Sometimes, there is a big imbalance between what the users wish to have in a library and what they really get. As Mick Fortune mentions in our previous post, for many years libraries measured their success primarily by footfall and they only focused on that. Only in the last few years, libraries have really started focusing on getting to know their users better. Even so, all the studies, such as those made by The Pew Internet, Carnegie UK Trust, Museums Libraries & Archives UK, etc. end up showing the same results.
In the following blog posts, we’re going to explore the various things users want from a library and elaborate on a few ways libraries set this right. In this first post, we will focus on the 4 most important things users want from a library.
1. A good range of books
People are avid for information and they know that in most cases books are the best source of high-quality knowledge. However, if people don’t have access to these books in their local library, they will eventually turn to online sources.
Yes, it is hard to know what each user reads and most importantly it is hard to find the necessary funds to buy more books but there are other means to offer a good range of books such as interlibrary loans, patron donations or even online e-book platforms.
There is a big number of libraries offering this kind of services, so let’s take the example of Lewisham’s 24-hour virtual library that offers free access to various ebooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines and newspapers. Plus, users can access the collections of two other libraries: Bromley and Bexley as these three libraries have joined forces to share the cost of offering their members free access to the online resources and users are very happy about it.
Lewisham library E-book reader
2. Longer opening hours
The first thought that comes to a library visitor’s mind when thinking of going to the library is whether the library will be open at a convenient time for them. In general, patrons say that they would appreciate extended hours as they could spend a few hours at the library after work/school or during the weekend.
In our previous blog posts, we have strongly emphasized the need to implement some kind of self-service technology that fits your library policy but also the patron’s need for flexibility. We’ve given the example of Peterborough City Libraries which have implemented this kind of technology after consulting with the local community.
This way, libraries can be opened for a longer period, providing access to the library outside of the times when staff and volunteers are present. Also, Lisa Roberts, the Head of Culture and Leisure at Peterborough Council mentions that “the libraries are more alive now than they ever were before, with groups independently using the space”.
Libraries Taskforce: A new way of delivering services in Peterborough City Library
3. Core library service for free
Users want free access to information but also to the library’s facility. One of the reasons why the Scandinavian library model is so successful is because people are free to enter the library’s perimeter and browse the shelves and stay as long as they wish. They still need a library card to borrow books and use other services but there is nothing stopping the visitors from entering the library. After getting a “free taster”, they feel incentivized to become a library user and take full advantage of all the interesting library services.
This model is visibly expanding to other countries, take the example of dlr Public Libraries in Ireland which welcome visitors to browse the collections, view exhibitions or attend library events. Keyes Marian, the Senior Executive Librarian at dlr LexIcon mentions that “at present, we’re attracting approx. 2,000 people per day – mixture of students and people attending events, classes, workshops – plus the regular readers and school visits”. By doing this, people get interested in borrowing materials, studying, or having access to the online resources and all the other library services interesting to them.
Wink.ie: dlr Public Libraries in Ireland
4. Help from knowledgeable librarians
We all love librarians because they represent the human Google of our local community. But what people love more is social interaction. This social interaction is the best way to ensure the user engagement with the library in a long run. But that can’t happen if librarians are focusing on other time-consuming activities such as book loans, fine payment or print handling.
Furthermore, library visitors sometimes have trouble finding a book online or on the spot using the combination of “random numbers” called classification system, and that is when they need a hand from a happy and enthusiastic figure. Motivation and dedication play a very important part in the library’s path to ensure innovation and user engagement.
Take the example below of New York Public Library, which proudly presents their librarians as smiling and resourceful people, ready to answer any patron’s questions.
As a final note, let’s keep in mind that these wishes are not set in stone and it all depends on your library’s local community desires. The best way to gain inside perspective about the users’ needs is directly from them – simply by asking! As Donna Fletcher stresses, what libraries have to do, is go find the users in the library or on the street and get them to talk.
Just find out what patrons do at the library and what they would like to have at the library – a survey is an effortless way to do it.
Want to read more? That’s great because here you can find 5 other services users wish to find in a library and insights on how libraries offer them.
Are there any new services that you have implemented in the library based on your users’ wishes? Let us know in the comments.
We’ll be back next week with another interesting article from the library world! Until then, you can find Princh on Facebook and Twitter.