Nearly 90 percent of Australia’s library users think online library services are important, but only 61 percent are satisfied with the online experience they are receiving from libraries. That compares with 85 percent of the users are happy with the physical experience of a library. The finding comes in a new report from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Approximately 600 library users in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom were surveyed for this report. Respondents indicated that usability (86 percent), free availability (75 percent) and device compatibility (63 percent) were the most valued features of a library website. Many also suggested that libraries need to offer a more user-friendly online experience, one that is comparable to commercial services, and keeps up with technological change.
The report is called, ‘The intrinsic value of libraries as public spaces – Physical-digital, communicating the new normal’. It was developed by the Institute for Public Policy and Governance at UTS and commissioned by software company Civica. It is the latest in a series of ‘Changing Landscapes’ reports, and is the second edition of a series of library reports that first started in 2016. It focusses on the state of library service delivery whilst exploring users’ experiences with libraries and their perceptions of physical and digital spaces. According to Sophi Bruce, lead researcher for this project at UTS, the research strongly reaffirms that library customers value both physical and online library spaces and that there are many opportunities in the online environment. “The expectations of library customers are largely being met when visiting the physical library space, but this is not always the case when interacting in the online library space,” she said.
“There are many factors causing this. These include difficulties with navigating library website platforms, not being able to access content from different devices, and the abilities of some library staff to properly understand the technology and promote it to their members. “This report offers insights from library customers themselves that may help bridge the gap between the delivery of physical and online services.” Shifting user attitudes, technology advances, and limited resources are pushing libraries to invest in digital services. But the report revealed that these very factors are also acting as barriers to change as libraries are finding it difficult to navigate through them. “Digitally literate customers are expecting libraries to match the interfaces of commercial platforms; yet some library staff have reported to be lacking confidence when it comes to digital change,” said Ms Bruce.
“The lack of a robust Internet infrastructure in Australia hinders the delivery of effective online services. The onus is on libraries to look for innovative solutions. Collaboration key to improving library services.” Librarians surveyed as part of the research have indicated that consortia arrangements and partnerships with vendors could help them remain relevant in a fast-moving digital space. According to Richard Fiddis, Managing Director at Civica International, partnerships with technology vendors is the key to remaining relevant in this digital-first world whilst delivering innovative and high level services. “An example of this is the partnership we have with the Great Southern Consortium in Western Australia, where nine councils have collaborated to use Spydus, Civica’s integrated library management system that provides an improved user experience for both customers and library staff,” he said.
The Institute for Public Policy and Governance (IPPG) at UTS comprises a group of researchers and practitioners in the areas of public administration and policy, social research, stakeholder engagement, and leadership. IPPG undertakes applied social and behavioural and academic research, policy advisory, graduate education and professional development training.