Trends Shaping Today’s Libraries (Part 2)
6) New Frontiers For Reference Interviews
Reference interview (RI) services are a staple of library work – and a pillar of the institution’s value proposition. Studies show that for many patrons, satisfaction with the library as a whole is predicated on the perceived success of their last reference interview interaction.
Even so, there have always been inherent drawbacks. Some patrons – particularly when exploring subjects they consider sensitive – are uncomfortable approaching librarians for assistance. Others, particularly young people, are put off by the hassle of actually going to the nearest library to seek assistance. Perhaps most frustrating of all, there is typically no way to submit questions to staff outside of regular facility hours of operation.
Fortunately, the brave new Digital Age brings with it new horizons for reference interviews. Called “virtual” or “digital” reference interviews in the library literature, these help sessions can be conducted any of a number of ways. It began with email – though reference desk staffers discovered quickly enough that email is not a medium terribly conducive to the back-and-forth exchange that successful RIs oftentimes require.
An alternate asynchronous mode of communication that many patrons (particularly Millennials) find more satisfying is text messaging. Twilio, Mosio for Libraries (“Text a Librarian”), Google SMS and Altarama Reference are among the many tools available to help libraries integrate SMS-based reference interviews into their service offerings.
Synchronous opportunities include instant messaging – either through a freestanding platform or one built into the library’s website. OmniReference, QuestionPoint, Vienova and LibraryH3lp are among the many options popular today.
True trailblazers are even investigating co-browsing. Previously the purview of IT professionals, co-browsing allows reference librarians to “log in” on a patron’s home computer and see what they see. Although it comes with a learning curve for librarians, co-browsing holds great potential as libraries across the country double down on databases and other online resources that patrons can use from home.
7) Data, Data Everywhere
On occasion, you may hear a veteran librarian reflect fondly on a bygone era when the library’s value was self-evident to everybody, and few were called upon to defend their budgets and expense priorities. In point of fact, those halcyon days never truly existed. Taxpayers and purse-string holders have always demanded accountability, and libraries have always employed data analysis to help make their case.
What is true, however, is that purposeful data collection and analysis are now more important than ever. The reasons for this are twofold. For one, in an age where four fifths of Americans use an internet-enabled device at home, libraries are called upon to justify their continued relevance. Second, and on a more upbeat note, technological advancements have made it much easier to collect and analyze meaningful data points.
One obvious, core stat is the number of patrons who pass through your door over a given period of time. Not long ago, this was done manually. In stark contrast, many libraries today ‘count’ using powerful tools such as SenSource Patron Counting Technology or Traf-Sys Omnicounters. Such tools are well worth an investigation and, many argue, a long-term investment. In addition to helping justify your budget, the data collected can help you optimize staff deployment and hours of operation.
Robust, tech-enabled data collection is also helping libraries “make a case” on a far grander scale.
One example seeing a lot of traction is Library Journal’s aptly named Impact Survey. Each year, hundreds of libraries across the country volunteer information about their operations. What results is an annual report chock-full of citable statistics about the invaluable services that libraries offer their communities.
In a similar vein, in 2016 the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced Measures That Matter, an ambitious partnership with COSLA aimed at collating, standardizing, and disseminating the hodge-podge of library data available from different sources. The hope is that, given time, these efforts will reap major advocacy ‘dividends’ for libraries across the country.
8) Reassessing Patrons’ Need For Quiet Zones
In our last article on important library trends, we talked at length about makerspaces and other ways in which the local public library is emerging as a vibrant hub for community collaboration. As true as this is, it comes with an important counterpoint.
Now more than ever, a substantial subset of patrons count on the library to serve as a reliable “quiet zone.” According to a recent PEW poll, 76 percent of Americans surveyed viewed “quiet study spaces” as “very important” (and another 19 percent ranked this as “somewhat important”) to the library value proposition.
Libraries designed today typically contain a number of sound-proof rooms included in the floor plan for the express purpose of filling this need. As much as is possible, computer banks are located away from more noisy areas of the library for the same reason.
Of course, it goes without saying that most libraries do not have the luxury of designing a new facility from the ground up. Even so, many libraries are making efforts to both safeguard and beef up their quiet spaces.
While it sounds like a tall order, it’s not rocket science. For some, it’s as easy as rearranging or purchasing furniture to match the intended use of a given space. For instance, while large tables are appropriate for collaborative spaces where medium-volume conversation is encouraged, high backed study carrels and one- and two-person desks are best suited to areas you wish to officially or unofficially zone as quiet areas.
Signage clearly delineating official quiet zones are also increasingly common in libraries. Research shows that when basic cues such as these are in place, patrons typically do a reasonably good job regulating their noise level.
9) More (And Expanded) Community Reads
One Book initiatives, alternatively called community read programs or City Reads, have been around in some form for nearly two decades. The very first program built on the One Book model is credited to the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library. In 1998, executive director Nancy Pearl organized a four-day slate of programs around a popular title by author Russell Banks. Enterprising librarians in New York and Chicago took up the idea shortly thereafter. Before long, scattered cities, counties and college campuses around the country could be found orchestrating their own spin on City Read.
Today, library-coordinated community reads initiatives are ballooning – in number, size, popularity, and visibility.
The inaugural City Read in Seattle included a keynote by the feature author and several dovetailing book discussions. Today, a One Read in a community of comparable size is likely to include a host of other programmatic offerings as well. In addition to keynote presentations and discussions with the highlighted author, movie screenings, classes or demonstrations, and panel discussions focused on the book’s major issues and themes are increasingly common.
As these programs grow, more and more libraries are making it a priority to bring community sponsors into the fold. Sponsors, particularly small businesses or area foundations, not only ensure financial sustainability, but help foster the sense of community togetherness that One Read programs are intended to engender.
Budget isn’t everything. We are also seeing a trend towards more and more library-led “coalition” community read programs, where the library creates and leverages partnerships with other community groups to extend the offerings and audience reach associated with a City Read. Local bookstores, Kiwanis and Rotary chapters, chambers of commerce, and other organizations with a civic or philanthropic purpose are all excellent candidates.
Now that the concept is entrenched in library culture and more popular than ever before, a wealth of resources are available to those who have never seriously explored the possibility. ALA offers a free, 45-page “Planning Your Community-Wide Read” primer. Library of Congress also offers valuable online tools for first-time organizers.
Have you seen other Library Trends we should know about? If so, give us a shout!