Re: Nothing is the Future

This is a reaction post of “Nothing is the Future” by Wayne Bivens-Tatum (Academic Librarian).

While my astute professional peer makes excellent points concerning the hyperbole in library technology trends, I feel that there is an excellent lesson to his post: while librarians can and should act as leaders for their patrons, they should also be followers and listeners.

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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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The Faulty Model of Newsprint Media

At the end of last week, the New York Times Company threatened to close down the Boston Globe unless the employee unions agreed to $20 million in cuts. This comes on the heels of comments by NYT executive editor Bill Keller speaking to an audience at Stanford in which he stated "saving the New York Times now ranks with saving Darfur as a high-minded cause." (He clarifies his statement to relate it to the relative level of interest in the survival of the Times, not as a human rights intervention. This doesn't change the extraordinarily poor choice of comparative terms.) It's not the only newspaper in trouble within recent memory. The Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times) filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2008.

The search for the next big thing

For those unfamiliar with the library field, librarians have a strange relationship with technology. On one hand, the library field has been quick to follow new trends of audio and video technologies. Even as we speak, my library is moving towards Blu Ray and expanding web based technologies such as eBooks and downloadable content such as movies and mp3s. We are working on bringing the library and the patron closer together through the internet with an online calendar, databases, and other remotely accessed sources.

On the other hand, it wasn't long ago that libraries were playing catchup to one of the biggest technologies, the internet. When the internet was emerging as a means for global communication, the majority of libraries balked at the addition of computers. Books, it was said at the time, was the main mission of the library. The internet was something that fell outside of that mission. Eventually, obviously, the massive amount of information exchange was too much to ignore. The internet rewrote the mission of the library in terms of the mediums that it could be expressed in. Combined with the linking of broadband communication networks and global information resources, literally a world of knowledge was brought to the simplest library setup.

Traditional libraries live on in an increasingly digital world

Traditional libraries live on in an increasingly digital world

"America's reading rooms have transformed into modern community centers offering shelves of newly released movies and music, digital audio books and free Internet access. Some, like the Oshkosh Public Library, even offer occasional teen Pilates classes and moviemaking workshops in addition to story times and book clubs. Even in the digital age, when some thought computer screens would supplant ink and paper, libraries are far from becoming extinct".

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