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Our Improved Locations Finder—Now In Beta

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Library Map of Manhattan, A. R. Ohman, 1902
Library map of Manhattan, City of New York: A. R. Ohman, 1902. Image ID: 5060029

Today we’re very excited to launch the public preview of a new design for the Locations section of nypl.org. With thousands of people every day trying to find or planning to visit one of over 90 NYPL branches, the Locations section is the most heavily visited part of the website after the homepage. The current design has served us well for several years, but it was high time to take a new look at this critical piece of the site and bring it up to date. We’ve been testing our new version internally for a couple of months now and we’re ready to open it up to the public for beta testing at http://locations-beta.nypl.org.

Our main goal for this redesign was pretty simple: make it easier to find the branch you’re looking for and right up front tell you more about what’s happening there. We’ve enhanced our complete listing of libraries by adding a smart search. Just start typing a library name and you’ll get suggested matches. Or, search by address, zip code, or landmark (like “City Hall”) to see the closest branches in an interactive map view. Of course, on a mobile device, you can click “Libraries near me” to let your phone’s GPS do the work.

Sometimes you may not be looking for a particular branch, just one that has what you need, like color copiers or a 24-hour book drop. So, we’ve made it easier to see what amenities are offered at which branches. And since it’s what’s going on inside each library that’s really important, we wanted to revamp the individual branch pages to emphasize their offerings. For every branch you’ll find improved event listings, more staff blog posts, and increased emphasis on exhibitions.

For the four research libraries—the Schwarzman Building, Library for the Performing Arts, Schomburg Center, and the Science, Industry and Business Library—we’ve emphasized the divisions that house our many special collections and given those pages the same makeover. We’ve also tried to make it easier to find, under “Plan Your Visit,” some of the specific information you might need about these four unique centers.  

While it is only one piece of our website, updating the Locations section was a large and challenging project for the Digital Experience team. NYPL is unlike any other library system in the scope of our offerings. Each day we host everyone from children first learning to read to Nobel laureates. You can see one of the first printed bibles and check out this month’s best sellers. We have so much information that choosing what to put first is a complex task.

When in doubt, the best thing to do is ask. So, starting last year, we conducted surveys of staff and the public to see what people are looking for, where people expect to find it, and which things go together in most patrons’ minds. While very little surprised us (everyone thinks hours are the most important thing, for instance) we were able to identify some vital new features such as the “On our shelves now” links you’ll see on every circulating branch page. If, by chance, you responded to one of the online surveys we ran last fall—thank you! This is the fruit of your input.

As we developed this new version, it was also very important to get out from behind our desks to get the impressions of people who aren’t interested in the Locations section because it’s their job, but rather because they’re at the library trying to find or accomplish something. If you’re at a branch and someone approaches you with an iPad and asks if you’d like to try out some work-in-progress and tell us what you think, it’s because we need your help to refine our thinking and perfect our approach.

For those of you that are interested in the technology, this is built in Angular. It’s our first big project using this framework and the experience was good enough that we plan to continue with it. nypl.org is a Drupal site, and the basic data is still administered in Drupal, but we’re exporting it via an API for use in the front-end. Once we were already pretty far down this road we discovered it was something of a trend and already had a name: Headless Drupal. Right now, it’s a good compromise for us between the best of the new web technologies and the investment we already have in several years of Drupal development.

It’s always fun to launch something (and a huge relief as well), but we’re particularly excited about this because it’s our first step towards reinventing our website, and really our web platform as a whole. All around NYPL we’re imagining what a library should look like in the 21st century. On the Digital Experience team we also know that we need to think about what a library website should look like in 2015. We have a lot of ideas and plans for the coming months. In the meantime, please visit http://locations-beta.nypl.org and let us know what you think. You’ll find feedback button on every page.

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