Monday, June 27, 2005

Building the Experience Library Online

Dave King talks about experience planning "and trying to figure out how it works for libraries, especially library websites."

When I first saw the Cerritos Library DVD, I was thrilled and inspired by how a library could create such an amazing space, but it was also intrigued that while they had created this amazing physical space, their Web presence didn't have the same impact (I think, it's because they have to live within their city site--but they might have other philosphical reasons as well.).

Anyway, I think there's a good bit of ground to cover in terms of thinking about and building an incredible experience online for library patrons.

Here's the start of Dave's list:
"Try to put things where people might look (usability)
Offer people information they actually want (focus groups)
Provide a pleasing experience - one with a good feel to it (this one's the hard one!)"

As I've been thinking about this and planning for the major overhaul of our library's site, here's what I've come up with so far:

1. Experience starts with usability. Like Dave said, you have to put things where people will look for them. Also, things have to work right, and if I really bite the bullet here, at the risk of throwing the whole experience idea into overwhelming dispair, it means we have to get our OPACs in order. Probably 80% of the comments I get about our Web site have to do with our OPAC and patron features. Patrons don't know the difference between what we built and what we bought. And why should they? We have to dig in and really work with our vendors and library colleagues to make these catalogs and online accounts easy to use. When you look at online library competitors, (aka Amazon,

2. Experience is creating delight. This is the feel-good part, and here, we should go with what brought us. Knowing more is delightful. Trivia and stories; information and wisdom. And, while not everyone delights in the same thing, I think we can learn a lot from J.K. Rowling here. People like to be clever. They like to know. (And focus groups help a lot in determing what they want to know.) They like surprises (good ones, not surprises like inconsistent navigation systems). They like stories. They like friends and family. They like to have the inside track. They like to skim along the surface, but have the option to dive down deep and learn a lot about something very specific and likely very dear to them. It's ok sometimes to have to work for something, but there has to be a big pay-off, and the work has to be about gamesmanship and problem-solving and a search for meaning and understanding--not mindless hoops (aka outdated, patron-unfriendly policies and applications not designed for the end-user, etc.).

3. Experience is learning more about yourself and your world. Part of experience is exploring. Exploring your own thoughts, the thoughts of others. Bouncing ideas of each other to help formulate better ideas and goals like bats using radar to find their way. Blogging software and other social networking software have given millions of people the playgrounds in which to experience themselves and others--library Web sites should help millions more do the same.

4. Experience is multi-sensory. We have a lot of text. I like to read, but as we all know. Web reading is mostly skimming, and what we need is more sensory experiences online. Voice-over IP, podcasting, and other audio online are all just the tip of the iceberg. Insead of just giving patrons the option to submit their reviews online, we could encourage them to share their voices too. Have kids narrate your kids Web site (why rely on text, images, and buttons?) Use OPAL and other similar software to create real multi-sensory online programs. Help teens set up a weekly pod-cast from your library's teen site. Ok, ok, we have the audio & visual, but what about smell, taste, and touch? Online recipe or gardening tip sharing and real-life gatherings to taste the results or swap plants. And stories--any good story immediately pulls in all senses.

more later....