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.
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)
- 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 http://drupal.org/project/front). 12.5% (1 in 8) of participants responded to a survey that they learned about the program from the splash page. A success.
- 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.
- Lapsit Storytime. This program had no attendees. A failure.
- 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.
- National Library Week. Patron participation doubled. No surveys were handed out on why patrons participated. A success.
- Summer Reader Club for youth, teens, and adults. Participation doubled for each group. No statistics were gathered on why individuals participated. A success.
- A Teen and Tween Gaming event. 10% (4 of 40) of participants came because of the splash page with 30% not responding. A success.
- 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.
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