From 14,000 Pages to 60: Library Unveils Website Redesign

June 12, 2012

The University of Virginia Library, which posted U.Va.'s first public Web page two decades ago, will unveil its new website July 19 – a top-to-bottom rebuild of one of the University's most-visited sites.

The redesign will retain all the major features and tools of the current site, but will pare the library's Web presence from about 14,000 Web pages to about 60. The total site currently gets about 2.5 million page views per month.

The objective is to make the site cleaner, faster and easier to use, said Charlotte Morford, the library's director of communications, who coordinated the library's communications, information technology and user experience teams during the rebuild. A preview of the new site is available online and includes a prompt to provide feedback.

"We’ve been told it's the oldest site at U.Va.," Morford said of the existing site. "It was first built in 1992, and though it's had periodic aesthetic updates, it has not been substantially trimmed or rethought until now."

The old site was built to mirror the physical structure of the library system. Outside of the main page, each of the 11 physical libraries within the system has its own area. Over the years, the total number of pages within the site grew exponentially.

Prior to the redesign, library staff conducted a comprehensive review that included analysis of the site's Web traffic, review of how users were accessing content – whether on mobile devices or traditional computers – and conducted formal user experience testing.

The review showed that, outside of a few heavily used features, most of the 14,000 pages were rarely visited, said Erin Mayhood, user experience librarian and head of the music library. The new site will abandon the current organizational system and instead structure content to accommodate two main user activities identified during the review: those who use tools such as Virgo for research purposes, and those who are often looking for information about the physical library, such as how to locate or reserve a study space.

"We changed our philosophy entirely about how to build sites," Mayhood said.

The growth of interdisciplinary studies helped drive the need to change the site's current organization, which segregates content by discipline, Morford said. "In a way, this reflects the library's own internal cultural change as well," she said.

The redesign also addresses the surge in mobile computing. The new site is designed to automatically accommodate varying screen sizes in the era of smartphones and tablets, said user experience Web developer Joseph Gilbert, who analyzed the traffic metrics and built the site's architecture. Experts anticipate that within a few years, more Web traffic will come from mobile users than from desktop computers.

A new map feature allows users to see the complete floor plan of each library, complete with a panoramic view of study spaces. Users can click into a specific study room and see a first-person, 360-degree view of a study space, similar to Google's Street View.

"We hope this will make people more aware of the diversity of study spaces we have," said Web designer Starrie Williamson, who worked on the maps and other parts of the project.

Existing services, such as the Virgo catalog search, will still be easy to find, and no major functions of the current site are being eliminated.

"Basically, your favorite tools are still going to be there," Mayhood said.

The overall aesthetic was designed to be more modern and clean, Morford said, while still fitting in with the University's overall Web presence.

"The goal is to make everything easy," she said.

– by Rob Seal