Council library services need to improve their performance online says new Socitm report based on mystery shopping exercise
Published Monday 27th June 11
According to other Socitm research, libraries are the fourth most popular reason for people to visit a UK council website (7.86% of all visits), with an estimated 25.7m visits to libraries taking place online across the UK each year.
To carry out the mystery shopping exercise, a Socitm researcher joined libraries in six different London boroughs and experienced a range of processes from signing up through catalogue searches to paying fines for overdue books.
The research covered 68 key questions about the library experience online, and was further informed by the knowledge of council websites and online library services gained by Socitm Insight from 11 years of its annual Better connected survey of all council websites. Data from Socitm Insight's Website takeup service, that monitors usage of council websites through a continuous customer survey built into more than a third of all council websites, also influenced the research.
According to Think customer online: a detailed analysis of mystery shopping in
six London libraries, people who visit online library services do so to carry out a specific task, such as renewing their library loans or finding library opening hours. In order to achieve these tasks, they need to find the council website via a URL or search engine, find the right place to start the task using site search, navigation or A to Z list, and then follow a sequence of links until the task is complete.
The research tested the online experience offered by the library services of Bromley, Hammersmith & Fulham, Lewisham, Southwark, Wandsworth and Westminster. Each of these services is supported by a specific library IT system that sits behind the web 'front end' to provide account and catalogue functionality directly affecting the user experience. The research showed there was no single system that stood out overall as being significantly better than the rest. Each system demonstrates strengths and weaknesses across both the catalogue and account views in terms of presentation, design, usability, and interactivity.
Think customer online demonstrates how easy it is for website users of library services to get lost on the way to the task they want to achieve because the links that point people in the right direction are missing, hard to find or poorly worded. It also shows that popular online library tasks like checking loan return dates, finding library opening hours and searching for and reserving items in the library catalogue are frequently more difficult than they should be. The report concludes that both library managers and providers of library IT systems have challenges in providing public facing web pages that enable their library members to carry out their library tasks quickly and easily.
The improvement task is complicated by the fact that the journey from start to completion for each task will often cover both council website pages and the libraries' IT system.
In order to help library teams, web managers, and IT providers address the key areas of difficulty Socitm Insight has produced a toolkit to accompany Think customer online. This splits the improvement process into three steps:
- Task management and the customer journey: to help teams think through the customer journey and take a task management approach, with examples of good practice and pit-falls to avoid.
- Library account and catalogue systems: this covers some of the pros and cons of each of the library IT systems covered in the research
- Increasing take-up of online library service: this offers ideas like promoting the library pages URL on library cards, something that only three of the six libraries covered in the research actually did.
According to Aideen Flynn, the former council website manager and Better connected reviewer who carried out the research, the process of joining and using a
library is nowhere near as easy as it should be: 'As a top five online service, it is important that the libraries work well on the web. None of the libraries tested got everything right but all of them got some things right. What needs to be done to web pages and the IT systems that support them is neither difficult nor complicated. The toolkit we have developed will support improvement where it is needed.'
Think customer online: a detailed analysis of mystery shopping in six London libraries (35pp) and Think customer online: a toolkit for improving online library services (30pp) come as a package that is free to Socitm Insight subscribers and costs £99 to others (£85 for Socitm members).
Vicky Sargent, Socitm Press Office
Tel: 07726 601 139 e-mail: email@example.com
Martin Greenwood, Programme Manager, Socitm Insight
Tel: 01926 498703 or 07967 383755 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org