Building the Digital Branch – A Webinar for ALA Techsource

Yesterday, I gave a webinar for the ALA Techsource folks on building digital branches … and here are my slides for that.

Enjoy!

Update – Slideshare was having problems when I posted this, so I deleted the slideshare version and started over. This time, it works. Yay!

Rethinking the 3rd Place

I had a conversation with my supervisor (Rob Banks, Deputy Director of Operations at the library) a couple days ago, and thought it was worth sharing with y’all.

We were talking about our impending website redesign (yes, we’re at it again). I had sent him a rough draft of my redesign plan, and we were talking through it. He had been reading my book on digital experiences, and that had fired off some really cool thoughts about the concept of 3rd place for him… here’s what he said that made us start thinking:

“It’s not 3rd place – it’s The Place:”

  • Typically, Rob has maybe 6 windows open on his computer while at work – email,   a couple of work documents he’s working on, TweetDeck (ok – does YOUR deputy director have TweetDeck open constantly? Just sayin), and a couple of websites – usually including Facebook.
  • He’s doing several things at the same time … but Facebook is always on, and he’s always connected to his Facebook friends.
  • When he’s not at work, Rob has a Blackberry with a Facebook app – so Facebook is always on there, too. He can connect to Facebook whenever he wants to, no matter where he is.
  • Rob can still be in his physical “3rd place” and (important point) STILL BE CONNECTED to Facebook and his friends.
  • And that’s the idea that needs to be translated over to our library’s digital branch.

Our library websites/digital branches will probably never be a real 3rd place to people – and that’s ok. Instead of working towards that, let’s work harder to make this now-old phrase, “be where the patrons are,” a bit more seamless.

good bookRob can be in his 3rd place – but he is also constantly connected to friends/colleagues/family in Facebook at the same time. Facebook, in a way, has transcended the 3rd place to be “The Place.” It’s always on, always available to him, when he wants to be there.

Our library websites/digital branches can be like this, too! So… still developing, but this is definitely going in the redesign plan.

Thoughts? How are you “always there, always on” when patrons want to reach you?

Photo by javaturtle

Connecting the Physical to the Digital

IMG_0516Recently, while on a family vacation, I noticed something in a couple of stores … and thought I’d share.

My kids wanted to venture into the Disney Store and Build-A-Bear, and I went along for the ride. While in both stores, I saw signs that directed customers to check out the stores’ websites. But not just for kicks – look at what the signs said:

Disney: “Visit DisneyStore.com for an Additional Selection of …”

Build-A-Bear: “have fun and give back at Buildabearville.com.”

This is cool. Why? In both cases, the stores didn’t just have a sign letting customers know they have websites. Nope. Instead, they directed customers to visit the store websites for specific reasons.

By providing those reasons, they helped extend the customer experience with the store onto the web (and into our homes), after the fact. This type of after-the-purchase experience is sometimes called a “post-show” experience. The actual “show” was buying the product or visiting the store.

We can go a bit further with this, too. Look at the specific instructions we are given: Disney directs us to “an additional selection” of stuff. Think about that for a sec – they’re saying the larger, more complete store isn’t the physical store – it’s the digital store – the website.

Build-A-Bear directs us to their virtual world, where we can “have fun and give back.” OK – I don’t get the “”give back” part. But the “have fun” part I do understand! They’re giving you a specific reason to visit their website, and are suggesting it will be a fun experience. I’m guessing they get a lot of first-time traffic with those signs!

When you leave our libraryGuess what? We can do this too!

Look at this pic of a sign in my library, for instance (bigger version here). For a while, we had this large banner sign up by the exit doors – everyone walking past saw this sign. Our goal was simply to remind people that although they were leaving our physical building, their library experience didn’t have to end there. They can visit our digital branch and still do lots of stuff!

We could also direct customers to our “larger store.” Think about this for a sec – which place gives you a larger selection of library materials: browsing the shelves at the physical library … or visiting the online library catalog and putting stuff on hold?

Your larger, more complete library is NOT the physical building. It’s the website – the digital branch.

I’m guessing there are other ways to connect customers to your digital branch, as well as other reasons to do so… what are they? I’d love to hear them!

Dealing with Comments on your Website

First, a bit of backstory: my library is going to start charging late fees. Wow – exciting, David! Most libraries do that! Yeah, yeah – I know. But we haven’t had a late fee for 35 years or so, so it’s a bit of a big deal in Topeka right now. We’re starting to share our plan with our community, and one obvious place to share has been on our library’s website.

Guess what? People have been sharing back. Quite a few (check the comments! It’s interesting reading). That one post, so far, has gathered a whopping 89 comments (a first for us). Comments by 36 people, mostly from customers (there’s about 7 library staff who have chimed in, including me). One customer has posted 14 comments! It’s been a rather hot blog post for us.

Here’s how we’ve been handling our comments:

  • Normally, the blog author (ie., library staff) get an email when there’s a comment on their post, and they respond to the comment – thank the person for commenting, answer questions, etc.
  • Once in awhile (as in this particular blog post), the questions are passed off to appropriate staff to answer (if you look through the comments to the post in question, you’ll see that happening).
  • I actively monitor comments (that’s part of my job)
  • When there’s a misperception or misinformation being shared, we correct it
  • If there’s a personal attack (which has happened twice so far), I step it and email the person individually, telling them that they’re welcome to post, please stick to the topic, and stop attacking others…  then I also post a comment on that blog post stating what I did and why. We’re going for transparency.
  • If there’s a comment that’s highly inappropriate, I delete it (there’s been one so far).
  • And we delete spam comments.

Otherwise, we let it go – after all, we created an open forum, and people can say whatever they want (for the most part). I am also working on some online Community Discussion Guidelines. We’ll probably put a link to them somewhere around our blog comment box. It’s been an interesting lesson in online forum management for me!

Why are we putting ourselves through this? Why don’t we just close comments and move on? Because we are in control of the conversation. Think about it. If people were talking about this issue on their own blogs, the library might or might not be able to respond. If people were discussing this on the newspapers editorials/comments (which they have been), we’re not in control of that conversation either – the newspaper is.

But when the conversation happens on our website … then we’re in control. We can correct misinformation easily, and point to the correct answer. We can add phone numbers, email addresses, etc. We can even email the commenter individually (assuming they used a valid email address).

This allows  us to hold the conversation in “our building” – on our digital branch. One of my co-workers recently said she was putting on her fireman’s hat when we started getting negative comments. I reminded her that she was right – but we were doing a “controlled burn.” Because we’re in control of the conversation.

Have you had similar experiences with your organization’s blog and/or website? If so, how have you handled:

  1. lots of comments?
  2. inappropriate comments?

I’d love to know!

Pic by Vetustense

Doing Unique Things at the Digital Branch

Not too long ago, I posted Doing Stuff at the Library’s Website to my blog, and my good friend Darlene Fichter added her thoughts to the post. Here’s what she said:

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?

Gina Millsap, the library director at MPOW, says the same thing. A “Digital Branch” because of it’s very nature (ie., online, virtual, digital) has the great potential to do stuff simply not possible in a normal, physical library.

So – what do you think? What can we do in our digital branches that we can’t do in our physical branches? Any ideas?

photo by Cindi Trainor