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An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series Ok, I didn’t plan on writing about BookMatch for LISNews. It isn’t very philosophically inspiring or technically amazing. However, it is a patron pleaser and service that any public library can implement in one form or another and enhances participants “Library Experience.” So, the question I kept asking myself when considering what to write was, “should I present an interesting but quickly forgotten bit of library philosophy or should I explain and walk through a well loved service?” The latter is what I would prefer to read. BookMatch is the Skokie Public Library bringing readers advisory online. The Mechanics BookMatch is put together by using SurveyMonkey, Wikispaces, and a Microsoft Word form. This process is in continuous flux as questions are rewritten, deleted, or added. SurveyMonkey was used because of familiarity with the product and the ease of customization. More importantly SurveyMonkey provides the option of form logic, which is a pain to code… I hear. The BookMatch survey has nine paths depending on a patron’s answer to questions. For example, “Do you read romances?” The answer yes takes the patron to questions about romance and answering no skips that section. “Do you read fiction only or fiction and nonfiction or nonfiction only?” This question offers three different question paths. Form logic avoids patrons having to answer or even look at questions that do not apply to their reading tastes, essential if you do not want strictly nonfiction readers being faced with questions about Sword and Sorcery tastes. Once the survey is received, it is transferred to a private wiki hosted by Wikispaces. A link to the survey and the date it was received is added to the Surveys Awaiting Response page. It is then reviewed by around twenty-five reader advisors with wildly divergent reading tastes. Suggested items are added to the discussion area of the wiki. Each suggestion entry has the title of the book, author, call number and a review/summary usually from a professional journal such as Booklist or the Library Journal. Once the twenty to twenty-five titles have been suggested, the manager of that particular BookMatch adds them to a Microsoft Word form. The form is turned in to a PDF using an open source Word to PDF converter and emailed/mailed/left at a desk for the patron. The link on the wiki is then transferred to the completed area. Training the reader services staff to work with the wiki and the Microsoft form took a little time. Interestingly enough, suggesting books, the most important and arguably most difficult aspect of working on a BookMatch, caused almost no issues. Suggesting titles has been universally agreed to be fun. An added benefit to using a wiki is that the entire RS staff is now more than proficient in using wikis. This will make implementing other projects that call for online collaboration through wikis easier to implement. Without advertising, programs such BookMatch would wither on the vine. We used the traditional public library advertising methods. It was announced on the front page of the website and described in the quarterly update. We have placed Moo Cards at the reader services desk with a short description and the URL. Value Patrons of all ages love this service. It has been surprising to us how many teens and college age patrons have submitted surveys. Here are a few quotes excerpted from emails sent to Ricki Nordmeyer (the brains behind BookMatch).
“I LOVE my BookMatch list. I used to have a hard time finding books, and it is so helpful.” “I LOVE LOVE LOVE the BookMatch service. I have found new authors that I probably wouldn't have found.” “I am a huge fan of the service you provide through BookMatch. Finding a good read has been a challenge for me. I enjoy reading, yet couldn't find the right books for me. While the survey was rather thorough, it was simple to complete.”
An added benefit is that it has made the entire RS department better at their jobs. If a patron comes to the desk and tells me they like Jodi Picoult and Stephanie Meyer (two authors I have never read) I can use previous BookMatches to easily suggest other authors. So BookMatch is beloved by patrons and makes our RS staff stronger at suggesting books, what is not to love about it?
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Using Splash Pages

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

The Library Experience, including events, is gaining in importance as content becomes ubiquitous. Word of mouth and posters in the library will only take us so far, especially for one time event/programs. A little over a year ago I decided to try something new and exciting to advertise programs online at the small Franklin Park Public Library, IL (my employer at the time).

Advertisements for upcoming programs/events on public library websites usually consist of a title, a short description, and maybe a small image. In the flashy, colorful World Wide Web these advertisements are easily overlooked or ignored in the few seconds that the patron spends on the front page of a library website. This is even more true if learning about library programs isn’t the original goal of the visit to the website. In fact, the experiment that originated this blog post came about solely because of the use of Google Analytics website analytic service. I discovered that a large portion of the visits to the Franklin Park Public Library website consisted of only viewing the front page (79%) and lasted less than 10 seconds (82%). These statistics are fairly standard among public libraries according to the data I was provided by the some of the wonderful librarians of the Web4lib listserv.

The statistics gathered from Google Analytics may be caused by public libraries increasingly becoming the physical gateway to the internet for many patrons with a quick stop at the homepage of the browsers, usually the library’s front page. Another potential reason to help explain these statistics is that patrons are briefly using the library’s front page as a portal to the OPAC and databases. So we have a captive audience coming to the library website and then moving on. How many for profit agencies would kill to have the same opportunity? However the usage statistics are generated, it does quickly bring two glaring truths to the forefront. Library websites have a relatively large local audience and also a very short time span to catch a website user’s eye. So the question I wanted to answer was how to convert these website visitors to library program participants? I decided to try splash pages. I had not heard of, read about, or found any libraries that were using splash pages to market their events/programs, yet I continuously came across them in for-profit websites. I also hoped making them would be fun.

Splash Pages
A splash page is an introductory webpage specifically designed to quickly grab a visitor’s attention. It usually does not conform to the parental structure of the website. It can have a different color scheme, menu structure, content division, header, footer, and anything and everything else. For-profit website splash pages are used as prime real estate for advertising.

I needed my splash pages to be eye catching, designed for a single purpose, and load quickly in order to entice the patron in to reading about the program/event. In order to keep the splash pages fresh, it was important not to leave one up for longer than a week and to use the technique only once a month. It was also important to have a clear and easily found link to the library’s normal frontpage.

The Experiment (click links to see screenshots of the splash pages)

  1. Journal Writing Workshop for adults. I used this program as a jumping off point simply because it was the right time (I had finished designing the Franklin Park Library website using Drupal 5 and discovered the Front Page module 12.5% (1 in 8) of participants responded to a survey that they learned about the program from the splash page. A success.
  2. Making Anklets and Bracelets for teens and tweens. 100% (6 of 6) of participants responded that they learned about the program through the splash page. A success.
  3. Lapsit Storytime. This program had no attendees. A failure.
  4. Cirque du Soleil ticket giveaway. This event had the same amount of participants as a like giveaway the previous year, which wasn’t advertised by splash page. A failure.
  5. National Library Week. Patron participation doubled. No surveys were handed out on why patrons participated. A success.
  6. Summer Reader Club for youth, teens, and adults. Participation doubled for each group. No statistics were gathered on why individuals participated. A success.
  7. A Teen and Tween Gaming event. 10% (4 of 40) of participants came because of the splash page with 30% not responding. A success.
  8. Reader Appreciation Party. No surveys were handed out but according to staff observation many more showed up than previous years. This was the only splash page to use Flash animation style effects (Sprout Builder). A success.

Findings Summary
Admittedly this experiment is not scientific since it is dealing with a real library which makes laboratory single variable settings impossible. Some intriguing conclusions are still reached. In my experience, splash pages increased participation in most library events and programs, sometimes dramatically. Teens and adult programs benefited the most while youth programs were not helped. The impact of using splash pages will likely vary from library to library from year to year.

It is interesting to note that the library never had even one complaint about adding an extra click to getting to the library content.

I would love to know if, when, and how other libraries are using splash pages.

Mikael "Mick" Jacobsen is an Adult Services Librarian at the Skokie Public Library, IL. He received his Masters in Library and Information Science from Dominican University in January of 2008. He is a collaborating blogger at Tame the Web.
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