I was surprised, but not so surprised to realise that I hadn’t blogged for over a month. That was for two reasons I suppose – one was that I have just been so busy and secondly I didn’t have the heart to post. Then tonight, I was just sitting at my computer, having had a day of overbooked commitments for the first time in over a week and I was ready again. I actually have a lot in my mind that I will get around to blogging about, but this topic is pre-eminent at the moment, so here goes….
This cartoon is one of a series from Unshelved, using the PC/Mac ad premise. They are well worth checking out, as is the series in general. Good for a laugh and sometimes very close to home as well.
That’s one thing that got me thinking about library websites. We are about to redo our library website. Its been 3 years since the last restructure and we haven’t done much with it. Not saying its static or anything – we have added new content, deleted old stuff, kept things current etc and we have even added 2 blogs in that time – a general behind the scenes blog and recently a local history blog as well as adding Google Maps for our branch locations and bookmobile sites. We even have a Flickr account with a small collection of photos from one of our branches – due mainly to its recent renovation and relaunch. That puts us a bit ahead of the curve in our state, as there are only 4 public library services (out of 45) that are blogging at present.
I’m not happy though, because I want more.
I want our website to be more than an online brochure and I would love it if the treasure that is available there was used more. Our catalogue is getting great use since our change of library system earlier this year and more importantly the elimination of reserve charges. Our catalogue is shared with a consortia of 9 public library services, so not only can our patrons place holds on our items for free, but for almost anything from any of the 8 other library services in the consortia also.
Most of our patrons come to our website to get to our catalogue. Totally understandable, its our stock in trade. Even with the improvements in our catalogue through having a new system, with the blogs, the google maps and more, we still have a mainly brochure type website. If we are to engage our users and attract new users, who may only visit us virtually, we need to do more.
And they are there to engage. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has been releasing statistics from the 2006 census. In our last census in 2001, our 2 local council areas had home PC ownership at about 21%, which was significantly below the state average. This census the question changed to home internet access and both our council areas were pretty much on the state average of 62%! And that is just home access, not access through school, work, the library or other locations. I am pretty sure that the percentage of our population with any sort of internet access that they use regularly is a lot higher than 62%.
We do have plans however. We plan to have a website which integrates the catalogue into the front end, not as a link to a separate location. We want more blogs. We plan to offer more RSS feeds, not only from our blogs, but also to new titles added to the catalogue etc. We want to post polls to get more feedback from our users. We need more Flickr photos and I am playing with what potentially could be our first podcast.
I would love to get the Library Thing tags on our catalogue, do podcasts and vodcasts of in-house seminars and maybe go out and do things too. And there’s a lot of potential in SMS or IM services also. Then there’s profiles on Facebook and/or MySpace, videos on YouTube, etc, etc. I could also go on about patron tagging and reviews etc, but this post is already long enough as it is.
But I feel like these things are all add ons to what is still essentially at its core, an online brochure at present. Whether our new website form will change that, I don’t yet know. I know we need the static information about branches and services, but is there another way we could be doing it? Can we change what a library website is at its core? If we can, how do we that and what does it look like when we do?
And who does it? I am only one person, working part-time. At present its me and my manager who do the website and there is never enough time in the day to keep current, let alone get ahead. Even two of us can’t make all this happen.
However, on this point I am happy to report that help is at hand. As a result of the State Library of Victoria coordinating the Victorian Public Libraries Learning 2.0 program for public library staff statewide, we have taken several steps in what I think is the right direction for our virtual services. Our local history librarian is now blogging local history and is doing a great job – after only a few weeks she has an armload of posts, with dozens more in reserve. A couple of our other staff are going to show a YouTube video as part of a teen Christmas wrap workshop they are running. Both great ideas and just the tip of the iceberg. We have more staff enthused and ready to go – waiting I guess for us to tell them how. (I must really get onto to that and soon…)
We had 44 staff enrolled in the program, which has just officially finished, with a third having completed it. If we are coming out with these ideas already, how many more might we expect, as others complete it in their own time, or as we get the other 42 staff to do it sometime in the next year.
So when I started this post, I was feeling a little frustrated, but now that I have had my rant and seen the positives that are happening, I am feeling a bit better. My biggest concern now is how to make our plans come to fruition. However, if we can get more of our staff as enthused as just a few of ones who have completed the program are, start tapping into their enthusiasm, ideas and skills more – we might just have enough people to be able to pull it off. This and more.
So thanks for sitting through my rant. If you or your staff haven’t done the Learning 2.0 program, I highly recommend it. Its hard work and can be time consuming, but its inspiring, challenging and fun! If you have any solutions for my brochure dilemma, I’d love to hear them. If you think I’m full of it, impatient etc – please let me know that too (but nicely). I won’t necessarily agree with you, after all, we have to have dreams and we have to aim high, but I would be interested in the feedback. Anyway, I’m back and have a lot to say it seems (just from the length of this post).
If you would like to read more on library web presences, besides the Unshelved cartoons, the following posts contributed to my thought processes – I recommend you check them out.
Technology Storm – Michael Casey and Michael Stephens (Library Journal)
Website or presence? – Kathryn Greenhill (Librarians Matter)
Ignoring our digital community – David Lee King
Stay tuned – I’m keen to waffle on more on other topics and won’t take a month to do so next time.