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A Foreign Affair:

A Library Website in Spain

Maura Walsh

The website of the Biblioteca Nacional de España underwent a major update in May,
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2006. Having very occasionally had reason to access the old site, I was quite surprised to find it

redone so completely that my first reaction was that perhaps I had the wrong page. I

immediately thought that the change was quite pleasing aesthetically and I would find that it was

also quite an improvement technologically. Let’s examine the ‘context, content and users’ as

defined by Morgan.

In this case the context is somewhat unique. The BNE could be considered the Spanish

language equivalent to the Library of Congress. It was established in 1712, and is a depository

library for everything published in Spain. It also actively collects Spanish language publications

from other countries. The website serves ordinary users, professional researchers and library

professionals. There are different types of library cards according to the profession of the user

and detailed information on how to solicit one and who can qualify for each type. There is also

ample and easily attainable information on how to access the material, almost none of which is

available in open stacks. I think this rather complicated information is well explained in an easily

followed series of pages that take the potential user through the necessary steps.

Content here creates a big problem because of the volume of information available. There

are many different collections, events, virtual components, catalogs, specialized search engines

and online reference services. There are annual reports and full texts of complex laws. There is

even a special page, the last of the seven top lateral buttons, to express your opinion about the

site or the library. When you search you are offered the possibility of a super search that includes

results in all the Spanish universities, the collective bibliographic patrimony of Spain, the

Library of Congress, the British Library Integrated Catalogue, SUDOC (Superintendent of

Documents), OCLC and CSIC (Spanish National Research Council). I think that the homepage

is very clean and inviting. It is amazing to find all that is contained within the site. I especially
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like the color coding and boxes that divide the main areas by activities, news and answers. Each

of twelve boxes displays logos for different areas of interest. I think this layout invites the user to

explore areas that might stay hidden if they were not highlighted. I loved the ‘Noche en Blanco’,

or Sleepless Night, that turned out to be a theatrical celebration of 500 years of traditional

knights’ tales being held on the front steps of the library (Think Metropolitan Museum of Art) the

13th of September at 10 and 11 pm and 12 and 1 am.

Which brings me to the user: just below the Main logo in the upper left-hand corner are

two buttons: researcher and librarian. These lead directly to pages with simple, vertical,

alphabetical lists of different areas of interest. These are clear and fairly straight forward and

include special services, events, and collections available. If you know what you want and it’s

there, it is a good system. If you’re not sure what you need, you may be chasing some dead ends

before finding the correct place. If you’re really unlucky, there is an ask-the-librarian option.

In such a complicated site, there are some good concessions to the inexperienced user as

well. .Below the specialist buttons are a series of links in the form of questions that appear very

non-threatening: ‘What is the library? What is in the library? What can the library do for me?

What can I do in the library? How do I search in the library?’ Since Spain has one of the lowest

reading rates in Europe, and people there have been using internet for a much shorter time than

in other places, this is a very nice approach. There are also links to all the Spanish libraries,

municipal, private and public, which can be searched by name, location, type, and province and

even in foreign countries. Once you select one of the general questions you are taken to a page

that then lists a series of options in a left-hand column with (usually) a complete answer to the

question. Sometimes the areas from the left-hand column are also hyperlinked within the body of

the text. There are rarely any illustrations on these pages, just text, which may be a bit onerous to
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some users.

One feature that is prominently displayed, yet functions only half-heartedly, is the

language button. This is actually the first top button to the left of the logo that remains constant

on each page. If you select this option, you are taken to page that offers the four national

languages as well as English and French. Unfortunately, after you select the language you may or

may not continue in that language for a few pages and then you’re back to Spanish with no

explanation. I think that while that may be reasonable or acceptable with English or French.

However, with the official Spanish languages, like Catalan or Basque, I find it rather shocking.

This website is fairly easy to navigate, presents an amazing amount of information, and is

a pleasing to use. There are many interesting things to explore if you have time, so it is a good

advertisement for the library. In most cases it it also seems easy to find information if you are

more pressed for time. It was very interesting to see the evolution of the page on the Wayback

Machine. All in all, it’s been a very successful evolution from both the users’ and the library’s

point of view, and presents its content in a pleasing context..
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Alexander, J. E. & Tate, M. A. (1999). Web Wisdom: How to evaluate and create information

quality on the web. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Eribaum Associates, Inc.

Biblioteca Nacional de Espana Retrieved September 9, 2008, from Web site: Retrieved September 9, 2008, from Wayback Machine Web site:*/

Elam, K. (2008 August 28). Web Design by Designers. Retrieved September 6, 2008, from

Didital web magazine Web site:

Garlock, K.L % Piontek, S. (1996). Building the service based library website:A step by step

guide to design and options. Chicago, IL: ALA.

Morgan, E. L. (2007 March 15). Redesigning the library. Retrieved September 9, 2008, from

University of Notre Dame libraries Web site: