Library students help agencies make web sites more accessible

May 10, 2004

by Barbara Wolff

Assorted state agencies and libraries in Madison will be peppered at the end of this semester with enhanced-accessibility Web projects conceived, designed and executed by students in the Information Architecture class in the School of Library and Information Studies at UW-Madison.

The class has been a fixture, and a popular one, in SLIS for the last four years. This year, however, the digital accent has been on improving site accessibility for all users in keeping with federal standards adopted by the university.

Instructor Kristin Eschenfelder has taught the class since its inception. She says the new accessibility standards for information systems enhances Web site design overall.

"It's part of our professional ethos to make information available to as many people as we can, so we consider accessibility issues very important," she says.

This semester, the class' list of clients has included the state Department of Health and Family Services Food Safety and Recreational Licensing, Elderly Resources, and Adoption and Foster Care offices; the departments of Transportation and Natural Resources; the UW-Madison Memorial Library preservation department, Geography Library and Primate Center Library; Social Science Microcomputing Lab; the Lindberg Elementary School Library; Aura Vintage Clothing on State St. and the Monona Public Library, for which Nicole Fromm, a SLIS graduate student, is completing a project.

"We're redesigning their Web site to help people find what they need more easily and quickly. We're also updating the appearance of the site," Fromm says. "To do this, we've had to study the library, its Web site users and the community."

Tom Tews, UW-Madison geography librarian, has been working with three students from the class to update the library's site. He says that the experience was one of those eye-openers you hear about.

"During the process I could see how outdated our Web page had become - it's been several years since we've updated it. The students are redesigning the whole page with rollovers and quick links, things in regular use in library Web pages everywhere. When we're finished it's going to take fewer clicks to get to where you want to go," he says.