David King
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Home Pages in ARL Libraries: A Comparison of Web Site Page Layout & Design

By: David King
(then) Electronic Services Librarian, University of Southern Mississippi

Table of Contents:

Research Focus
Body Backgrounds
Page Length
Number of Steps to Page from Parent Institution Site
Domain Name Servers
The Typical ARL Library Home Page
Typical Backgrounds
Typical Headers
Typical Footer
Typical Body Graphics
Typical Body Links
Typical Body Text
Additional Highlights

Research Focus:

Design and page layout in library home pages tend to be very individualized, and have strengths and weaknesses unique to each site. But, what are these design and layout strengths and weaknesses? This research project focused on design similarities and differences in the main, front-end home page of all 120 Association of Research Library (ARL) web sites. This was done in order to establish a current "state of the art" in ARL library home pages, and to find out how a "typical" ARL library home page is designed. First, a survey of 44 questions related to home page design was created. Next, each ARL library home page was examined and the survey was filled out for each home page. Then, the data was tabulated using simple averages.


Most web pages consist of four main sections:

  • Header: describes what can be found at the web site
  • Body: provides most of the information found on each web page
  • Footer: provides contact information, copyright information, and a revision date
  • Design Concept of the home page.

I broke these down into seven different to examine: Backgrounds; Document Headers; Document Footers; Document Body; Page Length; Number of Steps to Library Homepage from Parent Institution Website; and Domain Name Servers. The rest of this presentation will focus on some of the very basic findings in each section, and then I'll briefly discuss the "typical" ARL library home page.

Body Backgrounds:

  • 45% used a body background.
  • 19% used a background image in either a .gif or a .jpg format.
  • 24% used a solid background color.


  • 96% included a specific name, like Cook Memorial Library.
  • 4% used a general name, like University Libraries.
  • 71% used a digital image.
  • 26% used a text-based header.
  • 83% mentioned the parent institution.
  • 34% included hypertext links within the header area.
  • 61% included a drawing with their name, usually an emblem, like a university seal.


  • 58% included an authorís name, in three primary formats: Personal names; General names like Webmaster; Department or Committee names.
  • 70% listed contact information.
  • 67.5% used an e-mail address, usually linked to the hypertext tag.
  • 43% included the authorís institutional affiliation, usually by mentioning either the library or the university.
  • 3% included mailing addresses.
  • 67% used hypertext links.


This section is divided into three areas: Graphics, Links, and Text:


  • 98% included digital images.
  • 53% used buttons and icons.
  • 24% used tables. Drawings/Graphics that were not used as clickable buttons or icons were included in 34% of the pages. Different types of divider lines were used: 67.5% used the (Horizontal Rule) tag.
  • 16% used a digital image of a divider line.
  • 7.5% used a combination of tags and digital divider lines.


  • 98% used text-based links.
  • Average of 22 links.
  • Two pages had only 5 links, and one page had 81 links.
  • 91% used the default color for text-based links (usually blue).
  • Graphic-based links were found at 63% of the web sites.
  • 55.5% used button-style links.
  • Image maps were found at 16% of the home pages.

Unlinked Text:

  • 117 out of 120 ARL libraries used unlinked text on their home pages.
  • Amount of text on pages varied from 1 line to 51 lines. The average number = 10.
  • 91% used the default font size and color for the text.
  • 55% used some type of text header to separate different sections within the page.

Page Length:

For this study, page length was determined by using the Print Preview command in Netscape.

  • 68% were 1 page long.
  • 29% were 2 pages long.
  • 2 home pages were 3 pages long.
  • 1 home page was 4 pages long.

Number of Steps to Page from Parent Institution Site:

  • 44% of home pages could be found in one step.
  • 37.5% could be found in two steps.
  • 10% could be found in three steps.
  • 1 page was buried under four steps.

Domain Name Servers:

Determined by the URL of the home page.

  • If the library has itís own server, the URL usually follows this style: www.lib.name-of-university.edu
  • If the page isnít housed on a library server, the URL might look like this: www.name-of-university.edu/academic/services/site_1/ buildings/Smith library/library.html
  • 64% used the format that indicated the library housed the server.
  • 36% used the format that indicated that a server outside the library was used to house the home page.

The Typical ARL Library Home Page:

Using the statistics that were taken from this project, a clear picture of a typical ARL library home page emerges.

Typical Backgrounds:

  • 50/50 chance that the page uses a background image or color.
  • If used, it will be a solid color, probably white or tan.

Typical Headers:

  • The name of the library is displayed, probably in a digital image format.
  • This image will mention both the name of the library and the university, probably like this: University Libraries at the University of Southern Mississippi.
  • The header probably doesnít include any hypertext links.
  • There might be some type of digital image included with the name of the library, like an official university seal.

Typical Footer:

  • Some type of author/maintainer is listed, probably as a general name like Webmaster.
  • The name is linked to a <MAILTO:> tag.
  • The authorís institutional affiliation is listed.
  • Some hypertext links are included in the footer area, like a link to the parent institutionís home page.
  • A revision date for the home page is given.

Typical Body Graphics:

  • (Horizontal Rule) lines are used for dividers between sections of the document.
  • Buttons are used to link to important places, like the library catalog.

Typical Body Links:

  • Links included are mostly text-based links.
  • The default link color is used.
  • Some links include a brief description of content, while others provide no explanation other than that found within the link text, like ďLibrary Catalog.Ē
  • Most graphic-based links will appear as clickable buttons.
  • These buttons include a description along with the button, usually a word or phrase located on the button.
  • There will be about 22 links on the page.

Typical Body Text:

  • There are approximately 10 lines of unlinked text.
  • The text consists of a brief welcome message or a description of different hypertext links found on the page.
  • The default text size is used.
  • A text header is used to separate different sections of the home page, and can be either linked or unlinked text.

Additional Highlights:

  • The page is approximately one page long.
  • It can be found from the parent institutionís main web site in one or two steps.
  • The library most likely houses the server for the home page within the library.

Copyright 1997 David King Created: December 8, 1997

© 2005 David King · email: davidleeking [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com · AIM: squagmar