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

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.

Southwark opens ‘super’ library

Canada Water Library Opening ribbon inside 4 - smallSouthwark Council has opened Canada Water Library, a new £14m pound super library that will become the hub of the community.

In a first for London, visitors to the library will not only have access to some 40,000 books, music CDs & films but will also have spaces to host theatre performances and evening courses.

From January, local citizens will be able to access council services such as benefits and council tax help. They’ll also be able to take in the amazing views of the historic Canada Water basin, which it overhangs.

new CWL coverThe library’s wi-fi network, with nearly 30 laptops available for hire, reflects the growing trend towards the ‘library as living room’ ethos. Across Southwark’s libraries members currently clock up more than 10,000 hours of internet use each month on their wi-fi network alone.

Cllr Veronica Ward, cabinet member for culture, leisure, sport and the Olympics at Southwark Council commented at the opening:

“The new Canada Water library is the latest chapter in Southwark Councils library programme. It is going to be a hub for the whole community. It’s a unique building that offers opportunities for learning, cultural activities and social events and will form the heart of a new planned town centre. We have worked with Capita to deliver our IT solutions as the library is self-service, fully wi-fi enabled and offers a full range of online resources.”

Renowned architect Piers Gough commented that the new library was “a small site with a hugely ambitious library” and that “libraries still hold the capability to take you to other realms”.

Read the latest Panlibus Magazine online today

panlibus-frontpageThe latest issue on Panlibus Magazine is available to read online today.

In this issue we look at shared services in detail and consider what the path to a successful library shared service will look like (p. 4-5). The groundbreaking tri-borough plan between three London councils (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Westminster City Council) is still in the early stages, but we see how this will pan out from the library perspective (p. 6-7). Another innovative project underway is the unique library shared service with Worcestershire Council and the University of Worcester (p. 24-25).

Capita has recently launched its LMS as a Service, Chorus: a cloud based solution that will manage all of the services that libraries currently benefit from. Andy Latham, Head of Development at Capita, outlines how this will work and the benefits it will bring to libraries. As well as this, we have articles from Capita’s Additions Partners Nielsen and Lorensbergs, case studies and product updates to keep you up-to-date with the latest from Capita’s library division.

In order to improve Panlibus Magazine we are currently undertaking a readership survey. Please fill the survey in online and be in with a chance of winning a Kindle.

National Acquisitions Group (NAG) conference

I was privileged to attend the NAG conference in Manchester on the 7th and 8th of September. I brought home one main impression and three subsidiary ones.

The main impression was the speed of change. It has been well said that change often takes longer to arrive than expected; but that once it starts, it occurs faster than expected. We have been telling each other for years that change is in the wind for libraries but the reality on the ground is that much the same patterns of behaviour have prevailed. For years library conferences were attended by people playing in the same positions and doing much the same thing as they always had. The NAG conference this year felt different. Here are the three straws in the wind:

The pace of change in academic e-resources

The move to e-resources from print has been gathering pace, but for me this was crystallised by a chat with the Head of Service of a university library. They are creating a “digital library” with a very limited quantity of physical stock. Instead of a book-repository-with-PCs, they appear to be creating a learning space based on digital resources with a few books on the side.

Changing business models

  • Firstly, (although almost the last chronologically at the conference) was an enthusiastic and engaging presentation by Darren Taylor, (Worcester University Library) and  David Pearson (Worcestershire Libraries) on the Hive project. This is a major new build project, but in one sense the striking new building is not the most significant aspect of the exercise. The Hive will be one of relatively few joint public/academic libraries but appears to push new boundaries in that it goes beyond merely the sharing of facilities, by removing most of the distinctions between academic and public patrons.
  • Secondly, I attended a workshop ably run by Luke Burton of Newcastle Public libraries on e-books in public libraries. The workshop was nominally about the different formats available (epub, pdf, azw etc) but the discussion at the conference and subsequently on the LIS-PUB-LIBS email list seemed to me to raise more fundamental questions: should public libraries be in this market at all? If so, how are the publishers to be persuaded to provide useful, timely and stable content? Should it be a chargeable service, and if so, how should it relate to the forthcoming Amazon e-book rental service? Do libraries loan e-book readers as well as the titles themselves? Should it be a national service?

The use of Open Source software

For some years, in many different domains, there has been greater and greater use made of Open Source software (software written by a community of users and freely available) . Much of the World Wide Web runs on Apache. Many servers in large organisations use the Linux operating system. Many Universities use the Moodle VLE. All of these are commercial-strength open source software (the Open University Moodle implementation supports almost 0.75 million students), but whilst the software itself is free, implementing and running it isn’t; the original budget for the Open University project was almost £5 Million. You either pay installation and support costs through your payroll, or engage a third part organisation to provide the support.

At least two large scale open source Library Management Systems (Koha and Evergreen) have been available for several years, but there have been few implementations in major academic or public libraries in the UK. One of the first UK public libraries to adopt Koha was Halton Libraries and that was only about a year ago. 

At the NAG conference, there was a very interesting presentation by Staffordshire University and PTFS Europe about an implementation of Koha for the University. As someone remarked, we are past the point where vice-chancellors either dismiss open source software on the grounds that “if it is free it cannot be any good”, or ask plaintively why free software costs money to install and run.

Roll up! Roll up! Circus Stars make an entrance at this year’s Summer Reading Challenge launch…

Capita was proud to be invited to the launch of this year’s Summer Reading Challenge at the House of Commons, which this year has the theme ‘Circus Stars’.

The Summer Reading Challenge which is run by independent charity The Reading Agency, along with libraries across the UK, is the biggest and most successful reading promotion for 4-11 year olds, encouraging all children who take part to read at least 6 books over the summer holiday.

The event was bustling with some of the nation’s best loved authors, along with MPs, councillors, publishing industry figures, librarians and library campaigners.

As Miranda McKearney, Director of the Reading Agency explained, this year’s challenge will be the biggest ever, with 97% of local authorities and 3000 young volunteers taking part. Miranda made the point that libraries are in the serious business of making reading fun and the sad fact is that only 40% of children enjoy reading. Research carried out by the UK Literacy Association shows that participating in the Summer Reading Challenge combats the ‘summer holiday dip’ in pupils’ reading motivation and attainment, and boosts their desire to read at home.

Greta Paterson, Head of Children and Young People Services at East Sussex County Council, told me “It’s a fantastic way to connect with young readers, it gets library staff into schools and we see children in the library that we perhaps wouldn’t see otherwise.” The enthusiasm and energy of the people that are directly involved with making the Summer Reading Challenge a success was apparent, as was the mood of optimism and determination despite the tough financial times some library services are facing at the moment.

Voicing his support for the event, Nick Gibb, Minister for Schools described the Challenge as a “pivotal part of the educational reform” that the government is undertaking and revealed that 1 in 5 eleven year olds currently leave primary school without being able to read. He pledged that every child should be able to read by the age of six, a goal which the government has started to work towards.

A highlight of the event was a few words from acclaimed children’s author and Patron of the Summer Reading Challenge, Michael Rosen. He talked enthusiastically about the value of libraries,  which he described as “a treasure trove of the world’s wisdom, there for free”. He also stressed the importance of what he termed “book learning”, even in (or especially in) this age of the internet.

And if the future success of the Summer Reading Challenge wasn’t already in the bag, Ruth Mackenzie, Director of the Cultural Olympiad, announced that The Reading Agency have been selected to be part of the London 2012 Festival. The Reading Agency will be working with libraries all over the UK to stage a huge reading extravaganza and to, as Ruth put it, sprinkle some “Olympic magic dust in every library”. Sounds good to us.

Making the Difference, Libraries Change Lives Award 2011

At a time where libraries face an uncertain future, stories of how libraries are being used to reach out to vulnerable people and bring together communities are greatly welcomed. Arguably the biggest accolade of libraries affecting their community is CILIP’s prestigious “Libraries Change Lives Award”.

In its 20th year, the Libraries Change Lives Awards provides a home to celebrate innovative projects across the country, such as: Bookstart, a project run by Sunderland Libraries and Booktrust and Across the Board: Autism support for families, run by Leeds Library and Information Service. This year’s award was announced at Umbrella and won by Kent Libraries and Archives who ran the Making a Difference project.

The Making a Difference project began with Kent Libraries working closely with the local district partnership to provide a venue, and a wide range of activities, for a group of adults with learning difficulties to socialise and to relax. The library worked in collaboration with partners that include statutory organisations, charities and volunteers. Carers were able to deliver regular Biblio Hour events, large themed evenings such as “Putting On the Ritz” (a 1920’s fashion evening), and a number of volunteering and work experience opportunities.

One of the work experience opportunities arose when Communities Future Kent met a mystery shopper service called Shopper Anonymous Kent. At the time there were no persons with learning difficulties on their books, but through the work with the library, Graham Seymour, the Managing Director provided training to the group. From there, eight trained mystery shoppers have visited most of the major libraries in the west of the county to provide advice how to improve the inside and outside of the library. The result was that a number of adults with learning difficulties were employed by the library and Easy Access collections of stock, chosen by adults of learning difficulties, being placed in town centre libraries.

So far, 721 adults with learning disabilities from across the county have taken part in library activities since April 2010, helping vulnerable people feel safe and to help themselves.

Seven habits of highly effective library websites

At the recent CILIPS conference in Glasgow I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by Lesley Thomson from the Scottish Government. The presentation, focused on improving library websites, highlighted seven areas that if you get right, the website will be effective.Capture

What is an effective website? In the words of Lesley “an effective website meets the needs of users… it’s not about whether your manager likes it”. Her message was clear – focus on the end user and keep the following seven ‘habits’ in mind whilst writing and designing your website.

1 – Purposeful. Be clear in what you want the website to achieve.

2 – Integrated. Integrate into the wider institution/council website with both design and voice. If you have a social media presence, integrate this and make it easier for users to share.

3 – User centred. Design the website to do what it’s supposed to. The aesthetics, interface and information should all focus on the users interaction with the site.

Make the website user centric by following these simplicity rules:

  • Keep it simple but use common sense; don’t lose message by going too minimalistic
  • Stick to the ‘rule of seven’. Users shouldn’t be given more than seven options to choose from
  • Stick to the ‘three clicks rule’. Users should be able to access any content within three clicks
  • Stay above the fold. Important content and messages should be accessible without the need for scrolling.
  • Don’t use vanity pictures. Include images if they are relevant (branding/reinforce message etc), but remove if they add nothing otherwise you waste important screen estate.

4 – Content relevant. Ensure the content is written for the user. Avoid ‘library’ terminology that your users may not understand, eg, ILL. Give your main message in the opening paragraph, many readers won’t get much further through the text than this.

5 – Inclusive. Ensure the website is accessible to all. It needs to be optimised for screen readers and colour blindness.

6 – Findable. Make best use of keywords and search engine optimisation (SEO). This should really take care of itself if rules 1-5 are followed

7 – Redesign, redesign, redesign. Your website is never finished. Be responsive and flexible to new technology and user demands to continually improve your site.

And that’s it. Stick to these rules and your website will be effective. You can read more from Lesley about the topic on her blog, where there are links to her presentation slides and examples of good (and bad) library websites.

I think it is fair to say that these rules apply to all websites and not just libraries. During our transition from Talis Information to Capita, I will be sure to keep these in mind to make our new website effective.

Social Media at Edinburgh Libraries

It has been a week since the EDGE Conference and after a very eventful week at Talis, I would like to share some of my thoughts from the conference. There was a strong social media theme at the event, not least as this was the occasion that Edinburgh Libraries would use to release their very own smartphone app. The app has up to date information about library events, activities, and service updates that are usually only available on the library website.

The release of this app is just another aspect of Edinburgh Libraries social media strategy that already includes Facebook, Twitter and blogging. What has made this strategy so successful is the commitment from all involved, from councillors to library staff on the front-line. Although most social media tools are free to use, they need investment of staff time to make a strategy work. As Allan Barr, Head of Digital and Social Media at The Big Partnership, iterated in his talk “social media takes time”.

The final presentation of the conference focused on augmented reality. We were given many demonstrations of what is currently possible. Some of the technology is already available through smartphones, adding layers of information to our surroundings. The applications of the future were also demoed. Imagine a library user borrowing a book, pointing their phone at it and seeing animations of what they are reading about. It might not be that far off.

One of the most memorable quotes from the conference was from Kevin Winkler, New York Public Libraries, when he said “be creative, be innovative”. Edinburgh has certainly been creative and innovative with this app and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them release an augmented reality application next year.

Do libraries have a future?

Panlibus Magazine article by Alan Gibbons (Issue 20)

Rarely have British libraries faced greater challenges. It is fashionable to call the presence of multiple problems a perfect storm. It is an apt, if overused, metaphor for the predicament in which libraries and librarians find themselves. Within living memory the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act appeared to guarantee their future as a free, universal service. It ushered in a period commonly known as the ‘golden age’ of libraries. The sixties saw spending grow by half and staffing by 40%. Though school libraries and school library services did not come under the aegis of the Act, they too tended to flourish in its wake.

The first major challenge to this apparent progress came with the public spending cuts of the eighties. By the late nineties many observers, including a DCMS report, were talking about a ‘service in crisis.’ A period of retrenchment was underway. Under the Tory and Labour governments of the era some branch libraries were closed and the number of professional librarians fell. Opening hours and book stocks were invariably a soft target for council savings. The weeds were beginning to appear in the garden but, with the onset of the great economic crash of 2008, the malignant growths have multiplied and threaten to choke the flowers to death.

The greatest threat came from last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review which set councils a target of cutting their budgets by 28% over four years, an unheard of reduction. New technology added a second challenge. Libraries had begun to meet it with some confidence, but as usual there were philistines getting out their spades to bury the institution because ‘everything is going digital’, even though libraries were demonstrating in practice that it was possible to manage the older and newer reading technologies quite successfully. The third element of the perfect storm was what a recent parliamentary committee called ‘woeful’ leadership.

Those choking weeds are now bearing a poisonous fruit. The new government has pushed libraries to the front of the queue for cuts, which have been ‘frontloaded’ as managerial speak so wretchedly puts it. In areas such as Oxfordshire, Doncaster, Barnet, Suffolk, Somerset, North Yorkshire and Gloucestershire half or more of the branch network could lose funding. The Isle of Wight would be left with just two libraries. Book funds are being slashed, by 75% in the case of Nottinghamshire. Staffing is being cut. The government believes that volunteers and Big Society providers can fill the vacuum left behind, but taking over a library is not just a matter of getting a few friends together as Jim Brooks, Chairman of the Friends of Little Chalfont Community Library, in Buckinghamshire explains in an interesting article here:

In 2009 the then shadow Culture Minister Ed Vaizey berated Andy Burnham for not halting Wirral’s plan to close eleven libraries in these terms:

“Andy Burnham’s refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities’ responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary’s door. If Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless.”

Andy Burnham eventually changed his mind about Wirral, saving the libraries. Unfortunately, Ed Vaizey also proved capable of changing his mind. There are now many Wirrals. At the time of writing 375 libraries are under threat. It is not just the public library service that is feeling the swish of the grim reaper’s scythe. School libraries have closed and so have School Library Services. All three arms of the British library structure are facing something of a crisis.

I first became aware of the gathering storm in July, 2008 when I was invited to address a protest meeting in Doncaster, organized by the local Save Our Libraries group. The council was cutting 32 jobs, 35% of the book budget and making £600,000 of savings. The director pushing through the measures justified them by saying: “People can buy all the books they need at Tesco.” It was a sign of things to come. Along with Michael Rosen, Philip Pullman, Melvin Burgess, Robert Swindells and many more authors I protested to Mayor Winter about the proposals. Within months the Meadows School in Chesterfield made librarian Clare Broadbelt redundant and closed the library. I organized a second round of author protests and the Campaign for the Book was born.

In December we faced our first huge test, one that united the book world in its indignation at the new era of philistinism. Wirral council on Merseyside, a Labour/Lib Dem administration was planning to close eleven of its libraries with very little consultation and with no clear strategy for the future of its library service. There were protests from Cilip, the trade unions, authors and library users. A 1,000 strong march wound its way through Birkenhead. I wrote an Open Letter to Culture Minister Andy Burnham on February 11th. On the 21st he said he was ‘not minded’ to review the Wirral cuts.

The broad coalition of opposition to the closures refused to lie down. A local solicitor sought a judicial review. Still the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was unmoved. On March 27th Junior Minister Barbara Follett repeated the mantra that the DCMS was ‘not minded’ to step in. We resorted to the tactic of appealing under the 1964 Act. By April 4th Andy Burnham was the first Minister since 1991 to intervene. He commissioned a report by Sue Charteris and the eleven libraries won a reprieve. Around the same time campaigners were successful in keeping open Old Town library in Swindon. We had won a significant victory that we celebrated at a Campaign for the Book conference in 2009 in Birmingham. Everybody had played a part, the Library Campaign, ourselves, the trade unions, Cilip and the local people in the Wirral where there were huge protests.

There were other elements of progress. Representatives of Cilip, the SLG, YLG, the Campaign for the Book and the School Library Association met to press the case for statutory school libraries. The School Libraries Commission chaired by Baroness Morris highlighted the worth of the school library. Sadly, the fallout from the banking crash overshadowed every forward step we took. Campaigners had demonstrated a new vigour in raising the profile of libraries. We had won a victory in the Wirral. The next time around however we would be fighting many such battles simultaneously.

This is the context. There is another sub-text however. Never has a coordinated and integrated library service been more relevant and necessary. This year’s PISA survey has placed the UK in 25th place in international comparisons of reading standards. Ten years ago we were in seventh place! The report’s authors identified the lack of reading for pleasure among teenagers as a major factor in our relative decline. In other words, at the very moment the case for reading and libraries is becoming more urgent, the political class is driving ever more disproportionate and damaging cuts. Figures such as Desmond Clarke and Tim Coates are pointing at issues such as overheads as important in any discussion of alternatives to closure.

The government continues to pursue its cost-cutting measures at a breakneck pace. The ‘bonfire of the quangoes’ has already done for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, transferring its powers to Arts Council England. It has rejected the case for statutory school libraries. Enthusiasts for libraries are refusing to go quietly into that good night however. At the time of writing activists in several areas are planning legal challenges under the 1964 Act. Others are organizing protests, petitions and Read Ins. Thee is even a call for a national inquiry into the programme of closures. The last Open Letter against library closures had well over 1,000 signatories including the likes of Lee Childs, Carol Ann Duffy, Bonnie Greer, Terry Jones and Michael Holroyd. Never have the pressures been greater, but never have advocates of books and libraries been more resourceful, imaginative, determined and successful in arguing their case in the media and out in the community. How this situation pans out will determine the quality of reading and information services in the UK for many years to come.

Alan Gibbons is an author and organizer of the Campaign for the Book. His blog acts as a forum for library campaigners and book lovers.

Panlibus Magazine Issue 19 now available online

Issue 19 of Panlibus Magazine is now available online. This issue, Panlibus explores what Openness means to Universities today with Open Nottingham. John Dolan, consultant and CILIP Trustee, looks at the challenges and future of public libraries; whilst Paul Williams of the University of Worcester talks us through the building of the Worcester Library and History Centre.

You can subscribe to Panlibus for free and read previous issues too.