About a year ago we launched the Gimme Engine (gimme.scottsdalelibrary.org) – a mobile web book recommendation engine. Choose one of the categories – Gimme a Clue, Gimme Something Good to Eat, etc – and the Engine will offer you a staff-recommended book from the Scottsdale Public Library collection, complete with summary, staff review, and a quick link to the mobile catalog to check availability or reserve.
Since launch, our app and the Gimme Engine Brain Trust that created it have won a number of awards – including a 2012 OITP Cutting Edge Technology in Library Services award. What’s our secret? We are happy to share what we learned in our process with the hope it will help you in your next technology process.
Find out what your users (and future users) want
When our team got together for the first time we had more ideas than we knew what to do with – everything from a mobile formatted version of our web site to a Dewey-caching in library scavenger hunt. We soon realized that in order for us to create a successful, and more importantly, sustainable mobile app, we needed to poll our customers and find out what exactly they want out of a mobile app. Though we had done some basic surveys of staff in the past, we didn’t feel that we were the experts best suited to properly create & distribute a survey that would ultimately drive our entire project.
We hired a local experience design agency called Forty to craft a survey to get the information we so desperately needed. Forty also helped distribute the survey via their social media, email lists and other outlets. This meant that in addition to our customer we would get responses from non-customers as well. This would help us understand if there was a difference in need between customers and future-customers (at least that is how we like to think of our ‘non customers’.)
What they want might be what you already have
There was in fact no real difference between customers and non customer need in the survey results but one thing was clear: current and future customers had no idea that we already had a mobile catalog with most of the standard functionality that they wanted. Great, we thought, just get the word out about the mobile catalog and our job is done! Then we realized no, we still have all this LSTA money that the Arizona State Library was nice enough to give us . . . we should probably spend that out.
Maximize your resources
So we looked at the highest items on the list that we didn’t have in mobile – book reviews and staff recommendations. That’s when we decided to make the book recommendation app. As it turned out we already had a lot of the raw materials for the project. Staff was already doing book reviews and posting them on GoodReads. We had content enrichment services for bib data and book jackets(Syndetics). And we had the mobile catalog and the ability to generate RSS feeds of items in the collection (AirPAC and FeedBuilder from Innovative Interfaces). All we needed was someone with enough experience to put that together.
Maximize your expertise
From the outset of this project, we engaged all levels of staff. This was critical to ensuring that whatever product we created would be supported throughout the organization, as well as vetted to ensure that we didn’t leave out any crucial elements. One of those elements was the encoding that allowed FeedBuilder to pick up the items for Gimme. A quick chat with the catalogers solved that problem – they created a series statement utilizing controlled vocabulary that would identify the item as belonging to a particular Gimme category and pasted the review into the MARC record. By adding Library staff review_[gimmeCategory] in the 830 field of each record and indexing it, not only were we able to create a constant flow of records for the Gimme feeds we were able to give all library staff easy access to these reviews when searching in the catalog.
The other process we had to create was a standardized way for people to submit reviews. Here we called on the cataloging group, the folks who where posting to GoodReads, and our IT department to create a book review form on SharePoint. The form itself was easy – staff at any level go to SharePoint (which functions as our intranet), type in their name, info about the book and their review and submit. The catalogers and GoodReads group developed a process to “hand off” reviews that ensure that it gets encoded, posted in both the catalog and GoodReads, and at all times is associated with the ISBN of the same edition so that everything seems to magically link together. Having staff who don’t normally interact working together on the share outcome certainly fostered a sense of ownership and respect in the group.
Don’t just build it . . . make it fun
Once the Gimme engine design was complete, and we had the back end programming to make it work, we were ready to unleash Gimme out into the world. Our biggest concern was that Gimme would get lost amongst all of the other products and services the library offered. One evening while cooking a delicious shepherd’s pie, a light bulb went off over Ann’s head. Since we were using our library staff book recommendations to fuel Gimme, why not turn our Staff in marketing vehicles? The next day a call went out to staff asking whoever wished to help to come forward. The end result was 15 life-sized cardboard cut outs of library staffers, highlighting their personalities. Attached to each was a ‘speech bubble’ that directed customers to go to http://gimme.scottsdalelibrary.org to see what books that staff member recommended.
The next phase was to create floor decals to put in various spots in our five library branches, so as customers walked through the library they would gain exposure to Gimme. We created corresponding buttons for staff to wear, which helped spur conversions and questions from customers, “What is Gimme?” This marketing plan engaged all level of staff, which helped make the launch of Gimme a success.
One year later the Gimme Engine is continuing to grow with new categories and increasing stats. Not only was the project a success but it by integrating the various workflows we’ve been able to make it, as well as doing fun reviews by staff, part of our culture. We hope that our experience can help you in some way make your next project as successful as the Gimme Engine.
About Our Guest Authors:
Aimee Fifarek is the Library Technologies and Content Senior Manager for the Scottsdale Public Library in Arizona. She has an MLIS and an MA in English from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and spent 6 years as the Systems Librarian at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge before going to Scottsdale. Her professional interests include ebook platforms & development, self-publishing, and mobile technologies. She can be found on Twitter @aimeelee.
Ann Porter is the Community Relations Coordinator at the Scottsdale Public Library. She has over 11 years of marketing, PR and media relations experience, working for organizations such as a major cosmetics company, an online retargeting agency that was recently purchased by Ebay and for a major NFL team.
Browsing Experience in the Virtual vs. the Physical Space
However entangled our lives are in virtual spaces, it is in the physical space that we exist. For this reason, human attention is most easily directed at where visual and other sensory stimuli are. The resulting sensory feedback from interacting with the source of these stimuli further enriches the experience we have in the physical space. Libraries can take advantage of this fact in order to bring users’ fleeting attention to their often-invisible online collections. So far, our experience on the Internet, where we spend so much time, is still mostly limited to one or two sensory stimuli and provides little or no sensory feedback. A library’s online resources, often touted for its 24/7 accessibility anywhere, are no exception to this limitation.
Think about new library books, for example. The print ones are usually prominently displayed at a library lobby area attracting library visitors to walk up and browse them in the physical space. By thumbing through a new book and moving back and forth from the table of contents to different chapters, we can quickly get a sense of what kind of a book it is and decide whether we want to further read the book or not. The tactile, olfactory, visual, and auditory sensory input that we get from thumbing through a newly printed book with fresh ink contributes to making this experience enjoyable and memorable at the same time.
Now compare this experience with reading a library Web page with the list of new online library books on a computer screen. Each book is reduced to a string of words and a hyperlink. It is hard to provide any engaging experience with a string of words and a hyperlink.
The Invisibility Problem of Library e-Books
Like many libraries, Florida International University (FIU) Library started an e-book reader lending program that circulates e-book readers. Each reader comes with more than one hundred titles that have been selected by subject librarians. But how can a library make these library e-books on e-book readers noticed by library users? How can a library help a user to quickly figure out what books are available on, say, a library Kindle device when those are specifically what the user is looking for?
Well, if a user runs a keyword search in the library’s online catalog, say, with ‘Kindle,’ s/he will find more than sufficient information since the library has already neatly cataloged all titles available on the Kindle device there. But many users may fail to try this or even be unaware of the new e-book reader lending program in the first place. The e-book reader lending program offers a great service to library users. However, the library e-books offered on the e-book readers can be largely invisible to users who tend to think that what they can see in a library is all a library has.
Giving Physical Presence to Library e-Books on e-Book Readers
The problem can be solved by giving some physical presence to e-books on the library’s e-book readers using a dummy bookmark on the stacks. This is particularly effective as it quickly captures users’ attention while they are already browsing the library stacks looking for something to read.
Users are familiar with a dummy book on physical shelves that marks a print title that is often looked for under different names or the recent change of the location of a title. Applied to Kindle e-books, a dummy bookmark is just as effective. A user can walk around the space where stacks are located and physically identify those e-books that the library makes available on a e-book reader in each subject section. By a visible cue, a dummy bookmarks create a direct sensory association between an e-book and something physical (that provides a visible and tactile feedback) in a user’s mind, thereby effectively expanding a users’ idea of what is available at a library.
When you pull out the bookmark, it looks like this. The bookmark includes the book’s cover image, title, author, and call number, which help a user to locate the title record in the library’s online catalog. But in reality, users are more likely to just walk down to the Course Reserves area to check out an e-book reader after reading this sign.
I tweeted this photo a while ago when I accidentally found out the idea was implemented while looking for some book in the stacks. (See the disclaimer below.) I was quite surprised by many positive comments that I received in Twitter. Many librarians also suggested adding a QR code to the dummy bookmark next to the Call Number. The addition of the QR code would be an excellent bonus on the bookmark. It will allow users to check the availability of the title on their mobile devices, so that they can avoid the situation in which the e-book and the e-book reader device have been already checked out.
If you are running a pricy e-book reader lending program at your library, a dummy bookmark might be an inexpensive but highly effective way to make those e-books stand out to users on the library stacks. What other things do you do at your library to make your online resources and e-books more visible to users?
Disclaimer: I have suggested this idea at the E-resources group meeting where all FIU libraries (including Medical Library where I work) are represented. But the implementation was done solely by the FIU main Library for their Kindle e-book collection on their stacks. For those who are curious, I was unable to find the exact number of dummy bookmarks on the stacks.
What Library Circulation Data Shows
Unless current patterns change, by 2020 university libraries will no longer have circulation desks. This claim may seem hyperbolic if you’ve been observing your library, or even if you’ve been glancing over ACRL or National Center for Education Statistics data. If you have been looking at the data, you might be familiar with a pattern that looks like this:
This chart shows total circulation for academic libraries, and while there’s a decline it certainly doesn’t look like it will hit zero anytime soon, definitely not in just 8 years. But there is a problem with this data and this perspective on library statistics. When we talk about “total circulation” we’re talking about a property of the library, we’re not really thinking about users.
Here’s another set of data that you need to look at to really understand circulation:
Academic enrollment has been rising rapidly. This means more students, which in turns means greater circulation. So if total circulation has been dropping despite an increase in users then something else must be going on. So rather than asking the question “How many items does my library circulate?” we need to alter that to “How many items does the average student checkout?”
Here is that data:
This chart shows the upper/lower quartiles and median for circulation per FTE student. As you can see this data shows a much more dramatic drop in the circulation of library materials. Rising student populations hide this fact.
But 2020? Can I be serious? The simple linear regression model in the charts is probably a good predictor of 2012, but not necessarily 2020. Hitting zero without flattening out seems pretty unlikely. However, it is worth noting the circulation per user in the lower quartile for less than 4 year colleges reached 1.1 in 2010. If you’re averaging around 1 item per user, every user that takes out 2 items means there’s another who has checked out 0.
What’s Happening Here?
Rather than waste too much time trying to predict a future we’ll live in in less than a decade, let’s explore the more interesting question: “What’s happening here?”
By far the number one hypothesis I get when I show people this data is “Clearly this is just because of the rise of e-journals and e-books”. This hypothesis is reasonable: What has happened is simply that users have switched from print to electronic. This data represents a shift in media, nothing more.
But there are 2 very large problems with this hypothesis.
First, print journal circulation is not universal among academic libraries. In the cases where there is no print journal circulation the effect of e-journals would not be present in circulation data. However, I don’t have information to point out exactly how many academic libraries did circulate print journals. Maybe the effect of e-journals on just the libraries that do circulate serials could effect the data for everyone. The data we have already shown resolves this issue. Libraries that did circulate serials would have higher circulation per user than those that did not. By showing different quartiles we can address this discrepancy in the data between libraries that did and did not circulate journals. If you look at the data you’ll see that indeed the upper quartile does seem to have a higher rate of decline, but not enough to validate this hypothesis. The median and lower quartiles also experience this shift, so something else must be at work.
Second, e-books were not largely adopted until the mid 2000s, yet the decline preceding 2000 is at least as steep as after. If you look at the chart below you’ll notice that ebook acquisition rates did not exceed print until 2010:
Ebooks, of course, do have an effect on usage, but they’re not the primary factor in this change.
So clearly we must reject the hypothesis that this is merely a media shift. Certainly the shift from print to electronic has had some effect, but it is not the sole cause. If it’s not a shift in media, the most reasonable explanation is that it’s a shift in user behavior. Students are simply not using books (in any format) as much as they used to.
What is Causing this Shift in User Behavior?
The next question is what is the cause of this shift.
I think the most simple answer is the web. 1996 is the first data point showing a drop in circulation. Of course the web was quite small then, but AOL and Yahoo! were already around, and the Internet Archive had been founded. If you think back to a pre-web time, pretty much anything you needed to know more about required a trip to the library and checking out a book.
The most important thing to take away is that, regardless of cause, user behavior has changed and by all data points is still changing. In the end, the greatest question is how will academic libraries adapt? It is clear that the answer is not as simple as a transition to a new media. To survive, librarians must find the answer before we have enough data to prove these predictions.
- All library data referenced in this post comes from the Library Statistics Program (National Center for Education Statistics) nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/getpubcats.asp?sid=041#
- Data regarding fall enrollments is from “Fast Facts” (National Center for Education Statistics) http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=98
About our guest author: Will Kurt is a software engineer at Articulate Global, pursuing his masters in computer science at the University of Nevada, Reno and is a former librarian. He holds an MLIS from Simmons College and has worked in various roles in public, private and special libraries at organizations such as: MIT, BBN Technologies and the University of Nevada, Reno. He has written and presented on a range of topics including: play, user interfaces, functional programming and data
ACRL announces the publication of Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers and Educators. Authored by Jason Puckett of Georgia State University, Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers and Educators is the first book-length treatment of this powerful research tool developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.
Written for end users, librarians and teachers, the book introduces Zotero and presents it in the context of bibliography managers and open source software. Puckett then provides detailed instructions on using the software in research and writing, along with a wealth of useful information including instructional best practices, examples, support tips and advanced techniques for those who teach and support Zotero.
“Puckett draws on his deep understanding of Zotero’s technology to provide clear, concise guidelines and tips for beginners and experts alike,” says Sean Takats, co-director of Zotero, assistant professor of History at George Mason University and director of research projects at the Center for History and New Media. “As a bonus, he convincingly argues why you — yes, you — need to be using research software and why Zotero is the best choice.”
A perfect guidebook to a robust open access research tool that allows the user to manage all aspects of bibliographic data, Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers and Educators is essential for librarians, classroom faculty and students alike.
Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers and Educators will be available at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans and is available for purchase in print and as an ePub, Kindle, or PDF e-book through the ALA Online Store; Amazon.com; and by telephone order at (866) 746-7252 in the U.S. or (770) 442-8633 for international customers.