With the shift to distance learning, it’s become more crucial than ever for school libraries to have a virtual presence. Not only does your school library’s website serve as an information hub for the services you offer, it also allows for increased student and teacher engagement, even when we can’t physically be at school. By having a comprehensive site, you can provide virtual learning resources to staff members, connect students with ebooks and audiobooks, and even create forums of online discussion or research advice. A well-managed library website also helps communicate to families and the larger community the work that your school is doing in the library and how that work helps students be successful.
Why have a school library website?
Students today can expect to spend a great deal of their lives interacting with some sort of digital technology, whether for education, work, or recreation. Creating a school library website that gathers resources for tasks such as research projects and learning about digital citizenship allows students to cultivate skills they will need later in life. It also makes it easier on you, as the librarian, to create a single place to refer students and teachers to when they are looking for resources. It can be helpful to think of the site as part portal to the world of the library and part portfolio, to show off what you and the students have been working on in the library space.
Your school may already have a web designer and/or an existing template you can use, or some institutions may subscribe to a paid service such as LibGuides that has various templates and plugins for site organization. If you’re not provided with a specific platform, there are free options that, with a little customization, can be a great fit for your library. Personally, I’ve spent the past three years building our library’s website using the new version of Google Sites, as part of our school’s G Suite and Google for Education programs. While it isn’t the fanciest, I have found the web design tools easy to use and it integrates nicely with Google Docs and other such programs that our students are familiar with using. While it can be tempting to go over the top with html and other design flourishes, remember that the end goal is an accessible website that provides the needed information. Don’t put pressure on yourself to create a website with free tools that looks like something generated by a top research institution. Instead, focus on designing for your specific environment. Which brings me to my next point…
Consider Your Audience
Are you working with high schoolers who need an introduction to the online research process? Or with elementary school students who may not yet be reading? Or both? When you go to add information to your site, consider how and when students will be asked to use it. Some school librarians may find it useful to maintain a website that is mostly used by teachers and is organized around curriculum areas or class section. Others may want a website that is directly accessed by students and approximates the research process at a college or workplace. Whatever your focus is, spend some time thinking through who will be the target audience of your site and what pathways they will need to move through in order to access information. Ideally, resources will be presented in the most accessible way possible in order to ensure efficiency and usefulness.
Keep It Consistent
A consistent color scheme, simple fonts, and a standard page format can go a long way toward making your site come across as professional. Try to choose background colors and graphics that relate to your school’s colors or mascot to help tie the website (and the library) to the rest of the building. Keeping things simple will also avoid overwhelming users and keep the focus where you want it: on the information you provide.
Set an Example
As a school librarian, a crucial part of my job is helping students understand concepts such as digital citizenship, copyright, and intellectual freedom. Therefore, I want to make sure that any content I put out reflects these principles and serves as an example for students in their own content creation. This means doing things like citing sources I used to pull together a page on creating citations, correctly using Creative Commons licenses and the like for images, and verifying that the resources I put out for students and staff are credible and appropriate. It’s also important to consider the example your library website puts out to the larger world of your school district. Ask yourself: if my library’s website was the first or only impression someone had of our school, would it send the message I want?
Invite Student Input
As with everything you do as a teacher-librarian, the goal is to build something student centered that honors students’ time and work. If you can, the library website can be a great place to display student work or share portions of research students have been completing for a paper or project (just make sure you are always respecting student privacy!). You can even see if the website building program you use allows you to give students limited editing access, so that they can add a page or feature of their own. This can be a great way for students interested in web design to gain some hands on experience and can provide you with insights into what students would find useful to have on the site.
Resources to Use
These are just some resources I’ve been very grateful to have access to while developing my own school library’s website. I’d love to chat school librarianship with anyone who’s interested, so feel free to reach out via the Book Riot social channels with any questions!