Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A Web 2.0 Makeover for library portals

Library web sites have been around as long as... well, web browsers; and as the internet has changed so have library sites. We have moved from static pages with hours of opening and something about our services, to integrating our catalogues, to establishing portals with goodies such as federated search engines, blogs and wikis. So what will happen to the library web site as a result of the continued rise of Web 2.0 and social networking? Well, there is an interesting article on Web 2.0 Journal about Web 2.0 Makeovers for Online Stores on how the change in computer screen sizes and social networking is making online retailers rethink the way they present information and products to potential buyers.

Libraries may not 'sell' their services, but like online retailers, we are interested in our client's experience. But how do we get this right when they interact with us online? Like retailers, we are also interested in client loyalty. So what can we learn from the changes in online shopping brought on by Web 2.0 and social networking?

Ease of use remains important, but so does the need to allow clients to interact with us rather than just use us. More and more libraries recognise this by integrating blogs, wikis, through out their portals; and by linking their library to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. These libraries allow clients to post reviews on books they like or dislike. Some school libraries are playing around with integrating inhouse online reader clubs into their sites. Some museums and cultural organisations are allowing people to comment on, and make recommendations about, digital image metadata. All these ideas are based on the premise of building online loyalty by:

A. Blurring the boundary between the library and the client,
B. Encouraging the client to be a participant and not just a passive user,
C. Give the client a space and opportunity to add their ‘content’,
D. Try and build an online "Community" around the library, and
E. This in turn helps build loyalty as the client becomes an active stakeholder and therefore interested in the library's future.

According to the Web 2.0 Journal article, many retailers are focusing on building micro-sites and leveraging Web 2.0 functions to go after new markets and or new demographics. This opens up some interesting options for libraries. Rather than one web site to rule them all (apologies to Tolkien) we can offer sites with a very different look and feel for specific client groups. Even better, we can look at adopting the BBC approach, and allow each client to customise their libraries portal so it focuses on the things they are interested in. See following for details.

Who knows, as we move into Web 3.0 / semantic web type features, the library portal of the future will probably even watch and learn what the client does and make individual recommendations. Amazon, and a number of library catalogue systems kind of do this already with their recommendation service “Readers who bought this book where also interested in…”. With services like InSuggest embedded in a library portal, the future may not be that far off. Libraries may even teach online retailers a thing or two.

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