Panlibus Blog

The virtual library achieves significant growth

Guest post from Edinburgh City Libraries and Capita Additions Partner Solus (Panlibus Magazine Issue 23)

For years libraries have been under increasing pressure. Faced with static or falling visitor numbers, budgetary constraints, competition from “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” retailers and etailers, and the rise of the ereader, commentators have long predicted their demise.

Rather than roll over and accept this, the City of Edinburgh has chosen to harness the very technology cited as a threat and engage with new audiences in new ways. The primary aim has always been to attract physical users to their facilities, however if this is not possible then the next best thing is to engage digitally with their audience.

If you think about citizens in a new way, as mobile, digitally accessible, yet unique and focused on receiving the service that they want whenever they want it, technology gives them and you the opportunity to build a new relationship. Once in place, it also enables you to market your services free of charge, increasingly important in these austere times.

Liz McGettigan, Library and Information Services Manager at the City of Edinburgh Council realised the requirement to engage with developments in web 2.0 services, or risk being left behind in an increasingly digital world. She saw the opportunities for promotion that social media enabled and created a team of people within the library to pull all electronic resources into one location. Finally she employed the best technology available to engage with Edinburgh’s citizens, in facilities, on the web, socially and on the go.

Libraries now lead the way in Edinburgh, with other departments continually looking to implement their successful strategy.

  • Your Library: the Web Portal – This unique portal unites all digital resources including catalogues, databases and other websites
  • Tales of One City – Is an integrated approach to social media engaging citizens and local communities with Edinburgh’s blog, Facebook site, Twitter feed, Flickr and YouTube sites. It’s push and pull communication that connects with their audience
  • SOLUS – Gives Edinburgh the power to schedule content from their Web based Content Management System to: digital signage, web & desktop video players, a library app and to social media channels

SOLUS, a member of Capita’s Additions Partner Programme, provides Edinburgh with a unique digital communications capability and helps maximise efficiency in a market where cost saving and best value is critical. Jim Thompson, Edinburgh’s Development and Quality Manager, stated, “the premise behind SOLUS is the ability to create once and schedule many. SOLUS allows us to use one system to upload a promotional video file to our digital signage network, make it available to view across our desktops, embed it into our web portal and intranet, schedule it to our mobile app and distribute it automatically to all our social media channels.”SOLUS Diagram

SOLUS has also fully integrated with Capita’s LMS to provide functionality for “Your Library App” and this has enabled additional benefits. Most recently added and most popular stock can now be automatically promoted across other platforms managed by SOLUS, such as digital signage and social media.

Neil Wishart, Director of SOLUS, was recently at Downing Street, discussing the potential of “Your Library App” with Nick Jones, Director of Digital Communications for No. 10 and The Cabinet Office. Following the meeting Neil commented:

NeilWishartNo.10“One of the key requirements for government at all levels is to engage more efficiently and effectively with citizens. The digital citizen is real and their dependency on technology is increasing. Rather than being a threat, it provides libraries with the biggest opportunity in a generation to engage with new users in increasing numbers. At the same time, it will let them do this more efficiently and effectively. For the citizen, libraries can offer easy and immediate access to services that can save them money. If people are cutting back due to their personal budgets being squeezed, libraries can take advantage.”

To take advantage, access must be 24/7, slick and with instant gratification. V2 of Edinburgh’s Library App will allow users to scan a barcode in a shop and automatically search the library catalogue. This is already reality, the recently launched Haringey Library App which is powered by SOLUS allows users to scan, search and reserve within seconds. If they don’t know how to get to the reserved item, the app will take them there and if an Ebook is available, users can get that instant gratification!

Of course, the proof is in the pudding and Liz McGettigan has solid evidence to prove this innovative use of technology is working. In the last year digital visits have increased by 135,000, PC usage is up by 145,000 sessions, attendance at events has increased, up 32% and significantly, the decline in physical visits has been reversed with an extra 30,000 people attending libraries. Wishart stated, “it’s a classic case of inbound marketing, where effective online positioning has a direct impact on offline behaviour. It’s fantastic for Liz to be able to report back to her stakeholders that she has improved access to services and achieved a direct return on investment, both in relation to time and money.” Success has also culminated in national recognition with the efforts of Liz, Jim and the team bringing a shortlist for the www.ukpublicsectordigitalawards.co.uk2011.

What’s next? Creating an app, using social media, installing a digital signage network are all great foundations, but maximum uptake can only be ensured through effective on going promotion. The next step in the partnership between Edinburgh Libraries and SOLUS is to develop a range of collaterals to shout about libraries. Liz commented, “There is no point in having the world’s best kept secret, we want as many physical and digital users as we can possibly attract. We are actively working on materials with SOLUS to promote our App and these will be resources that can be shared with other libraries across the UK. There is no point replicating spend – if we can all make further efficiency savings and at the same time develop really exciting material, it benefits the whole library community.”

See more from Solus and Edinburgh Libraries later this week at EDGE 2012.

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