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published: March 2004
analytic scripts updated:
November 7, 2010

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License

Designing a Web Site for Multiple Audiences
William Wright, The Mary Baker Eddy Library, USA

Demonstration: Your Colleagues - 1

The Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, Massachusetts, recently spent the better part of a year planning its Web site, www.marybakereddylibrary.org, which launched in July, two months prior to the Library's grand opening on September 29, 2002.

The Library is a place where people can come together to explore: the power of ideas throughout history to inspire individuals and change the world; the contemporary search for life's deeper meaning; and the ideas, life, and achievements of Mary Baker Eddy. It features two floors of state-of-the-art, interactive and educational exhibits, including the Mapparium, Hall of Ideas, Quest Gallery, and Monitor Gallery. It also houses the Mary Baker Eddy Library Collections, one of the largest by and about an American woman.

The Library established a mission for its Web site that included an ability to function on four different levels:

(1) promoting the physical space as a Boston destination for tourists and making planning a visit to the Library a breeze;

(2) becoming the primary online resource for information about Mary Baker Eddy's life, ideas, and achievements;

(3) being the Library for visitors before and after their visit and/or for those who can't visit at all; and

(4) providing extended Library experiences through a variety of unique and engaging features related to the exhibits, collections, and programs hosted in the physical space.

To succeed, the Library's Web site needs to "speak" to a number of different audiences, including the following: Boston tourists (all ages, including families); students (middle school through university); academic researchers and scholars; the library community; Boston's civic community and Fenway neighborhood; spiritual seekers; and Christian Science church members.

Working with the design and development group at Motivo (www.motivo.com) , the Library spent countless hours defining and outlining its current and future content, and then organized it relative to itself and the targeted audiences. The Library's Web staff of one (Web Producer) worked with the various content owners, the senior executive team, Motivo, and an in-house IT group (which would ultimately host the site) to insure current best practices, user experiences, and desired end-product goals were maintained and realized. It was easily one of the best case studies in "project management."

Along the journey, a few key things helped benefit the project greatly, including:

(a) taking the time to plan and organize in support of content and targeted audiences before "designing" anything for the site;

(b) keeping the focus on the users of the content and not the owners of it;

(c) listening to everyone's advice (both internally and externally) and learning from their experiences, but being unafraid to ask questions and challenge conventions (getting to the "why" and "what's best for our content and audiences");

(d) anticipating the needs for multiple promotional opportunities (on the Home page and with touts), and great flexibility to edit, change, and add content in the future without using technical designers and developers; and

(e) tapping all resources (both those involved directly in the project, as well as others throughout the organization) for ideas, suggestions, experiences, feedback, and testing.