Public Libraries Advisory Group – 2nd meeting

We had the second meeting of the Public Libraries Advisory Group at the end of April (for more information on this group see my 1/30/09 blog post).  After the first meeting, we did a survey about potential topics and the top two topics we were concerned about involved;

-Marketing our resources and finding meaningful ways to show how important we are to our communities, as well as the value we provide to them and how we serve all comers equitably

-Finding ways to measure, compare and benchmark usage of our websites and online resources

We’re all concerned about funding, and being able to advocate effectively will help the people who hold the purse strings understand how vital we are to a healthy local economy.  And of course, since money is so tight, there’s more concern than ever that our expensive databases earn their keep.  Plus many libraries have as much online as in-person use, so organization of our websites is just as important as the way our physical buildings are laid out.

Some of the issues we identified for marketing were assessing the needs of our customer bases (including non users and untraditional users), making our resources surface first in a Google search and what to do when a service becomes too popular (some of the member’s libraries mail holds to patrons’ homes – wouldn’t you just love that if you weren’t already working at the library!).  

We also discussed Pivotal Points – times when residents are most likely to use the library (e.g. when they’re new to town or have a baby).  Since high school freshmen don’t get much mail and are entering a new and challenging educational phase, Betsy Thompson told us how the Sioux City Public Library sends a letter advertising their homework and job search resources and offers a clean start – all fines on their account will be waived if they bring their letter to the library!

Re online usage we’d love it if there was an easy and reliable way to see how effective our databases are and to analyze our websites for ease of use.  Vendors all measure database usage differently so it’s often impossible to compare statistics from one to another. 

We’d also like a cheap and easily customizable Amazon style library catalog, federated searching that can quickly search across all our resources, and to eliminate barriers like patron authentication (or at least make it so users just need to login in once to use everything).  There, we’re not asking too much are we?

The meeting was a great chance to hear about some really cool stuff.  When King County Library System realized the kids who participated in their summer reading program would be reading anyway they partnered with summer schools to get their at-risk students involved.  And Julie Williams also mentioned that since getting to the library was a barrier to use, KCLS has a cybermobile with computers and a children’s librarian that goes around to family day care centers.  Another system advertises their auto repair databases on NPR right before Car Talk comes on.  Washoe County Library System is suffering under severe budget cuts but Corinne Dickman reports they have drive-through holds pick up windows at four of their branches.  Since less staff is needed, the windows can potentially have longer hours than the building.

David King said that Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library got the phone company to print their url on the front page of the phone book.   Caleb Tucker-Raymond makes sure Oregon’s statewide virtual reference services’ online resources are designed so they’ll come up quickly in web searches.  

Some members’ libraries are helping the environment.  Barb Brattin told us that Wilkinson Public Library is installing a solar electricity system in June that includes an electricity meter for customers to watch as the meter goes backwards.   And Multnomah County Library is viewed as an innovator in their city because of their green roof.

Wow, where do we get all these ideas from?  What are you doing that’s new and different?  And are you concerned about marketing and online usage?

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