Home > Librarianship > The Library as Virtual Place

The Library as Virtual Place

Last week, a patron walked through our library door and excitedly exclaimed to us, “I haven’t been here in forever! I’ve been living electronically.”  He went on to explain to us that he’s been conducting most of his research in his office via our library website.

In my graduate classes, we often talk about the library as place.  By this the professors mean establishing the library building as a place the community thinks about.  “Let’s go to the library” should be as natural a thought for a group of friends as “Let’s go to Starbucks.”  Yet a library doesn’t only possess a physical space, they also possess a virtual space patrons frequent.  Often far less, if any, thought is given to branding the library’s virtual space.

Most libraries have some sort of home page in addition to the online catalog (OPAC).  Many also have a few pages directed toward certain patrons, such as a teen page in public libraries or research help for the humanities for academic libraries.  The more cutting-edge libraries might also have a blog and a link to a twitter account.  In my exxperience, there is no cohesiveness among these pages.  There is no clear brand that this is Noname Library’s virtual space beyond perhaps a bar across the top of the page with the library’s name on it.  Although I know a lot of effort is usually put into designing these pages, they often seem haphazardly thrown together.  There is no cohesiveness.  Worse, especially for a public used to the cutting-edge of technology, many libraries are using old, out-dated, and even proven inadequate website design theories.  It’s like the designer has paid zero atttention to the research conducted in the last decade showing what works best for making a website browsable.

Thus, while Noname Library may have the most up-to-date chairs and the best seating arrangements at the actual library, their website screams the 90s, and most likely turns off at least a few users from coming back.

Libraries should think about themselves the way social networking businesses do when it comes to their presence online.  There should be a symbol that automatically makes the user think of the brand, like Twitter’s bird.  Although pages may look different from each other, they still should be recognizable as belonging to the same website.  There should be space on the library’s website for patrons to socialize with each other, even if it was something as simple as a blog members of the book club were given guest accounts for so they could blog about the current read.  Finally, and probably most importantly, the library website should consistently be assessed for browsability.  Outdated web design ideas should be cleared out from the website, leaving clear, modern space.

While the library as physical place is important, the fact of the matter is, most of our patrons do not solely live their lives in the physical space.  They also have virtual lives, and libraries should be a go-to place in that area of patron’s lives too.

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