This past week, Lisa and I presented our Summer Research in a poster session at the 2010 Michigan Library Association conference. Our session titled, “Critical Error: The Need for Michigan Public Libraries to Represent Themselves Online”, displayed our independent research we accomplished over the summer. Basically, we collected contact and URL information about all 383 public libraries in Michigan from the Library of Michigan database. From that 383 we created a random sample of about 20 percent (80 libraries) and evaluated their online presence on several platforms.
What we looked for:
- What CMS they were using (if any) for the Library’s website.
- The last time the website was updated.
- If the Friends of the Library had their own page
- Facebook account
- Twitter account
- Presence of Library blog (blogs)
- If a library had multiple blogs, we checked to see consistency in format/ service
- Accounts on Librarything/ Goodreads/ Shelfari
- Picture hosting using Flickr or similar service
- Their events calendar, if it was hosted online via a service like Google Calendar or hardcoded.
For all of the social media services, we also checked to see if the library using the services also had a link to their accounts on their homepage. We also checked to see the frequency, currentness and relevance of their account’s updates. If a library was using Twitter, were they only using it to broadcast news and events or were they engaging in conversation with other users? Were the Facebook posts the same as the Twitter posts?
We noticed several trends but the general conclusion was that the current state of Michigan Public Libraries online was generally poor. Many libraries in our sample showed a true understanding of the purpose of social media & a coherent web presence and it was obvious that these libraries had a cohesive “web strategy” or at least seamlessly integrated their web presence into their overall strategic plan. These were not all “Class 6″ libraries (Population 50,000 and larger) either, which illustrated to us that you didn’t have to be a “Big Fish” to have a well executed online presence.
Some of the libraries we encountered, however, were shocking in their poor online services quality. Around 4% of libraries in our sample did not have a website at all, which meant no online public access catalog (OPAC) for patrons to search. Some had a website but no OPAC. Some had a website but it was inoperable. Some haven’t updated their website in years, still advertising for events that have long passed. A lot of these websites were the online equivalent of a shady dollar store with boarded up windows, just one look and you decide that there is nothing in there you want and everything is probably old anyway, so you leave.
Many of these libraries are not connecting their physical presence with their online presence. I would venture to guess that most of the libraries with fug websites don’t have only old books, blown out windows and ugly, outdated interiors but their website is saying something different entirely. When I see a store or library with a well designed, easy to operate website I assume that the physical library itself is a pleasant place to be.
What can you assume about THIS LIBRARY? The website itself isn’t TERRIBLE but it is certainly not very slick looking. I see nothing remarkable about the Elk Rapids District Library on their website. Nothing about it makes me scream, “I want to go to there!” I might use this site only to get to the catalog, that’s it.
We actually visited this library after the MLA conference was over, just because we wanted to tour local Traverse area libraries and this is what we found:
The Library is as cute as a BUTTON! We didn’t want to leave! They had free Wi-Fi, an impressive updated collection and a very comfortable, beautiful building. The cognitive dissidence Elk Rapids’ online personality and their IRL personality is startling. They are two completely different libraries. One is bleh while the other took my breath away. If I had not made the trip to the library (and based on the website I was not looking forward to it) my opinion of the library would be between bad or apathetic. It could make the difference between my moving to the area or not, visiting the library or not, voting on the millage or not, etc. Your website is not doing your library justice and that can be a KILLER these days.
So yeah, basically that was our presentation. We were worried people would be angry with us if they were defensive about their website, but we made sure not to name any names and everyone was actually very receptive to our findings. A lot of people had great questions and we had some enlightening conversations with different people, usually about how they would like to do several things but for one reason or another were not given permission. A couple of librarians mentioned that our research would help them craft an argument to bring to their directors/ board/ city, etc as to why they should be using Social Media. All in all it was a very good conference.
If you want to see our research, we have it posted up on our Project Blog, blog.deweydistrictlibrary.org, which includes a Powerpoint of our poster sections on Slideshare and a Bibliography for relevant data.
If you want to see pictures from our Library Tour we put them all up on Flickr.