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Review of the IPL Teen Space

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The following review was written for my YA Resources class.

The Internet Public Library Teen Space

A Google search of “internet teen library” turns up a number of libraries directed specifically at teen needs, one of which is the Internet Public Library’s “For Teens” portal.  The URL for this space is descriptive (http://www.ipl.org/div/teen/ indicates that the teen space is found under the teen division of the main Internet Public Library website) but not short or memorable and may be difficult for teens to find naturally without a web search, bookmark, or link from the main library site. A more descriptive URL such as “teenlibrary.com” might direct more traffic here, even if that URL redirects to the one currently in use.

The portal page follows basic rules of good webpage design. A simple white background sets off two major colors, a mix of sea-blues in a graphic for the site’s banner, which runs along the top, and a sunny yellow-tan color that frames and highlights the search bar. The minimal use of color ensures that “fun” items like Flash or sound that would cause the page to load more slowly and interrupt a teen’s use of the space do not distract the user.  Beneath the header and search bar are twelve links, each of which has both a text description and an icon. This dual representation of what is to be found when following each link allows both visual and textual thinkers to register the information quickly.  Under these links are less relevant links about the IPL in general, its sponsors, and its social networking presences.  There are no advertisements on the site.  The entire space would fit into an 800×600 standard screen size, and although this is less relevant on most of today’s computers, a library equipped with older computers would be able to load and display the site easily.

The most basic information is contained in the sea-blue header, which is also the header on every subpage in the teen division. Here, the user can return to the main IPL page, return to the Teen Space by clicking the central words “For Teens,” or “Contact a Librarian.”  The contact link brings the user to a form where he or she can ask a librarian a question. The form is long and sends the librarian an email.  This kind of contact is less ideal than an internet chat protocol or text message service, as a teen using this site probably wants an answer quickly.  The sunny yellow search bar lies beneath the header and is probably more useful for the user.

The twelve icon-text links to frequently used resources beneath the search bar include: “School & Homework Help,” “Graphic Novels,” “Answers to Frequently Asked Embarrassing Questions (FAEQs),” “A+ Writing Research Paper Guide,” “Procrastinator,” “Health and Sexuality,” “Reading and Writing,” “Sports, Entertainment, & Arts,” “Handle Your Finances,” “TeenSpace Poetry,” “Clubs and Organizations,” and “Technology Resources.” As someone whose teen years were spent under an enormous amount of academic pressure, I would have clicked on “School & Homework Help” and “A+ Writing Research Paper Guide.” “School and Homework Help” links to a disappointingly text-heavy list of outside links, most of which are about how to handle learning disabilities. The page is not aimed at the average person who needs help with homework. A Google search would likely be more productive. If, as a user, I click on such a link, I want it to be easy to find homework help by subject—not a list of links on how to study.  “A+ Writing Research Paper Guide” is much more promising. It links to a text-and-image page that gives step-by-step directions on how to write a research paper in case I have been assigned one but was not paying attention in class when told how to start.

FAEQs” links to a table of questions, subjects, outside links, and a short summary of what is to be found on each linked page.  The subjects include sex, running away, piercing, dropping out of school and the GED, smoking, racism, depression, and acne. Although the questions, answers, and links are well-organized and relevant, as a teen I think I would be more likely to rely on a search engine.  However, this list of links would likely be useful for YA librarians who want a quick pathfinder-like resource when patrons need answers to such questions. The list would be a valuable link on a YA page from a library’s homepage.  “Health and Sexuality” is, like “School & Homework Help,” a disappointing list of links similar to those one would find on a search engine.  The interface on these two pages is drab, uninteresting, and even frustrating.  Although clicking on subcategory links on a right-hand sidebar can narrow the search results on both pages, the links provided are general and impersonal and require the user to work too much to find the needed resources.  The “FAEQs” and “A+” pages are better because they give the user fewer options and convey the information through a combination of visual and textual organization.

As “Handle Your Finances,” “Technology Resources,” “Sports, Entertainment & Arts,” “Reading & Writing,” and “Clubs and Organizations” all feature the same drab, frustrating, text-heavy link-list interface as “Health and Sexuality” and “School & Homework Help,” a further discussion of the resources they provide is unnecessary. As an adult clicking these links I am turned off by the lack of specificity the link lists provide and by the boring, text-heavy interface.  I would not use these resources as a highly literate adult, so I cannot imagine a Millennial teen using them.  Although teens probably do not want to be bombarded with music, Flash, and other distractions when searching for information, they probably also do not want to be directed to lists of links that they could just as easily have found on Google.  In this situation, a library needs to provide smaller, more visually appealing lists of links, like the twelve featured links on the main IPL Teen page.  Although it is important for a library to possess a wealth of information, providing an overabundance of information is just overwhelming, especially when that information is presented as a text-heavy, impersonal list.

In contrast, “Graphic Novels,” “TeenSpace Poetry,” and “Procrastinator” are more usable (although the question of whether anyone, especially a media-savvy teen, needs help “procrastinating” is debatable).  They feature both text and graphics. “Graphic Novels” features four graphic novel covers with a link attached to each. The links are “History and Basics,” “Importance of Japanese Comics,” “In Schools & Libraries,” and “Web Comics, Great Links, & More Resources.”[2] The physical arrangement of these graphic and links on the page looks less than professional, but it does fit into the 800×600 space and is easily navigable.  The links direct to pages that rely on the FAQ, link-list and bibliographical formats, but they are not as uninteresting and text-heavy as the “Homework Help” type link lists.  “Procrastinator” is arranged more like a blog, with an expandable subject index on the left that is more visually appealing than the “Homework Help” type lists, but still commits the same basic error in terms of its usability, interestingness or helpfulness: it relies on a patient and literate reader.

The pages seem to have been created by librarians—that is, people who enjoy reading books. I would dare to say that most people do not enjoy reading books, but are more interested in reading magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs, and other media where text and image mix for a more hyper-textual (in the general sense) experience.  As few people are “text-only” readers or learners, more concessions should be made in the design of these pages to include the non-bibliophile.  The pages do not need to be busy, have automatic sound or flash, but they should contain more multimedia (video or sound that plays when clicked) and more graphics. The site seems to be designed for slow, old computers, which is somewhat important.  However, even very old (pre-Pentium) computers with dial-up connections can load simple graphics, and incorporating more of these would make a big difference to the aesthetic appeal of the site.  Moreover, the problems of aesthetic presentation do not excuse the “link list” organization of much of the site.  This problem could be solved very easily by limiting the number of links in each list.  The library should not be a “search engine.” Search engines serve a different function. Limiting link lists to fewer than a dozen options apiece would make the site more navigable for someone seeking immediate help.

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