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Council websites fall short on library e-lending


New Socitm survey shows most local authorities in Scotland and Wales fail to provide good or very service for e-books and e-magazines

Only a minority of Scottish and Welsh local authorities are providing a good or very good service on their websites to help people use e-resources from their local libraries, according to a new report from public sector IT association Socitm.

The latest survey for it Better Connected programme has found that 46% of Scottish councils and 32% of Welsh councils do well in helping website visitors looking to sign up for e-resources, including e-books, e-magazines and other digital resources, from their library service.

This compares with 44% for English county councils when the same survey was carried out last year.

In the Scottish and Welsh survey, Better Connected found some good examples of comprehensive but easy to read introductions to e-books, but fewer than half the sites surveyed told users what kind of devices and e-readers can be used to access library e-books and only 55% provided clear instructions on how to access and use these resources.

Councils that received good reports from the survey included Aberdeenshire, East Renfrewshire, Midlothian and South Ayrshire.

Complicated processes

Better Connected said that those responsible for creating library pages need to recognise that processes for borrowing e-books, e-magazines and audio resources are different and more complicated than traditional book borrowing and that readers will often need to download software or apps to do so.

They will usually need to sign up for accounts with third party providers in addition to having a library account with the council. Sometimes they will need to be signed in with both accounts at the same time in order to access resources.

In this context, poor wording and the wrong hierarchy of information can make a huge difference to the user’s ability to complete the task. Lack of attention to detail will lead users to give up or phone for further information.

Many sites offer resources from more than one of the e-book systems, such as OverDrive or BorrowBox. Socitm said that where this is the case they need to explain the differences between them so that the user can choose their preferred system or sign up for both.  

Sites should not just rely on the e-book/magazine supplier’s help pages because they are not always easy for everyone to understand.

Easy to use

On a positive note, the facility to access e-magazines free of charge, including downloading latest issues to a smart phone, shows council libraries to be taking advantage of new services made possible by the latest technologies. But making these easy to use is critical if the opportunity to gain a whole new segment of library users is to be realised.

Access to library services is a highly popular part of council websites that accounts for around 8% of visits, according to Socitm data. The organisation said the provision of e-books and other digitally accessible resources opens council library facilities to new audiences, including those unable, or disinclined, to visit the library in person.

Image: iStock / SashaFoxWalters

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