The Free Library of Philadelphia

Making the public aware of free digital resources

Free Library Logo.jpg

This case study focuses on the discovery portion of the design process in which I conducted generative research to find and understand a problem.

I completed this project individually as part of a course to learn and practice Information Architecture techniques.


  1. understand the current digital experiences of the Free Library website

  2. find content discovery or navigation problems

  3. propose solution to improve digital experience with updates to the information architecture of the website

Project Goals



User Interviews

I interviewed 3 participants that have used digital resources of the Free library of Philadelphia in the past year. Here is an empathy map representing their combined goals and perspectives. 

Their main priorities in regards to the Free Library are to easily find, reserve and renew books online as well as to find events.


Empathy Map Representing Interview Participants


Current State Usability Testing

Since the primary use case is finding and reserving books I wanted to see if there were any significant usability issues in this process. I had 2 participants conducted the following task: Sign up for a library card then find and reserve a book to pick up later

I created a journey map to show where their pain points were. Though there were confusing moments in the process of signing up for a library card, participants were able to complete the task without major frustration.

I kept digging for a problem to solve.


Journey Map: Signing up for a library card and reserving a book for pickup


Switching Directions


When telling people about this project many expressed interest but then followed up to say they don’t use the free library. When I asked why, it was because they were not aware what resources or services were offered beyond borrowing books.

Content Audit

I investigated this further by conducting a content audit of their website content. I assumed it would mostly be a database of their available books. I was surprised to find that aside from the database, the bulk of their content were blog posts written about random informational topics or outside links to more information.


Content Audit



Intrigued by what I found in the content audit, I created a survey to test my assumptions. I wanted to understand about public library websites:

  • the top tasks people do

  • what kind of content or resources people expect to see


Survey Questions

Recruiting Survey Participants on Twitter

Survey Administered with Google Forms


Survey Population

135 total responses, Sample size is 110

I excluded responses from people that:

  • primarily use university libraries

  • have not used public library in the past 2 years.

  • had incomplete or contradicting results


Survey Results

Most frequent tasks done on the public library website:

  • 71% reserve eBooks, audiobooks, and other digital media

  • 65% reserve physical books

  • 37% look for events

  • Only 11.3% read information about different topics

Snippet from Free Library of Philadelphia Strategy

Snippet from Free Library of Philadelphia Strategy


Based on my research and the strategy of the Free Library of Philadelphia here is the problem I found: 

Visitors to free library website are not able to quickly see digital capabilities and resources offered.

Therefore, the library is likely missing out on converting new patrons. Existing users may not be taking full advantage of services offered.



Deprioritize informational content and highlight digital media offerings prominently on the homepage.



Feature Maps Current State vs Recommendation

If you look at the homepage in its current state and simplify it you would see the bulk of the content is blog content. Here I demonstrate how we can make digital resources more prominent while also keeping the blog content.



Homepage Current State

Feature Map Current State

Recommended Feature Map Future State


Design Improvements

  • digital resources are highlighted at the top of the page

  • blog content remains on page for SEO reasons though less prominent

  • call to action "Get a Library Card" is more prominent

  • ability to search for books or content is easier and larger to be more readable


Wireframe Layout Recommendation


Next Steps

  • Usability testing to ensure key tasks are clear from the homepage and that digital resources is noticeable.

  • Further content strategy and information architecture work on subsequent pages to ensure digital resources are easy to access from the home page.



What I Learned

This project and the course in which it was assigned was my introduction to Information Architecture and allowed me to gain some practice using different research methods like content audits. 

It was also a good reminder to test assumptions and be open-minded. You never know where the research will take you.  I thought that I would find problems in one area and turns out there were bigger problems in other areas. In this case the openness of the course allowed me to switch directions, but only because I had the data to backup my recommendations. I know in the workforce this may not be as easy, so I'll need to be prepared with a compelling argument for every recommendation and design decision that is founded in both business strategy and user goals.


Talisha possesses a remarkable ability to truly listen. Whether you’re discussing a complex user problem, or the tacos you had for lunch, Talisha is committed to fully understanding your experience.