A Library Presence on the School Website – does it matter?
School Libraries – Heart of the School
I think, if you are reading this, we can agree that school libraries are an important part of the school. Vital, one might say. They are often said to be the heart of the school, the hub of learning, wellbeing and belonging, a safe and welcoming place, a place of innovation, creativity and, of course, research and reading. As such an important part of the school, it should feature heavily on the school website, right?
Does your school library feature on your school website?
Whenever I look up a school or try to find a school library, I always start with the school website. Is the library listed in the menu? Can I find the library via search? Sometimes, the library has a dedicated page, sometimes a link to an entire separate website, sometimes there are links to articles in the digital newsletter, but surprisingly enough, sometimes I can find no mention of the library at all. Is this a choice made by the IT team, an external team who put together the website, the library team, the state education department or district, the marketing department, the principal? Is this a sign that there is no library or library team? Did the library team have a say in whether the library is featured? And if it is featured, did the library team have a say in the content displayed?
Is your school library featured on the school website?
Why should the library be listed on the school website?
Okay, maybe it doesn’t matter if the school library is listed on the school website. Is it even important? For me, I feel that it is important. I know the kinds of assumptions I make about a school that doesn’t list the library on their website. But I am looking with a prospective employee/school librarian hat on. Maybe parents or prospective parents don’t care? As an advocate for school libraries I believe they should care and that we as school librarians should make it easy for parents to find information about the school library, for them to find it even if they are not looking. For it to be so prominent they can’t miss it. And sure, maybe the school website isn’t the place to see and be seen, but I think it’s a pretty good place to start.
What does the research say?
When I started to have a quick look at what research and the profession says about the importance or unimportance of the school library being featured on the school website I couldn’t find a lot of information. Most of the information I could find was about a dedicated or internal school library website. There were a few blog posts about the features and examples of great school library websites (Baumbach, Brewer & Renfroe, 2004; Morris 2021; Paciotti, 2019). There were journal articles that critiqued school library websites (Chow et, al., 2016). In some sources, a library website is assumed, but even in a book about evaluating a library service there were no details about the library presence on the school website (Everhart, 2021). One book for library managers states that checking to see if the school or the school library has a website is a good way to see how up-to-date the library is (Wools & Coatney, 2018). However, that same book in one sentence tells the new manager to create a library website and update it daily with images. Doable, yes, but as someone who has created quite a few websites, I had to laugh at how glibly they mention this and with no follow up advice or guidance. Some articles, books and even library service award criterion highlighted the importance of the school library’s online presence and providing information to students, parents and the wider community (Donham & Sims, 2020; FASM, 2021; National Library of New Zealand, n.d). Others cite the importance of advocating for, marketing and being vocal about the school library (Bogan, 2020).
Thankfully, the library community came to my rescue and kindly pointed me towards the the ACER School Libraries in South Australia 2019 Census (Dix, et al., 2020), which also conducted a review of the presence of the school library on the school websites. They found some interesting data that indicated that libraries that had a dedicated website were more likely to have an effectively managed, well-resourced library valued by the school community, compared to schools with no evidence of a library on their website. These findings also support the research conducted by Herring (2007) who argued that a school library’s visibility on the school website reflects the value the school places on the school library.
So, one could argue that it is important for a school library to be visible on the school website and an online presence is almost assumed for school libraries. But what does that look like? And how do school library teams go about this?
I recently conducted a bit of an (albeit very informal) audit of school websites to see if I could find information about their library. I wanted to see what others listed, what sort of information they shared, where on the menu the library page is listed, layouts and generally gather ideas. I found some incredible library pages on school websites. There were some with lists of information. Some with bright pictures and helpful information and some that linked to a dedicated school library website. Some I could not find at all. This surprised me. I had deliberately targeted schools that I knew to have a library team. So, it’s not like there isn’t a library. And don’t even get me started on the school websites that didn’t have a search feature so I couldn’t find much of anything. Then there were the schools where I knew the library was not a staffed or funded priority and yet there was a fairly detailed page on the school website (with lots of typos, but still). I have learned that I cannot judge a library by its presence on the school website (or lack of it).
My past experiences
I’ve worked across a number of schools in school libraries. Each of them had differing levels of exposure on the school website. One library is not mentioned at all on the school’s new website. At another school, the Head of Library always ensured that the library had something shared in the newsletter. Now, when you search the site, you get hundreds of hits for the library, all from the digital newsletter. The other libraries I have worked in, I have been there for a short term, fix term contract. One is mentioned multiple times on the school website, has its own dedicated page and is clearly listed on the menu structure. The other has no feature of the school library at all on the school website. All these school libraries were incredible, run by amazing teams, with heads of library that I greatly admired and learned so much from, with wonderful collections, incredible programs and more.
My current school library
My current school does have the library featured on the school’s website via a link in the menu. It links to…drum roll please….. a broken link!!! It tries to redirect to the old library website. The library had a separate website that had grown outdated and was deleted just as I arrived at the school but the link was never fixed. So a broken link remained. For a whole year. Whoops. So, first thing on my list for 2022 was to fix the broken link. My goal was to create a dedicated library presence on the school website.
Please know that none of the above is a criticism of any of the libraries or library teams I am directly or indirectly referring to. I know there are a lot of factors involved. Sometimes the decision is taken out of the hands of the library team. And, as I have said above, you clearly cannot judge a library team or service by its presence or lack thereof on the school website.
But I do. I know I do. Applying for a job? I check the school website to see what I can find out about the library. Checking out the competition? School website for a search of “library”. Made a network connection and want to find out about their library? Yep, straight to their school website. I know I judge libraries and what a school thinks about their library by their presence on the school website.
So for me, making sure my school library is prominently and positively featured on my school website is important and one of the first tasks I will undertake in my new role.
In my next post in this series, I will share with you the steps I took to feature our school library on the school website.
What do you think?
Do you think it matters if a school library is featured on the school website? Do you think it makes a difference to parents, students, your principal? If you are a school librarian, does you school library have a page on the school website? Did you have a say in this? I’d love to hear from you.
Baumback, D., Brewer, S., Renfroe, M. (2004). What should be on a school library web page? Learning & Leading with Technology, vol. 32, no. 1. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ695797.pdf
Bogan, K. (2020). Being visible and vocal – Marketing the school library. https://dontyoushushme.com/2020/01/26/being-visible-vocal-marketing-the-school-library/
Chow, A. S., et al., Rebecca J. Morris, Amy Figley, Karla Regan, Samantha Lam, and Jessica Sherard. (2016). How Usable Are School Library Websites? A Random Sample from All Fifty States. Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults, vol. 7 http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2016/06/how-usable-are-school-library-websites-a-random-sample-from-all-fifty-states/
Dix, K., Felgate, R., & Ahmed, S.K., Carslake, T., & Sniedze-Gregory, S. (2020). School libraries in South Australia. 2019 Census. Adelaide, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research. https://doi.org/10.37517/978-1-74286-583-6
Herring, J. (2007). Teacher librarians and the school library. In S. Ferguson (Ed.), Libraries in the Twenty-First Century: Charting Directions in Information Services (pp. 27–42).
Morris, K (2021). School Library Websites: Features and Examples. https://www.theedublogger.com/school-library-websites-features-examples/
National Library of New Zealand. (n.d). Planning your school library’s online presence. https://natlib.govt.nz/schools/school-libraries/library-services-for-teaching-and-learning/your-school-library-online/planning-your-school-librarys-online-presence
Paciotti, B (2019). 6 steps to create a great school library website. https://lookingbackward.edublogs.org/2019/12/04/school-lib-website/
Woolls, B., & Coatney, Sharon. (2018). The school library manager : Surviving and thriving / Blanche Woolls and Sharon Coatney. (Sixth ed., Library and information science text series).