We are at a crossroads at how libraries (and those that make the financial decisions) approach technology. Specifically, we are starting to see a large gap in the way many libraries view delivering services on the web and how they are investing in that web property. The “status quo” for the past decade or so has been delivering a fairly static website with possible links to upcoming events or a blog. The library catalog and other resources are generally accessed through a non-integrated link for which you are directed to another website for the resource. In this case, the major investment has been with whatever vendor(s) are making those resources available - rather than investing in the front-facing web experience for the user/patron. Take a look at the four website techology personas we have described below. Which one are you? Why? What would it take to get you to Level Three or Four? Dare to dream.
Level One: The Brochure site
At a basic level, libraries need a website that helps patrons find out information about the library. Hours, branch location, list of services, about us, etc. With sites like this, there is no real integration with the library catalog or other databases other than a link. In this case, the budget for the website can be very minimal and because there is no real integration between the website and any other library systems, the budgets can be separate.
Level Two: The Portal
Many library websites currently fall under this category. In addition to the basic information provided by a brochure site, the portal website contains structured lists of links to services the library pays for or that the librarians find useful. In addition, there are often search boxes for the library catalog and other databases embedded on the site. A portal website is loosely integrated with other library IT systems in many cases. This can be as simple as keeping the site up to date with the library’s offerings or may include embedded or custom search boxes that link to external services. In some cases there is some form of single sign-on for paid services that require authentication. With a portal site, the website budget has to be more closely linked with the other IT services and depends on the level of integration, but they are still basically separate systems.
Level Three: The Hub
This is where we think libraries should be headed. By making the library’s website an integral part of the library information systems, patrons are able to access everything in one place. With the Hub model, the library’s website is an integral part of all the library’s information services, acting as an aggregator. This is not always an easy task, as not all service providers make their data available for this kind of integration. I think, over time, things are headed this way, and the more that libraries ask for it, the faster it will come. In this case, there is not a separate website budget, instead all IT services are considered part of a single system.
Level Four: Social
We are just starting to think about how libraries can go social, in a deeply integrated way. Not just linking out to the mainstream networks, but creating their own network of library patrons. For now, just try to imagine ways in which the community a library serves might want to connect with each other and share their experience and knowledge. In this case, the website actually starts to expand the role that the library systems can play in the community.