Help at the point of need - 404 error pages - Jo Alcock Consulting
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Help at the point of need – 404 error pages

Help at the point of need – 404 error pages

I’m always impressed with simple ideas to help users at their point of need, whether that’s physical signs when libraries can be confusing, or pointers to help users on the library website.

Something which impressed me last year was the idea of adding help to error pages on the library catalogue. Following examples such as David Lee King at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, many libraries added Meebo widgets to error pages of their OPACs so that when users could not find what they were looking for on the OPAC they could immediately ask for help from a virtual librarian via Meebo.

Another great example of a library website error page was brought to my attention by Smashing Magazine yesterday, who wrote a post reviewing 404 error pages. One example in their post was from Chelmsford Public library who have a great error page:

404 not found page at Chelmsford Public Library

404 not found page at Chelmsford Public Library (click on image to see live version)

What a great idea! I love their library shelf image, and they also have numerous links below the image to direct users to where they can get help. Very simple but effective.

Anyone else know of good error pages or examples where you found help when you needed it online?

Edited to add: Just found a blog post by Brian Herzog (AKA Swiss Army Librarian), the reference librarian who produced the 404 error page for Chelmsford. He also mentions a Flickr group of library 404 error pages but so far there’s not much there. I’ll definitely be asking about a user-friendly error page as part of our web refresh project, even if it’s just links of where to go for further help.

  • Matt Wilcox
    Posted at 22:36h, 31 January Reply

    Error pages are a great place for any designer. You can so easily turn a naff experience into a good one simply by handling it right. I love quirky 404 pages. Some are hilarious, some are really clever, some are both. There’s been a lot of stuff written about 404’s over the years, and yet so many remain generic un-helpful, un-amusing browser based “404 – error not found” messages.

    There’s a flickr pool of other HTTP code images too, but I can’t find them šŸ™

  • Ben Elwell
    Posted at 12:30h, 01 February Reply

    I read the article in Smashing Magazine yesterday too, and I was impressed by Chelmsford’s 404 page.

    No need to even ask for something like this with our web refresh project – it’s already on my list. The challenge is going to be creating something original and amusing for our 404 pages (and useful too of course!!). Need to figure out what options I have in the new CMS first though.

    Let me know if you have any brilliant ideas for it.

  • Jo Alcock
    Posted at 15:21h, 01 February Reply

    Thanks Ben, I thought it might be something you’d already thought about and am very glad it is. šŸ™‚

  • Ben Elwell
    Posted at 19:35h, 01 February Reply

    Don’t thank me just yet. At the moment, most of my work involves removing useful features from my plans in order to get the site into the new CMS. I don’t know what capabilities immediacy has for 404 pages.

    I was just going to see what we have as our current 404 page, but it looks as though our website has fallen over again after the upgrade. At this rate, the 404 page will be the least of my worries :S

  • Jo Alcock
    Posted at 20:13h, 01 February Reply

    Ahhh, that could explain why my test yesterday didn’t work as I had the exact same thought and tried extension /joeyanne to see what our error page was like.

    Looks like our website may well have been down all weekend then. :S

  • Ben Elwell
    Posted at 11:54h, 02 February Reply

    Apparently it was up and down all weekend. There are still issues with the stability of it after the recent upgrade :S

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