Category Archives: Library

Facebook After Dark

facebookBy now, most libraries have set up Facebook pages.  Hopefully, the majority of those pages are being updated regularly and staff members are encouraging patrons to “like” the library.  However, there’s far more to managing a successful Facebook page than simply getting people to like the page and then posting updates about events at the library.  Like any form of outreach, a Facebook page has to be compelling in order to be successful.

Profile Picture:  The first thing to consider about your library’s Facebook page is the profile picture.  Profile pictures are important because they show up next to every post or interaction you have on Facebook.  If your library has a logo, it’s probably best to use that as your profile picture.   This will help to reinforce your branding.  The profile picture should fit into the square area without being cut off.  It should also be easily recognizable as a small icon, so try to avoid an image with a lot of words.  It’s a good idea to avoid changing the profile picture, so that there will be a consistent image which people will automatically associate with the library.

Cover Photo:  With the advent of Timelines, Facebook created the cover photo, and with that, another opportunity for the library to express itself.  Changing this image frequently will help keep your library’s page fresh.  It’s a great space to promote an upcoming event or new service.  It can also be a chance to have some fun and entertain patrons.  The cover photo is the first impression visitors will have when visiting the library’s page.  Whether your goal is to project the image of a serious organization of learning or that of a fun and inviting public place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, the cover photo is that thousand-word picture.

Quality Content:  While the aforementioned photos are important to any Facebook page, its effectiveness as an outreach tool is determined by the frequency and quality of posts.  Being a good Facebook poster isn’t easy.  There’s far more to the success of the library’s page than regular posts about each upcoming storytime or book discussion.  Simply making sure to post about all the upcoming events, or writing about the services the library provides, will never work.  Attempts to do so reflect a misunderstanding of the medium and the audience.  There’s a lot of psychology involved in building a page that’s interesting and engaging for patrons.

Facebook isn’t a platform that people turn to in order to be informed, particularly in the evening when most people are online.  It’s a platform people turn to for exhibitionist or voyeuristic pursuits and entertainment.  It’s an alternative to television, and reading about the lives of their “friends” is a closer, more personal alternative to reality TV.  It’s everyone’s own private “Jersey Shore.”  People want to sit down at the computer, turn off their brains, and scroll through who’s breaking up, who’s getting together, who had what for dinner, and what George Takei’s posted.

Relax a Bit:  Obviously, none of those things seem to relate to libraries.  So how does a library take advantage of such a popular platform to engage its community?  The first thing to do is stop acting like a library, or at least stop leading with your chin, to borrow a boxing phrase.  Think like your fans think.  They’ve finished their work day and are looking to relax.  The library can do that too.  Consider evening posts as after-hours banter, where the library isn’t required to be its usual professional self.  You’ve posted twice during work hours about what’s going on at the library, made sure people were aware of what’s coming up, and now it’s time to relax and have fun.  Don’t be afraid to post things that aren’t library-related.  Look for opportunities to make people laugh, to make them think, and, most of all, to make them want to share your post with their friends.  Captioned pictures, humorous quotes, or eCard style images are all great ways to garner likes, comments, and shares.  Facebook is a “drive-by” medium and you’ve only got a second to catch someone’s attention.

 

 

BlackCatHindersReading

 

 

Work the Numbers:  Other than the “cool factor” of posting silly pictures and humorous quips instead of a steady stream of events and services, there’s another important reason to provide this type of content: math.  Facebook success is all about engagement.  The reason for this is the algorithm used to determine what posts show up on users’ news feeds.  The more interactions a post has, the more likely it is to show up.  If a post doesn’t receive many likes, comments, or shares, it’s deemed uninteresting and won’t show up on many people’s news feeds and will die quickly.  However, if a post catches people’s attention and is engaged by viewers, the algorithm will cause it to show up on more people’s news feeds, giving it more opportunity for engagement and a longer lifespan.  That, put simply, is outreach, engagement precipitating engagement.

Many people in the library community are resistant to the idea of posting things that don’t directly relate to the library or its services.  That is understandable, but it’s important to realize that it’s not about you–it’s about the patron, the outreach, the awareness.  If 300 people see a post about the upcoming event and two people “like” the post, that’s not significant outreach to make a difference in the number of people using the library.  However, if a silly picture is seen by 3000 people, liked by 250, shared by 100, commented on by 50, and results in 10 new people “liking” the page, then it’s made an impact.  It’s caused people to check out the library’s page, to see what other posts you’ve shared that they might have missed, and in doing so, to find out about the upcoming storytime, or free music, or Zumba classes, or anything else you might have shared during “business hours.”

The goal is market penetration.  In order to penetrate a market, you have to understand the medium, the expectations and desires of the audience, and how to take advantage of the medium to meet those expectations and desires.  It’s ok for people to think the library is cool because it posts silly stuff on Facebook.  At least they think the library is cool and now you have a chance to sneak in all that other cool stuff you really want to be known for.  Times have changed.  A library’s relationship with the community isn’t the same as it used to be.  The library must change too.  Be bold, take chances, start a revolution.

Marketing on the Edge

billboard

Have you ever had that feeling of excitement and dread all at once, with your stomach in your throat, heart pounding, hands sweaty, mouth dry, mind racing, not exactly sure how all of this is going to work out? Well, that’s what it feels like to stand on the side of the highway and look up at a billboard that reads “Spoiler Alert! Dumbledore dies on page 596.” knowing that you’re responsible for it.

I’m a member of the creative team at Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library, and we have the privilege of feeling that way on a fairly regular basis. From a YouTube comedy series (www.youtube.com/publiclibrary1) to the ridiculous Facebook covers (www.facebook.com/ccjpl) to the billboards and posters around town, we are constantly looking for new and creative ways to sell the library to the people of Craighead and Poinsett counties in Arkansas.

We Convinced the Board to Upgrade

Given the unconventional publicity that we’ve become known for, the main thing that most people in the library community want to know is how we get away with this sort of thing. That’s been an evolutionary process that began about 3 years ago. In 2009, we gently explained to the library board that we had to change the way we operated as an institution or we were going to fade into antiquity, or something like that. Our website had been built in 1999 and was maintained by our reference librarian. While she did the best she could, she was a reference librarian, not a web designer. So we submitted a proposal to the board to have a new website designed. Our objective was to provide online access to as many library resources as possible. We also kinda wanted to build a site that was easy to navigate and didn’t look like crap.

Home

 

 

 

The board decided that this whole internet fad was probably here to stay, so they agreed to let us do it. The new site, atwww.libraryinjonesboro.org, was a considerable step forward and gave us an online foundation to build on.

The following year, we went back to the board and told them that we wanted to build a mobile website. Then we showed them a whole bunch of statistics that said that smartphones and mobile devices were gonna be real popular, and they said OK. While we were at it, we told them that we were going to set up a “text a librarian” service, since texting was really popular too. We told them it would be a good idea to start investing some of our collection budget into emedia and showed them a whole bunch of other statistics, and they said OK to that as well.

Feeling lucky, we suggested that our patrons would absolutely love it if we let them download free music. The board members agreed, because they liked free music too.

During this time, we also proposed to the board that we hire a full-time PR specialist and graphic designer. These roles had been filled for years by a revolving door of paid college interns, to limited and varying degrees of success. While hiring college students in the library is a great idea, putting them in charge of your public image is not. We wanted to focus on consistency of brand and message and bring in people who were going to play key roles in growing the library. With all of the new services we had available to our patrons, the board agreed that maybe this was a good idea too.

So we had spent 3 years building a pretty decent digital library and along with it a foundation of trust with the library board. The library had transformed into a completely different institution. None of it would have been possible without an administrative team (director Phyllis Burkett and assistant director David Eckert) who embrace change and allow their staff the freedom to innovate. Finally, with a host of resources, services, and entertainment available on virtually any platform, it was time to introduce this shiny new library to the community.

Getting Edgy and Getting Away With It

This was when the creative team was born. Its members are Joe Box, IT systems administrator; Valerie Carroll, reference librarian; Melloney Dunlap, graphic designer; Brandi Hodges, PR specialist/virtual librarian; and me, Ben Bizzle, director of technology. It was time to come up with a new ad campaign. Since there’s always been a close relationship between IT and PR due to the overlap of technology, social media, PR, and marketing, we started meeting and brainstorming about putting together a marketing campaign that would actually get people’s attention.

We’d already been doing a YouTube video series for a couple of years and had been getting very positive responses. That series started on a whim. A couple of years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to create a comedy series on YouTube about a fictional library. It was really just a passing idea, but I happened to run it by our director, and Burkett said: “Yeah, Genealogy Night Lock-In is coming up in 2 weeks. Do one to promote that.” Given that I’d never written a script, directed anyone, edited footage, or done anything else that had to do with making a video, I was a bit concerned with the timeline. But hey, how often do you get to make a comedy YouTube video at work? So that’s what I did. Some of us threw a script together, recruited staff and patrons, and filmed “the library” Episode 1: Genealogy Night on a home video camera and a flip cam. It was the story of an employee spiking the punch at a genealogy function; a bunch of older patrons getting drunk, dancing, and partying; and the library director making out with a page.

People loved that first video, and we’ve made five episodes since. The latest episode was a parody of the Fight Clubmovie trailer. Our version was called Book Club (“The first rule of Book Club is, you do not talk about Book Club.”). People started sharing it, and it got reposted on the official Facebook and Twitter accounts of Chuck Palahniuk (author of the original Fight Club novel) and has gotten more than 5,000 views. We knew from this experience that we could be a little edgy and get away with it.

Since all of us use Facebook, we were all familiar with the e-card trend that had taken off on the internet, spawned by the website www.someecards.com. We decided to come up with our own e-cards; turn them into posters, postcards, and bookmarks; and use them as our print marketing. We also wanted to use them as cover photos on our Facebook page, thereby tying the meme into our social media presence. All of our 2012 marketing has been built around what we casually refer to as our “meme the library” campaign.

It wasn’t just the idea of making cute jokes that was appealing. Since making the cards only involved coming up with a joke and a picture to go along with it, this made for a very adaptable platform. We realized that we could basically promote anything with this theme and maintain continuity while still creating unique content. Not only that, but those who were familiar with the “someecard” meme would appreciate the “cool factor” of applying it to the library. Even those unfamiliar with the internet reference could still appreciate the charm of the cute pictures and humorous quips. It was a campaign that could work on several levels and appeal to multiple demographics, particularly the 16-to-40 age group that’s so elusive to libraries, since they are the ones most likely to get the reference. That was our logic, anyway. And nobody was knocking the door down with any better ideas.

 concerts-on-lawn

But let me back up and discuss a comment from that last paragraph, that making the cards “only” involved an idea and a picture. Coming up with a joke is not as easy as you think. Try it: Give me five jokes of fewer than 15 words each about biographies. See? That’s basically how we come up with our creative content. If we’re talking about our series of concerts on the library lawn, then each member of the creative team will come to our meeting with at least five ideas for concert posters. And it’s a brutal process. The funny thing about this is that you never really know whether you’ve got a good idea or not. Most of our ideas are terrible. “No, that sucks” is the most common phrase in our creative meetings. And then there are those ideas that would be so great, except we just can’t decide if they push the line too much, such as “Concerts on the Lawn … We’ve got the best grass in town.” We eventually, inevitably, come up with something, but it’s a bloodbath, and at the end of each meeting there are dead ideas and egos strewn everywhere.

Bigger-Than-Life Billboards

We’ve had four different billboards around Jonesboro over the past several years. We get them at a good rate and have used them as part of our public awareness campaign. Recently, it was time to renew our contract, and we’d been trying to come up with something new. We were initially going to go with a picture of a library card with the web address on one side and the slogan from a credit card company on the other but decided we didn’t want the potential copyright headaches. We were already pretty excited about the e-card idea, so we decided to create e-cards for the billboards as well.

Our goal was to make billboards that didn’t look like billboards. We didn’t see the point in wasting money on a billboard that looks just like every other billboard that’s trying to sell you a burger for 99 cents or a motel room for $49.99 a night. We wanted to design billboards that would get people’s attention because of their simplicity.

We felt that if we could catch people off guard, get their attention, and make them chuckle, then just maybe they’d go to work that morning and mention the library’s billboard to a co-worker. And that’s what we wanted: one person talking to another person about the library.

 4-stacked-ads

Coming up with the content for the billboards was a nightmare. We were constantly struggling to be funny enough to get people talking without going too far and winding up being offensive. Billboards offer a great way to anger a bunch of people at once because they’re kind of hard to miss. It finally came down to taking 30 or 40 ideas and just voting on them until we narrowed it down to four, one for each billboard.

Our director looked at the ones we’d come up with and loved them. She presented them at the next board meeting and explained the marketing strategy. The board enthusiastically approved the campaign. Then came the 5 weeks of waiting until the billboards were ready. But damn the board’s approval—what was the public going to think?

That brings us back to where my article started: standing out there on the side of the highway, lamenting poor Dumbledore, and wondering whether or not this was such a good idea. Billboards look a lot bigger when you’re the one who made them. But in the end, everyone loved the campaign. Community response has been overwhelmingly positive. People mention the billboards all the time, with a grin.

The Rest of the 2012 Campaign

In addition to the billboards and other edgy promotions, we now have 22 posters that are awaiting artwork so we can frame them and hang them on the ends of the stacks. Each one is original and reflects the genre on the stack: mystery, romance, westerns, biographies, etc. There are also a few more events this year that we’ll promote. In total, we’ll wind up producing between 40 and 50 original pieces for our 2012 marketing campaign.

We also place our posters in local restaurants, bars, convenience stores, and anywhere else that’ll let us put a poster in a window. When election season picks up, we’re going to use the meme to create yard signs that say “Your Public Library, We’re Not Running for Office,” and will place them among the political signs at intersections and so forth, perhaps even giving them away to patrons and library neighbors to place in their yards.

The Philosophy and the Results

We’re always looking for different ways to catch people unexpectedly and just get them thinking about the library. We aren’t always trying to promote a specific service or event. Our primary marketing objective is to make people curious about the library. If they just get curious enough to check us out, they’ll see a lot of cool stuff we have to offer.

Indications are that it’s working. Virtually every program this year has had record attendance. The Summer Concert Series drew more than 400 people to each of four performances, more than double last year’s attendance. We had 60 people attend a showing of The Help and more than 80 at a murder mystery party. Whereas our concerns in previous years were about whether anyone would show up to a given event, now we’re concerned about having enough space for everyone. Our Zumba classes on Monday and Tuesday nights always have more than 60 attendees and would have more, but there just isn’t enough room.

Our traffic has increased over last year’s in virtually every metric: foot traffic, checkouts, new patrons, emedia downloads, music downloads, web traffic, and mobile traffic. These results aren’t just because of a singular marketing campaign. Public relations plays a huge role in the growth of a library. We also take our Facebook presence very seriously and are constantly working to increase our social media reach. But those are subjects for other articles. The fact is, there’s no denying the impact that a consistent promotional campaign has had on the library, and we’ve got the data to prove it.

In case you’re wondering, we do have a dedicated marketing budget because that’s always been considered a vital part of the library. But that’s not why we succeed. We succeed because we’ve worked hard to build a 21st-century library, and we continue to find creative ways to introduce it to the public.

I think that you just have to have a good product and figure out a way to sell it. We don’t buy into the concept that we’ve got to be a certain way just because we’re a library. There aren’t any rules. Just go into somebody’s office and tell them you’ve got an idea and see what happens. Who knows, you might start a revolution.

 

Is That a Library in Your Pocket?

HomeOver the course of the last couple of years, staff members at Crowley’s Ridge Regional Library have been actively working toward the development of a Virtual Library.  In our efforts to keep up with new technologies, we’ve always tried to remain focused on those innovations that could best serve our patrons.  In this article, I’ll discuss mobile technologies and the opportunities these technologies afford libraries.

In order for the 21st century library to remain relevant in the lives of our patrons, we must be accessible in the mediums, and with the media, those patrons desire.  At an accelerating pace, that medium is mobile, and that media is digital.  Amazon now sells more eBooks than hardbacks.  Android based smartphones are being activated at a rate of 2 every second.  The names of the players in any market space define the space itself.  In this case: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and AT&T, to name a few.  This technological transition is not just about making computers smaller or phones do more things.  Mobile accessibility is the future of media consumption.  As providers of valuable resources and entertainment to our communities, libraries must take the opportunity to define ourselves in a mobile world.   At an ever increasing rate, mobile access to information is becoming less of a novelty and more of an expectation.

Given the economic downturn and increasing budget constraints at every level, expanding services may be the last thing on the minds of directors and board members.  However, mobile access can be surprisingly inexpensive, likely fitting into the most modest of library budgets.  And while budgetary considerations are a major factor in everything librarians and trustees do, public sentiment and expectation must also be taken into account.  Beyond maintaining the library’s current patron base, this technology transition affords us a unique opportunity to expand into new demographics that don’t currently utilize library resources.  The best way to take advantage of this transition is for libraries to have an established presence in the space as more and more people migrate to it.  In too many instances, we’re trying to catch up, rather than giving ourselves the opportunity to lead.  As libraries, we now find ourselves with just that opportunity.

As mentioned earlier, mobile site design can be far less expensive than most might expect.  One of the first decisions to be made is whether to have a mobile website or a mobile app.  While there are companies designing apps for libraries and some libraries using apps, I am a very strong proponent for mobile websites for libraries.  First, the cost of mobile app design can run into the tens of thousands of dollars from some vendors offering such services to libraries, with annual fees in the thousands of dollars. Another problem with apps is that they have to either cater to one platform: iPhone or Android or Blackberry, etc., or be designed for multiple mobile operating systems.  And finally, an app requires a user to download the app to their phone to access it.  With a mobile website, these concerns are moot.  The cost of mobile site design can be inconsequential relative to that of an app, it will work on all platforms, and all a patron has to know is your website address to get to it.

Finally, the design process for a mobile site should satisfy the needs of your patrons from a mobile perspective.  The goal isn’t to provide access to your entire website on a phone.  Instead, it should be to provide access to information that people would appreciate having available anywhere, anytime.  Such services include general information such as addresses (which can link to Google Maps to provide driving directions) and contact information, as well as event schedules, catalog and account access, downloadable audiobooks, access to Facebook or Twitter pages, and if you’re adventurous like we are, your YouTube channel.  Providing these services to patrons in a mobile environment not only enhances the patron experience, but also creates an image of the library as an innovative, modern, and forward-thinking institution.  And that’s an image we’d all like to project.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

nooksimpletouchIn February of last year, I wrote an article for Arkansas State Library’s “the NEWS” about mobile technologies, in which I pointed out that libraries must work to incorporate mobile technologies in order to provide resources and entertainment to our patrons at the pace established by the transition to a mobile world.   While final figures have yet to be released, consensus sales estimates for 2011 are staggering: 470 million smartphones, 60 million tablets, and 25 million eReaders.  That mobile world is here.  On a daily basis, we have patrons coming through our doors, shiny electronics in their hands and confusion on their faces.  In Crowley Ridge’s case, the overwhelming majority of them are looking for assistance in downloading eBooks.

For those libraries yet to develop an eBook collection, it is critical to the long term viability and relevance of libraries to do so.  EBook vendor Overdrive now offers eBooks on all major platforms, and provides solutions for individual libraries as well as consortia.  Whether you’re a single library, part of a system, or elect to participate with surrounding libraries to build a collection together, time and resources should be dedicated to establishing a footprint in the digital marketplace.

Providing content to patrons is only the first step in building a thriving online readership.  From the thirteen year old young man whose parents wanted to encourage reading and bought him a Nook to the seventy-five year old grandmother whose children thought a Kindle Fire would make a great Christmas gift, patrons need assistance in understanding these devices in order to take advantage of a library’s digital collection.  There are four key elements to supporting library patrons’ digital needs: staff development, printed material, online resources, and onsite training.

In order to provide the level of service that library patrons have come to expect, a sufficient number of staff must have a firm understanding of the online collection and the processes necessary for checking out titles and transferring them to the various devices.  This requires a small initial investment in order to acquire devices of the various platforms for in-house use and training. This collection should include an iPad, an Android tablet, a Kindle (preferably a Fire), and a Nook or Sony Reader.  Having these devices on hand will allow staff to gain experience with all major platforms at an investment of approximately $1200.  Once these devices have been purchased and one or two staff members have become adept at using them, training time should be allocated for the rest of the front-line staff.  Staff training can be done in any number of ways, depending on the library.  At Crowley Ridge, we provide multiple training classes as well as periodic refresher classes, particularly when new platforms come to market, such as when Overdrive started making eBooks available for the Kindle.  All of the devices are also available for staff to check out in order to do individual, hands-on training on any of the particular platforms.  Regardless of your library’s specific training strategy, the point is to make sure that there are enough trained staff members to assist patrons, both in person and over the phone.

While this article is about digital reading, many people still like to have physical, paper instructions in their hands, even for learning how to access eBooks.  For this, our staff developed two sets of handouts.  The first is a full size sheet with a general overview of the eBook services and the download process.  This serves as a good introduction for users, and, for more tech savvy individuals, is often sufficient information for them to become familiar with the process.  The second set of instructions are designed as bookmarks, each specific to a particular device and process, such as “Downloading eBooks to Kindle” and “Downloading Audiobooks to iPhone.”  These are step-by-step instructions designed for those who need more thorough assistance in downloading titles to their particular hardware.  For many patrons, a well written guide will be all they need to help them get started accessing titles from the library.

For other patrons, it’s more convenient for them to utilize online resources for assistance.  Three effective online resources are instructional guides, FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), and video tutorials.  An online instructional guide can be very similar to the hard copy guides discussed earlier, just in digital format and available on the library’s website.  An FAQ page on the website can be very helpful if there are particular steps in the process which tend to confuse people.  They also provide the convenience of embedded links, so rather than simply instructing a person to download Adobe Digital Editions, for instance, the answer can also include the link that takes users directly to the download page.  Generally, a FAQ should consist of the top 8 to 10 questions users ask, as well as their solutions.  Online tutorial videos can be a little more challenging to create, but can also serve as step-by-step visual guides, allowing patrons to actually see the process as they would perform it.  A training video of this nature can be put together in any video editing software, using screenshots of the process as well as an instructional voiceover.  They are time-consuming to create, but some patrons are visual learners, and this can be a very effective training tool.  Videos can be uploaded to YouTube and then linked or embedded on the library’s website.

Finally, onsite training courses can be incorporated into a library’s current training programs, allowing users to attend a class at a specific time.  In Jonesboro, we already host a number of computer classes, and have recently added eReader training to our roster.  The curriculum for these classes should be well-organized, including handouts, demonstrations, and a Q&A period.  Trainers should be well versed in the usage of the system and familiar with the various platforms, as well as being engaging enough to hold the audience’s attention.  Another training program we offer is “Lunch and Learn.”  Our first Lunch and Learn of 2012 about eReaders, “Learn to Use Your New eReader,” had seven times more attendees than our average “Lunch and Learn” program, proving that patrons have a lot of interest in learning how to use these devices, and that a presentation is an excellent way to disseminate this information.  As someone who believes in libraries and our need to provide content in digital mediums, it’s rewarding to see so many people eager to learn how to use their electronic devices to access library materials.

Some patrons will start enjoying the library’s online offerings without any help at all.  Many, however, will need our assistance in getting them on their way.  Like most services offered through the library, eReading will only be as successful as the efforts put into promoting and supporting it.  Providing content is not enough for many patrons, particularly when it involves a fundamental shift in the way they interact with the library.  Therefore, it’s critical that we provide a support structure for them so that all of our patrons have the opportunity to experience the many wonderful resources the library has to offer, including digital content designed for the mobile age.

To Tech or Not to Tech

no-qr-codeKeeping up with technology trends, deciding which could be beneficial to libraries, assessing implementation costs, and then developing strategies to bring new technologies to staff and patrons can sometimes be overwhelming.  With limited budgets, limited staff, and limited time, it’s critical that we assess technologies in a way that is focused either on providing a more robust experience for our patrons or enhancing workflows for our staff.  No organization should find itself choosing technology for technology’s sake.

One of the challenges we face is determining which technological trends are beneficial to library patrons and bring added value to the library experience.  With respect to this article, technological trends are the developments that help shape the direction of communication and media consumption.  However, not all of these trends provide an opportunity to enhance our patrons’ experience.  Being able to make this determination is critical, as it dictates where we invest our time, energy, and resources.  We’re going to take a look at a couple of examples of technologies that have gotten a lot of attention within the library community that, in my opinion, aren’t well suited for libraries, as well as a couple of technologies that are better means of providing enhanced services to patrons.

Last year, the big social media trend was location based social media.  The company at the forefront of this trend was FourSquare.com.  FourSquare.com allowed users to “check-in” at different locations, which allowed their social media friends to see where they were, meet up, get directions to a location easily, etc.  It even had a sort of game built in, so that the person who checked in at a particular location the most earned the title of “Mayor” of the location.  At a number of conferences, in magazine articles, and online, I heard and read much about how libraries were adding their locations in FourSquare, promoting it to patrons, encouraging people to check-in at the library, offering rewards to patrons with the most check-ins, etc.  I didn’t see how this trend was advantageous to libraries or patrons.  Beyond the idea of being the “Mayor” or winning one of the check-in competitions, how does FourSquare enhance the patron experience?  What library benefit is brought to the patron by checking in at the library?  These are the sorts of questions that should be asked when considering implementation of any technology into the library environment.  If there aren’t obvious, concrete ways to demonstrate value, then perhaps the technology isn’t right for the library and resources can be dedicated elsewhere.

This year’s big trend seems to be QR codes.  Practically every conference I attend, every library magazine I open, every day I read through twitter feeds, there is talk of QR codes and their implementation in libraries.  QR codes are small, square, funny looking bar codes which can be read by apps installed on smartphones.  When scanned, these codes can provide any sort of information, from coupons for stores, to location maps, to websites.  There have been several implementations in libraries for different purposes.  One library had a scavenger hunt using QR codes and promoted it to patrons, giving away prizes at the end.  Another put a QR code on a stand at the Information Services desk, providing considerable information about the library.  These are good ideas, and proper use of the technology.  However, in this instance, the question becomes one of adoption rate.  Right now, 35% of all cellphone users own a smartphone.  In order to read a QR code, a patron has to have a reader app installed on their phone.  Given that it would require getting out the smartphone, finding and opening the app, scanning the code, and finally reviewing the information provided, one would have to be significantly motivated to know what information was stored in the QR code.  QR codes may become so ubiquitous that their usage becomes commonplace for everyone.  However, given that only 35% of Americans have smartphones, and only a small percentage of them will have a QR reader installed, and only a small percentage of them are library patrons likely inclined to scan a particular QR code, this is a technology that’s a bit too early in which to invest resources.

These two technologies have gained significant popularity.  Facebook has now added a feature called “Places”, with similar check-in functionality as FourSquare.  I walked by a big QR code on the window of a GNC store in the mall this weekend.  However, when you assess how they might be incorporated into the environment and how many patrons might actually use the technology, their value for libraries drops dramatically.  This is not to discredit either of these technologies, but to point out the process involved in determining whether a technology makes sense for libraries.

There are any number of technologies that bring great value to patrons.  The most critical patron interface with the library, beyond personal interaction, is the library’s website.  Before considering adopting any other new technologies, a library must have an appealing and patron friendly website.  This is the virtual equivalent to your building.  It is the online reflection of the library as an organization.  It should be professionally designed and frequently updated, with content and resources readily available and easily accessible.  The reason is simple.  If it’s clean, professional, and easily navigable, people will use the library’s website.  In the past 12 months, the Craighead County Jonesboro Public Library website has had over 223,000 visits.  With this kind of traffic, it’s critical to provide a quality experience.  A well designed website becomes an extension of the library, a “virtual branch”, allowing easy access to downloadable content, online databases, the catalog and account information, event schedules, and more.  This extends the library beyond the walls of our buildings and into our patron’s homes, making many of our resources a click, rather than a drive, away.

While there are a number of mobile technologies that might not be a good fit for libraries, that doesn’t mean that the mobile revolution should be ignored.  At 35% and growing, smartphones and mobile appliances are projected to surpass desktops as the primary interface with the internet by the middle of 2013, according to reports by Morgan Stanley.  As such, they provide a platform to extend library reach beyond buildings all together, and into the hands of patrons anywhere they are.  A mobile website can make many of the library’s resources available at a patron’s fingertips.  When discussing the value of a mobile website, I often use the scenario of a patron considering making a bookstore purchase, taking out their smartphone and checking the library catalog, and putting a book on hold, ready to be picked up instead.  Or, carried to another level, they could have the capacity to download the ebook or audiobook of the title to their device while standing right there in the bookstore.  A mobile website can also provide quick access to events, contact information, hours of operation, account information, or reference help via databases or “text-a-librarian” services.  This sort of access is invaluable, because it provides an anytime/anywhere portal to the library, and is easily accessible to a significant portion of your patron population.

These are just two of technologies where libraries should be focusing their technology resources.  There are myriad others, from Facebook to Twitter, from Text/SMS services to downloadable eBooks, audiobooks, and music.  When considering technologies for the library, it’s important to evaluate the technology itself, what value it can bring to the library, and how many patrons will be impacted.  The concentration should always be on the patron, not the technology.  Does it broaden our reach?  Does it enhance the library experience for a significant number or patrons?  Is it something our patrons will use?  Does it help fulfill our vision as a 21 century library?  These are the questions to ask.  Some technologies are neat, while some technologies are game changers.  When it comes to investing in your library, focus on the game changers.