Lorcan Dempsey's blog entry on Libraries Australia introduced the buzzword "discovery2delivery" to me (although he first talked about it last November). The "Discovery to Delivery" model is a great way to describe the perpetual mission of the library and is helping me crystallize my thinking about what I want the website at MPOW to achieve.
Let's compare the typical library web site to Chapters Canada's online presence (I'm comparing to Chapters rather than to Amazon because Chapters provides a brick interface as well as just the click interface). One might argue that the these two websites have similar goals: self-promotion and connecting users with "stuff". Interestingly enough, it's the public institution that seems to focus on "self promotion" and the commercial website that focuses on "making connections". This is most obvious when you look at these websites through the eyes of somebody that wants to find a book.
OCLC's Perceptions of Libraries report emphasizes that libraries are still primarily about books for our clients, but books are almost invisible on the Toronto Public Library's homepage. In fact, the only appearance of the word "book" on the home page is in the link "Find books & materials...." But it doesn't lead you to books: it's for a page of information about the catalogue, on which there is a link that finally leads to the catalogue. Unfortunately, the single search box on that page makes it very difficult to find a known item in the catalogue.
Not only does Chapters' home page have a search box, but the rest of the page is jammed full of information about new and hot stuff. And if I type the title of a book into the search box and press enter, without worrying too much about what I'm looking for, I'm likely to find it easily. (Try searching for Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the man", and see what you end up with.)
If we look beyond "moving product" (a motive that libraries and bookstores share), libraries' claims of being the center of community are also being undermined by the store's promotion of itself as a Meetup Venue Partner. Libraries' meeting spaces, like their books, are hidden away behind library specific processes, which are usually not accessible via the web. For example, although we have introduced a new web-based study room self-booking system at MPOW recently, and the students love it, it's hidden on a page that most of them wouldn't otherwise use: the branch's home page. Why does booking a room at the library require an instructional session with a staff member?
Commercial organizations well know that if they don't make it easy for the client, then the client will find someplace where it is easy. Unfortunately, the examples of finding books and making community connections both seem to demonstrate how libraries are displaying, via the home page, the relative importance of the library's internal processes and structures over the convenience of the client base.
The library's home page is the gateway to its services. It must be structured so that common tasks are simple to do, and the uncommon tasks are simple to find. The challenge is to ensure that commonality and simplicity are decided by the clients, and not by the librarians.