I’ve been working on redesign of our library website. Now I’m not a professional…at all and nearly everything I’ve learned about web design is stuff I’ve picked within the last year so take whatever I have to say with a (very minuscule) grain of salt. I’ve gone from a straight HTML design to xhtml to PHP (which is where I’m staying dammit!) all three enhanced and spiced up via CSS. Now one of the main tenets of CSS is the obligatory “Tables are Bad!” At least from a design perspective. Tables are to house data/information and SHOULD NOT be used in the LAYOUT of a web page. Which is where CSS comes in. Admittedly designing a layout via CSS that is accessible and (nigh) identical across a variety of browsers IS a bit of an uphill battle but the payoff, especially in terms of code simplicity, is absolutely worth it.
In order to fuel my erstwhile designing I’ve been visiting a number of (mostly local) library websites in order to get a feel not only for how they have their websites laid out but for how they handle their coding as well. Unfortunately what I’ve noticed is an increasing divide between current Web Design (from the professional world) and Web Design (in the library world).
Take a look at Princeton Public Library’s web page. I admit their design is attractive but a glance at their code reveals that, while readable, it lacks in some areas. Most of the major content is delivered via tables, contains a fair amount of inline styling (again with the tables in particular), and a uses bunch of repeated code (header and footer). Even if you didn’t want to use CSS for layout you could move the inline table styling to a style sheet (especially since most of the tables are contained in a div with a unique id). Furthermore switching to PHP would allow a simple include once call for both the header and the footer leaving only the major content of each page. I simplify of course, it is probably slightly more complicated than that, but designing an elegantly coded well designed page is within reach.
In terms of content PPL is a great example, I’ve seen some truly disgusting designs out there, and melding design with content, especially for libraries in this age of integrated services, isn’t exactly an easy task but that doesn’t mean that current web design practices and standards are inapplicable to libraries. I’ve developed almost a perverse habit of running library websites through the W3C Validation service and have been almost universally disappointed with the results. I suppose I’d have more to complain about if the choice in coding actually interfered in the operation of the web pages in question, as of now it doesn’t, but I still find it a little depressing that, if not out right ignored, current Web standards seems to be such a low priority for library web pages.
There is more I could say on this, but I’m already rambling and I have a stack of magazines that need to be checked in and shelved, so maybe more later.
Also if anyone knows of any literature, from either side of the information world (web designers/analysts, librarians, etc.) that discuss this please feel free to point in that direction.