I once heard a librarian discussing their 12-year old’s son frustration with their Public Library website. He was researching a school assignment and the database he was using stated he needed to be in the library to use it. His frustrated cry ‘But I AM in the library!’ reminds us all that the user experience of our websites and catalogues can be confusing and frustrating.
Poor Digital User Experiences
Public Libraries are often locked into different, and sometimes less than satisfactory, digital user experiences due to the limitation of their content vendors’ licences, platforms, apps or players. We can often feel powerless in these discussions as for librarians, content can trump the user experience and we really want the content for our users.
This can lead to a poor user experience in these platforms as often libraries have failed to consider an end to end user experience when purchasing access to digital content.
Given the state of play in other content provider experiences that our communities access I believe this needs to change. Public Libraries need to revisit the way we do business and think more about how our business practices and rules affect both our physical user and our digital user. We need to blend the user experience more and design our websites with the user experience at the centre.
Because our users do not differentiate the experience. They are ‘In The Library’ in their minds when in our websites, in our physical buildings or on our content provider platforms.
Taking advantage of digital technologies
Taking advantage of digital technologies to drive new customer value is as important as good customer service at the physical library service building. One of the major challenges facing libraries becoming digital first is the need to act and respond fast. This is not the norm in library services usually. Our communication and decision-making structures often get in the way of acting quickly. I recently discovered that the Library Management System at my new library can automatically renew our library members’ items based on our set parameters. This had not been turned on. Because no-one had asked the question, and no-one asked the question because it would reduce the revenue from fines.
It will be turned on now as I believe this violates the trust that our members place in us. Does your LMS automatically renew? Have you asked the question?
This week’s poll: Which one is more important for your library?
Curious what the others voted? The results will be shared next week on our blog, so stay tuned! Subscribe to our blog to receive the results directly in your e-mail box or find us on social media via Facebook or Twitter .
In a competing digital landscape, libraries need to focus on their impact and the added value that digital can bring to the customer experience. Do not fall not the trap of just bringing the efficiency mindset to the table.
If we look at the value and the impact of what we are aiming to achieve then this helps to frame the parameters of the design, rules and focus of both our digital and physical library services.
One of the key aspects that libraries have control over is how our members access our content. Empowering our members to easily access the content is an important first step.
Questions for you
Key questions to explore on behalf of your members are:
How easy is it to become a member of the library? Do you have a digital only membership where I can join and just borrow eContent? I can upgrade to borrow physical items by visiting the library but until I can visit can I still borrow immediately?
How easy is it for me to find the digital collections on the website? Do I have to search library jargon to find the content? Can I easily search the catalogue and “digital only” is highlighted to match my digital membership if I am logged in? Are the digital resources intuitively found with easy to use video How To’s?
We really need to work with our LMS vendors to ensure that they are delivering a digital first option for our members and to design it with value to the library member in mind first – not the rules of the library first.
The library website – the digital front door to its resources
I really like how the new Harvard Library website is considered as the digital front door to Harvard resources. Redesigned around the user experience and putting the user needs at the centre rather than the library needs. The new website also provides a connection to the physical library with a Find a Space application which makes study spaces searchable for the first time.
Is this something that Public Libraries could do too? Find a chair? Provide a heat map of the library so the user knows whether it is worth coming down if space is limited? Do Public Libraries view their websites as a front door to the library resources? Or is it a display window to everything about the library – marketing everything at once to everyone at once and only achieving confusion and frustration?
Can we put digital first technology in the physical library which adds value to our users?
Libraries are not known for their Facebook Live channels, but we certainly could be doing more of this. I am not suggesting every library records every event, but I do think that some of the physical events held in libraries could be streamed online at the same time – extending our reach and interesting our digital only users which may entice them to come and physically visit.
Facebook Live is an easy option for libraries but you do need to invest in a good microphone. The expectation of viewers on Facebook Live is not studio production levels so I believe libraries could experiment more with a simple smartphone, tripod and microphone. This way the physical library is suddenly live on the website and our Facebook page. It has the added benefit of providing much greater reach for that event – more impact and value to the effort libraries are putting in to deliver learning, debate, community conversations to their communities. And also adds value to the effort they are putting into their social media presences.
“Click and collect” options have always been tough for libraries as if the digital user places an item on hold and the person in the library picks it up to borrow there is an immediate conflict of need. Each library service has its own procedures around this issue and that is an issue. We do need to resolve this though as the “Click and Collect” option in retail is becoming more and more the norm.
How can libraries respond to the “Click and Collect” worldview? How can we agree on an industry norm so that all library users know what to expect?
There is always the tension between the savvy online user who clicks on the physical collection item intending to come into the library later and the library member who is in the physical library and picks up that item and wants to check it out.
Who has priority? Who was first? Many libraries still struggle with this challenge and my own library is no exception.
How to blend the digital and physical experiences?
Many public libraries are displaying their digital content prominently in their physical libraries with digital screens sharing space with physical book displays. Digital dispensers are available as well – take your smart device to them and checkout and download that audiobook using the library WIFI.
Whether this is an interactive game projected onto the floor for children to interact with, augmented reality, virtual reality stations, digital exhibitions featured on screens, or a simple display that allows the ‘selfie’; all are designed to bring a digital experience to the physical building.
The State Library of Queensland has gone a step further and have created a new way of digitally visualising the State Library’s collection.
“Unstacked” continuously updates to reflect the real time searching of users as they search the library catalogue. There is amazing content that is hidden in the collection but unless a user is specifically searching for it, this content remains hidden. This visual showcase of the items in the State Library collection is ever changing, curated by the users and it is hoped that it will motivate and inspire users to explore the collection more widely. It is also strangely hypnotic as you watch the screen continuously change. This can also be displayed on large screens making it a live, ever changing digital exhibition – designed and curated by the public.
My challenge to Public Libraries
So my challenge to all Public Libraries is to investigate ways to blend their digital and physical services and to design their services with a customer first and digital first mindset – thinking impact and value rather than productivity and efficiency. And blend people, blend – the physical and the digital experience are one in today’s digitally disrupted world. And if your library service is not at this point yet, then ask questions. Lots of them!