As a part of my consulting engagement with Public Library Services (PLS) of South Australia, I have produced a draft ‘digital vision’ statement (published below) for the SA library network for 2019.
The vision statement is written from a retrospective viewpoint with the current date being ‘July 2019’.
The vision statement is my own work. It has not been endorsed as the official position of PLS, but it has been released here in draft form to facilitate consultation and to obtain feedback.
So, please take a read and let me know what you think in the comments below. Have I missed anything? Is there anything that doesn’t accord with your future conception of SA’s library network?
In the past three years, the South Australian Public Library Network (SAPLN) has focused on its core community-building role, shifting further away from the traditional conception of a library as merely a repository of books. Digital technology has played a significant role in this cultural shift in thinking.
SAPLN has sought to become a more dynamic, agile and digitally-driven network. Its leaders and managers now recognise the power of digital as a mechanism for enhancing connectedness with the community and seek to leverage it at every opportunity. SAPLN staff members have a high level of digital literacy and are fully equipped to educate members of the community who seek digital advice.
Recognising the competitive forces that are conspiring against the library’s relevance as an institution (including an ageing population and universal access to electronic content), SAPLN has chosen to adopt a user-centred design approach to its services and customer interfaces. At every touchpoint with the ‘customer’, SAPLN seeks to deliver outstanding service and continually explores ways to improve the ‘user experience’. To this end, it is willing to experiment in the digital space and is not afraid of failure.
In the libraries themselves, SAPLN is promoting experimentation by making new cutting-edge technologies available to the community. The public are able to access the fastest possible internet connectivity in their local library, through fixed devices and wirelessly through mobile devices. The library serves as a testing ground for new devices and hardware – tablets, 3D printers, robotics, virtual reality goggles – and as a place to go to obtain advice about technology. This has been aided by central funding and training support from Public Library Services.
To enhance its relevance as a community hub, SAPLN has chosen to produce its own content, rather than just serve as curators of a fixed library collection. It uses storytelling and content marketing to promote the place of the library in the community, distributing the content via its digital channels. Becoming a ‘publisher’ in its own right has deepened the library’s engagement with the community. It has resulted in greater discoverability of the library’s events and services through search engines and social media. SAPLN has also commenced its own content digitisation program that has assisted public libraries to scan, store and publish local and historical content.
In order to distribute content effectively to the community, SAPLN has invested in its digital channels over the past three years. It now operates a network of fully-responsive, stand-alone catalogue websites that make provision for both centralised and localised content publishing. These websites offer a personalised experience to members, displaying content which is tailored to the members unique preferences and previous borrowing history. A central Knowledge Centre has also been built, containing curated content that is relevant to members across the network. SAPLN’s websites are now much more than just a catalogue, they are an online destination that is worthy of repeat visitation.
All physical and electronic library items that are available across the network have been integrated seamlessly with the central catalogue, such that users can search, find and access content from a single user interface, without the need to reauthenticate their membership or to navigate a third party interface. The catalogue websites are also search engine friendly so that item availability is visible to users directly in external search engine results.
In keeping with the societal shift to the consumption of electronic content, SAPLN has changed its funding model and service delivery in favour of electronic content over physical content. This has proven to be extremely important to satisfy the growing number of members who prefer a remote relationship with the library, rather than setting foot inside one.
SAPLN has also invested in a new iOS and Android app under a co-creation arrangement with an app developer. The app enables remote on-boarding of new members, with the member’s device becoming the ‘membership card’. The app utilises location based services to offer contextually specific experiences to the user when they are in the library. By scanning the RFID chips that are affixed to all library items in the SAPLN network, the app permits the user to borrow items from the library or to view additional information and content about the item whilst browsing.
To support its core digital assets – its websites and app – SAPLN has implemented new systems, procedures and policies in relation to social media, email marketing, and search engine marketing. New tools include a central email marketing platform, an event management system and an online survey tool.
SAPLN recognises that the capture, storage and manipulation of data is becoming more important in delivering services to members. Over the past three years, efforts have been made to consolidate and improve SAPLN’s existing data holdings, particularly its 700,000 strong member database. This data consolidation will ensure that SAPLN is better placed for future innovation in the fields of data-driven marketing, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Whilst SAPLN’s main focus in the past three years has been towards its external users – library members – it has also supported its internal staff with new digital technology. All libraries now have access to the ‘One Place’ intranet website, BC Acquisitions procurement system and to RFID book handling infrastructure. These platforms, as well as the centralised content production and training offerings, enable local staff to save time and therefore devote additional effort to their community-building responsibilities.
Finally, SAPLN has adopted a measurement culture, particularly when it comes to digital initiatives, which are inherently measurable. SAPLN has instituted a number of measurement and analytics tools that enable it to gauge performance. All digital initiatives and campaigns are measured closely to determine their effectiveness and future efforts build iteratively on learnings of the past.