementioned tips and best practices for library websites.

Is your library's website the best it can be?