Digital library services guru, David Lee King, gave an enlightening presentation Tuesday, Building the Digital Branch for the 21st Century. He pointed out that many libraries’ websites focus on the physical building, so aside from providing access to electronic resources, their sites are basically just online brochures. Virtual reference makes them a little more interactive, but provided there’s adequate staffing, we should strive for a lot more interactivity online.
This can be labor intensive, as producing blogs, podcasts, reviews, exhibits, online programs etc. is time intensive, but if you open your website to patron created content, customers can do a lot of the work for you. While you’ll probably want to monitor patron input, creating spaces for users to hangout (e.g. online forums and meetings, social networking opportunities, online bookclubs, patron generated reviews, live feeds, patron produced videos…) will make your web presence much more dynamic.
To reinvent the digital branch at his library, King talked to patrons (especially people whose library use was mainly virtual – people in the physical library may not be the primary users of your online branch). Despite having staff working for the digital branch, meeting with all staff was essential – he needed their ideas, contributions (getting written commitments from staff in advance ensures features like blogs have postings and someone overseeing them), and buy-in to make it work. He then set goals so he’d know what success would look like. Making sure there are ways for people to learn about digital features (e.g. podcasts on how to use Twitter or the RSS feed) is also vital.
Then, just make sure your website is intuitively navigable and you’ll be ready to serve your online customers.
Of course, this is a lot easier when you have staff dedicated to the process, but even small library websites can garner a lot of content just by allowing customer contributions and videoing some programs and storytimes or moderating online book discussions. Just make sure local media promotes your new features so the community gets excited about being part of the library and does the content creation work for you.