design research

Billings Public Library Site Redesign

Public libraries serve an important community role. Having a website and services that work well for people helps libraries meet their missions. I researched how users want to use a library website and generated ideas and recommendations on how to improve a local library site.

The Problem

As it was understood, the current Billings Public Library’s website had grown over the years and information became increasingly difficult to find. The site’s organization schemes and structures didn’t appear to be working and wasn’t supporting users’ key tasks. With focused research, iterative design and clear communication, we’ve developed research and design artifacts that will help improve the site and focus it more on users’ main goals.

This project was for a graduate school assignment.


Conversations were held with librarians at the downtown branch of the Washington, D.C. Public Library.  User interviews helped determine target users and their behaviors, patterns, and goals.

Our research goals were to:

  • Identify target users
  • Learn about users goals and top tasks on library websites
  • Understand user challenges or limitations 
  • Identify any content holes or enhancements to the site

In addition to interviews, we conducted research into other library websites, industry research around best practices and common uses, and UX case studies on library website projects.


What we learned about users

Library websites are used by a variety of audiences, and our four personas describe likely library site users. (see detailed personas on the next page)

  • Isabella the mother who leads a busy life but enjoys reading and listening to audiobooks.
  • Wayne the retiree who uses the library as a community meeting space.
  • Lisa the student who likes to read and use library computers to do homework.
  • Martin the new resident that wants to learn about the local library.
Example persona for Isabella, one of our primary personas.

What users want to do

Based on our research, users top priority tasks are to:

  • Browse or find a book
  • Place a hold on a book
  • Find an ebook or audiobook

Following the primary tasks, the site needs to easily support users that want to:

  • Reserve a conference room
  • FInd out when the library is open
  • Find out how to get a library card
  • FInd out about events
  • Look up a specific class offering
  • Find out information about volunteering
Task priority: by primary and secondary personas
 Isabella (P)Wayne (P)Lisa (S)Martín (S)
High Priority Tasks 
Browse or find a bookYesYesYes 
Place a hold on a bookYesYes  
Find an ebook or audiobookYesYesYesYes
Medium Priority 
Reserve a conference room YesYes 
FInd out when the library is openYes YesYes
Find out how to get a library card  YesYes
FInd out about events Yes Yes 
Low Priority 
Look up a specific class offering  Yes 
Find out information about volunteering Yes  

There are a number of ways to organize and classify information on a website. In the case of the Billings Library, using an ambiguous organizational scheme with both audience and topical schemes will support users in finding key information and offer a simple way to navigate through the website.

Considering the current site uses an audience scheme to segment certain content for seniors, adults, teens, and children, continuing an audience based scheme works because content is very audience specific. However, we’ll combine Teens & Children and Adults & Seniors into two groups.

The rest of the information on the site fits nicely into a topic-based scheme, based on several key categories. The proposed main categories for the Billings Public Library navigation:

  • My Account
  • Digital Services
  • Job Training & Education
  • Library Services
  • Research
  • About
  • For Kids & Teens
  • For Adults & Seniors
Initial site structure based on card sorts conducted with users.

Homepage Features

In addition to the new navigation, enhancements to the homepage will help promote the site’s primary tasks discovered during research.

  • “How do I feature,” which lists common how-to tasks (get a card, renew a book, etc.)
  • Hours and Locations
  • Browse the catalog
  • Site search
  • Events
  • Featured books (We Recommend, Awards, Bestsellers, New Titles
An early sketch of the Billings Public Library homepage with revised navigation and key homepage features.
A higher-fidelity version of the homepage was created. We tested five tasks with a first-click test, seeing where users would go to find out information. Users had nearly 100 percent success rates, demonstrating the proposed information architecture, homepage experience, and overall site is working for users.

Lessons learned

  • The value of content audits can not be overstated. They help you identify what types of content you currently have on your site and can help reduce the content on your site.
  • Complex site maps can be difficult to make but are an important artifact to communicate your site’s information architecture to key stakeholders.