Creating Library Newsletters on the World Wide Web
by Amy W. Boykin and Andrea Kross
The Captain John Smith Library has produced a library newsletter for many years. As the Library's web presence expanded, it was logical to add the full text of our newsletter. This brought up some interesting challenges as we were forced to think about the differences between print and electronic media: loading an exact duplicate of the print version was not feasible. Through trial and error, and by consulting the literature and other web versions of newsletters, we have found some answers to the question, "How do you go about creating an effective web version of your library's newsletter?"
Some elements may remain the same in both the print and electronic versions, such as the content. Ideas for library newsletter content include reviews of new acquisitions, introductions of new services and technologies, having a reader's advisory, answering frequently asked questions, spotlighting various departments of the library (e.g. technical services, media, interlibrary loan) or communicating changed hours, changed telephone numbers or contact information.
For any newsletter, the content is determined by identifying your audience. Information that will interest faculty and staff may not appeal to students, for example. While a print format newsletter has a limited and controlled distribution, the web version is accessible to anyone and everyone. This means that the audience has suddenly broadened. Our print newsletter was distributed to faculty and staff, with a few left over for students or community patrons to pick up if they were interested. With the move to the web, it is accessible to more student and community patrons and also to people who have never been to our Library. Instead of the Library staff deciding who will receive it, readers self select. They may not be using Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer to access the Internet, and even if they are, they may not be able to view frames or access java-encoded information. An important consideration is how text browsers such as Lynx will display text and links to other sites.
While this may seem like a limitation, there are many options that will work for most browsers. A variety of list formats (such as ordered or numbered lists) can be used to present information. Use a series of heading levels to indicate relative font size, such as <h1>, <h2>, etc. (Maxymuk, 168). Non-dithering or web-safe colors are the best; these 216 colors are not browser-dependent. Use text mark-up tags that are logical, giving the full meaning instead of an ambiguous letter in the html coding, such as <strong> instead of <b> (Maxymuk, 161). Several web sites show what the non-dithering colors are and how to use logical tags.  While it is okay to use backgrounds, color, and special effects, they should not take away from the text. Remember that the main thrust of your newsletter is to present information. Instead of trying to be fancy, use basic web tools and aim for simple elegance. (Maxymuk, 169)
John Maxymuk (p. 168) has five basic recommendations to keep in mind when creating a newsletter on the Internet; the last may be the hardest to accomplish.
1. Keep the text clear and legible.
2. Give prominence to the most important features/information.
3. White space should be ample; the page shouldn't look cluttered.
4. Graphics should be large enough to be seen but not so large that they overwhelm the screen/text.
5. The mix of text, white space and graphics should be balanced, consistent and pleasing.
The first basic element, text, is crucial in transmitting the desired information. Be sure to check grammar, spelling and punctuation. Organize the text in a logical fashion; it should flow smoothly. Software such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft FrontPage is helpful in converting the text into html. Of course, the html coding can be done manually, which allows more control over how the web page/newsletter will look.
Unlike the print edition of the newsletter where the placement of text and graphics is important, placement in the web edition is not as critical. Generally, the best place to put prominent information is at the top of the web page. However, a clickable table of contents listing all the sections and headlines at the top of the newsletter will let the reader go directly to the section of interest. This also helps people know what to expect from this edition of the newsletter: all the options are listed in one place. Remember to include a link at the end of each section to take the reader back to the top of the newsletter. Keep in mind that there will be people who will want to read the newsletter from beginning to end. For this reason, it is better to put the newsletter on one long web page than to make separate web pages for each section.
One of the areas where we encountered difficulty was in transferring graphics. Clip art for print versions of newsletters can be bought, found in word processing or desktop publishing programs, or found on the Internet (look for copyright-free clip art, of course). Graphic files come in a variety of formats. For print newsletters, it is worthwhile to convert bitmap files to vector graphic files. Software like Lview, WinJPEG or Adobe Photoshop facilitate conversion. Vector graphic file formats (.cgm, .eps and .wmf) are important because graphics have true curves and will resize neatly. On the other hand, web pages load better if the graphics are in either .gif or .jpg formats; graphic files can often be converted into the necessary formats using the software mentioned above. Some formatting, such as nameplates, mastheads, tables, and even some graphics, will not transform smoothly. In these cases you may want to search for an alternate graphic. The Internet is the best source for .gif and .jpg graphics; many web sites offer free and copyright-free graphics for use on web pages.  Keep in mind the intent of the graphic, which is to say in pictures what you are saying in the text. Avoid trite, meaningless, or tasteless graphics: if it is not related to the message, leave it out. It is best to keep the size of the graphic file small (under 20k) so that the page will load quickly and the graphic will not detract from the text. (Maxymuk, 169)
In both print and web versions, keep the newsletter presentation simple. (Maxymuk, 196) Use graphics sparingly, leaving plenty of white (or background color) space. Maintain a single style throughout the newsletter; consistency improves readability.
For ideas on formatting web pages and to see how the web elements work together, look at other web sites. There are many other libraries with newsletters on the Internet - Bluefield College, Bridgewater College, College of William & Mary--to mention a few.  By using the browser's "View Codes" or "View Page Source" commands it is possible to see how the text or graphic is manipulated to look a certain way.
Remember that the library's newsletter, whether in print or electronic format, is a reflection of the library and its staff. It is a public relations tool: make it a positive one.
- For a chart of non-dithering colors - (http://www.xnet.com/~efflandt/pub/ccblack.html); Information about html tags (http://cgi1.geocities.com/SiliconValley/6763/reference.html) "HTML Reference page."
- Supplemental information, such as links to free clipart and a bibliography of sources used for our VLA presentation in October 1998, is available at (http://www.cnu.edu/library/newsltrs.html).
- Internet addresses for the web newsletters include Bluefield College (http://www.bluefield.edu/library/index.html), Bridgewater College (http://www.bridgewater.edu/departments/library/anotes.htm), and the College of William and Mary (http://www.swem.wm.edu/Newsletters/newsletters.html). Christopher Newport University newsletters, called Bookends, are available on the Library Information page. (http://www.cnu.edu/library/libinfo.html)
Maxymuk, John. Using Desktop Publishing to Create Newsletters, Handouts and Web Pages. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1997.
Amy W. Boykin is Assistant Reference Librarian, and Andrea Kross is Catalog Librarian at Christopher Newport University's Captain John Smith Library.