Thursday, 11 May 2017

Improving Library and Archives Canada Website

I have occasionally been surveyed as a client of Library and Archives Canada. In recent years I've remarked on the exceptional turnaround in the organization reflected in staff morale, initiative and active outreach.

But so far LAC has not asked for my views on their website.

Admittedly, there's nothing in the Constitution that requires LAC seek or take my advice.
Neither is there anything that prohibits me from giving it -- all I want -- if I feel so moved.
And I do.

Like most of us, when I go to the LAC website I do so for a purpose. I'm looking for specific information.

But as I write LAC uses just about all the website real estate above the fold to inform:

  • Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Beyond Vimy: The Rise of Air Power, Part 2”
  • Literary Censorship in Quebec: Books under Pressure Exhibition, May 8 to 12, 2017
  • Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975–1980
  • DigiLab: A space to digitize your favourite Library and Archives collections!
  • What's new in the collection: the spring 2017 edition is out!
  • Signatures Series: Interview with Raymond Chrétien
  • Subscribe to our mailing list for events and activities
That's not information I was looking for. 
I feel like I'm being force-fed the things that LAC wants me to know. Their priorities, not mine.

Compare, for example, the website for The (UK) National Archives.

Up front there are links to catalogue, help files and access to digitized collections.  There are also other quick ways above the fold into the collection.
It's a site offering the help and information I came to find.
LAC's site makes finding those non-intuitive, a challenge even for the frequent user.

The organization website is its window to the world, why not make it world class?


Gail B said...

Oh sigh. It was ever thus with top-down management. Despite the positive changes you have mentioned about LAC, the webpage is Press Releases without content --- at its best. All about Marketing, not about research help. I'm afraid we see this in many levels of the Federal Government. Have you tried to find anything about 'heritage'? be it local, provincial or Canada-wide, that is really about heritage or history. The Ministry of Heritage. Ha! I apologize, as a good Canadian should, for the rant.

Celia Lewis said...

Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. Someone or people on a committee didn't gather info/feedback from actual users. I'm always encouraging genealogy people to go to the website, and telling them to be prepared to have to dig to find anything. It's extremely non-intuitive. It's better... but there's so much more work needed on the entry website.. As you point out, there are excellent examples out there!

Steve Clifford said...

A dozen years ago I led a project to redesign a website for a small to medium-sized private sector company. My biggest challenge was trying to convince the marketing department (which I was a member of) that success would only be achieved if we ensured that the visitors to the site achieved their primary objective quickly and efficiently. If they did they would be far more likely to read and respond to the myriad of promos and deals that were on offer. Credit is due to those who ran the company because they did listen and although they were reluctant at first they allowed me to move forward with the changes. The project almost killed me but it was a success and I kept my job :-)

I also spent nearly two decades in the public sector and introducing change in that environment is brutally difficult. Management spends most of their time looking over their shoulder and appeasing their superiors rather than listening to those hired to do the job. I suspect there are those at LAC who know what should be done but they aren't being allowed to implement their ideas, hence the poor morale. This disfunction has been the case for decades but what I find really annoying is the more recent trend to government self-promotion. I could care less what event the Minister is attending nor do I want to look at photographs of politicians at press releases. I'm even less interested in archival photographs plastered with watermarks and branded borders. This of course is a problem across government and seems particularly rampant at Veterans Affairs and Parks Canada. It's our heritage and our tax dollars so consulting with us on regarding the most important public-facing tool should be a priority.

Last year I vented at LAC on my blog regarding a sloppy update to the First World War Personnel Records interface. I genuinely feel sorry for the team responsible for maintaining the site (I've been in their shoes) and I'm convinced the update was rushed into production in order to satisfy some directive high up in the organization. Unfortunately we're unlikely to see much change until those pulling the strings change their tune.

Pamela Wile said...

I have found for quite some time that it takes the LAC website quite a while to load. I usually only visit there to look at census records. I can see that you're referring to the slide show mostly. However, just above it, there are links to Discover the Collection, Online Research (that includes Ancestors Search, Genealogy and Family History, Military and Censuses in the drop-down menu, Services for the Public and Services and Programs. I also see links below for Popular Topics, Popular Services, Forms, Databases and Resources. I'm not quite sure what more you would want. This website design must be a recent change as I used to find their website quite challenging.

I find the changes they've made are an improvement.