Kid Personas in a Library Website Redesign Process

Okay, so our redesign/rebuild (in Drupal, natch) of our kids' web site is underway. I've done plenty of grown-up library web sites, but we had a brainstorming meeting the other day that left me feeling sans direction. So, I came up with these three COMPLETELY HYPOTHETICAL personas. Yes, entirely fictional. Heh.


Kieran is 10 and will enter the 5th grade in the fall. He is an advanced and avid reader who has been reading to himself, and often his younger siblings, since kindergarten. He's familiar with the library's web site because the school librarian uses it frequently in her lesson plans. He gets in trouble for reading and playing Minecraft under his covers in bed after lights out, and likes the links to the games pages on the library's kids' site. He used Culturegrams once when he had to do a report on the Vietnamese holiday Tet, but he only knew to use it because his librarian mother knew about databases and homework resources available. He lives to build with LEGOs and enjoys playing baseball. He often reads entire series of books multiple times; for example, he's re-reading Harry Potter at the moment.


Grace, 8, did not take to reading as easily as her older brother, but that in no way diminishes her desire to read or her enjoyment of it. She's creative and kind, and takes care of everyone, from her "special needs" friend in her class to her little brother, and she loves to paint, draw, and sew--anything crafty makes her very, very happy. She's just finishing 2nd grade, and she spent much of the year working with reading tutors to make sure that she's achieving her grade level in vocabulary and fluency. She loves early literacy software programs, including the one she uses at home in conjunction with her work with the reading tutors, and she knows how to get to Tumblebooks from the home page of the library's kids' site. Her mother plans to enroll her in the library's summer reading program to prevent the "summer slip" in her reading abilities from happening this year.


Seamus is an easy-going 6-year-old who's just finishing up kindergarten. Like his big brother, he loves LEGOs and games. He began using an iPad at age 4, with zero instruction, to play Angry Birds. He spends hours on the LEGO web site (even though he's not reading yet) looking at the "Products" page. Overall, he's less aware of the library's kids' web site, but enjoys watching his sister use Tumblebooks. He loves to "read" at bedtime as much as his siblings do, and his favorites are non-fiction books about airplanes and helicopters, about which he has an advanced vocabulary. He recognizes words that his kindergarten teacher assigned as "heart words," and he's capable of sounding shorter words out.


So in thinking about how my own kids--er, um, I mean, these fictional kid personas--would use the site and library resources in general, here are some things I'm thinking about:

Generating Awareness of and Interest in Library Resources

My colleague Alyson had a fabulous idea about how to present content. We have all of these THINGS that we make lists of--book recommendations, databases and resources like Tumblebooks, links to games, etc.--but I'm never sure if we're presenting them in an engaging way. I'm thinking specifically of the homework assignment about Tet: it's all there, in Culturegrams and the other resources we pay thousands for every year. Honestly, it's the same issue I wrestled with as an academic web librarian for years. How do we get them to the damn databases?!

So, Alyson's idea was to devote much of the home page to a weekly featured display on a theme. Each "display," for lack of a better word, would highlight four THINGS--a book, a craft idea, a game, a database or other resource--on, say, the Statue of Liberty. We'd be highlighting library resources in a way that engages kids, "Did you know that the Statue of Liberty is over 150 feet tall?!" yet pushes our own agenda of getting them IN to the site. Smashing Magazine wrote an article about designing for kids a while back, and they even mention the LEGO site as a site that respects both kids and their parents: it's visually engaging, and heck, even Seamus knows how to get to "Products" to satisfy his information needs. This "featured" thing, which I'll admit we had a hard time coming up with a name/label for, would provide that kind of visual stimulation, while drawing them in to the site further.

Recommendations: Games, Books, Etc.

Maybe we're not the "norm" in this respect, but my husband and I actively encourage our children to play video games. This is within reason, of course; we supervise, and Daddy is often playing, too. I know as a parent personally, it would be helpful to have a vetted list of age-appropriate games. On our main site, we just released a list of recommended and reviewed apps, and the content is maintained by librarians who are active users of mobile tech. I also think about Jack--I mean Kieran--reading same thing over and over, and the idea of a "book of the week" is appealing, too: say, a cover, with a link to more lists, readalikes, and our new "What Should I Read Next?" personalized reading list. The good news is that with a good content strategy--i.e., having someone actively maintaining and refreshing the content, like our librarians reviewing the apps--this is pretty easy to achieve with Drupal. Is there anyone else out there recommending games? I should add that our current sites, main, kids, and teen, all have a very strong readers' advisory focus.

Information for Parents: Where Does it Go?

I'm torn on this; right now, we're moving forward with putting information for parents on the library's main site, and simply linking to it form the children's site, leaving the children's site JUST FOR KIDS. In thinking about audience, that sort of makes sense; we're defining it as kids 6-11 for the separate kids' site. I find myself again drawing parallels to the academic environment: "information literacy," or however we label instruction, is important strategically, to library staff internally, but how do we translate that strategic importance into something that's relevant and useful for our customers? If we find that intersection, we satisfy our own strategic needs and make our users happy. Our Child and Family department is working on drawing up this content; I guess I'm worried it'll get buried on the main/adult site. We also advertise Summer Reading pretty heavily on the main site, and we find that the registration page does get a lot of traffic from that direction. I still kinda want that info to be on the kids' site, but I can't really articulate why? Maybe I'm stuck on what Smashing Magazine said about the LEGO site: " Kids can browse and navigate freely, while focusing on the product rather than being distracted by intrusive advertising and gimmicks. When they find the product they want, the child can easily draw their parent’s attention to the splendid item they’re about to pay for." Even 6-11 year olds still need their parents or caregivers to provide internet acces and/or take them to the library, so is it a mistake not to engage those grown-ups in the same space?

Any thoughts or comments, on these issues or designing for kids generally?