Archives For Innovation

It’s 2017 and the website of every single library in the country suffers from the same old, cruel, schizophrenic, UX nightmare dichotomy: the website and the catalog, the website versus the catalog. Two products, two experiences, two silos, two staff members behind them. Both are wannabees. The website is almost a catalog, and the catalog is almost a website. And together they are redundant, cluttered, confusing, and pointless to patrons.

The first library to figure out a true single user experience – that is to say, a real website – gets Library of the Year.

Scratch that.
Library of the Decade.

I truly believe that. We have come a long way, but we need to jump this hurdle. Our online presence – specifically the home page – is now more important than ever, more important than our physical space. With eBooks and eAudiobooks integrating into Search (sort of), with various providers like Overdrive, Hoopla, 3M, and Zinio – all of which are confusing to patrons; with online articles (if you can find them), online registration, online room booking, and online programs (and don’t get me started on online library cards which still don’t exist)….

Yeah, the website matters.

So who will be the first library to stop using the word ‘catalog’ – to eliminate the concept from our consciousness? I know the obstacles are huge, but who will be the first library to make the commitment and priority to fully integrate the search experience into the home page. Like this:


Who will be the first library to figure out a seamless “my account” feature of the website, where a patron doesn’t have to log in twice, where a patron is automatically logged in (like Facebook), and where a patron can see all their checkouts simply by hovering over the My Account icon, like this:

My account_1

Recently our library did a UX Study on our website and catalog. My interpretation is this: people go to the website to find books, place holds, check their account. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Let’s embrace that. Who will be the first library to transform the homepage into an Amazon experience? With gigantic book covers, curated lists, staff picks. Browse, click, hold – as few clicks as possible. Like this:

Home Page_1

How Do We Get There?

  1. Open Source ILS
    Currently, none of the ILS products, catalogs, or so called discovery layers allow for a real website. I’ve seen impressive library sites, but nothing close to modern. The ILS – the soul of the library – is probably the fundamental roadblock. We cannot make a product do something it can’t. Therefore, an open source ILS like Evergreen might be the only option – although I’ve heard very promising rumors and mockups at my library that we can do it with Sirsi’s ILS. Or, even more radically, I wonder if a library could build a completely original ILS from the ground up, designed specifically by a library for a library? Yikes: is that naive of me?
  2. Library Consortium or Collaborative Design
    Clearly building an ILS or Catalog from the ground up is a giant project, requiring several years and millions of dollars. One way to mitigate that is by joining up with other libraries, or state-wide collaboratives, or getting grants from the government. The best example of this is the amazing discovery layer created by a Colorado team called Pica, which looks similar to an Amazon experience (but it’s still just a catalog, not a website). Our library almost got it. The downfall with collaboration is that technology designed for many libraries tends to get watered down. They want to be everything for everyone and thereby become clunky to everyone.
  3. Budgets Reflect Priorities
    We’ve heard that phrase before, but it’s true. If libraries really want to do something, they will find a way. If libraries need to hire a team of web developers and designers, they will find a way to fund it. How important is this? That’s the question. And with all the other priorities we are committed to, it’s a healthy debate to have.
  4. We need Web Developers on Staff
    The number of third-party technology products that we buy is mind blowing. Most of them are crappy, a few years behind, and some don’t play nice with others, although there are exceptions. Wouldn’t that money be better spent by simply hiring one or two web developers, really smart in-house people that can build products to meet our specific needs? For example, our library has recently hired a very smart IT professional. In his first few weeks, as if by magic, he had already created a brilliant internal website for staff – on WordPress, for free. I think the time is past to have more IT professionals work at libraries. Maybe I’m being naive here (I probably am).

Could Kalamazoo Public Library have the first real website?
I wrote this article probably a year ago and I’m happy to say that Kalamazoo Public Library might be forging a new and innovative path to the age-old website/catalog conundrum. I won’t go into the details, but it involves bypassing the catalog altogether, grabbing the data from the catalog and displaying it exactly how we want on the….wait for it….on the website. The team – composed of the web guys, the ILS guy, and a design guy – is making incredibly promising progress so far.

Interpol-biometric-1The plastic library card is a dinosaur. It needs to go. It’s an embarrassing relic of what-we’ve-always-done. Nostalgia aside (that took me a second), I look forward to the day when libraries join the rest of the world, get rid of the card, and move towards a username/password system (or something better).

Let me go out on a limb here: nobody wants another plastic card in their wallet or purse or hanging from their keys: another thing to remember, another thing to lose, another thing to clutter our end tables. From a customer service perspective, the library card has no benefits whatsoever. But it does have an array of annoying features. First, it’s not important enough to remember. Let’s drink a tall glass of humility on this. People care about their Driver License, their credit cards, and that’s about it. I’ll speak for myself: all I want in my perfect minimalist wallet is one credit card, one debit card, a driver license, and some money. Even for someone on the inside, a librarian who goes to the library every single day, having a library card is not a priority that deserves real estate in my wallet (I memorized my number).

Working at a library, I see this all the time. People don’t remember their library card. When helping people over the phone, people don’t have their library card on hand (“Can I have your library card number please?” “Oh, shoot, let me go find it,” they say). Hint, hint: they don’t care. Second, it comes with a stupid, outdated, lengthy number on it – a 13 digit library card number. Mine is 120242015…oh, never mind. The number is so long it gets printed with spaces between it, so it’s easier to read!

But it gets worse. Not only is a 13-digit number holding us back from accessing our account, but a 4-digit “PIN” too. What? Are you serious? As in… “personal identification number?” Is this an ATM machine (pun intended)? Not surprising, we have to explain to grown adult people every single day what “PIN” means (turns out, it actually means ‘the last 4 digits of your phone number’….what? OMG. LOL).

Hypothesis: a lot of people use libraries when they need to, at certain points in their life, in stages, not all the time, like the local grocery store. Not everyone is a lifelong power user. The library card, therefore, is dispensable, disposable, and short lived. John needs to print something. He thinks: the library has computers! He goes to the library. The library puts him through the ceremony that is getting a library card (proof of address? ID? email? phone number? preferred way to contact you?). He’s getting annoyed. He prints his resume and visits the library in 5 years. Yet even if people consistently used the library for several years (which they might), the library card still has no place or relevance.

One Problem with My Argument – the Barcode

When I said the library card has “no benefits whatsoever,” I lied. It has one. Libraries like mine have self-checkout machines, which are tied to barcode scanners, which allows you to enter the 13 digit number by scanning the card itself. That saves time, assuming you have your stupid card with you to begin with. In fact, different library technologies are in bed with the barcode (we have a mobile app that saves your barcode, for example). With a username or email, on the other hand, we would need a different solution.

Finger Scan to Check Out Library Books? Yes, Please.

Call me naive, but I think biometric technology should seriously considered for checking out materials (and getting on a public computer). Scan your finger, check out, and go – fast, easy, convenient. The technology is here, cheap, and….creepy? Maybe.

Maybe not. A word about privacy. For some this brings to mind dystopian sci fi movies. Calm down. First, biometic technology doesn’t really scan your finger print, like the police would do. It’s not a scan. It takes certain measurements of your fingerprint and converts them into numbers, which distinguish you from another library member. Second, and most importantly, the library protects your privacy more than anyone. We are not some greedy corporation. Not only do libraries actually care about your privacy, we have to. According to the Library Privacy Act, we cannot give out patron information unless the police has a warrant for it (and I wonder if that ever happens). Third, this would be an optional service, patrons could opt-in. Do you want to check out items faster? Yes? Then give us your finger. No? Okay fine, use the old way weirdo.

Collaboration is Hard

Kevin King —  February 1, 2017 — Leave a comment

collaboration-mindsetIn the library world, conflict is avoided more than it is embraced. I have noticed that when faced with a situation in which you would like to verbally disagree with a colleague over an idea or plan, most people stay silent. This response only leads to stagnant innovation. Collaboration is hard. Overcoming this difficulty happens when a team can establish a trust-filled, safe environment where everyone on the team has a voice, great things happen.

Author Liane Davey, an expert on teams in the workplace, writes:

Collaboration is crumpling under the weight of our expectations. What should be a messy back-and-forth process far too often falls victim to our desire to keep things harmonious and efficient. Collaboration’s promise of greater innovation and better risk mitigation can go unfulfilled because of cultural norms that say everyone should be in agreement, be supportive, and smile all the time. The common version of collaboration is desperately in need of a little more conflict.

Davey goes on to explain ways in which teams can develop ways to make collaboration and conflict. Her methods include:

  1. Discussing team roles before the team tackles a new idea.
  2. Use a personality assessment tool to highlight team members differences.
  3. Set ground rules around dissension.

I encourage you to read more about each of these methods here. Teams that contain members that trust one another, understand the personalities at play and have established the guidelines for engagement will not only realize that collaboration is not that hard but also more innovation than you can manage.

book and skull with title The Almost Dead Experiment

What’s a rational weeding philosophy? When is a book really dead? 6 months? 2 years? 4 years? More importantly: how do we know? Progressive, cool libraries stick to a 180 day weeding target, while old, stodgy libraries pile books to the rafters (’cause hey . . . we got the space). And some libraries (ahem, East Lake County) hate weeding so much and so blindly that they create a fake patron account to “save” books. All of these beg the same question: what data are these decisions based on?

In my new position managing the adult collection at KPL, I’m in a complex situation. While we tend to have a more conservative weeding target (4 years at main downtown library), I personally found myself leaning towards the more aggressive end of the spectrum – I just assumed that if a book sits on the shelf for 2 or 3 years, it’s probably not getting checked out.

Until now.

CollectionHQ, an evidence-based collection management tool designed for libraries (recently acquired by Baker and Taylor), is normally used for weeding and selecting. But my favorite tool, called “experimental placement,” allows you to track particular books or collections and see how they perform over time. I ran an experiment 7 months ago, the results of which completely blow my mind. It turns out that, at my library, books that haven’t been checked out in three years – three years! – are still not dead yet.

Looking at the Dewey ranges 000-550, I was able to find 907 books that hadn’t checked out in three years (our weeding target is currently set at four years). I put those 907 Almost Dead Books into a CollectionHQ experiment, and I waited.

Out of 907 books in the experiment, a whopping 232 (25%) were subsequently checked out by patrons. That is to say, 1 in every 4 Almost Dead Books were checked out. And of those 232 that were checked out, many were renewed multiple times and/or checked out again by someone else – making a net total of 469 circulations from Almost Dead Books.

Before the experiment, my prediction was that 1-5% of the Almost Dead Books would circulate again. I had to double check the numbers. I even checked the ILS at most of these titles, just to be sure actual real physical people were checking them out. Indeed.

I predict the second half of the Dewey ranges would do markedly better (550-999: diet, workout, cooking, business, crafts, travel).

This data sort of justifies our “conservative” target – clearly people still want some of these books. You could argue that weeding Almost Dead Books would actually lead to more total circulation by freeing up space for newer books.

I don’t want to oversimplify things. Weeding isn’t a simple 6 months vs. 4 years decision. Every Dewey range and every genre of fiction should  be treated differently, and there are myriad other considerations. I just wanted to repeat the buzzword because it matters so much in our profession: data-driven decision making. Whatever you do at your library, try to get data to inform the decision. You might be surprised.

Questions about how to do these experiments in CollectionHQ?

Reading Reignites!

Kevin King —  August 8, 2016 — 1 Comment

Last week I facilitated a book discussion for people who work in libraries on the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. It was a very lively discussion centered on Carr’s idea that prolonged use of the Internet is causing our brains to change. Carr suggests that the result of this change is that it has become more difficult for humans to engage in deep, contemplative reading. The Internet has become a “distraction machine” and society may suffer over time. His suggestion is to take time out every day to practice reading the printed word.


In an article on writer Nicolas Cole listed his favorite novels that spark creativity. Cole writes, “Reading a masterful novel and immersing yourself in the story is a workout for your brain. You’ll be amazed how much richer your creativity will be after finishing a classic piece of literature.” The idea that by simply reading you can feed your creative juices seems to support Carr’s theory that the printed word exercises the parts of the brain that encourage deep thinking.

Do you have a list of books you turn to when you are stuck in a creative rut? Please share with the other LL&F readers.