Wednesday, April 18, 2007 - A Case Study

"No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future." - Ian Wilson

How a traditional library website became an interactive community portal
Case study of Cuyahoga County Public Library web revamp

What is Cuyahoga County Public Library? A suburban library system serving about 100,000 people in 28 towns outside Cleveland Ohio, with 28 branches and about 1,000 employees.

What the web site was: a static, information rich site with about 2500 pages, not easily navigable - "just grew"

The redesign process:

The library decided it needed to make media available in many formats and give greater presence to 27 branches on the website.

Library staff made a "laundry list" of desirable features and functions

  • a portal, with customizable user experience, yahoo style
  • more community partners, reaching new user groups
  • web content and catalog
  • wikis, blogs reviews, comments, discussions, rss, email , enhanced search, toolbar, widgets, audio podcasts, video podcasts, e-commerce, news, events
  • branch info

An rfp was issued, seeking a fresh view of how to analyze and deliver what customers wanted. A contract was awarded to Optien, a Cleveland marketing firm that traditionally worked with corporate customers:


  • discovery - focus groups for different demographic groups in the community, and also for staff constituent groups; research into "gold standard" web sites, best practices analysis, etc. followed by "wire frame" design of web pages.
  • outcomes - recommended "mini portals" for subject areas, demographic groups and branches; CMS (150 non-tech users, blogs, RSS, Mobile CSS, ADA 508 Compliance, Multi-Language capability, scaleability, interactive events calendars, search capability, etc.

Content management system - build or buy? The library decided finally to contract with Ektron for CMS software that integrates with the catalog, text and email messaging, online store, federated search using a customized version of WebFeat, etc.

Some nice features - branch pages, subject area pages, event sign-up, online store for logo-branded gifts, email communications segmented by age, interest, or location of audience, text message reminder service, (now sending 90,000 messages per month) online donations. There is also focus on things that people can "join" and contribute to - blogs, wikis, forums, book clubs, etc.

Additional features from ektron - dublin core, microformats, federated search, geomapping, data portability, since the platform is entirely xml and very useable, memberships capability, directionality of content, creation of online community, Q&A, digital content managment

The site is managed by one full time and two half time people, with additional help from programmers as needed - 200 staff members are trained to contribute content, and about 50 regularly do so.

Cost - about $150,ooo over four years of development, about $6,000 last year in maintenance.

Promotion - supported by well budgeted advertising campaign coordinated by Optiem, and including radio and television spots was key to the successful launch. The site was also Ektron's "site of the year." Presenters feel that marketing was absolutely key to the site's success.

Interesting Bits and pieces

  • The library is looking to future enhancement that would allow a "my library" personalized site, but the Innovative Interfaces OPAC does not yet have that functionality
  • Content is totally separate from form, with totally locked-down style sheets and page templates maintaining the site's look. This allows content providers with all levels of experience to successfully update.
  • Text messaging has been very successful with people in their 30s - new features have been most popular with people in their 30s and seniors - teens are still an illusive audience. The text messaging function is provided by a 3rd party enhancement to the iii OPAC
  • Much of the promotion is through the branches
  • The new site has an "alias" feature - people can create an easily remembered user name and password instead of using library bar code to access site features
  • There are now about 800 web pages total

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