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* Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Perfect Library Blog Example

The Librarian in Black points to the Ann Arbor District Library’s redesigned web site, which includes the addition of blogs (including a Director’s Blog!) and RSS feeds. It looks like posts from all of the blogs appear on the home page, with a link back to the rest of that subject’s blog. Looking at the site right now, there are six posts on the home page. Amazingly, five of those posts have patron comments attached to them, and not just a couple of comments either. The count is 17, 6, 18 58, and 19! How many paper comments have your patrons left so far this month? Compare.

The AADL blogs do it all right. The posts are written in the first person and in a conversational tone, with the author’s first name to help stress the people in the library. The staff isn’t afraid to note problems with the new catalog, the web site, or anything else. Full transparency – nice. You can feel the level of trust building online. They respond to every comment that needs it, whether it’s a criticism, question, or suggestion. And some of the comments are fantastic. Users are even helping debug the new catalog. Here’s a sampling:

  • Patron: “I agree with the previous comment about getting email notices of system difficulties. I depend on email notices to remind me when my books are due. Since I have not heard anything from the library for a time I thought all my books were current. Yesterday when I put in a request for book I was unpleasantly surprised to find to one of my books was overdue. It was only for one day but the fines would have mounted if I hadn't put in that new request for a book.”

    Staff response: “Thanks for your comments. If you had items go overdue because you were expecting advance notices, please mention it the next time you visit a library branch, and we can waive those fines for you. We are still hoping to get this service restored this week.

    On a technical note, broadcasting messages like this to our patrons can cause as many problems as it solves; last time we did so, we were flagged as spammers by U of M (because so many patrons have U of M addresses) and we could not send any email to U of M addresses for over a week. I didn't want our warning of email notice unavailability to subsequently prevent a large percentage of our patrons from receiving the messages once they started up again.”

  • Patron: “Although I live in the neighborhood and this new Northeast branch library will be within convenient walking distance for me, I am troubled by the environmental degradation its construction at Huron Parkway and Traverwood will cause. Large numbers of trees will have to be removed and hills flattened out at this site. Much impervious surface in terms of parking lots and buildings will be put in. All these changes will negatively effect the natural area and small ponds bordering this location. That is a real shame.

    I really don't know what is wrong with the present location of the branch library at the shopping plaza. I think you should have looked to expand there first before destroying land with new buildings and asphalt.”

    Staff response: “I am a member of the Library Board and live on Broadway, close to both the current branch and the proposed new one at Huron Parkway and Traverwood. I was also concerned about harm to the environment. However, it turns out that many, if not most, of the trees on this site are ashes, and are dead or dying because of the emerald ash borer. They will have to be removed anyway. We will be replacing the "landmark" trees with new ones. We hope to minimize the impervious surface, and are going to try for a design that actually results in the *enhancement* of this site.”

  • Patron: “All the requests I made during the transition period were lost! I have put new requests on a few items since, but that put me very far down the wait list, so I am very disgruntled about this! Is there no longer a chance of retrieval of any of those records, or do I need to request each all over again (making me number 1,389,567th on the list!)”

    Staff response: “I will contact you via email about this; we show 9 requests on your account dating as far back as March. We'll get it worked out.”

  • Patron: “Great job. I am really happy that you've added the blog feature -- very cutting edge! It's essential to build a community around the library to insulate it from the inevitable financial ups and downs. As far as I'm concerned, the library is the crown jewel of Ann Arbor's downtown.

    What's happening with the plans to improve the drop-off situation in front of the library? I thought there was going to be a carve-out from the parking lot.”

    Staff response: “…thank you for the feedback on our use of blogs. The plans to improve the drop off situation on Fifth Avenue Downtown are still in discussion stage with the DDA and City. We are encouraged by the interest in downtown zoning and development. Please plan to attend any of the number of sessions being held July-September titled A2Downtown Development Strategy. The first interactive Public Design workshop is to be held July 28 from 6-9 PM at Courthouse Square in the ballroom on the second floor.”

  • Patron: “Wow! The website looks great! And finally, more detail about my requests and holds! Oooh, and RSS, too ... how sexy is that. Well, I see several blogs listed on the site now ... I hope everyone feels encouraged to participate.”

  • Patron: “I added the library RSS feeds to the right-hand side of my Ann Arbor portal page at http://www.wfzimmerman.com/index.php?topic=AnnArbor.”

So let’s recap - what do we see happening here? Community. Transparency. Trust. The human beings in the library (something that’s usually missing from library web sites). Voice. A much more dynamic web site. Their information is appearing on other web sites automatically via the RSS feeds.

Me? I get a new case study and a bunch of new slides for my presentations.

For AADL, “it’s all good.”  

Follow-up with even more info.

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