Council library services could be doing more to encourage e-readers

Council library services should be doing more to make it easier for people to sign up and use their e-books, e-magazines and e-audio services says the latest report from Better Connected, the annual survey of local authority website performance.

Library services online are already well used, accounting for around 8% of visits to council websites, says Socitm, creator of the Better Connected service, and the provision of e- resources opens council library facilities to new audiences, including 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 if the opportunity to gain a whole new segment of users, is to be fully realised.

These conclusions come from a survey of county council websites exploring the user experience of finding out how to sign up for e-books and resources. The survey started from a Google search and included twenty questions including:

  • Am I told what kind of devices and e-readers I can use to access library e-books?
  • Can I join the library completely online, without visiting anywhere or posting documents?
  • Am I told whether I need to wait for a library card or PIN or something else before I can access ebooks/emagazines?
  • Is the process for borrowing e-books clear including whether/how I need to ‘return’ ebooks?

Questions also covered the currency of information, whether jargon was used and the quality of search and A-Z features.

45% of sites achieved three or four stars for this task, denoting they were providing a good or very good service for this task. This compares with compared with the 74% of county council sites that achieved three or four stars with the more straightforward Renew library book task in the Better Connected 2015-16 survey.

The main failing with this task was the lack of good, clear explanations of how to use e-books and other e-resources. Just 41% of sites scored a ‘Yes’ answer the question Is the process for borrowing e-books clear including whether/how I need to ‘return’ ebooks. And fewer than 60% scored a ‘yes’ for the question Are there clear instructions on how to access and use e-resources?

 

Complicated processes

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. 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.

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

Despite these observations, a number of councils are recommended in their approach, including East Sussex CC (I really liked the page describing e-books); Kent CC (navigation is very easy and intuitive); Staffordshire CC (really impressed by thought shown for the customer); Suffolk CC (council is not relying on third parties to provide help and guidance).

Results of the library survey for the 27 county councils tested are now available. Individual councils can find their results from the council index page at https://betterconnected.socitm.net/councils. The ‘all council’ reports can be found here.

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