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David Lee King



I’ve been talking about developing an online first mentality for your library. In part one, I introduced the concept. In part two, I gave some examples of how it might work in a library setting.

In part three, let’s make sure that everything your library does is represented online. At least, all the parts that customers interact with.

What’s that mean? Think about what your library does for a second. Is everything – programs, events, services, etc. - represented online? Can you sign up for them online? If not – how come?

Sometimes, a library doesn’t represent a service online … because it might become too popular. Seriously. I’ve heard of libraries purposely NOT sharing something online because of capacity issues.

It might be a book group with limited seating. It might be a service that the library couldn’t handle if the service got too popular. Sorta like the In-N-Out Burger secret menu (if it wasn’t shared online) – if you happen to know about it, we’ll do it. We just won’t tell you that’s an option.

There are a few ways to handle those situations:

  1. Consider NOT doing it anywhere. Either promote it and do it well, or don’t do it at all. Maybe you should be focusing staff energy in other areas?
  2. Consider ramping it up. Gina Millsap, my library’s CEO, likes to say that we “organize around the work.” So if there’s more work to be done in a certain area, we shift staff to go do that. You could also hire more staff – if the service is truly popular and worthy of that type of investment (and, of course, if the powers-that-be say yes to that pricey request).
  3. Consider creating an alternative. Back to the book group idea for a second. My library does book groups. If more people want to start a book group, we have a cool service called Book Group in a Bag. We stuff 10 copies of a book in a bag, along with some “how to run a book group” instructions, and let customers check it out … and start their own book groups.

SO can you represent everything your library does online? I think so – get busy!

Photo by Steve Rhodes

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I was recently interviewed by Greg Karp at the Chicago Tribune about digital libraries – ebooks, streaming videos, downloadable music, websites, etc.

Karp’s angle with the story is that a modern library can save people money. Why buy when you can borrow?

It’s an interesting read, and could have a couple of uses for you:

  • Different marketing angle (saving money, using free stuff, etc)
  • Showcasing the different types of offerings at a modern library (3D printers, ebooks, downloadable music, and … cakepans!)

Best part of the article? At the end, Karp mentions the value of librarians:

Perhaps the most valuable resource in any library is a librarian, who can help you find what you need. Nowadays, you might get that help electronically, via email, chat, text message and, increasingly, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Anyway – enjoy!

Logo from the Chicago Tribune

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Here’s a fun video of my library doing RFID tagging, installing Bibliotheca self-check machines (we’re calling them Checkout Kiosks), hiding the old circulation desk behind a wall, etc.

Created with a Go Pro camera in time-lapse mode.

Fun stuff!

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In my last post, I introduced the idea of an online first mentality, and gave examples of how modern businesses use this idea.

OK. That makes sense for those guys. But what about a library? Can Online First work there?

I think so. Not in the news organization, “publish online first” way, but more like the restaurant business, “here’s the rest of the story” way.

How, exactly?

Make sure that whatever you do has an online component, and that that component is created at the same time as the physical service or tool or area. Here are some examples:

Storytime. If you are creating a storytime program (or already have one), also develop some online storytime videos, uploaded to Youtube. This serves a few purposes:

  • It gives you storytimes for your digital branch.
  • It provides storytimes for your community that can be played any time – before the library is open and between programs, for starters.
  • It showcases the storyteller and the service. If a school or daycare wants to know what you do, you can easily provide a link to the video, so they can “try before they buy.”

Reference. Only so many people can line up at the reference desk. And that’s not really where most questions begin. That’s why many libraries also offer chat, text, email, and telephone reference services. You might also think about offering similar services in your social media channels (i.e., Facebook or Twitter). Easy to set up, and most of you have one or more of these services. Now do some targeted promotion of those services, and see what happens.

Your catalog. You have already adopted an online first mentality with the catalog (though you probably haven’t thought about it that way yet). The only way to access your library catalog … and your whole collection of stuff … is through your online catalog. In-person shelf browsing is fun, but it never leads to the whole collection, because a bunch of your stuff is checked out. Want access to everything the library owns? You have to go online to do that.

Ebooks. Another no-brainer. The only way to access that collection is … online.

Events, programs, classes. Let’s say you’re planning an author talk at the library. The actual event is an in-person thing. Why not also create a short video interview that can live on after the event? It showcases what you do and offers your community an extra glimpse at the author, too. We did this with Jim Richardson, a National Geographic photographer – it’s one of our most popular Youtube videos.

Can an online first mentality work in a library setting? I think so, and I think at the least, we should have a representation of all we do online … which is exactly what I’ll talk about in my next post!

Photo by Penn State

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I’ve been thinking about the whole “mobile first” strategy for websites, which makes a lot of sense. That’s the idea that, when designing a website, you make it work on mobile devices first.

Why does it make sense? These days, many of your customers are carrying a web browser around with them, on their smartphone or tablet. If they aren’t, they will be soon. So it makes a lot of sense to design a website to work on mobile browsers.

As I’ve been thinking and reading about Mobile First strategy, I’ve come across another idea that works in a library setting, too – the idea of creating an “online first” strategy.

What is Online First?

Online First is the idea that everything your organization does should have an online component first – before the in-person or physical component. Or at the least, the online parts should be as important as the in-person component.

Oh yeah – like that’ll work, David.

This concept actually makes a lot of sense for many businesses. Some examples:

  • Journalism. Many news organizations have, indeed, switched to an online first model for news reporting. New stories are immediately published online and distributed by websites and social media. Then the news organization publishes the best or most interesting stories into their print or broadcast versions. More on that here.
  • Retail businesses. Where will you find, say, the whole product line from the Disney Store? In their physical store? Nope. their full product catalog can be found online. Plus, in the online store, you’ll find product reviews, ratings, etc. In the physical store, you just find (maybe) the product on the shelf. I wrote about this (sorta) back in 2009.
  • Restaurants. Ok, you can’t drink an online cup of coffee or eat an online hamburger. But you CAN read all about the the food you’re planning to purchase online – nutritional info for the hamburger, or the origin and background and tasting description of the coffee beans. Want that “secret” In-N-Out Burger menu? It can be found online.
  • Customer service. Sometimes, you need to talk to a person about a product – how to assemble it, how to return it, or a billing issue. Does that always have to be a “physically in-person” interaction? No, and actually that’s sometimes impossible at the physical store. Why? Because the physical store closes at 9pm, but you might need that answer at 2am! Online, you can possibly talk to a person via chat. If not that, it’s very possible to still watch an assembly video, download instructions, or read some detailed information on a support page.

So that’s the idea, anyway. In my next post, I’ll give some thoughts to how this idea might work in a library setting.

Photo by the European Parliament

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