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The Pew Report: Because That’s Where The Money Is

Sarah “Librarian in Black” Houghton blogged a response to a message I posted to the California Library Association list as my contribution to a discussion about the Pew Internet and American Life report announcing that the Web for many people is increasingly a leisure destination. Good response from her, but I am repeating my post here (since you can’t link to the CALIX list postings–major L2 failure there), because I don’t want my original point lost in the discussion.

My Calix post:

The key point I picked up from the survey was that the Web is becoming not just a place to find information, but a leisure destination in its own right. That has significant implications for how we design library services.

Where is your library? Is it on a side-street somewhere hard to find? Or is it on a well-trafficked street? The latter is better, yes? So where are your users? A lot of them are increasingly on the Web. So are you on the Web? I don’t mean do you have a static webpage. I mean how are you providing services and communicating with your users in ways that meets them where they are? Blogging? Podcasting? Wifi in the library? Web-friendly policies, etc.?

I still remember visiting a library a couple of years ago where I opened my laptop and tried to instant message, but couldn’t, because the library had intentionally blocked the HTTP port used for instant messaging. God forbid I should come into a library with my own computer and sit down to send an instant message to someone–in this case, a co-worker, but why not a friend? Game over: I never returned.

But about your library website–since so many of your users ARE hanging out on the Web, are you happy with how your website looks? How well does it compare? Is it polished yet friendly, interactive yet easy to use? If the Web is a destination, is your library one of the places people want to visit?

When we embarked a major overhaul of My Place Of Work, one of the reactions I was worried about is that when people would say that the changes were trivial. MPOW had major improvements under the hood (with more to come, once we replace our last-century search engine), but externally, the changes, to my eyes, looked “only” cosmetic. Yet that’s what turned people on. Same content, same solid delivery, massive changes transparent to the user…but we are still getting messages that say, “Wow–your site looks GREAT!”

People want a good experience online. I was too focused on the technical improvements to grasp that during the early stages of migration and development, but when we did usability testing one of the exciting preliminary findings was how people FELT about the new design. They felt GOOD. That’s a GOOD thing. How do people feel about your library’s Web presence?

In the same way, we began offering our newsletter through RSS, and it has had a massively transformative power in not just how many people use our site–10 million hits a month; how’s YOUR site compare?–but in how people are finding and discussing us. I use custom links in Technorati to see who’s linking to us, and it’s amazing. People link, then more people read, and they link, and they find our RSS feed… zowie.

What kind of interactive experience do you offer? We hope that in future funding years we’re able to implement a feature that is native to our new software: the ability to discuss items ON our site. People increasingly want that as well. Information has become more of a conversation, less of a visitation from the information gods on high.

Network TV is in freefall, traditional radio has serious competition from podcasting and satellite, and people are reading more online. Google Scholar is infinitely easier to use than any library database, f2f reference is in the doldrums, and books–which these days start as digital objects anyway–are rapidly moving online.

Even as we continue offering library services the good ol’ dead-tree way, how your library looks and feels online–and how available, findable, and aggressively “out there” it is to the people who are increasingly “on the Web”–may be key to its survival.

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