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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 179-117-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Audiovisual and Multimedia
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 117
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

The Image of Libraries in the Internet

Monika Cremer
State Library of Lower Saxony and University Library of Göttingen


0. Prelude

1. Introduction: image of the library in general

2. Image of the library in the Internet

3. Organizing the web site

4. Web style rules or making web sites a success

5. New tasks for librarians

6. Some examples of library web sites

0. Prelude

The task of libraries is to facilitate access to information - and this is of course still valid in the Internet world. Let us take a look at the homepage of the Austrian National Library`s online web site: [http://www.onb.ac.at ] its first page reminds me of a theater curtain, which triggers your curiosity. Then you enter in the hall of the library building and you will choose your language version: [http://www.onb.ac.at/index.htm] Please look also at the sponsoring buttons at the end of the page. From here you go to the main menu: [http://www.onb.ac.at/english.htm] You click "Online-Services": [http://www.onb.ac.at/ev/online_s/onfr.htm] You will select a catalogue: [http://www.onb.ac.at/ev/online_s/onkafr.htm] Ancient libraries always have several catalogues... You enter your query, you luckily will find the book or information you need. You have undertaken a real trip in the library. The outlook is brilliant, but you have to invest a lot of time, and also on the Internet, time is money, especially when you dial in from at home and with slow transmission rates... Let us have another look, this time at the homepage of the University Library of Bielefeld in Northrhine-Westphalia, a modern university, founded in 1969: [http://www.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/english/home.htm] This page leads you directly to the heart of the library: its collections. You can start immediately a quick search, for instance image and library. [http://www.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/home.htm ] Beside others, I found this title: Booth, J. : The Library's Image: Does Your Library Have You Appeal? In: Library Management. Bradford, ISSN 0143-5124 - 1993, Vol.14, Nr.2, S. 11 [ http://www.ub.uni-bielefeld.de/home.htm ] You can order this article also online. This is a very functional homepage, rather sober but with quick information and short ways. I think many people will like and bookmark this page, as it is very practical.

1. Introduction

The image and identity of libraries are not new tasks or preoccupations for librarians in these Internet times we are going through. It was already in the seventies when J. R. Dean (1) observed that: "The image which we are surely attempting to put forward is that of the library as an efficient up-to-date and active public service. The image is affected by almost every aspect of the service we provide, but there is no doubt that a coherent and co-ordinated design policy can play a part in ensuring that image is effectively communicated." (Underlinings from me, not the author) The image of the library and of librarians has also been an IFLA topic which occupied especially the IFLA Round Table for the Management of Library Associations during the past years and led to two publications about this subject (2).

Image and identity are concepts which have become really a focus of interest in recent years, and terms like corporate image and identity are normally used not only in the business world but also for libraries: "The contents of image and identity are closely related. If image is defined as the way in which the outside world sees the organization, identity is the way in which the organization sees itself." (3)

Back in 1971, corporate identity was not yet a generally accepted and widely used term as it is nowadays. "The way in which an organization advertises, presents itself, deals with its customers should ideally coincide with its self-image"(4), and "...it is extremely important that the actual conduct of the organization is in line with its media expression." (5)
We have to keep in mind that images have their own reality!
Let me cite an example from the Netherlands: the beer produced by the Heineken brewery had the image of an ordinary beer in the Netherlands, whereas in the United States Heineken had the image of a status beer for the "better-offs". (6)

This goes to show that one and the same product can have a totally different image in different countries. And this can occur quite frequently.
It is well-known that negative images seem to lead a long and obstinate life. It often appears extremely difficult to steer the image in the desired direction.
Before improving the image, you should get to know what image you would like to have, as librarians.

Up to now the basic attitude of librarians has been rather possessive and introspective. But the professionals become more and more aware of the fact that they are working in an open and international market. The former "invisibility" of libraries and librarians is countered by the Internet which attracts people. The Internet changes the "poor" image of libraries of former days - and - also of librarians? Libraries, especially public libraries, are becoming more attractive through Internet offers and services as proved by the GAIN project in the United States in 1994 (7). They obtain new credibility and are seen more as an innovative progressive institution.

But of course, all libraries have to become much more user-orientated and raise the level of their services. The statement of the IFLA report from 1995 has not lost its impact: "Librarians have to act and to feel like entrepreneurs with the eye open to the specific needs of clients!". (8)

In a World Wide Web environment the image of the library becomes an even more critical question.
A number of general central design requirements have been already specified by publications before the appearance of the World Wide Web:

2. The image of the library in the Internet

Today we are looking at another image of the library, the presentation of the library in the World Wide Web.
Steadily expanding internet facilities permit more and more people to access libraries from all over the world.

People are no more obliged to use only their local libraries, but they can use library services worldwide. So when the local library offers Internet facilities, it gets a new reputation, and often there is a new and wider audience for its services than before. The web site is always open (or nearly always), it has global reach and welcomes any visitor, regardless of time or geographic location.

World wide Internet access implements new competition for libraries and library services - and also for internal structures of library organization.
When you enter a real library, the building, the staff, the service will make you easily familiar with the library - or perhaps sometimes not!

In a virtual surrounding, your library is on the screen, with all its services and staff to contact (if mentioned). Nevertheless, the tasks for the Digital Library remain the same, as Terry Kuny and Gary Cleveland stated in the IFLA Journal (n. 2 of this year) (9): "Technological progress has changed how libraries do their work, not why. The most profound technological development, a connection of computer to computer in an unbroken chain around the world, may alter the fundamental concept of the library in the 21st century. However, that technology will not substantially alter the business of librarians - connecting people with information. If librarians and information professionals are going to progress into the 21st century, then a clear and effective digital library for library services and development will be increasingly important." (Underlinings from me, not the author)

The homepage is the image and the visiting card of the library for all remote visitors or users; it is no more the building, it is the virtual library. Sometimes the library will use its building as image on the net, when it is well known, as for instance this reputed baroque library in Northern Germany :

[www.hab.de and www.hab.de/index.htm ].
Or, the image may be enhanced by the library's logo, but beside this (and its meaning for corporate identity) the best way to get users bookmark the home page is its effectiveness in finding information:

3. Organizing the Web Site

To establish and organize the web site of the library requires several preliminary considerations such as

A very important question: who is responsible for the Web site? Do you have staff to establish and maintain the site?

Web design for libraries has become a necessity, and more and more librarians realize that this is a severe question. There have been - and perhaps there will be again - long discussions on some of the discussion lists about designers and scriptors, who is better for doing web pages. You may do it by your own means or give it to professionals - if you have the funds for it, of course!
There will be few libraries which are able to hire designers for their web pages. But creators of web pages need to know about design and HTML and the information needs of library users. In the United States it seems that the position of web masters has a tendency to move to senior level, according to the statements in the discussion list "University Web Design."
Web design is a new skill, and all persons in this field are in some manner newcomers as well. Visual design should not be separated from information design or program design. More and more librarians will become webmasters, and these skills will enter in library education curricula.
The homepage of the library offers also new activities for librarians, for instance:

4. Web style rules or making web sites a success

First of all you have to organize your Web site, when you know which services you want to offer! There are some useful rules for creating library home pages, first of all:

As people do not like to read endless pages and to scroll all the time, it is better to keep pages short. And keep in mind the experience of Jakob Nielsen from Sun Microsystems: " Less than 10% of Web readers ever scroll beyond the top of the Web pages! "
(But librarians will do!)

The homepage is the main entrance to all the other information following, it should not be overloaded with too much text, but giving quick overview:

Let us now take a look at the homepages of two university libraries, Tilburg in the Netherlands and Duesseldorf in Germany.

University Library Tilburg:
[http://cwis.kub.nl/~dbi/english /]
This is a clearly structured site, easy to navigate, giving short and precise informations (not all parts are yet translated). You need one click to get to the catalogues:
[http://cwis.kub.nl/~dbi/cwis_eng/inf/ ]
Another click leads you to the query form:

University Library Duesseldorf:
A rather long page, but there is a "search" button for the whole site.
The virtual library exists also in English, French and Spanish!
It is actualized very often, and so I bookmarked this page for myself.

The homepage consists of many files which are connected. This connection needs a clear structure; navigation forward and backward should be easy and obvious.

Corporate design means: all files should offer an optical homogeneous/standardized image so that the user recognizes intuitively that he or she is still within the same institution. Many institutions use a logo which should be fixed always at the same place. Let me take the Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag as example:
As many libraries, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek uses frames which many users do not appreciate.

It is very important to keep all sites up-to-date; and at least one time per month URLs should be checked. The time required to put up web pages and to maintain them is well worth to be invested as the experience with higher user satisfaction shows. If your links are no more reliable, you will loose your clients! An information about the last update of the page is also necessary.
Web sites are special visual places: we are "visiting" web sites as we are visiting special places, in this case libraries.
The web overcomes the limitations of paper and enables hypertext documents. This allows any links to other documents, intern or extern.

The web is neither like print nor TV nor CD-ROM; it is a different and independent environment; it is dynamic and perhaps the most exciting design medium ever created. The web changes and further evolves continuously. There are no fixed rules, standards or certificates for web designers, but it is most helpful to know about traditional design.

A print page looks always the same. But when you are creating web pages to-day on your PC, you must be aware that it will look different on other PCs. Already the size of the monitor will change the outlook, on a different browser the page will look different, colors depend on the graphic cards in use (8-bit colors or 16-bit or 24-bit colors), fonts on a PC are bigger than on a MAC screen, and so on. Besides this, everyone can define his or her own preferences on a PC, and all definitions of the web site creator are changed...
If you are using frames (also for frames there is a discussion about the pros and cons on several lists, and many users detest frames) or cascading style sheets, you know that you will not reach all the persons using old browser versions, and this is the same for Java applets.

What are your patrons or clients expecting from the web page of the library?
You have to know for whom you are creating your web pages, which persons you want to reach.

To make your page accessible also for older browser types, you can offer different versions:
For example the New York Public Library:
[http://www.nypl.org/] : page with images.
[http://www.nypl.org/online_text.html] : the same page as text only version.
This is a help also for visually impaired or urgent users, You can give also a choice for :with frames or without frames, using Java applets or not and so on.

5. New tasks for librarians

Web mastering is one of the new tasks for the profession, and I think it is an increasingly important one. As so many services are involved, most libraries have World Wide Web teams to work out the best solutions and to test the pages.

Another and time consuming task is the evaluation of Internet resources which the library wants to include in its web site. Electronic resources are a very wide field and they cannot be considered sufficiently in this context. But there exists a lot of literature about criteria for the evaluation and selection of Internet resources.

The first criteria for the selection of Internet resources to be linked on your web site are access, design and content.




Finally: is the site worth to be visited again and should it be incorporated on your homepage?

Web site evaluations have already become in use, and the competition between libraries and their services can receive national and even international aspects.
The University Library of Muenster in Westphalia asked their users (in 1995) about Internet usage in the library, and a high number of users especially of the Medicine Library wanted a clear representation of medical internet resources as well as an evaluation of these resources. Apart from introductory lessons to the Internet, they asked to make all library services available via the Internet (10)

International library loan services get another dimension with electronic delivery facilities.
Electronic copies of texts can be sent to remote users, not only from institutions as UnCover or FirstSearch, but also from libraries, as is realized for instance in interlibrary delivery services such as in Germany SUBITO, GBV-direct or JASON. Certainly, this is a new challenge for libraries and their user services.

Organizing the web site is one problem to solve, organizing the staff structure in accordance with the web services is yet another task. For university and research libraries at least the new web facilities require severe internal reconstruction: besides a World Wide Web team for the maintenance of the site, the information and help desk needs a new structure as well as the selection and incorporation of internet resources, their offer (I will not mention the archiving question, nor licensing or consortia questions for electronic journals), and, in general, the delivery of information.

6. Some examples of library web sites

The different types of libraries have of course different kinds of users, and the homepages will reflect this.

National Libraries

Let us take a short look on another national library, the British Library:
Also here you can click the button on the first page to search the opac:

Public libraries:

As already mentioned, the Internet is seen as an attractive new service for public libraries, but it is not without additional costs. Extra funding or higher budgets are needed. The American Library Association has just published the "1997 national survey of U.S. Public Libraries and the Internet." The report shows the growing number of libraries providing Internet access:
in 1996 about 28% offered web access, but in 1997 there are more than 60% , by May 1998, approximately 86% of public libraries will have an Internet connection. In addition to providing web access, more and more libraries have their own web sites: in 1997 about 10% of all public libraries have their own web sites in the United States, in comparison to 1.2% in 1996 this is a huge leap within one year. This shows the importance librarians attribute to this service, although the costs of

Let me just show a sober, clear example of a Dutch public library homepage, as this one exists also in English: The Municipal Public Library of Utrecht:
Of course, not many public libraries need to offer homepages in several languages, here in the Netherlands there are some of them doing this, Utrecht offers homepages in Dutch, English and Spanish.
Access points are clear, catalogue access is rapid, navigation is easy.
Another example, the homepage of San Diego Public Library in Southern California:
The page is a bit different, with image symbols, but equipped almost with the same functionality.

Children's libraries

Children's libraries should not be so sober! CHILIAS - this is the European Virtual Children's Library of the Future. The project of the European Commission is a fine example to show how different European countries , Finland, Great Britain, Greece , Portugal, Spain and Germany design their CHILIAS homepages. The "Infoplanet Web" site contains pages for children aged from 9-12 years. Ingrid Bussmann and Birgit Mundlechner from the Municipal library of Stuttgart present the project here in Amsterdam:

The Finnish site shows very well all the countries involved:
The German site looks really interplanetary:
The United Kingdom has a very funny design:
These three examples may stand for all the others.

Virtual libraries

As a very last point, I would like to look at the Internet public Library:
This is a really virtual library, but with human staff! Joseph Janes, the Director of the Internet Public Library project and his colleagues and students celebrated their third anniversary this year. The Internet Public Library is a project based at the University of Michigan School of Information, staffed by professional librarians with assistance from students and volunteer librarians from around the world, and has been visited by more than 7 million people from over 100 countries. The library maintains a collection of online ready reference works, responds to reference questions, creates web resources, evaluates and categorizes resources on the Internet, and provides space for exhibitions. It is a site which is worth to be bookmarked and to be revisited from time to time.

Web site evaluations are already in use, rating the

Competition on this field will encourage also libraries to improve their sites.

The homepage will certainly not remain static, but be a "building under steady construction." New techniques offer new possibilities, new formats will appear (XML may replace HTML in the future), multimedia may be used more fluently with better hardware equipment and sufficient bandwidths for connection.

The statement "form follows function" by Louis Sullivan, the famous American architect, can be translated in the World Wide Web environment to "design follows function."
The quality of the services offered to the public by Internet information services is a key to success in improving the image of the profession and the library.


Caywood, Carolyn: Library selection criteria for WWW resources. c1995.

Ciolek, T. Matthew: Information Quality WWW Virtual Library. The Internet Guide to Construction of Quality Online Resources

Edwards, Judith: The Good, the Bad and the Useless: evaluation Internet resources. In: Ariadne (Web version) issue 16 (1998)

Gregory, Gwen and M.Marlo Brown: World Wide Web Page Design. A structured approach. In: Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Information Supply 7(1997) p. 45-59

The image of the library and information profession": How we see ourselves: An investigation. A report of an empirical study undertaken on behalf of IFLA's "Round Table for the Management of Library Associations, by Hans Prins and Wilco de Gier. München: Saur, 1995. (IFLA Publications; 71)

Library hi-tech 15(1997) n. is dedicated to library homepages

Patrick J. Lynch, Sarah Horton: Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide.

1997 National Survey of Public Libraries and the Internet:
Final report. http://research.umbc.edu/~bertot/ala97.html
Summary Results. http://www.ala.org/oitp/research/plcon97sum/

The status, reputation and image of the Library and information profession": Proceedings of the IFLA Pre-Session Seminar Delhi, 24-28 Aug. 1992. Ed. by Russell Bowden and Donald Wijasuriya. München 1994. (IFLA publications; 68)

Smith, Alastair: Evaluation of information sources. http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/evaln.htm

Smith, Alastair: Criteria for evaluation of Internet Information Resources.

Lynda Weinman: WebDesign. Zürich: Midas Verl., 1998. 356 S., 1 CD-ROM ISBN 3-907020-33-2 (GMAG'98 A 772, Dienstplatz WWW-Team)

Wilson, Stephen: World wide web design guide. Haar bei München: Markt & Technik, 1996.456 p.


  1. Dean, J.R.: Design co-ordination and the corporate image of libraries. In: Library World 72(1971)p. 240-241

  2. The status, reputation and image of the Library and information profession: Proceedings of the IFLA Pre-Session Seminar Delhi, 24-28 Aug. 1992. Ed. by Russell Bowden and Donald Wijasuriya. (München 1994), and The image of the library and information profession: How we see ourselves: An investigation. A report of an empirical study undertaken on behalf of IFLA's "Round Table for the Management of Library Associations, by Hans Prins and Wilco de Gier.München: Saur 1995. (IFLA Publications; 71)

  3. Note 2, p. 16

  4. Note 2, p. 16

  5. Note 2, p. 17

  6. Note 2, p. 17

  7. The Project GAIN Report: connection rural public libraries to the Internet, 1994 (ftp://nysernet.org.port70, Special Collections)

  8. Note 2, p. 61

  9. Terry Kuny and Gary Cleveland: The Digital Library: Myths and Challenges. In: IFLA Journal 24(1998) n.2

  10. Obst, Oliver: Untersuchung der Internetbenutzung durch Bibliothekskunden an der Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek (ULB) Münster. In: Bibliotheksdienst 29(1995) p. 1980-1998