Vancouver Public Library: vpl.ca redesign and redevelopment

OXD’s 2008 revamp of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) website went on to become a design reference throughout the library community.


When the Vancouver Public Library wanted to redesign their website in 2007, the navigation structure had essentially been unchanged since its 1996 launch. While the Library wanted to take advantage of many improvements in web user experience practices and increased user sophistication, they also wanted to begin leveraging social web tools to reach their patrons. Behind the scenes, the VPL desperately needed to escape managing their site through some 1,400— mostly static—HTML files.

Identifying user centred design objectives

Our comprehensive user research process— which utilized surveys, patron and staff interviews, observational research at multiple branches, and focus groups—found several key opportunities for the library to achieve its vision of a “virtual branch.” From there we produced a family of library personas, and discovered that even loyal patrons were not aware of the breadth and depth of library services available. A content audit discovered a wealth of valuable librarian-curated resources buried deep within the site hierarchy. We then worked with partner agencies on the visual design and usability testing for this project.

Bringing the virtual branch to life


The site was redesigned to expose the previously hidden range of library services and highlight the unique research guides and lists that the VPL had developed. We recommended a “mash-up rather than build-up” approach to integrating social web—allowing librarians to manage their lists through the delicious.com social bookmark tool and have them appear on the site via the new ExpressionEngine Content Management System. The new vpl.ca made itself more welcoming to patrons by providing essential library information in multiple languages and by letting site users customize their vpl.ca homepage with hours from their area branch.


The vpl.ca redesign achieved its user centred design objectives. VPL staff described the site as “very patron-centric” and it has remained a design reference within the library community. The Library began to realize truly how easy the new site was to use when only a handful of patrons system-wide felt the need to register for the “Using the New Website” training sessions. The personas developed for the project resonated very strongly with VPL staff – “I know this guy!” exclaimed one workshop participant – and will offer a reference point for site enhancements well into the future.