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Renew library book - 2015-16

Why important

Library pages are a highly popular within council websites (accounting for more than 7% of visits in 2015), and renewing a library book online a key task that has been regularly tested by Better connected. In 2012, Better connected reported that renewing a library book was ‘not a well-designed task for the customer’ on most council websites, with a key problem being the interface between the council website and the third party library system on which the task depends. Our latest survey indicates that this problem is far from solved.

Date of assessment

January 2016


English counties, metropolitan districts, English and Welsh unitary councils


As well as the 2012 test, Better connected tested ‘renew library book', in 2014, on a mobile device, for counties and single tier councils. 48% of those tested in 2014 achieved the Better connected standard, compared to the 45% that achieved the equivalent three or four stars for this task in 2016. Given that this year’s test was carried out on the desktop, which still generally delivers a better result in website testing, does this mean libraries are going backwards when it comes to the online experience? The short answer to that question is ‘no’, as we describe in more detail below. However the more relevant question is, ‘are libraries improving their online offering fast enough, in the wider context of development of web and social media technologies and user behaviours?’ On the basis of this survey, the answer to that question is ‘probably not’.

Find your council report

Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2017-18 results

Headline results


Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey

Better connected rankings


*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off

  • 4 stars (Very Good)
  • 3 stars (Good)
  • 2 stars (Unsatisfactory)
  • 1 star (Poor)


Log in to view question set or View sample question set from 2016-17 (pdf)

Task report

On those questions asked in the 2014 survey that were also asked in 2016, there was improvement in all but one of them:

  • Does a Google search lead you to the task? - up to 94% from 92%      
  • Does the link for renewing library books take you to a page with a library account log-in ? - up to 80% from 47%
  • Is it clear that I have to enter the number on my library card to login? - up to 79% from 73%
  • If a password or PIN is required to log in to my library account, is there a 'Forgotten your password/PIN?' link next to the login? - up to 66% from 49%
  • Were all the relevant pieces of information/pages for this task linked together to make a smooth, coherent journey? - down to 34% from 49%
  • Does the home page link me directly to the task? - up to 82% from 75%
  • Does the service landing page link me directly to this task? - up to 92% from 77%
  • Does a search for the task description return the correct result listed in the first five results? - up to 90% from 74%

However, the 2016 test introduced some additional questions that reflect the ever-growing expectations of website users.

Trained by their online appointment diaries and e-reminders from dentists to supermarket delivery services, people now look for email or text alerts to help them keep track of dates and deadlines. Just one in five council library pages offer this.  A number - eight UK councils are apparently subscribed to it - promote the free, independent "library elf" alerts system.

Based on our testing, two thirds of libraries now acknowledge that people will forget passwords, and accommodate this with a ‘forgotten password' function. However, they seem to overlook the fact that people may also lose or mislay their library cards. Only about a third of sites tell people what to do when this happens, and finding the information is not easy. Sometimes it is included in the ‘Join your Library’ pages, sometimes in the ‘Charges and Fines’ section. It is rarely found linked from where it would actually be needed, which is the log-in page. A vanishingly small 7% of sites offer people the opportunity to report the loss of a library card online.

These new questions caught out many sites but are not the main reason for the volume of sites that achieved just one or two stars (a score that would ‘fail’ the task in earlier Better connected surveys). Although some councils still struggle to promote libraries tasks well, it is the user journey and other aspects of the overall customer experience that caused reviewers most of the difficulties they had in completing the task quickly and easily.

Scoring 1 on either task promotion or user experience means a site cannot get more than one star for the task, and getting the essential question wrong, or having information out of date means a site cannot get more than two stars. Collectively, these were more important factors than the new questions introduced for the 2016 survey.

Nearly two thirds of sites tested were marked down on the question: ‘Were all the relevant pieces of information/pages for this task linked together to make a smooth, coherent journey?’ - also a significant deterioration in performance since 2014, when only half of sites fell foul of the question.

Much of the reason for this result, say our reviewers, is to do with poor integration of third party library systems.  As indicated earlier, we reported as long ago as 2012 that on most council websites, renewing a library book ‘is not a well-designed task for the customer’ often taking too many steps to complete from beginning to end. The main issue reported then was ‘lack of care at each step, especially at the interface between the council’s website and the third party library system on which the task depends.’

This is a continuing problem. As one of our reviewers remarked:  ‘Taking the ‘renew library books’ link from the main council site immediately changes the site ‘look and feel’, confusing the user’. Additionally, many library systems now present very busy library homepages with poor positioning and promotion of the renewal task. Often the login fields are not immediately visible, with only a small link to ‘login’ tucked away in a corner.

Alternatively the user may get a log-in screen for the library system which fills only the top third of the display, containing little helpful information and perhaps referring confusingly to ‘log-in to catalogue’.

On some systems the library account login fields use the default labels provided by the system supplier. These are often not intuitive, describing the library card number field as “Borrower ID”, “Borrower number”, “User ID” or “Library barcode” or just “barcode”. It then becomes necessary to tell people that these terms actually mean ‘library card number’ and frequently this is not done.

Reviewers noted one system at least that is essentially an all in one library website, with a login panel on the homepage and apparently editable content and navigation as well as other more sophisticated elements like reader reviews. It gets around some of the problems of having library information on the council site and the library search and account on another site. 

Other irritations were instances of asterisks on forms with no explanation of what was indicated; application forms for library membership that mandated provision of an email address with no explanation as to how this might be used (maybe for those elusive email alerts?); and inconsistent use of language from screen to screen i.e. user name/membership number/barcode number/library card number.

Reviewers also found many examples where there was no direct link from the library system back to the libraries pages on the main council website.  This is a real barrier if key information (eg a schedule of fines) can only be found on the council website.

It is clear from this latest survey that many of the issues raised in Socitm Insight’s June 2011 report Think customer online: a detailed analysis of mystery shopping in six London libraries remain issues for library online services. The report is available to Socitm Insight subscribers in the library of the Socitm Insight group at

Good practice

Finding the task

  • Provide a clear link on the home page for ‘Libraries’ as this is one of the most popular online services for councils.
  • Also have a prominent signpost on the libraries landing page for ‘Renew library books’ which should take you direct to the library account login page.
  • Make sure that you offer a fast route to the renewals function for those who use it repeatedly i.e. don't place the link to the log-in screen below a mass of explanatory text. They don't want or need to read it.
  • Ensure that the site search displays the library renewals page at the top of the search results when terms such as ‘Renew library books’ are entered.
  • if you have an A to Z list ensure it includes an entry for ‘Libraries’ that leads directly to the libraries landing page where a prominent link to‘Renew library books’ already exists, or  ‘Libraries – renew library books’ that leads directly to the library account login page
  • If the council has outsourced libraries to a third party organisation, provide prominent signposts that link to the libraries page of the external website and clearly explain which organisation is now responsible for provision of library services.

Completing the task

  • Ensure that the library account log-in fields are  as usable on a mobile device as they are on the desktop
  • Ensure that the library account login fields are meaningfully labelled i.e. “library card number” rather than just “”borrower id”; if other login options such as an email address are used, then the field should be labelled appropriately.
  • Display the ‘forgotten PIN?’ link prominently, next to the PIN field.
  • Provide the option for ‘Remembering’ my library card number and/or PIN’ so that visitors do not have to re-enter it every time they renew.
  • Clearly brand the library account log-in page with the council’s logo/banner.
  • Provide a useful ‘help’ page specifically for library customers, written in plain English, to assist with the task of logging in and renewing. This should include details of how many renewals are permitted for each item, and why renewals might fail i.e. items reserved by another reader
  • Ensure that the ‘help’ option available from the login screen provides help related to account login issues, not help about using the catalogue search or other unrelated tasks or technical issues.
  • If general libraries information is provided within the main council website, then provide a clear link from the library system webpages to the libraries landing page on the main council website.
  • All separate library websites should provide a clear link to the council website, even those run by external organisations.

Poor practice

Finding the task

  • On the home page, there is no link for ‘libraries’, which is hidden behind the ‘Culture and Leisure’ link found in the Local Government Navigation List (LGNL)
  • On the landing page, the link for ‘Renew library loans’ opens the library catalogue search page instead of the library account log-in page.
  • On the landing page, there is no link for the renewals task, only for the ‘library catalogue’.
  • On the landing page, the task of ‘renew’ is joined with the task ‘reserve’ with one shared link that leads to the catalogue search page rather than directly to the account login page.
  • More than three clicks are required to get to the library account log-in page.
  • In the A to Z, library entries just list each individual library rather than online library tasks such as renewing.
  • If the library service has been outsourced, the council website has no link to libraries from the home page, no A to Z entry for ‘libraries’ that links to the new local libraries website and the search finds no mention of libraries anywhere.
  • If the library service is shared with other councils,‘library’ links lead only to a generic home page on the shared site when they could lead to a more useful, localised landing page.

Completing the task

  • There are far too many unnecessary page clicks between the start point and the library account log-in page.
  • The field for entering the library card number uses a vague term such as ‘User ID’ or ‘Borrower number’ without explaining what these are.
  • The label should reflect terms used elsewhere on the website and in other library user documentation
  • The help page is too technical, uses jargon and does not help with the task of logging in and renewing.
  • There is no link from the third party library system back to the library pages on the council website

Sites that we recommend

East Riding of Yorkshire

Very easy to accomplish this task. This council site has an excellent Q/A system and searches within it provide a comprehensive range of information relating to loans and renewals. Clear instructions as to how to log-in and description of what the user will then be able to do.

East Sussex CC

It's clear that a lot of thought and effort has gone into the libraries section of the website. There's a useful guide about how to use the online library account and catalogue too. This was a good customer-friendly experience with strong task promotion. I like the way East Sussex has embedded the library system into the council website. Unlike many other sites, the guidance about using the libraries service is all on the council CMS webpages and the library system is used just for it's account and catalogue functions. This makes the library tasks easier to carry out. (Second link) Really useful guidance is provided about how to use the online library functions and how it could impact on what customers are doing, e.g. the guidance warns to be careful when renewing items that might incur a charge and also links through to the list of charges. and

North Lincolnshire

Very easy to complete this task and to find supporting information. Page display is consistent and clear.

Staffordshire CC

Clear, clean catalogue homepage that includes well labelled login fields and useful links to charges, forgot pin, FAQs and "new features", which included the email alert offer. The library catalogue homepage is easy to use and navigate, it is much less cluttered than many others. Clear instructions about how to log in and easy to find help for forgotten passwords or pins. I was able to find lots of information on pages within this site rather than continual links back to the county council website.

Surrey CC

Wow - this was really quick and easy! The main renewals page that google took me too has nearly all the information I need. The account login page is easy to use. Promotion of the renewals task is excellent. Lots of very useful information here related to renewing loans. I also really like the library catalogue homepage which has the account login embedded and clearly labelled


Warwickshire CC

This task was easy to find - promotion is very good. It was also easy to carry out. Really like the clear, well arranged login panel. Links to forgot pin and library card number were both prominent on the login panel. The page about renewing had clear links to library charges and advice about what to do if your loans were overdue and when the library will warn you prior to the due date. Most of the information was very easy to find and well presented. An easy experience.

West Sussex CC

Really nice clear site. Very easy to use. Most info very easy to spot. Really like libraries landing page which is really task orientated. I found the customer journey really easy, even when it hands me over to the catalogue website. Where information wasn't available about email alerts, it was easy to see that the info just wasn't there as the site is very clean and well organised.




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