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libraries in the digital age

Last week I wrote about how the SA Library Service has evolved and the great benefits that you can get by rediscovering your local library. In the second part of the series, I’ve got 10 ideas for Libraries of SA to become even more relevant in the digital age. Here we go…

Libraries in the Digital Age – 10 ideas

  • Redefine the idea of the ‘local library’ as the ‘everywhere library’.  The traditional way to market the library is to define it as a local community hub, a physical place of culture and learning, and a civic focal point. But things have changed. Most library services can now be accessed online without ever setting foot in one. That’s not to say that Libraries of SA should abandon its community focus, but it also needs to ensure that it stays relevant in cyberspace where younger generations spend much of their time. A subtle shift away from the word ‘local’ may be appropriate to remove any misconception of the library as an old, staid institution full of dusty books, and to reinforce the fact that the library is keeping up with the times and providing fantastic services electronically to remote users.
  • Improve book data quality. When you search the Libraries of SA catalogue, the limitations of the underlying database are fairly evident – poor matches, duplicate titles, missing cover images, inconsistent text formatting and incomplete book data. An oft-used acronym in information technology, and particularly in relation to databases and data integrity, is GIGO – or garbage-in-garbage-out. Libraries of SA would be well served investigating ways to improve its baseline book data by leveraging data services like Nielsen Bookdata. Great book data will vastly improve the user experience.
  • Implement common branding and user interfaces. The current online strategy for Libraries of SA is to ‘federate’ its services and to allow local libraries to operate their own branded websites (like the Walkerville Library). It might be time to consider operating under a common brand with a common user interface across all SA libraries. It would still be appropriate to provide each library with their own ‘sections’ on the central site, but there would be considerable efficiencies and branding advantages by unifying under a single umbrella, rather than as a fragmented collection of websites.
  • Implement a Responsive Design website (and perhaps apps?). The existing Libraries of SA websites are provided by American library software company Sirsidynix. They look tired and old, and do nothing to showcase the library service as progressive and contemporary. More importantly, these websites are not ‘responsive’ – they render OK on traditional desktop and laptop computers, but not on smaller devices such as smartphones.  We have already reached the tipping point for mobile device usage – today, more than 50% of internet pages are served to users on smartphones and tablets. It’s important that Libraries of SA provides a website that is accessible on all types of devices, particularly given its challenge to enamour the younger, smartphone-toting generation.  An iOS/Android app might also be worthwhile, but not before a responsive website is implemented.
  • Utilise online member on-boarding. One of the great impediments of signing up new library members is the requirement for aspiring members to physically visit a library to confirm their identity. The library service won’t issue a membership until library staff have undertaken a physical check of a driver’s licence or other photo ID card. Today, these types of checks can be done entirely online, saving time and hassle for both the member and library staff – there’s no need to physically check the ID. Services like Edentity GreenID are available to query a host of online databases – Centrelink, Medicare, driver’s licence databases, etc. – to establish an individual’s ‘bona fides’. Once confirmed, a membership can be issued electronically.
  • Utilise Host Card Emulation (HCE) and Near Field Communications (NFC). The banks are really into this right now. HCE/NFC provides users with the ability to use a mobile device in place of a credit card and to use the device to ‘swipe’ at the point of sale. The individual’s mobile phone IS the credit card – there’s no need to carry a pocketful of cards. The same technology can be used with library memberships – when signing up online (see item 5 above), members would be sent an SMS to authenticate their membership, and then they are able to use that phone for evermore as their library membership card. A NFC terminal at the loans counter would enable users to borrow books. No more missing library cards, no more issuing replacement cards.
  • Offer more SMS and email push notifications. One of my favourite Libraries of SA services is the SMS notification that is sent to me when a book that I have ‘on hold’ is available to pick up.  There’s plenty of room for more SMS and email messaging – when books are overdue for returning; author notifications when a new book is available; a ‘suggestions for you’ email that provides recommendations based on your previous borrowing history. There’s inspiration to be had here from the big online book retailers, such as Amazon and The Book Depository.
  • Enrich online content by utilising third party sources and user generated content. I think that there’s some great opportunities to deepen the online book content that is made available on Libraries of SA websites. Some examples of established content sources on the web that can be integrated are Google Book viewer, Amazon’s Look Inside functionality, LibraryThing’s book covers and Goodreads.com ratings and book reviews. Further, Libraries of SA should attempt to further leverage user-generated content by encouraging more book reviews, recommendations and ratings from its members.
  • Integrate social. Further to my point about utilising user-generated content above, Libraries of SA should make a more concerted effort to integrate social media on its websites. Books inspire passion and people want to talk about their reading experiences with their friends and family. Providing them with mechanisms to share will help to spread the good word of the library service. At a minimum, each book page should contain sharing buttons to allow users share their reads to their social feeds.
  • Launch a digital branding campaign. I’m not sure that the humble library has ever been really great at selling itself.  The fact is though that our libraries provide a pretty good (free) service and many people would be pleasantly surprised if they were made aware of the services available.  So, why not spruik about it?  A digital branding campaign – maybe it could even be headlined ‘Love Your Library #loveyourlibrary’?? – would help to improve awareness about the fantastic services that are available.  Digital campaigns are typically much cheaper than traditional media; they’re more targeted; and the results are highly-measurable.  Tell the people out there that they can get their hands on the Harry Potter series, Roald Dahl classics, the new Harper Lee, or latest James Patterson, etc etc for FREE.

On the whole, Libraries of SA provide a fantastic service and I certainly avail myself of its books very frequently. Do yourself a favour and rediscover what the library can do for you – you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

3 thoughts on “How Libraries of SA can become even more relevant in the digital age #loveyourlibrary”

  1. What great stirring of the pot. About time someone looked at libraries in this way. Great stuff, I hope that Libraries of South Australia will listen and act.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jill. I think that Libraries of SA do a great job and provide a fantastic (often unheralded) service, but there’s certainly room for improvement on the digital side of the house.

  2. Yes, I agree that Libraries of SA are doing a great job and are leaders when it comes to one library data. Their hands are often tied by the politics of the many different Local Councils and Schools they work with. Still it would be nice to put all this aside and really consider the needs/wants of the customers. Apart from anything else, it would be far more efficient to have a single interface and let people join online etc.

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