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David Lee King

Doing Stuff at the Library’s Website



make real stuff for people to do at your website!Here’s something to ponder, next time you’re looking for something to ponder. What can you actually DO at your website? Can you do most of the the real “stuff” that your library offers as activities?

“Well duh David, of course we can – we have a catalog…” you might say. Hmm…

If I walk into a library today, here are some things I can do there:

  • check out a book
  • read a book or magazine
  • take notes and do research
  • put a public PC on reserve for later
  • pester the reference librarian with questions
  • check stuff out when I’m done
  • attend a training session or a fun program

Just a normal day at the library, right? How about at your library’s website? If your website is a “traditional” library website, there’s not much actual stuff to do. A traditional website exists mainly to point you to “the real thing” – the actual building and the catalog (in many cases anyway – not everyone is automated, yet!).

Anyone see a problem with that? The library can be much larger than its physical building, and considerably extend its reach without the building as the main focal point for library services.

Let’s look at some non-library examples for a sec. What are other businesses and organizations doing? Amazon? You can’t visit the “real thing” – it only exists online. Ebay? Same way. Barnes & Noble? Their “real place” exists both online and physically.

How about something boring like Sears? I can shop Sears anywhere – I don’t have to visit the “real thing” – because they’ve made their website a place where I can actually do “real stuff.” And in some cases, using the website is actually better than the “real thing” (for example, shopping for undies or pjs can be embarrassing in person – but online? Not so much). Businesses have turned their websites into the “real thing.”

So, back to your organization. Does your organization primarily exist in the brick and mortar world? And don’t tell me “well, yeah David, we have a website.” That’s not good enough anymore. What can you actually DO at your website?

Yes, in the library world, you probably have a library catalog in place, and some databases. Maybe an “email a question” service (“We’ll get back to you within 48 hours (excluding holidays and weekends)” – quote from a library’s Ask a Librarian service).

But what else? Can you browse your collection? Probably not. Can you subscribe to feeds, so you can get updates whenever a page is updated with new info? Maybe. Can you instantly contact a librarian to ask your burning question or get clarification through IM, chat, email, or Twitter? Probably not.

What if I want to start a conversation or attend a program? Can I do that at your digital branch?

Why not?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://darkomajcenovic.blogspot.com/ Darko

    These are very valid points and I agree wholeheartedly. What I’d like to add here is that at least in my case I can’t implement everything I’d want to because of the limits of the software we use. I’ve written a blog post about it, but in short I feel a library needs to have complete access to it’s website and software. If you are a part of institutional website you might not get the level of access you need.

  • http://darkomajcenovic.blogspot.com/ Darko

    These are very valid points and I agree wholeheartedly. What I’d like to add here is that at least in my case I can’t implement everything I’d want to because of the limits of the software we use. I’ve written a blog post about it, but in short I feel a library needs to have complete access to it’s website and software. If you are a part of institutional website you might not get the level of access you need.

  • http://mitja.iskric.net Mitja

    If I can use the internet, why should I even go to the library website?
    I can:
    – find and read books and magazine (websites) online,
    – take notes and do research on my computer,
    – have my own PC/laptop,
    – chat with a bunch of firends (professionals or not) online and pester them with questions,
    – save stuff when I’m done,
    – join online group, attend a training session or a fun program online,

    BUT never once going once to the library site (even if I could do all of this on them)

    What is a purpose of a library website? Is it really the same as the purpose of the library itself? Can libraries make better services on their websites as those which already exists? I doubt it.

    But I agree that a library should offer all their services on their’s websites too. I just wonder if it’s reasonable or cost effective.

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  • davidleeking

    Darko – nice post! And I’d agree – the library needs to have control, otherwise at the very least, there’s a middle man between the library’s goals and the larger organization’s (city, county, university, etc.) goals.

  • davidleeking

    Darko – nice post! And I’d agree – the library needs to have control, otherwise at the very least, there’s a middle man between the library’s goals and the larger organization’s (city, county, university, etc.) goals.

  • davidleeking

    Good thoughts, Mitja. You actually have some great questions at the end of your comment:

    “What is a purpose of a library website?” – this’ll vary for each library … BUT it’s something that EVERY library should have an answer for. And that answer should be re-examined constantly.

    “I just wonder if it’s reasonable or cost effective.” – in both cases, I think so. Especially the “cost effective” part. At it’s most expensive, even a hefty web server will be cheaper than the yearly salary of one branch manager. And for that cost, it can run a service that’ll serve more people, 24/7.

    Now, let’s get to the middle part of your comment – you say:
    “I can:

    “find and read books and magazine (websites) online” – Yep. But not free, top 40 books. Pretty much only old, WAY out of copyright books. And magazines? Some but not all. Or only partial articles – and again, not for free.

    “take notes and do research on my computer” – I was meaning using the library’s resources and taking notes from those. But – what if you still have dial-up, or no internet, or your PC stinks, or you’re not paying extra for all those digital resources?

    “have my own PC/laptop” – that’s great – but not everyone does. With free access to all those great magazines and live human help.

    “chat with a bunch of friends (professionals or not) online and pester them with questions” – For the most part, you got me on that one – except the part about live community. Even the twitter geeks gather live for a tweetup. People need people. Go figure.

    “save stuff when I’m done” – if you know how. And if you have the right equipment. And know how to appropriately cite it. etc.

    “join online group, attend a training session or a fun program online” – here ‘ll cheat and say – but not one of the library’s programs. People want to attend, but can’t come for one reason or another. Why not offer them online too? Then more people can participate.

    “BUT never once going once to the library site (even if I could do all of this on them)” – I’d say that in most cases, yes you could do all this stuff. But not for free, not usually with the best resources available, and certainly not with the library’s stuff (which was my point).

    I think you can still find some of the best stuff at a good library – the best resources, and most importantly, trained info professionals. That’s HUGE, and still unique.

  • davidleeking

    Good thoughts, Mitja. You actually have some great questions at the end of your comment:

    “What is a purpose of a library website?” – this’ll vary for each library … BUT it’s something that EVERY library should have an answer for. And that answer should be re-examined constantly.

    “I just wonder if it’s reasonable or cost effective.” – in both cases, I think so. Especially the “cost effective” part. At it’s most expensive, even a hefty web server will be cheaper than the yearly salary of one branch manager. And for that cost, it can run a service that’ll serve more people, 24/7.

    Now, let’s get to the middle part of your comment – you say:
    “I can:

    “find and read books and magazine (websites) online” – Yep. But not free, top 40 books. Pretty much only old, WAY out of copyright books. And magazines? Some but not all. Or only partial articles – and again, not for free.

    “take notes and do research on my computer” – I was meaning using the library’s resources and taking notes from those. But – what if you still have dial-up, or no internet, or your PC stinks, or you’re not paying extra for all those digital resources?

    “have my own PC/laptop” – that’s great – but not everyone does. With free access to all those great magazines and live human help.

    “chat with a bunch of friends (professionals or not) online and pester them with questions” – For the most part, you got me on that one – except the part about live community. Even the twitter geeks gather live for a tweetup. People need people. Go figure.

    “save stuff when I’m done” – if you know how. And if you have the right equipment. And know how to appropriately cite it. etc.

    “join online group, attend a training session or a fun program online” – here ‘ll cheat and say – but not one of the library’s programs. People want to attend, but can’t come for one reason or another. Why not offer them online too? Then more people can participate.

    “BUT never once going once to the library site (even if I could do all of this on them)” – I’d say that in most cases, yes you could do all this stuff. But not for free, not usually with the best resources available, and certainly not with the library’s stuff (which was my point).

    I think you can still find some of the best stuff at a good library – the best resources, and most importantly, trained info professionals. That’s HUGE, and still unique.

  • http://lib.de.us/ richard

    The answers should be yes, yes, yes and yes: and what’s the question? ’cause the answer’s yes.
    I’m a p***-poor webmaster, but that’s why programmers write widgets. And at this point, if there’s something you think would be neat, someone else wrote a widget for it.

  • http://lib.de.us richard

    The answers should be yes, yes, yes and yes: and what’s the question? ’cause the answer’s yes.
    I’m a p***-poor webmaster, but that’s why programmers write widgets. And at this point, if there’s something you think would be neat, someone else wrote a widget for it.

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  • http://www.sagecreekfarm.blogspot.com/ Sharon

    The library website also offers access to the library collection from home where a library user can place holds, renew books or check for due dates. It also offers access to databases and online full text magazines through subscriptions to Gale and Ebsco. That’s good stuff.

  • http://www.sagecreekfarm.blogspot.com Sharon

    The library website also offers access to the library collection from home where a library user can place holds, renew books or check for due dates. It also offers access to databases and online full text magazines through subscriptions to Gale and Ebsco. That’s good stuff.

  • http://library2.usask.ca/~fichter/blog_on_the_side/ Darlene Fichter

    David – Good post and everyone should be able to say the purpose quickly and succinctly and know what experience they are crafting for visitors to have.

    But I’d like to pose the question – what can we do online that is part of the library experience that we can’t do in the “physical” building?

    – time shifting comes to mind – the shift worker’s reading club
    – write on the book cover
    – write in the margins for the next reader (option to show or hide)
    – hold your next concert from the reading room aka those Xmas cards with different backgrounds and sets

    More ideas?

    Darlene

  • http://library2.usask.ca/~fichter/blog_on_the_side/ Darlene Fichter

    David – Good post and everyone should be able to say the purpose quickly and succinctly and know what experience they are crafting for visitors to have.

    But I’d like to pose the question – what can we do online that is part of the library experience that we can’t do in the “physical” building?

    – time shifting comes to mind – the shift worker’s reading club
    – write on the book cover
    – write in the margins for the next reader (option to show or hide)
    – hold your next concert from the reading room aka those Xmas cards with different backgrounds and sets

    More ideas?

    Darlene

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  • Jason

    My university offers a nice website, with online subject reference guides, networked support staff, online sign-up for learning programs, and digital collections. But they’re also a university library; at local branch libraries here in Pennsylvania, we’re worried that they can even stay open. Half the time there’s not even a human at the upstairs checkout of my local library. That the local university (not the one that I attend, mind) offers more from both online and b&m for somebody who doesn’t even have lending privileges has got to have something to do with funding as much as vision.

    I would think that a library’s “experience” has a lot to do with the scope of their services, but while some embrace the idea of becoming a public media service, others see themselves more as a community sanctuary type thing. While my local branch certainly fails to provide an adequate online experience, they also fail to provide extensive collections in several basic subjects. They do manage to have a really interesting fiction and graphic novel section though – I tend to find that really satisfying. It’s an interesting question you pose, I think, to wonder if that’s a service, a kind of niche, that a smaller library provides by distinctly ignoring its online presence, saying “the things you can do here you can only do by coming in, physically. (That’s all we can afford anyway.)”

  • Jason

    My university offers a nice website, with online subject reference guides, networked support staff, online sign-up for learning programs, and digital collections. But they’re also a university library; at local branch libraries here in Pennsylvania, we’re worried that they can even stay open. Half the time there’s not even a human at the upstairs checkout of my local library. That the local university (not the one that I attend, mind) offers more from both online and b&m for somebody who doesn’t even have lending privileges has got to have something to do with funding as much as vision.

    I would think that a library’s “experience” has a lot to do with the scope of their services, but while some embrace the idea of becoming a public media service, others see themselves more as a community sanctuary type thing. While my local branch certainly fails to provide an adequate online experience, they also fail to provide extensive collections in several basic subjects. They do manage to have a really interesting fiction and graphic novel section though – I tend to find that really satisfying. It’s an interesting question you pose, I think, to wonder if that’s a service, a kind of niche, that a smaller library provides by distinctly ignoring its online presence, saying “the things you can do here you can only do by coming in, physically. (That’s all we can afford anyway.)”

  • Lorie Hyten

    Speaking of web sites…well, not really. Just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying the TCSLPL Second Life library. I am a neighbor (Olathe Public Library) and take visitors whenever I can to the Topeka building to see what can be done with collections and services in Second Life. Kudos!

  • Lorie Hyten

    Speaking of web sites…well, not really. Just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying the TCSLPL Second Life library. I am a neighbor (Olathe Public Library) and take visitors whenever I can to the Topeka building to see what can be done with collections and services in Second Life. Kudos!

  • davidleeking

    Lorie – thanks! Our staff member doing the SL stuff really knows how to do some cool things with it.

  • davidleeking

    Lorie – thanks! Our staff member doing the SL stuff really knows how to do some cool things with it.

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  • http://talesfromanopenbook.wordpress.com/ Heidi

    I love this idea, that our websites should be an extension of our library services themselves. And I think it can work very well for large libraries, but for smaller ones, it might pose more problems than solutions, the biggest problem being that little libraries like to think they are just like bigger ones.

    When working on their library website, a small neighboring library was compiling link after link to help children with their homework. The librarian was spending hours researching the best homework sites and educational games online all to add to this new site, but she was just assuming that every child who uses her library would also visit her site for after hours help. She was using municipal statistics to proclaim a need for these resources (or maybe just a way to justify the time she was spending on it?) It was frustrating listening to her go on and on about how great her site was going to be, and in the end, not many people have taken advantage of it because they are not going to go to the library site first to then follow other links to other sites for help with their homework. Google or Yahoo will do that for them in an instant and it is just wishful thinking that we can help to control where our children will visit. I assume this would be the same for any adult doing research.

    However, offering resources to sign up for programs online after hours or make suggestions about library services would be useful to do from a library website. I wish library websites could be as magnetic as other websites, but for the most part, I think they just aren’t “necessary”. Does that make sense?

  • http://talesfromanopenbook.wordpress.com Heidi

    I love this idea, that our websites should be an extension of our library services themselves. And I think it can work very well for large libraries, but for smaller ones, it might pose more problems than solutions, the biggest problem being that little libraries like to think they are just like bigger ones.

    When working on their library website, a small neighboring library was compiling link after link to help children with their homework. The librarian was spending hours researching the best homework sites and educational games online all to add to this new site, but she was just assuming that every child who uses her library would also visit her site for after hours help. She was using municipal statistics to proclaim a need for these resources (or maybe just a way to justify the time she was spending on it?) It was frustrating listening to her go on and on about how great her site was going to be, and in the end, not many people have taken advantage of it because they are not going to go to the library site first to then follow other links to other sites for help with their homework. Google or Yahoo will do that for them in an instant and it is just wishful thinking that we can help to control where our children will visit. I assume this would be the same for any adult doing research.

    However, offering resources to sign up for programs online after hours or make suggestions about library services would be useful to do from a library website. I wish library websites could be as magnetic as other websites, but for the most part, I think they just aren’t “necessary”. Does that make sense?

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  • http://mitja.iskric.net/ Mitja

    If I can use the internet, why should I even go to the library website?
    I can:
    - find and read books and magazine (websites) online,
    - take notes and do research on my computer,
    - have my own PC/laptop,
    - chat with a bunch of firends (professionals or not) online and pester them with questions,
    - save stuff when I’m done,
    - join online group, attend a training session or a fun program online,

    BUT never once going once to the library site (even if I could do all of this on them)

    What is a purpose of a library website? Is it really the same as the purpose of the library itself? Can libraries make better services on their websites as those which already exists? I doubt it.

    But I agree that a library should offer all their services on their's websites too. I just wonder if it's reasonable or cost effective.

  • Anonymous

    Shopping for undies or PJ’s online doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. What if the sizes aren’t right or the fabric isn’t the one we liked? There are some good things about doing shopping online but there are also some bad things. When it comes to products like books, music, toys and soon, online shopping is the best way to save some money and some time. But when it comes to clothes and shoes, a trip to the store is the best option.
    ______________
    Mathew Farney – Web Hosting

  • http://www.funnybirthdaywishes.net Sophie

    I find the access to databases and online journals/magazines to be the most useful. Those features alone would cost thousands a year to own individually

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