The Columbus Metropolitan Public Library prides itself on its status as the number one library in the nation, and strives to excel through embracing new technologies to reach new audiences. This is apparent through the ways that they have tried to include Library 2.0 technologies in their website. Even as I am writing this review, a committee at the library is working on ways to change the website to include more instruction and more pathways to these tools. Thus this review is just a snapshot of the way things are, and perhaps some suggestions for ways that the library might look into improving their accessibility.
One key element of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s website is that it strives to encourage users to interact with the site and with the library through the site in many different ways. This desire to move beyond a site that merely provides information, to one in which users can modify and create information, is a hallmark of Library 2.0. In particular, CML works to encourage children and teens to interact with each other and the library through their site. As with all the reviews, I will be focusing on three main issues, and will strive to:
- Look at what Library 2.0 tools are avaliable or promoted on the website.
- Review what assistance the library provides on the website to guide their patrons in actually using the tools.
- Assess what explanations as to why users would want to use these tools, and who exactly would benefit from using them.
Library 2.0 Tools on Columbus Metropolitan Library System Website
While there are not a lot of Library 2.0 tools displayed on the front page of the CML web site, users don’t have to go far to find them integrated into the web site. Most of these tools are integrated into the website, either directly or through an outside service the library uses (such as their events calendar and the OPAC). Some of them are promoted through links to other tools that the library uses to provide services and promote the library to the community.
On the side bar of the frame that is on most of the library’s pages is a link inviting users to “Ask it” via phone, e-mail, or chat. This leads to a page that lists many ways that users can communicate with the library, including a built in chat that provides immediate response. Besides this chat, the library lists five account names for different chat services, where users can ask questions of a librarian, as well as a number that users can text questions to. These various tools invite users to interact with staff via the Internet, to extend library services beyond the physical space.
CML doesn’t just want its users to interact with the staff through their website, but with each other. They achieve this most successfully on the Kids and Teens page, which each feature sways that users can submit content, read others submissions, and comment on content. The teen page has a blog, with content relevant to teens and not just advertising teen events, that is semi-regularly updated. Teens can comment on the blog, participate in contests held on the blog, and discuss issues with each other through the blog. Additionally, the teens have a Flickr account, where teens can upload images and comment on other users images, a space to upload stories, and a place to upload poetry. On the kids page, there are also spaces to share jokes, stories, poems, and create mad libs. Both pages offer places for users to upload reviews of books, and read other users recommendations.
While the Kids and Teens pages really embody many of the ideals of Library 2.0 participation, CML also has a page of “Power Tools” that offer external ways to interact with the library beyond the website. They want to empower their users to get the most out of their library experience, and offer several plug-ins, a power search like Salt Lake County, and a tool bar. Since the library is committed to developing more ways for users to interact with the library, they have also created a blog to allow users to track this progress and comment on their experiences using them.
The last area of Library 2.0 technology on the CML website is the RSS feeds that are available from the services the library purchase–both from their events catalog and the OPAC. Like Salt Lake County Public library, CML uses Evanced to keep track of events, and allow users to interact with the library events, including setting up RSS feeds to report on upcoming events. They also have a feature in their catalog that allows users to receive RSS feeds when new books are released that match certain search criteria.
Assistance Provided on Web Site to Use these Tools
It is interesting to note to what degree the Library 2.0 tools on the website are supported by instruction and assistance. Naturally, users can use the various means of contact to reach a librarian to ask them how they work. But how much instruction is there that would allow users to independently navigate the tools.
On the library’s “Ask Us” page there are a lot of different ways to contact the library, for the new “chat” feature there is an extensive FAQ, but for most of the rest of the tools there is little help available. For the features embedded in the Kids and Teens pages, there is little instruction, but the interfaces are extremely simple and self explanatory. Since they are embedded, it takes no special knowledge of a tool to work. Each area is labeled with the information needed to submit, and each area is clearly labelled as what to submit there.
For the library’s “Power Tools” there is an entire blog dedicated to discussing them, and explaining how they work and what their purpose is. The blog also allows users to comment on how well the tools work and seek help, though I’m not sure how many people use it for these reasons. Because the blog is hosted on an outside blog software and embedded in the CML website it didn’t always show up when I clicked on it. This made it much more difficult to assess, and must make it more difficult for users to rely on it for assistance.
Because Evanced is provided by an outside service, the library does not provide any particular assistance on its website for navigating the calendar. Within the calendar service itself, there is little help provided by Evanced, though the areas are well labelled and navigation is fairly intuitive.
Explanation as to Why Patrons Would Want to Use the Tools
For the most part, CML assumes that their users understand why using these tools will improve their library experience, and so only have a few cursory explanations. On the “Ask Us” page, it is just assumed that users will see the advantage of instant messaging and chatting with a librarian on-line. They do provide more details as to why users should download and install the CML tool bar, by pointing out how it brings together a number of services and information into one location.
Overall assessment of the Library 2.0 tools on the Website
The Columbus Metropolitan Library has done an excellent job integrating a participatory element into their websites, particularly with the Kids and Teens pages. While they promote some Library 2.0 external technologies, they have not been as successful in integrating them into their website. For instance the blogs they host on their website frequently do not load, and while they mention their Twitter and Facebook pages, it is difficult to find the links to them on their website. Hopefully with the forthcoming changes, they will increase the visibility of these additional Library 2.0 tools.