I put myself through university by working in a store. As with most of my jobs, it was unusual. It was a hardware store of sorts. It was also an interior design store with exclusive paint and wallpaper as well as high-end imported housewares and ornaments. We designed high-end furniture, too. It was fun. We had two small windows out front to display the latest in imported Italian bathroom supplies or wild telephones and lamps. We had a huge window, too. The huge window was about 20 feet long and 10 feet high and created a view of an entire 10-by-20-foot room of the coolest furniture available at the time.
Our windows accounted for about 50% of our store traffic and probably more in sales. They were interesting, very interesting. Much of the staff’s creativity went into them to create an image of a dynamic and exciting store - one worth the visit. We had great fun, too. Making a window that generated the behaviors we wanted – visits and sales – was a challenge that kept us on our toes, every week.
What does this have to do with libraries? Well, if you haven’t noticed yet, most of our traffic is coming to the library through the glass window on our users’ PCs. And our users demand engagement. Can a static page be engaging? Yes. Is a static page the best way to engage users in the exploration space that is the modern library? Probably not. There has been much discussion lately about the emergence of the next generation Web, colloquially referred to as Web 2.0. This is the emerging interactive Web, where two-way conversations are the norm, indeed the expectation. People demand these forms of advanced interaction with people and information. Those of us in Libraryland will be naive to ignore it, for it could hurt us. This emerging paradigm of the two-way Web is perfect for libraries. Indeed, some library folks are starting to talk about Library 2.0. Cool! It brings us back to the “95 Theses” of the Cluetrain Manifesto and how brilliant it was years ago, and they still stand up as touch points of modern thinking about the impact of the Internet. You can read them again at: http://www.cluetrain.com/.
Anyway, at SirsiDynix we think a lot about libraries’ virtual presence and what it means to engage users. The Enterprise Portal Solution™ and Horizon Information Portal are designed to adapt to these new innovations, as well as to build on the successes of the past. Here are twelve ideas that we think can help:
SirsiDynix partner Syndetic Solutions was the first to develop a suite of product offerings that allows libraries to present their holdings to patrons in a more informative and interesting way. Syndetic gathers and disseminates data for seamless and effortless integration into a library’s ILS to provide a superior user experience for patrons, faculty, and staff.
Book covers are a basic expectation now (thanks to Amazon for proving it) with more enrichment options, including summaries, fiction profiles, biography profiles, author notes, first chapters, excerpts, tables of contents, and book reviews. Currently thousands of public, academic, school, and special libraries around the country rely on Syndetic Solutions feeds for their unique “added-value” content. Four new data sources now available to libraries include the following:
- Expanded Book Reviews - Syndetic now offers library patrons direct access to book reviews from Kirkus Reviews. Founded in 1933, Kirkus Reviews offer professional reviews, three to four months pre-publication, of titles such as: fiction, mysteries, sci-fi, translations, nonfiction, and children's. The reviews date back to 1983.
- Awards - Libraries can allow patrons to view the list of awards that an individual book has either won or been nominated to win. Syndetic tracks 400 of the industry’s leading awards that currently link to more than 100,000 titles.
- Fiction Profiles - Syndetic’s staff analyzes more than 12,000 new works of fiction and short story collections annually. There are currently in excess of 130,000 fiction profiles in the searchable database, grouped within a broad range of headings for each title (e.g., genre, major and ancillary topics, main characters, time periods, etc.).
- Book Series Information - Each fiction title within a series is linked to the complete series record so that patrons can quickly refer to the other titles in the series. The record displays each title in reading order and also displays the publication order if different. Syndetic provides information for more than 4,100 new and existing series.
One of the major roles of public libraries is reader’s advisory or just helping readers select the next best book to read. SirsiDynix has created Reading Rooms that help this strategy. They are organized by genre, and there are reading clubs and club advice available to support each genre or specific book titles. The content is dynamic with new books of the month/week and can include the ability to host specific local titles or authors from your collection. You could build a function to recommend books yourself.
This is ideal for supporting your “One City, One Book” type programs. It’s exciting to think that we can engage readers in further explorations by extending the program into the whole collection! Add a blog and Wiki for your event, and you can engage your whole reading community.
I am always surprised that so many library Web sites shy away from providing local content. Why do so many not use RSS feeds to provide local news and events programming? Why do so many library Web sites not offer the local weather? Indeed, we saw many quickly get into that business during the recent horrific weather in the U.S. Gulf region. How many libraries support municipal transparency by posting and linking to council and board meetings and minutes? All of this points to your role in community-building.
There is a lot of information available freely for syndication on the Web that provides context and attracts people to our Web sites. Just because someone else is doing it locally, like the local newspaper site, doesn’t mean your users want to be driven there and away from your site. Indeed it’s great if you can select and serve up the best local sites and information.
Have you seen the Why Libraries Matter free e-book? It’s a must see. Have you thought about linking to it or adding it to your Web site? You can find it here.
What other advocacy efforts can you sprinkle throughout your site?
This is perhaps the most exciting part of the two-way Web. The technologies for supporting blogs and Wikis are simple and cost very little. Some libraries are using blogs as a simple way to update their online event calendars. Many libraries are offering blogs for communicating with their communities. Indeed, some library directors are blogging. I know of a few who get more than dozens of comments on every post – from users, trustees, politicians, and more. One library has a blog for teens and gaming and regularly gets hundreds of good comments on the posts. How many unsolicited comments do you get through your Web site or suggestion box? From teens?! It’s important to make sure that we’re listening to our users every day. Blogs are a great way to do this.
Some libraries are using Wikis to allow their users to create the local history of their community. In partnership with local historical organizations, museums, and genealogical societies, this could be a truly engaging and collaborative community activity. I am sure you can think of other ideas.
One library posted pictures of local houses and important local sites of interest in a blog format and left the comments open for each picture. What followed was a great community conversation that is saved forever. You can even support your own local history event using a tool like Flickr, allowing for commentary and open community engagement. It could be very exciting. I know one library that had people commenting on their homes and the home they used to live in. First person narrative and personal history is cool!
Do you have courses on your library Web site? Can your community benefit from simple learning modules for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, basic PC skills, Outlook, Access, email, and browser skills? Can you build (or borrow) information literacy training modules for your Web site? Can you train your users at home in searching, finding, and database skills? There are many courses in small business, homework help, genealogy, and more. What’s your target?
There are several providers of good-quality courses that can be licensed for the community at large just like you license databases, e-books, and audio-books now. You can enlarge the capacity for learning across your entire community while reducing the strain on your trainers.
How engaging is your Web site? Do you have background music playing when users arrive? Local bands could compete for the honor on your teens’ site? I recently saw some photos of a “Rock Your Library” event that blew me away. What a great way to engage teens and young adults!
Podcasting is hot and so are MP3 files. For the price of a simple PC microphone ($9-$15), you can have your teens (maybe requiring a library card) review the recordings, DVDs, or books that they’ve borrowed from you on the Library Web Radio on your Web site. It cold be truly engaging, and they can comment, too, if you blog it and RSS it! Getting the next generation engaged before they have kids of their own is good for libraries!
Here’s a great idea from the state of Illinois. I think that ListenIllinois is the first in the world to offer a One State, One Listen program. They plan to license a single talking book for the entire state and have the whole state listen to it and discuss it. I don’t know what their goals are, but this is a great way to change the positioning of the library in the minds of their users for the entire state! More than books – and ready for the future! And for a state where many have long commutes, it reminds them of things their library can provide to make that ride a little easier.
Anyway, are you promoting your talking books on the top page of your site?
OK – we know email reference is unsatisfying and a poor substitute for real life. We also know that we’re just at the beginning of this curve to serve the Millennials that we know live in the world of instant messaging. If you’re just not ready for professional virtual reference that can grow with you, like SirsiDynix’s Docutek VRLplus, try basic instant messaging. Many libraries have and find that it sends them on a great leap forward to serving their users. It’s free for AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. You can aggregate them though Trillian, Meebo, and GAIM. We believe that it is imperative for libraries to put the librarian back into their virtual services, your Web site. Then, when you’re ready to use transcripts and page pushing to improve reference quality and productivity, give us a call.
My favorite thing to experiment with on library Web sites is streaming media. Just a few ideas here:
- SirsiDynix provides streaming author interviews. Have you promoted these on your Web site? Are they promoted to book clubs as cool tools? Listening to an author can help make reading choices or enhance the overall experience.
- Have you digitally recorded an author reading, poetry reading, etc? Post it to your Web site. It’s great to promote the next one and lovely for shut-ins.
- Have you digitally recorded some of your teddy bear nights, story readings, or puppet shows? Even small clips let surfers know how much fun these events are.
By now, you’ve all heard about SirsiDynix Rooms™ as a revolutionary new way to create and present focused, dynamic collections of the best information available – on any subject, from any source, for any audience. It is easy-to-use technology that works independently of your other systems and integrates well with all of your portal initiatives. It lets you effectively organize high-quality content within contexts that make sense, so that people can find the information they are looking for. Rooms can be specially aimed at K-12 homework helper, adult reference and research needs, or academic course support. It gives you powerful new ways to draw from traditional, digital, and online resources. It lets you focus on your library’s users and the user experience. Rooms will help you carry out your mission on a whole new scale – and make you the architect of your library's future. Build you own or acquire our pre-built Rooms.
In our “bricks” spaces – the physical library – we are often challenged to present a great physical image. I don’t know if I even want to get into this. Suffice it to say that many retailers hire consultants who come into their stores to see their stores with fresh eyes. When was the last time you looked at your library as if you were a new user? How are your signs? Can you see them from the road? How are your bulletin boards? Attractive? What do your windows look like? Clean? Can you see in to an exciting place? What do you see as you come up the walk? What’s the first thing you see when you arrive? Is it warm and inviting, or is it your security system? How do your service desks appear – friendly and approachable or fortress of information?
There are lots more questions we could ask ourselves here. Windows are the entrance to the soul of the library. Let’s make them look great in real life and in our virtual presence. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Are our windows selling our services well?
Stephen Abram, MLS, is vice president, Innovation for SirsiDynix. He is the past president of the Ontario Library Association and the past president of the Canadian Library Association. Stephen would love to hear from you at email@example.com.
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