Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Good News or Bad??? Cookie Cutter Library Pages

Alas, my blog has languished a bit. I was afraid of this happening. The truth is, my reasons for slacking are not so much difficulties I have encountered as good times I have had. The end of Spring Break week brought a visit from my daughter, who lives in Oregon. She was here for about 10 days and that is when I fell behind in, well, everything. Mea culpa, and here I am trying to catch up.

Today I have been visiting school libraries. Not physically, but from the comfort of my lounge chair on my screened-in porch. Ahhhh spring in Texas! It is a lovely mild day, and I am enjoying working from my backyard world. One of my class assignments asks students to visit two school libraries via their online pages. They are to critique the pages as well as the automated systems they encounter. When I grade their work, I visit the schools as well. One thing I have been noticing over the last year or two is the increasing trend toward cookie-cutter pages. Librarians are putting up their information using templates provided either by their automated systems or by school management systems such as FirstClass. I can certainly see the advantages:

1. Such sites are professional in appearance.

2. There is continuity from one school page to the next.

3. Posting there is easier than posting original pages.

4. There is a great deal of control over the appearance and likely the content of these pages on the parts of technology staff or administrators.

The above listed advantages can also be faults, though. What is lost with cookie cutter pages is creative spark. The businesslike appearance may look polished and professional, but I am not sure it captures the imaginations of the true target audience, students. I feel a bit sad to see fewer and fewer sites that are lively, colorful, and creative. I also see less, if any, student work presented on the look-alike pages. And I have to wonder as I do about so many things that educators do to be more “businesslike,” is this the direction we really want? Here are just a few pages where the cookie cutter police have not yet prevailed. At the tope of the list I have to mention Peter Milbury’s Chico High Library pages. He gets so much information in to his collection of pages, and does it HIS way. What a shame to see any of the pages below get molded into cookie cutter templates. Kudos to all those folks out there who are still willing and able to row their own cyber-boats!

Chico High Library Pages: http://melvil.chicousd.org/

Grandview Elementary Library: http://www.grandviewlibrary.org/

Springfield Township Virtual Library: http://mciunix.mciu.k12.pa.us/~spjvweb/

I could go on and may add a few sites, but right now the dog is in serious need of walking. I would love your suggestions of additional great pages, and also any comments you might have about how to withstand the forces of rampant templatism.


  1. My school district has recently changed from more creative websites to the cookie cutter types you describe. We use First Class for our web sites. The goal is to make it easy for teachers to communicate with the parents. This has created some wonderful communication between the teachers and parents with Internet Access. I am the web mistress for our school page and for the media center page. I chose to use First Class because it was expected and it was easier. We still have considerable creativity within the framework. No one has told me I have to use First Class, they just make it easier to go that direction. All teacher web sites though, are created through First Class. This seems to be a goal from the Superintendent on down. All teachers must have some web presence. You can vist our pages at www.ccps.k12.fl.us Click on schools on the right hand side and navigate to Sallie Jones Elementary. The first grade team has a particularly good site. What is really unfortunate is that my principal made us go to team web sites, which has really stifled the creativity of the teachers who had their own web site. It is part of every administrator's PDP (Personal Developmnet Plan) to have their teachers have a web presence.

  2. Hi, MA.
    Please keep up your crusade about the library (librarian) generated web page. I'd love you to showcase mine (http://rhslibrary.org). In my district I was on a committee which was investigating software to maintain our school district web pages. I asked each of vendors about the issues a problems of mounting good library home pages. None of them had really considered what was involved and just assumed that the "model" pages could be adapted for library use. I spend a lot of time on my website and am constantly trying to improve my home page to make it more user friendly. I absolutely understand the impulse to go with something pretty but if the content isn't there why would students keep using the site. Are school web sites merely for PR or are they for helping our patrons, students and staff, become efficient and effective users of information? Here's the problem as I see it--most of us don't want to take the time to maintain our web sites or learn how to make them more attractive or work better. All I can say is that the world will quickly pass us by if we don't pay attention. Sure I'd like to do a lot more with my website in terms of interactivity but I know if it's going to happen I'm going to have to learn how to make it happen. I've seen some comments recently about libraries and Web 2.0 but one author pointed out that many libraries (and he was referring to public libraries) don't even have very good Web 1.0 presences. When you discover the company that has sat down with school library practitioners and come up with a model I think would be good for us, sure I'd love to see it. I don't think it's out there yet.

  3. It's great to see that other librarians are setting themselves free from the constraints of Distict Technology departments. I have advocated that school librarians get their own domain name and host their own Web sites. Its about control as well as branding/marketing. I believe that most librarians give up control because they are either passive and/or not very confident in their technical abilities. As information professionals, we should be more confident and assure the tech departments that we can take care of ourselves and follow all policies to protect students while operating independently of the central tech department.

  4. Dr. Bell,

    Actually, you can be quite creative with First Class or you can use their cookie cutter format. It's up to the person posting the site (or maybe the school). When I worked for Conroe, we were able to use whatever method we wanted (Dreamweaver, Word, Publisher). My current school didn't have a library website a all previous to me. So, I was able to post whatever I wanted. Although, I had to stay within their format so it looked consistent. I was able to continue my book blog by posting it elsewhere & then linking to it. I think we can use methods like that to keep some of our own creativity.
    I cannot update it myself- I give the text to someone else. (they won't let me, which is sort of a chore)

    Pam Hill
    Former student
    Here's my current site