The Boston Public Library rolled out a new website this week, the first major overhaul to the BPL site in 17 years.
The new site, built to accommodate mobile devices, features interactive blog posts from librarians and a more intuitive interface for users. The site will retain the same address, bpl.org.
“The new site is a communications tool as well as a resource for users,” said David Leonard, president of the Boston Public Library. “We’ve seen great success with our recently renovated branches, including at Copley Square. Now our online space has gotten the same level of renovation as our physical places.”
Whereas the old site overwhelmed visually, the new site emphasizes simplicity and ease of access — important goals for a site that received 9.8 million visits in 2017. BPL administrators expect online traffic to rise in the coming years, especially from mobile devices. After the Chicago Public Library overhauled its website in 2014, visits from mobile platforms increased 18 percent.
The new bpl.org combines the simple aesthetic of a social media platform with the content and organization of a university homepage. Visitors are greeted with a large image banner that naturally attracts the eye, an improvement from the old site that drew attention to nowhere in particular.
At the top, a crimson navigation bar directs users to subpages: “About,” “Visit,” “Books & More,” “Services,” “Events.” Below sit rows of rectangular bulletins — like on the virtual bulletin board website Pinterest — with large images and bolded content categories.
The old site, launched in 2001 and stiff with tiny text, confused many visitors with a difficult-to-navigate scheme and convoluted menu options. Scot Colford, the library’s online and web services manager, said “the new website is organized by what users actually want to do.”
The new bpl.org opened for public preview in May. Library personnel continued to tweak the site as recently as last week amid last-minute user testing. Colford said the web services team observed how randomly selected patrons interacted with the new site, making “significant changes” based on their feedback and frustrations.
Thanks to new software features, the site will remain dynamic, with library staff regularly adding new blog posts, updating book recommendations, and highlighting ongoing programming at the BPL’s 25 branches.
The online redesign began in March 2016, when the BPL began working with BiblioCommons, a Toronto-based platform developer that has developed websites and online catalogs for more than five dozen US libraries. BiblioCommons created both the website platform and the online catalog system, which Leonard called a “one-stop shop” for online library services. He added that the integration of the website with library holdings should make for a more seamless user experience.
After consulting with library staff in major cities, including New York and Chicago, BPL officials concluded that contracting the creation of a new site would be cheaper than designing and managing the site in-house.
The new site marks something of an evolution in job responsibilities for librarians, who will now write blog posts on books and programming. Librarians have always made reading recommendations to patrons, Leonard explains, but new blog capabilities allow the stuff of one-on-one conversations to be broadcast to the greater public.
“Even if someone can’t come in to a [library] site, they can still connect to the Boston Public Library with the new [web]site,” said Maija Meadows, a youth programs librarian at the Central Library. Meadows says she looks forward to blogging about issues relevant to children of color, children with disabilities, and children who come from homes with different family structures.
“It’ll be a great space for kids, teens, and families to use,” she said. “I’m excited for patrons to try it.”Graham Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.