Small changes can make big differences on council library websites, report says

Small changes to wording, links and the hierarchy of information could significantly improve the user experience of libraries online, says Better Connected in its latest report on the usability of council websites.

Overall, 46% of Scottish councils and 32% of Welsh councils provide a good or very good service for website visitors looking to sign up for e-resources, including e-books, e-magazines and other digital resources, from their library service.

Access to library services is a highly popular part of council websites that accounts for around 8% of visits according to Socitm data. 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.

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. Making these easy to use is critical if the opportunity to gain a whole new segment of library users is to be realised.

When the same survey was carried out last year for English county councils, 44% were rated as good or very good.

 

Details matter

Those responsible for creating library pages need to recognise 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.

Many sites offer resources from more than one of the e-book systems, such as OverDrive or BorrowBox. Where this is the case they need to explain what the difference is so that the user can choose their preferred system – or indeed sign up for both.

Sites should not just rely on the e-books/magazine supplier’s help pages because like much IT-provided ‘help’ information they are not always easy for everyone to understand.

 

Good examples

Better Connected found some good examples of comprehensive but easy to read introductions to ebooks, 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.

Despite these observations, a number of councils are recommended in their approach, including Aberdeenshire (‘It is also easy to see which devices can be used. The English is clear and does not rely on technical knowledge’), East Renfrewshire (‘Excellent introduction to e-books. Getting a library card number and PIN by email looks really easy and seamless’). Midlothian (‘The introductory page was excellent – really simple to read yet full of information’) and South Ayrshire (‘Very good introduction to e-books with direct links into the help pages on OverDrive: overall an excellent example of how to implement e-books’).

Results of the library survey for the 32 Scottish and 22 Welsh councils tested are now available. Individual councils can find their results from the council index page on the Better Connected website. The ‘all council’ reports can be found by following the links on the website.

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