Thursday, January 05, 2006

Islands passed by

A warning sign.
It came back to haunt me, and I realised,
That you were an island, and I passed you by.” (“Warning Sign” – Coldplay)

I was turned on to Coldplay by my youngest niece when I saw her over the holidays. I drove, and she organized the music in the rental car – a fair division of labor, I’d say. Some last minute shopping and a trip to see the delightful Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe made up for the not so pleasant job of navigating Christmas traffic.

Coldplay is a British Pop group with the added bonus of Hollywood celebrity (Gwenyth Paltrow is married to a band member). On my return from the holidays, I thought nothing of doing discovery about the band via the Web, sampling tunes from various albums at an online store, buying an album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, online. And, yes, I could have borrowed a copy from my local library, but I wanted a copy of my very own.

The album’s been great background music as I read/scan my copy of Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. There’s a lot of insightful, confirming and at times a bit puzzling reveals in the report. Alane and George have walked through some pieces, and now I’d like to explore a thread myself, the online face of libraries.

Let me start by saying that arguably public access computing (i.e. providing personal computing and general Internet access to users) has been one of the library world’s better deeds (just ask our colleagues at WebJunction and the marvelous community they support). What I’m talking about is surfacing library services/systems and online resources in the users experiences on the Web. The data in the Perceptions report makes it clear that the online resources libraries offer suffer visibility problems.

To that point, here are some illuminating stats from the report (page references in brackets):

Fuzzy knowledge:
  • Of total respondents, 61% know their library has a Web site, 6% don’t think their library has one, and 33% are unsure [2-7]

  • Roughly similar responses are offered for whether users know the library has an online catalog or offers online reference materials. [2-7]

Mostly not a clue:
  • For e-audiobooks, e-magazines/e-journals, e-books, and virtual reference services, the responses are even more dismal placing the “no” or “not sure” responses combined above 60% (above 70% for virtual reference) for total respondents. The vast majority (50% or higher depending on the resource type) are not sure. [2-7]

  • When asked why users did not use their library Web site, for total respondents, 55% don’t know or don’t think their library has Web site, 4% can’t find it, and 25% could find it, but thought other Web sites were superior. [5-3]

For the poor visibility, there are some interesting indications that the users who actually find their library’s online Web site/online resources are getting some value:

  • Users who use their library’s Web site to keep up-to-date on library resources [2-28]: Total respondents (3rd highest ranked choice – 25% of users); College students, all regions (1st highest ranked choice – 49%)

  • Starting at a Web engine and then finding information via the library Web site: College students, all regions – "Have you ever started your search for information using a search engine and ended up at a library Web site?" Yes: 48%; "If yes, did you use the library Web site?" Yes: 41%, No: 7%; "If yes, did the library Web site fulfill your information needs?" Yes: 37% (10% -- library resources alone, 27% library plus additional resources) No: 4% [2-17]

And lastly, I’m still working through the report, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of emphasis by the users on interfaces, web site organization, or similar quality issues that many of us in the profession complain about. Responses to an open-ended question that asks users to advise their library on potential service improvements reveal that 1% of users would suggest making the local library catalog better. [4-7]

I’m not quite sure what to make of all this – are library online resources reasonably useful, but simply not a resource our users consider first (or even last)? Or are library online offerings suffering from interface, integration, restriction, indexing, or other systemic issues that if addressed would significantly increase the likelihood of discovery and use?


Rikhei said...

Welcome to IAG!

Incidentally, I hope you don't have trouble playing your CD - apparently their album X&Y is copy protected, meaning you cannot convert the tracks to MP3s or play the disc in a DVD player (and you may have difficulty playing it in a car stereo).

Eric said...

Laura -- thanks for the welcome. I'm thrilled to be part of IAG. And, yes, your point is a good one. I think there's a move afoot to boycott all albums with aggressive DRM. The particular Coldplay album I bought came out in 2002 -- no DRM!