There has been some buzz lately about the future of library websites. The Library Web Chic recently wrote a post in the subject that invites looking at the topic more closely. One of the questions to be answered, and this can apply to any website as well, is the idea of focusing on merely getting people to use the website as they use the physical library or if the site should be more about experience. This can be likened back to a physical space in a way, the beauty of the building or what waits for the patrons inside. Libraries used to be mainly spaces for books and learning, for people to come and sit and read or do research. It was a quiet place were people got their books, were shushed for making noise, and then when they were done, left. These days libraries offer programs for the whole family, they encourage people to come and stay and consider the library more of a social place. And it does seem to be slowly merging into that, even if it still primarily involves people on the computers close to each other.
The idea of the virtual as social on library websites is a relatively new one.Â Up until now there hasn’t been the proper technology and the idea of giving over any sort of control or freedom to the patrons to influence what was on the libraries virtual face was not one that would be well accepted. But now, with the push from Web 2.0 and social networking and software libraries are learning to innovate and to be more inclined to include these sorts of things. Libraries have all sorts of competition these days, from bookstores and the like, and so they’ve had to offer those programs to keep people coming and interested outside of just offering the latest James Patterson. Library websites have to do the same. Bokardo has a good short article on the idea of designing specifically for page hits (contrast that with circulation stats) or for user experience (program attendance) that is well worth a read. Offering programs and events as well as good customer service and a well developed collection adds value to communities. Online, allowing people to have their say, to be social and to see that the library isn’t some faceless place out of touch with the modern will hopefully do the same in the virtual arena.
I’ve seen quite a few good services that somewhat mimic what librarians are trying to do in the physical library space, answering services and the like though I don’t think I’ve ever come across something quite like this before. And, really, it makes me wonder who came up with it. BookSwim, a book rental program in the vein of Netflix but, you guessed it, for books. Normally I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it at all, but a ‘review’ of this from Download Squad got me laughing. Thanks for the vote of confidence in libraries guys.
When you think about it though, it makes you wonder just how far Web 2.0 services like this are destined to go. I’ve heard this time and again in the Web 2.0 classes we give for the staff in my system, usually from the slightly older employees but not always, about the sheer amount of whats out there wondering how anyone could possibly keep up. Just today we’ve got Flickrvision and Bringo, the first of which is more a time thief and the second I hope grows in size. It’s why my coworker and I were so careful to pick and choose the services that we included in the class, though those services have changed since the first time we taught the class as the face of Web 2.0 has shifted right under our feet.Â I don’t think I’ve ever taught such an interesting class before.
Our revamped 5 Year plan has just been given out to us, or at least the first draft of it though I doubt much will change between that and the final version, and finally something to be optomistic about. Finally finally finally we’re going to be embracing blogs and IM reference within the system. It’s almost hard for me to say just how excited that makes me after I’ve been pushing for quite awhile for it. I had a particular fervor after reading The Shifted Librarian’s article about Online Outreach for Patrons. There were so many things in that entry I had never even thought of and it allowed me to do more than I ever would have tried on my own. Adding us to Wikipedia, Wikimapia, utilizing Google Local and Craigslist were only a starting point.
Considering how many of our young patrons don’t seem to want to come into the library these days and the age old problem of people not wanting to walk up to a librarian and simply ask a question, it makes so much sense to meet the patron where they are. That seemed to be particularly true out of a part quote I picked up through David Warlick’s SLJ Summet Powerpoint cited from Vinod Khosla that ended with “…everything is clickable, even their parents.” I don’t think most libraries (read: library administration) realize this.
But I swear, one way or another we are going to drag this library into the 21st century. If not, what good will we be to our patrons who are living and breathing this day and age while we’re stuck in the past?