John Carter Brown Library

Connecting precious collections to the world 

Opening in 1904, the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University preserves one of the world’s most outstanding collections of primary resources. With a refreshed mission statement that elevates their collection’s role in connecting communities to the history and culture of the Americas, they came to Message Agency to redesign their website and make the collections accessible to anyone around the world.


Various Computer devices showing layouts of the John Carter Brown Library website



The Challenge

The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University (JCB) boasts one of the world's most impressive and extensive collections of manuscripts, maps, and books of early Americana, covering North and South America from Pre-Columbian times to 1825.  But its treasures appeared to be locked behind the 20-foot steel doors of a building with few windows and an imposing edifice. New leadership at the Library sought not only to open up access to its collections for remote scholars but also to demonstrate for broader audiences how these primary sources detailing the process of colonization and lost languages and cultures have tremendous relevance for today’s world.  With a rich set of material to present online, the JCB needed a sophisticated and flexible content strategy that satisfied the needs of academics and curious browsers alike.

The Solution

JCB partnered with Message Agency to reimagine its web presence as it also sought a rebrand—from the development of detailed personas and user journeys to identify the needs of current and aspirational audiences to constructing online exhibition-building tools and thematic browsing experiences using some of the latest Drupal 8 modules.  Understanding that academics would easily find the digital tools they needed to perform research, we focused the site’s organization and content strategy on the browsing experience of more distal users.  We used metadata to present information according to theme, time period, geography, language and other categories to help highlight key items in the collection, while telling an intuitive story about their relevance  and context.

John Carter Brown Library wireframe and mockup samples

John Carter Brown Library collage of website layouts


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