Final Library Assignment

In today’s world of instant information and web 2.0 technologies, an organization’s virtual presence becomes extremely important. The case is even more true for libraries, since libraries play such an important and visible role in the field of information. For many patrons, a library’s home page is the first, and sadly sometimes only, contact they have with the organization. And since a first impression is such a lasting and influential one, libraries should ensure that their online presence is indicative of professional information management and instant, navigable access.

For this assignment, my initial plan was to examine what research tools and online technologies a larger public library was utilizing as part of their online services. I decided to look at the website of the largest public library in Utah, the Salt Lake City Public Library (http://www.slcpl.lib.ut.us/index.jsp). The beautiful main branch was built about six years ago and is located in the heart of Salt Lake City, just across the street from City Hall. The building’s six stories house nearly 500,000 materials, 163 computers, various shops, and even a roof-top garden. So what online reference services do they offer? Email. Yup, that’s about it. Of course, they do provide a phone number that patrons can call, and they also have an email list sign-up for various departments within the library. But that is really the extent of their online reference services. To be honest, I was very surprised by the lack of services, and felt that their web presence was rather anticlimactic. I’d assumed that they would provide instant messaging, or online video tutorials to assist patrons, even just a library blog. But alas, they didn’t have any of these things.

So, I decided I needed to look at another library to be able to sufficiently fulfill this assignment. This time, I decided to research the Brigham City Library, a library that I knew was using web technologies. Ironically, the Brigham City Library is a lot smaller than the Salt Lake City Public Library; for example, the population of Brigham City is just over 20,000, and Salt Lake City’s population is around 180,000. Just as the differences between the two cities are many, so are the differences between the online presences of each of the libraries.

The first thing one might notice on the Brigham City Library’s home page (http://bcpl.lib.ut.us/) is a Picassa web album that highlights a couple aspects of the library’s collection. For example, it shows how to access a few of the library’s databases, what the month’s reading discussion topic is, when and where the knitting group and writing group meet, how to download eBooks, and even how to join their online book club.

Another technology placed prominently on the home page is the Meebo chat application that lets patrons talk to the reference librarian one-on-one. This tool is one of the quickest and most direct methods to get online reference help. When I asked one of the librarians how long they’d been using it and how many reference transactions they completed typically in a week, and they told me that they’d only recently began using it, and that I was one of the first patrons to ask them a question with it. I’m sure that with time many more patrons will use the Meebo chat to communicate with the staff at the library, and I really commended them on making that service available.

The main tabs on their home page direct patrons to their online catalog, their Research Center, and a listing of all of the programs that they offer. Under the Research Center tab, they list links to some of the databases they provide access to, such as NetLibrary and Pioneer, as well as their catalog of eBooks and a Google Custom search box. Another web 2.0 technology that they feature is Delicious; they provide a word cloud of various research topics with links to certain sites that the librarian thinks patrons will find useful.

One interesting thing that I found on their website is that they offer both a print newsletter, with an image of it posted online, as well as an online blog. I felt that this really showed an equal interest among their patrons that are tech-savvy and those that aren’t as comfortable with online services. Their library blog (http://brighamcitylibrary.blogspot.com/) is one of the highlights of their online presence. Aside from the posts, which are consistently frequent, they also have a video tutorial, a link to their Delicious account, a list of book suggestions from their LibraryThing account, and even a ClustrMap that shows where their visitors have come from. They use Blogger for their blog account, and looking at their archives shows that they usually write over ten entries each month.

The most fun web technology that they use on their website are their podcasts. They’ve only got three posted so far, but it’s great to listen to them and see how creative they try to make them. The three podcasts they have as of now highlight their annual book sale, the Summer Reading program, and an exhibit on Lewis and Clark. I’m not sure how many of the patrons actually listen to them, but I was just impressed that the librarians were even using the technology, and it was obvious that they were having fun too.

Ultimately, I think that the Brigham City Library is doing a wonderful job by creating such a vibrant and interactive web presence. While they might be a small library with limited resources, they definitely take advantage of these online applications and show that even a library of their size can be just as technological as, say, the Salt Lake City Library should be.

Advertisements

About this entry