It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I had a baby in October and as expected, I’m on a different, much busier schedule these days!  The day before my little one was born, I presented at my state library association’s conference for the first time.  It was a fun experience, and I hope I get to do it again (though maybe in a bit more comfortable circumstances).  The theme of our conference was “Tell Your Story.”  I chose to talk about some of my favorite online tools to make telling your story easy and effective.  Some have been mentioned on the blog before.  However, I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts and some of my favorite online tools that I find myself coming back to over and over, as well as a few that are just neat and worth mentioning.

The tools mentioned here are some you can use in your own libraries to help market the library and its services to your patrons, regardless of library type.  All of the tools and websites listed have free options, though some may have additional perks if you want to purchase packages.  I will say, I have not purchased a single upgrade, and they have all met the needs of my university library well.  I am not an expert at using any of these, but I’d love to hear some feedback from readers on how any of you are currently using or plan to use these tools.

I’ve broken the tools down into three broad categories: usability and user experience, very basic graphic design, and things to make your patrons’ lives and your jobs easier.  Some tools will work for multiple categories.  I’m going to cover these tools in three posts to break it up a bit, so for now let’s jump into user experience and usability.


User experience, sometimes referred to as UX, focuses on all aspects of using something, be that your library’s website, physical space, programming, etc.  Usability refers to the ease of use of that thing.  It’s really important to constantly assess your library and services to make certain you are putting forth your best efforts to meet user needs and create the best possible user experience.  Each and every aspect of your library and the interactions you have with your patrons combined make up the user experience.  So, you’ll want to ask yourself questions like: Is this useful?  Is this usable?  Is this desirable?   With each and everything you do at your library, these three elements should be your goal.  (Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying user experience design to your library, 2014)

So, with a basic understanding of UX out of the way, let’s look at some tools that can help us accomplish useful, usable, and desirable patron interactions:

Website Usability

  • Optimal Workshop
    Optimal Workshop is one of my all time favorite usability tools.  I’ve done an entire post on it before.  Do yourself and your patrons a favor and check it out when you get time.
  • Peek
    Peek is pretty cool in that it allows you to get a 5-minute video of a person using your website for free. It can be really eye-opening since these are folks who probably haven’t ever visited your website before, so their perspective is completely fresh.  Because we work with our websites day in and day out, we get used to the quirks and just sort of learn to live with them, so something that isn’t at all weird to you can be a real problem to somebody who has never visited your site before.  The people who record the videos do not work for the company.  They are independent third-party service providers participating in User Testing, the parent company of Peek.  I find it really surprising that there’s a free option for this tool, but there is!  You just provide them with valid contact information, and you can get three Peek Tests a month.  It’s also super-fast.  Once you request a test, you get results in hour or less.


  • Link Checker
    Simply enter the URL you’d like to check, and this tool crawls the web page or full site to check for broken links. It takes a few minutes, depending on site size, and you’ll get a report detailing any problems.
  • Stylify Me
    This tool explores background and text colors, typography, and image dimensions of a web page without having to individually inspect each element.
  • Built With
    Find out what content management systems a website or service is using.

Survey & Feedback Tools
Always welcome feedback and make it simple for your patrons to provide.  Never underestimate the power of a quick survey.  I find bribing patrons with candy works well.  We use the WEPA print system at our library, and print cards are a desirable commodity, as well as gift cards to the coffee shop.

  • SurveyMonkey
    If you’ve never used SurveyMonkey for your library, you have almost certainly taken a SurveyMonkey created quiz.  With the free plan, you get an unlimited number of surveys, 10 questions per survey, 100 responses per survey, 24/7customer support, and the ability to create quizzes.
  • SurveyAnyplace
    SurveyAnyplace claims to be more enticing to respondents getting you more feedback.  The free version includes: 20 monthly responses, unlimited surveys and devices, large variety of question types, images, audio, and video, data filtering, easy branding, quiz capabilities, and more.
  • Easypolls
    This one is neat in that you can very quickly create and customize simple polls. When you save your poll, you are provided with a link, as well as an embed-code so you can stick it right on your web pages.
  • Twtpoll
    Create surveys for social media platforms. Users do not need an account to participate.  With the free plan, you get up to 20 votes, and the survey duration is 3 days.  You can include images, and there are multiple question/response formats.
  • SpeakPipe
    This service is like voicemail for your website.  With the free plan, you get 20 messages per month at a max duration of 90 seconds per message. There is also a free SpeakPipe voice recorder tool.  There is the option to save your recording on the SpeakPipe server and get a link to it, so you can send it via email or use on the web.

It’s just the right thing to do.  Accessibility differs from usability in that it refers to design for people who experience various disabilities.  Our websites need to be both usable and accessible and should never create a barrier to information for our patrons.  Please remember that no accessibility checker can substitute a real person.  If you have the opportunity and can do so respectfully, ask your disabled patrons for their opinions.  More than likely, they won’t mind.  It shows you care.

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
    From the site: “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general.”
  • AChecker
    This web accessibility checker checks web pages for conformance with accessibility standards set by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  It’s important to remember that the goal is to be as accessible as possible.  There will probably always be some things that cannot be 100% compliant, but it’s important to try.
  • WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool)
    All you do is enter a URL and WAVE embeds various icons at potential problem areas throughout the page.  You can click on each one for more information and tips for improvement.
  • Checkmycolours
    Checks foreground/background color combinations of a website for sufficient contrast.
  • PrintFriendly
    I use this one all the time.  Use it to get rid of all the “extra” on a page before printing.  Read my previous post for more information.
  • Beeline Reader
    This is another tool I’ve talked about before.  It uses gradient color options to keep lines of text from running together.


User Experience (UX) & Usability Resources


I hope you find these tools interesting and useful.  Let us know how you’re using these or other usability tools in the comments!


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