Commitment to Client Group

Building a Kid-Friendly Catalog Alternative

Few things at the library are less child-friendly than the online catalog. To work a catalog, you need to have reading, writing, and typing skills that kids have not yet learned. Plus, a keyword search works best if you already know the title you want to read. What if a patron wants to browse to find their next favorite book? To make our online catalog more kid-friendly, I built a second website called the Just for You Website that is designed especially for kids. A kid-friendly catalog is easy to build at any library, and can often be created for free.

The Just for You website focuses on clickable images. The home page features four icons from children’s books: Pete the Cat, Katie Woo, Nikki Maxwell from Dork Diaries, and the caricatures from Who HQ. Patrons can decide what part of the collection they want to browse by clicking on a picture. Then, they see different book covers. Each book cover is from a different kind of book, such as “Animal Picture Books” or “Mystery J Fiction”. After choosing the genre they want to read, they see a page of six different books. Once they decide which one they want, they are redirected to the library’s catalog to place a hold.

The website is based on clickable images. Images are great because they work with patrons of different reading levels. Even if a patron can’t read the words “Picture Books”, they can look at a picture of Pete the Cat and understand that this part of the website is about picture books. It also makes it easier for patrons to discover new books. Rather than trying to figure out what keyword search to use, they can simply browse like they would on a shelf and click on the cover they find intriguing.

I also built an interactive Reader’s Advisory quiz called “What Should I Read?”. This quiz was built using Scratch, which our patrons learn in the local school districts. <Screen shot courtesy of guest blogger.>

A screenshot of the What Should I Read? Quiz from the Just for You! Website. Created by Ann Baillie of the Alsip-Merrionette Park Public Library.

The quiz works by clicking on balloons and coins to find out what book you should read. It also makes sounds to help keep patrons engaged, like an exciting drumroll before announcing what book you should read. With fun graphics and sounds, it is much more interactive than traditional Reader’s Advisory Databases. It can recommend fifty-six different books, based on a patron’s choices. I chose to build our program in Scratch so that it would feel familiar to patrons who use it.

I also worked to make sure our website was inclusive. The books feature characters of different races,
ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and abilities. It also includes bilingual books and books written entirely
in Spanish, so that everyone can see themselves in the collection. I also made sure to follow the W3C’s
Website Content Accessibility Guidelines by choosing fonts that had a high contrast, and by adding Alt
Texts to each image and link to make the site accessible to screen readers.

Even if you don’t have coding experience, you can easily make a website for your own library. Free
website building platforms contain templates that you can customize. You can just add pages, text, and
images as you need, without being required to code. These templates also help you follow Accessibility
Guidelines. You can even use analytics features to track site usage for library stakeholders. If you wanted
to add a Reader’s Advisory quiz, you could use free online survey generators. Then, as you build the
Reader’s Advisory Quiz, you can have patrons see different questions and books based on their answers.

If you want to help make a more kid-friendly catalog, consider building a website that’s based around images instead of words. By moving past keyword searching to letting patrons browse a website like they would your physical collection, you can help your youngest patrons discover their next favorite book.

Today’s guest contributor is Ann Baillie. Ann is the Youth Services Assistant Manager at the Alsip-Merrionette Park Public Library in Alsip, Illinois and a member of ALSC. She is focused on the intersection of Reader’s Advisory and technology to help every kid find their new favorite book.


  1. Ann

    This is fabulous!!!! How did you get your director on board with this idea? Was it difficult to put together. I’d love more information about ease of construction, cost, and logistics.

    1. Ann Baillie

      Hello, Ann! Thank you! Are you thinking of creating a website like this for your library? To get my stakeholders on board with the idea, I talked about how it could be useful for both patrons and staff from a readers’ advisory standpoint. The benefit of this website over others is that it is 100% within our control, and that it was something I could do myself. I used that to get buy-in to build the site initially (at my library, we get goals every six months, and this was one of my goals), and after we saw that patrons did use the site, I was able to keep going.

      Putting it together is pretty easy. There are no costs associated with the website and quiz in themselves – the only costs associated with it our my staff time. I built the website with Google Sites, which hosts the website for free and has free templates, so you just upload images and type in text into the template. Google Sites also has another account called Google Analytics, which provides usage data for free. I spend about 1.5-2.5 hours a week working on updating the website – I go back and forth between updating what is on the J Fic/J Non-Fic pages one month, and Picture Books/Blue Dots another month. Every month I also update New Titles we just added to the collection. I have a URL posted to our library’s webpage that patrons can click to access the site, and we advertise it on social media and in physical posters around the library as well.

      For the quiz, I have a free Scratch account that I also use when demonstrating coding in library programs. The quiz takes longer to build and create, so I update it once every 3 months. I spend that time deciding which books I want to feature on the new quiz, and writing the actual code. It’s not exactly hard to make the quiz, but it is time-consuming (I would estimate it takes about 8-10 hours to make a quiz that recommends 56 books), but the feature is really nice when it’s done, so we agreed as a library it’s worth it.

      How you would want to organize it logistically would depend on each library. I am the only person in my library who updates the site, but if you wanted to have multiple people work on it, you could do that, too. For the quiz, even though it’s time consuming I think it might be easier to have just 1 staff member write the code. Otherwise, it gets confusing how much of the code is actually written, and what part of the code you were on. The good news is that for both Google Sites and Scratch, you can work and save changes before making them public. I work on the website and quiz every week, and then publish changes at the beginning on the month. That makes it easier to balance updating the site and quiz with all the other tasks we do as youth librarians.

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