Cultural Heritage

A UKOLN Blog for the Cultural Heritage sector (now archived)

M@x at The Zone in Devon

Posted by guestblogger on July 12th, 2010

About this Guest blog post

Lynda Bowler gives her personal view on how M@x the library dog became the focus of Devon Libraries Web site for children, The Zone.

Lynda is Public Access and Web Officer for Devon Libraries and can be contacted at

M@x at The Zone in Devon

I first met M@x in 2003. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate the significant impact this little fellow would have on both in on my career with Devon Libraries and my life in general, but over the next 6 years all that would change!

It was earlier that year when I first started to really think about our ‘offer’ to children on the library website. I had recently secured the post of IT Assistant – and with it responsibility for our library web pages. Like many library authorities, our content on children’s services was just that – information aimed more at parents than the children themselves. We seemed to be missing a trick and this troubled me.

We wanted to show libraries as fun places to be, provide incentives to read and interact with libraries, for children to make the site their own and visit it often. To do this there needed to be a focus or central character and who better to help design this than …well children.

Wordle screenshot

Wordle brainstorm. Image courtesy of Lynda Bowler

Luckily I had some I’d prepared earlier! My son James and daughter Emily fell neatly into age range of our target audience for the new-look site – so we set to work. We talked about what the character might be like and used a word cloud to help describe it. Then we all grabbed paper and pencils and started to draw. Before too long M@x emerged – however a 2D character didn’t seem convincing – if this was going to work M@x had to be a ‘real dog’ in full 3 dimensional technicolour.  Taking inspiration from Wallace & Gromit I set about making a model M@x. He made his debut in October 2003 when my colleague Paula (then Devon Libraries Children’s Librarian) and I presented him to Strategic Management Team (SMT).

M@x on skateboard image

3-D M@x on skateboard. Image courtesy of Lynda Bowler

So we were good to go. SMT liked the idea – gave us the green light and a modest budget to work with (6K). We formed a project team which included a mix of front-line staff and specialists and we were away! Early 2004 saw a teeny-weeny spanner in the works of our grand design in the form of e-Government. Whilst we’d been busy planning whizzy things for our new website – corporately the freedom was being withdrawn as new branded templates and site structure were being introduced across the authority. We put our project on hold whilst getting down to the work of migrating pages to the new site. We now had to demonstrate to the ‘powers that be’ how our very non-Devon County Council looking site could work within the branded templates. Clearly ‘the force was with us’ – as we convinced the e-Government Team to support our project. They even chipped in some funding for the design work! Why would they do this? Well, I guess it was a good pilot project for DCC to fully test the Content Management environment and how well it could support additional templates outside of the main corporate ones. Lucky us!

Newsletter screenshot

M@x in space. Image courtesy of Lynda Bowler

The site launched on World Book Day 2005 and within a very short time our site stats went through the roof. Visits were increased by 500%. We received 100 entries for our first online competition (with equal number of entries from boys and girls) and over 360 contributions for the site within the first 3 months. We enjoyed great publicity, including an article on the BBC SW website and later that year a prestigious gold award from CILIP PPRG for a Multi-media and website promotion. The positive ‘spin’ was enormous – from demonstrating libraries can make a difference to children’s lives, develop their love of books and reading, valuing and rewarding creativity, making libraries fun and increasing use.

Newsletter screenshot

M@x goes Pole 2 Pole. Image courtesy of Lynda Bowler

The site has gone from strength to strength – and although we’ve had to cut an edition (we’re all feeling the pinch) the site is still updated quarterly which gives us the opportunity to promote major national campaigns like the Summer Reading Challenge, Family Learning/Big Draw and a host of others – but on a more local level.

In 2007 we sent out a prize survey to ask children what they thought of the site and how we could improve it. We received over 700 responses. These were evaluated and a recommendation made to redesign the site and proved some additional content by popular demand! Although children really liked 3D M@x – we decided to opt for the more flexible 2D cartoon version – this would enable us to show him doing things that ‘model M@x’ couldn’t do (swimming for example) and give me some ‘time off’! M@x was becoming quite demanding and I was spending more and more of my ‘home time’ generally looking after him, knitting him sweaters and setting-up his photo-shoots!  Again due to the success of the site our Directorate agreed to fund the revamp. The new site was launched in March 2009.

M@x cartoon image

2-D M@x - the cartoon version. Image courtesy of Lynda Bowler

M@x has now personally interviewed some 22 authors with more lined-up. He is also well known and recognised throughout Devon as M@x the library dog! He’s looking forward to Blogging on the Summer Reading Challenge website this year as part of ‘Space Hop’ and the  new edition of the website will be out on the 19th July.

Other info:

  • 3D M@x was made from Polymer clay (Fimo)
  • The initial project team was made up of about 10 members
  • Each edition we elect a ‘guest editor’ from the project team
  • Four members of staff are involved in creating content on the website
  • Content is added using LiveLink Content Mangement System
  • Flash elements are incorporated via a script – replacing gif images with swf file

View Clay-nine captures imaginations Lynda’s presentation on M@x and The Zone at Umbrella 2009.