In 1980 Aaron Lansky, a 24-year-old grad student in Yiddish literature, realized that thousands of books in Yiddish were being destroyed by Jews who could not read the language of their parents and grandparents. He set out to rescue these works, to disseminate them, and to promote wider understanding of their content and their place in history. Today, after recovering more than a million volumes, the Yiddish Book Center (based in Amherst, Massachusetts) is a leading Jewish cultural organization, primarily responsible for the current revival of Yiddish studies. The main About Us page is Who We Are.
OVERALL GRADE: A
Bravo to the Yiddish Book Center for an About Us page that begins with a pithy summary of the organization’s mission: “The Yiddish Book Center is a non-profit organization working to tell the whole Jewish story by rescuing, translating, and disseminating Yiddish books and presenting innovative educational programs that broaden understanding of modern Jewish identity.” Then come specifics of the organization’s activities (fellowships, translations, oral histories) and a summary of its status (“one of the world’s largest, liveliest, and most original Jewish organizations”). For those who want more, the page ends with a link to Our Story. A lovely photo shows the Center in its rural setting. A sidebar offers information from the founder and ways to join the Center’s mailing list or follow it on social media. All this is elegantly laid out to fit into less than 2 screens on a laptop. (The goat silhouette, which recurs throughout the site, is a nice light-hearted touch.)
Our Story is also top-notch. It focuses on the founder: the problem he saw (Yiddish books being destroyed) and his solution (send out volunteers to collect them). Then the narrative segues to the Center’s current activities and its plans for the future. The sidebar on this page links to the founder’s memoirs: an excellent choice, given that those who have read so far are clearly interested in the Center’s history.
We commend what may seem a minor detail of the layout: the caption beneath the video. It tells us what the video contains and that it’s award-winning, which helps us to decide whether to invest 13 minutes to watch it.
Given that Our Story is a good narrative, we don’t miss headings and photos as much as we often do when confronted with a page of dense text. Still, images of some of the more spectacular of the Center’s “rescue efforts” would make great illustrations - and might even benefit the center by teaching people who are completely ignorant of Yiddish to recognize it.
Kudos to the Yiddish Book Center for keeping founder and president Aaron Lansky front and center. On the Staff page, he’s hauling a box of books. Images are crucial in setting a mood on any web page, and this image makes it immediately obvious that the Center is a down-to-earth organization run by a guy who’s willing to lend a hand to get things done.
Visually, the extra space given to his bio makes it obvious that he’s the Center’s directing force. Oddly, many corporate leadership pages are severely egalitarian: you wouldn’t know who the head honcho was from the space given on the page layout.
Our Commandment 4 of About Us pages is, “Don’t take your own name in vain.” Lansky’s bio mentions coverage of the Center by the New York Times, Time, and Smithsonian, as well as “numerous awards and recognitions.” Why not link to the articles and list the awards? That would reinforce the fact that the Center is doing a superlative job at fulfilling its mission.
We hoped to find links to such information on the News page, but found only a list of the Center’s blog entries – interesting and well laid out, but not the sort of affirmation that comes from outside recognition.
High points to the Center also for its Contact page, accessible via the footer and the top navigation bar. This page offers an impressive choice of 12 email addresses. Incidentally, the vintage typewriter is cute, but we’d still prefer to see some photos of the books the Center has rescued.
Especially if your founder is still in charge, use his passion to set the tone for your About Us pages and to help explain your company’s mission.
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