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David Lee King

Ignoring our Digital Community



Lately, I’ve been hearing librarians say some interesting things about incorporating emerging online trends into their already hectic work lives. They’ll say “wow, this is cool” when I give a presentation – but when implementation time arrives – when these busy people actually need to start incorporating some of these new things into their work day, here’s what I sometimes hear (warning – simulations of real stuff I hear):

“we don’t have time to write blog posts – we’re busy serving customers” or “I’m extremely busy answering real patron questions all day long, so I don’t have time left to [fill in the blank with a 2.0 tool]“

I understand what they’re saying. It’s difficult to believe this new-fangled, 2.0-ish stuff is relevant when you are sitting at a busy service desk with a line 20 people deep, or when you have waiting lists for computer use. Library 2.0 is about building community? Visit a public library branch any day to see community building in action. Attend a program, join the bookclub, participate in an adult literacy or ESL program as a volunteer tutor or learner. That’s community building. Sometimes, emerging 2.0 tools and services seem to get in the way of all this busy, real-time activity already taking place.

Ok, wait a sec. This is davidleeking dot com we’re reading, right?

Yep… I see a small problem in the stuff I just said. Most of our library communities have a quickly-growing number of library customers that are actively participating in the emerging web – they are already creating content, participating, and interacting – with each other and with the companies and products they use. They are your library’s digital community.

The problem? We don’t have anything for our library’s digital community to do! OCLC‘s recent report, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World says this about our physical libraries: “Offline, libraries are vibrant social spaces. They are hubs of community activities and provide a venue for open exchange and dialogue” (8-5). But online? How many libraries can say they provide “vibrant social spaces,” hubs of community activity” or “a venue for open exchange and dialogue” in our digital spaces? Not too many.

Why is this? I think we’re simply not focusing on that growing digital community. Yes, we ARE focusing on customers (that’s a good thing)… but many of us are only focusing on our library’s regular in-house customers (that’s a bad thing). It’s quite possible that by focusing primarily on library customers who visit the physical library, we are ignoring our growing digital population.

Huh?
Let me use my library as an example. We certainly get our fair share of traditional walk-in customers – our parking lot is ALWAYS FULL. But we also have a huge number of digital customers. Remember what we do with holds? We mail them out – you never have to physically visit our library to check out a book (cool, huh?).

Those items our customers are putting on hold come from our digital community – most likely customers who used our online library catalog from home or work. That’s just one example of living, breathing members of our digital community using our digital library. And they are a growing digital community. What else do we offer them? Thankfully in my library’s case, quite a lot currently (with more to come next year).

Let’s develop this a little further by perusing OCLC’s report a little more. OCLC provides some amazing insight into our growing digital communities:

  • “The vast majority (89%) of the 6,163 general public respondents have been using the Internet for four years or more” (page 7-1) [update – Michelle reminded me that OCLC surveyed online users… the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s research shows that 73% of the US are Internet users, for what it’s worth)
  • “The majority of the online population surveyed have moved from “digital immigrant” status to fully naturalized digital citizens. Nearly two-thirds of the general public respondents over the age of 50 have been online for seven years or more, and nearly a third have been using the Internet for more than 10 years” (page 7-1)
  • “The Web community has migrated from using the Internet to building it.” (7-1)

Did you hear that? Most A majority of our library customers have used the web for at least 4 years. And most of those customers (read the report for the stats) have grown beyond simple clicking and surfing… they are interacting, creating, and participating… at other websites.

The gist of the report is this – the web has moved on, and libraries need to catch up. “To entice users to the online library, libraries must expand their social activities, allowing users to easily share and create content and collaborate with others. They must build a high-value presence on the Web, a strong enough brand to compete…” (8-5).

First steps? Stop ignoring your library’s rapidly-growing digital community. They might not be current users of your physical library – how can you reach them? What do you have to offer them? Can you offer them something that would keep them coming back for more?

I think so.

Comments on this entry are closed.

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  • lissa

    Grats. The line of this post in bold/italics actually made me laugh out loud in my cube.

  • lissa

    Grats. The line of this post in bold/italics actually made me laugh out loud in my cube.

  • http://roycekitts.blogspot.com/ royce

    By my count David you have enough quality posts to slap together a really interesting book on the use of 2.0 technologies in a library.

    There is a reason you are on my bloglines: always good stuff to read.

  • http://roycekitts.blogspot.com royce

    By my count David you have enough quality posts to slap together a really interesting book on the use of 2.0 technologies in a library.

    There is a reason you are on my bloglines: always good stuff to read.

  • Michelle

    Hey David, thanks for sharing this report. I just read the introduction and wanted to point out that this report ONLY surveyed internet users, not the general public as a whole. I don’t think we should ignore the digital community, but we can’t use these numbers to prove how many library users are Internet natives. (I just explained what a mouse was and how to use to patron an hour ago on my shift.) Since I’ve only read the intro, what ideas did they come up with for creating a more vibrant digital library community?

  • Michelle

    Hey David, thanks for sharing this report. I just read the introduction and wanted to point out that this report ONLY surveyed internet users, not the general public as a whole. I don’t think we should ignore the digital community, but we can’t use these numbers to prove how many library users are Internet natives. (I just explained what a mouse was and how to use to patron an hour ago on my shift.) Since I’ve only read the intro, what ideas did they come up with for creating a more vibrant digital library community?

  • http://skepticallibrarian.wordpress.com/ liberrygirl

    “many of us are only focusing on our library’s regular in-house customers (that’s a bad thing). It’s quite possible that by focusing primarily on library customers who visit the physical library, we are ignoring our growing digital population.” Right! Thanks for making this major point! We are also ignoring all the other people in our communities who don’t come to the physical library or to our Web presence because we are not meeting their information needs or we turned them off at some point by shushing them or we have a sucky one-way Web site. These outsiders, the digital community at large, and the rest of the world are racing ahead while we busy ourselves in the library with our regular customers. What is wrong with this picture? liberrygirl

  • http://skepticallibrarian.wordpress.com liberrygirl

    “many of us are only focusing on our library’s regular in-house customers (that’s a bad thing). It’s quite possible that by focusing primarily on library customers who visit the physical library, we are ignoring our growing digital population.” Right! Thanks for making this major point! We are also ignoring all the other people in our communities who don’t come to the physical library or to our Web presence because we are not meeting their information needs or we turned them off at some point by shushing them or we have a sucky one-way Web site. These outsiders, the digital community at large, and the rest of the world are racing ahead while we busy ourselves in the library with our regular customers. What is wrong with this picture? liberrygirl

  • davidleeking

    Hey Michelle – thanks. I updated a line or two of my post to reflect that! It’s still a large percentage though… As far as ideas for implementation go, OCLC doesn’t suggest specifics… but their conclusion is that libraries must embrace emerging social tools in order to survive (which, thankfully, is what our goal with the Digital Branch is all about).

  • davidleeking

    Royce – thanks!

  • davidleeking

    Hey Michelle – thanks. I updated a line or two of my post to reflect that! It’s still a large percentage though… As far as ideas for implementation go, OCLC doesn’t suggest specifics… but their conclusion is that libraries must embrace emerging social tools in order to survive (which, thankfully, is what our goal with the Digital Branch is all about).

  • davidleeking

    Royce – thanks!

  • http://www.ijohnpederson.com/ John Pederson

    Thanks for the thinking! I’m new to your space here (both your blog and to library blogs in general) and appreciate the fact that there are crazy library folks just like us crazy k12 education folks.

    The 95 Theses of The Cluetrain Manifesto http://www.cluetrain.org always speak to me when I read about online communities. Read (reread) them with your post above in mind.

  • http://www.ijohnpederson.com John Pederson

    Thanks for the thinking! I’m new to your space here (both your blog and to library blogs in general) and appreciate the fact that there are crazy library folks just like us crazy k12 education folks.

    The 95 Theses of The Cluetrain Manifesto http://www.cluetrain.org always speak to me when I read about online communities. Read (reread) them with your post above in mind.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com/ david lee king

    John – hey! I read your twitter feed – welcome to my blog! Good idea about the Cluetrain thing. Honestly, I’ve only read parts of it (don’t tell anyone) – maybe I should put that on my ever-growing reading list.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com david lee king

    John – hey! I read your twitter feed – welcome to my blog! Good idea about the Cluetrain thing. Honestly, I’ve only read parts of it (don’t tell anyone) – maybe I should put that on my ever-growing reading list.

  • Edo

    David, I couldn’t agree more! Write that book!

  • Edo

    David, I couldn’t agree more! Write that book!

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  • http://gathernodust.blogspot.com/ Jeff

    Are these digital users in the same market as our library patrons? Do readers and technology mix? Most e-book reports say no. Are we marketing library resources to technologists who don’t care about reading, and are ok with just finding quick information rather than in depth knowledge? There is a difference bewtween people who spend all day online, and those who need to get in and out of the library (or just have it delivered).

  • http://gathernodust.blogspot.com Jeff

    Are these digital users in the same market as our library patrons? Do readers and technology mix? Most e-book reports say no. Are we marketing library resources to technologists who don’t care about reading, and are ok with just finding quick information rather than in depth knowledge? There is a difference bewtween people who spend all day online, and those who need to get in and out of the library (or just have it delivered).

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  • Gail Richardson

    I couldn’t agree more with what you are saying here David. And it was just two days ago that I was saying to my CEO and Director, Customer Service, that we have to realize that we have a growing number of library customers who DO NOT COME INTO THE LIBRARY AND THAT THIS WILL INCREASE. What the heck are they doing then? Well, using our electronic resources, looking at our blogs for advice on using government resources, business resources, perusing ratings and reviews for title suggestions for themselves or as gifts, finding out how to cite a reference. I started to list all the things that our customers can do online and it was impressively long. And let’s face it, many of the people who DO still come into the library have done their selection online and are basically using the physical library as a drop-off and pickup place. But we don’t have enough practices, work flows, procedures and policies to deliver these services really well.

  • Gail Richardson

    I couldn’t agree more with what you are saying here David. And it was just two days ago that I was saying to my CEO and Director, Customer Service, that we have to realize that we have a growing number of library customers who DO NOT COME INTO THE LIBRARY AND THAT THIS WILL INCREASE. What the heck are they doing then? Well, using our electronic resources, looking at our blogs for advice on using government resources, business resources, perusing ratings and reviews for title suggestions for themselves or as gifts, finding out how to cite a reference. I started to list all the things that our customers can do online and it was impressively long. And let’s face it, many of the people who DO still come into the library have done their selection online and are basically using the physical library as a drop-off and pickup place. But we don’t have enough practices, work flows, procedures and policies to deliver these services really well.

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