Laman Library received the Prism Award for the outstanding use of a Web site as part of a public relations program from the Public Relations Society of America Arkansas Chapter. Organizations and businesses from all across the state submitted entries into the contest. An out-of-state committee judged the entries and selected the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the William F. Laman Public Library System as finalists in the Web site category, and subsequently named Laman Library the winner.
Carolyn Ashcraft, the state librarian for the Arkansas State Library Board, confirmed through an e-mail survey of all public libraries in Arkansas that the William F. Laman Public Library System is the first library in the state to win an award for its Web site.
"When people think of forward-thinking companies or organizations, they don't usually think of libraries. And that's a perception we often have to battle," said Jeff Baskin, executive director of the William F. Laman Public Library System. "So when we were planning for the new website, we really wanted to go above and beyond the ordinary and make the online library experience the best it could possibly be. And I think the awards judges saw that in the final product."
In planning for the Web site, which was designed by the local web development firm Flex360, the library focused on creating a dynamic experience that provided new and useful content upon each visit.
"As journalists say, 'Content is king.' And we worked very hard to build a dynamic site with renewable content so that library patrons come back to the site and, by extension, use our services more often," said Jamie Walden, public relations manager. "We designed it with an image scroll function that is front and center, which allows us to call attention to the hot event or news that week."
But the things patrons say they enjoy most is the "We Recommend" box and the "Recent Arrivals" box. The "Recent Arrivals" box is integrated into the library's catalog system so that when the purchasing department enters new books in to the system, they are automatically cross-referenced in a database that the Web site pulls from. This way patrons see the jacket cover, title, author and summary of a book that is new to the collection. "And the book changes each time you load the page, so you get something new every time," Walden said.
The "We Recommend" box on the home page pulls from a database of staff picks compiled by the Laman Library staff members. That function also refreshes each time you visit the page, providing a new book each time. "We decided on the 'We Recommend' concept because we firmly believe that people prefer user recommendations. Whether it's an in-person recommendation from your neighbor or a user review on a Web site like Angie's List, people want to know that a someone vouches for an item in question," Walden said. "And when you have 200,000 items to choose from in one building, it helps to have an idea of what you're looking for."
The site is also built to be social. "We have two blogs now: the one we write called 'In Laman's Terms,' and the one patrons write, which is a book club blog," Walden said.
The book club blog is open to anyone, but was designed with busy people in mind. "When you work 8 to 5, have kids to corral, and lots of other things on the to-do list, meeting with a book club is difficult. So we thought, why not put the book club online where members can comment and discuss in a manner that's convenient to their lifestyle," Walden said.
The Web site also gives prominent real estate on the home page to its social media channels, primarily Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
"The site's also packed with lots of other little things that make the user experience easier. I could talk about it all day, but the best way to find out what's new is to simply check it out," Walden said.
For more information, please visit www.lamanlibrary.org.