or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


How Thin is Your Library?

   May 31st, 2007 Brian Herzog

I've thought of a new phrase that is quickly becoming my professional goal - I call it the "Thin Library."

By "Thin Library," I'm referring to libraries (and more specifically, library websites) that don't trap patrons in dead ends, nor require tremendous skill or experience to use. I think the old model for websites (or the business model) is to keep people on your website as long as possible. But libraries are just the opposite - we want a website through which patrons and information very easily pass on their way to finding each other.

Most people don't come to libraries just to interact with a library; they come here to find something. And since libraries don't actually create anything, our role becomes that of a conduit, and knowledgeable guide, to help connect patrons with the information they need. To best help the patron, we need to perform this function as seamlessly as possible.

My example for this is a third-party vendor (we pay for their content, but this is not a commercial). The company is called BookLetters, and they provide loads of readers advisory information - lists of best sellers, award winners, new publications, genre lists, book reviews, etc.

I prefer BookLetters to similar providers because they allow libraries to offer this information to their patrons by email, rss feeds, or, what caught my eye, integrated right into our website.

The Reading Room section of our website is designed around this service (any link that launches a window is a BookLetters page), and has gotten pretty good response from patrons. BookLetters lets us wrap their content in our website design, so unless savvy patrons are paying attention, they'd never know they've left our website.

And really, they don't need to know that. Patrons don't care where a book list or review is coming from, they just want it. If we can funnel it to them (or them to it), then all the better. Our goal should be reducing to an absolute minimum the number of steps it takes to get from a patron in need to a satisfied patron.

Library 2.0 tools offer this - a flickr badge or the LibraryThing for Libraries widget can be embedded right into a library's website. These tools let us pull together information from the wider world (where our patrons live) and put it all in one place (where, hopefully, are patrons are coming for information). I wish more traditional vendors would get on board with this concept. Federated searching is nice in that it eliminates a separate link and login for every database a patron might need to search. But beyond that, I'm trying to refine my own approach to how we offer services, so the library can be a portal to information and not a barrier to it.

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