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Councils ‘could do better’ on e-services for libraries


Survey shows tendency to poor wording on websites and over-reliance on third party suppliers

Council library services could be making it easier for people to sign up and use their e-books, e-magazines and e-audio services, according to the latest report from Better Connected.

A survey of 27 county council library services, carried out during December, led to just 45% achieving three or four stars, denoting they have been providing a good or very good service. This compares with 74% in an earlier survey on the more straightforward service of renewing a library book online.

The main failing was the lack of good, clear explanations of how to use e-books and other e-resources.

Just 41% of sites scored a ‘yes’ in answer the question “Is the process for borrowing e-books clear including whether/how I need to 'return' ebooks?” Fewer than 60% scored a ‘yes’ for the question “Are there clear instructions on how to access and use e-resources?”

The survey report says that those responsible for managing library website pages need to account for the fact that processes for borrowing e-books, 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.

Two accounts

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 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.  

There is also a tendency to assume council library users are familiar with the third party suppliers of e-books and e-magazines and can link to them without any introduction or explanation. Councils often fall back on the help pages provided by these providers rather than providing their own overview of how it all works.

Public sector IT association Socitm, the creator of the Better Connected service, said that online library services are already well used, accounting for around 8% of visits to council websites, and e- resources are opening council library facilities to new audiences. These include those unable or disinclined to visit the library in person.

The facility to access e-magazines free of charge, including downloading latest issues to a smart phone, shows library services to be taking advantage of services made possible by digital technologies. But making these services easier to use will be critical in order to gain a whole new segment of users.

The report recommends a few councils for their approach, including East Sussex, Kent, Staffordshire and Suffolk.

Image: iStock / SashaFoxWalters

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