Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Using Good Systems Work to Extend Your Library's Market

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Using Good Systems Work to Extend Your Library's Market

Article excerpt

"We need to provide services that give users unique experiences."

Are library services that are offered through computers real or not? Are they less or more substantial or valid than traditional ones? Nowadays everything seems to be virtual, even though we mean "represented on computers" instead of the literal definition "not in actuality." Are services offered over the Web virtual? No, they are quite real.

When I think about extending a library's services, I think about reaching out to more people or other people, adding new or different services, pushing a vision or direction further, and going to places you don't usually think of as "normal." Lots of digital technologies and applications come to mind--kiosks, dynamic Web pages, and e-books. But when I think about a model for reaching more users, I think of something that might be considered old-fashioned nowadays: the bookmobile. Since my column wasn't scheduled to run last month, read on to see how I manage to combine September's marketing theme with October's systems theme!

Bookmobile as an Experience

I started out in libraries driving a bookmobile. Well, actually, I started out shelving books, at the Alien County Public Library when Rick Ashton was there. When someone found out I had just gotten out of the military after making the rank of sergeant, I was "promoted" to the fines desk. But when summer came along, I got on the bookmobile circuit, riding along on four different routes and then taking over when the permanent drivers went on vacation.

But my association with bookmobiles goes back even further. When I was a little kid, I was a bookmobile user. I can remember when I was 9 or 10, every Wednesday I'd wait for 3:30 to come. I couldn't wait to step aboard the dimly lit, cavernous closet. Bob, the driver, introduced me to the lesser-known works of Dr. Seuss and to the entire genre of science fiction. Little did I know, as I stood there watching and listening as a crude camera took pictures of my library card number and the titles of the books I was checking out, that I would one day be sitting in the driver's seat. Having been on both sides, I'm familiar with both what it takes to run one and why they are appreciated.

The obvious great thing about bookmobiles is that they provide convenience. They come to you. And you can usually request books that will be waiting for you next time, if you don't mind a 1-week turnaround in delivery time. They also provide a social function. You meet people in your neighborhood who are also readers. You can ask them, or the driver, about other books to read if the ones at hand have already been perused. Of course in today's world and our ubiquitous "TVs-in-the-SUVs" society, the popularity and cost-effectiveness of the bookmobile have probably waned. (Anyone with evidence to the contrary, please contact me with your stories!)

The Web Is Not a Bookmobile

In some ways we'd like to think the Internet has in part usurped the usefulness of the bookmobile. After all, isn't the library's Web site supposed to act like a bookmobile by its very nature? No. I mean, obviously it can be accessed remotely, at the user's convenience, but any similarity pretty much ends there, at least with the current state of library home pages.

For instance, do you have a virtual book-mobile page that provides a small subset of the larger collection to view? Sounds kind of weird, huh? But with a little programming you could create a customized search page that would allow mystery lovers to search the catalog for only mystery books. In reality the search would simply combine the appropriate subject heading with the user's keyword of choice. This is the kind of thing Hal Kirkwood at Purdue has been doing for the Krannert Management School for over a year. (See http://www.lib.purdue. edu/mel/mis.html for an example.) But if you think the users should just learn to do it themselves, you must be reading this issue of CJL for the wrong reason--extending services and systems work both require you to provide a small simple service that makes a big impact on users. …

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