Access to library services is a highly popular part of council websites that accounts for around 8% of visits according to Socitm data. The provision of e-books and other digitally accessible resources will be opening council library facilities to new audiences, including those unable, or disinclined, to visit the library in person. The facility to access e-magazines free of charge, including downloading latest issues to a smart phone, shows library services to be taking advantage of new services made possible by the latest technologies. Making these services easy to use will be critical if the opportunity to gain a whole new segment of library users is to be realised.
English counties only
45% of sites achieved three or four stars for this task, compared with the 74% of county council library sites that achieved this level with the more straightforward Renew library book task in in 2015-16. Clearly, there are challenges in presenting this still relatively new area of activity, a lot of them associated with reliance on content provided by third party providers. When we tested Find out how to borrow e-books in 2015, on a mobile device, 52% of county councils passed the test (equivalent to 3 or 4 stars), but with a different and perhaps less challenging question set. Staffordshire and East Sussex were the only counties to carry forward their four star performance in 2015-16, to this year’s library task.
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 2016-17 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
E-resources are not always well promoted – by now, Better Connected would expect to see them prominent on library services landing pages, so it is surprising to find even a handful of sites where this is not the case.
The main failing with this task, however, was the lack of good, clear explanations of how to use e-books and other e-resources. Just 41% of sites scored a ‘Yes’ answer the question Is the process for borrowing e-books clear including whether/how I need to 'return' ebooks. And fewer than 60% scored a ‘yes’ for the question Are there clear instructions on how to access and use e-resources?
Those responsible for creating library pages need to account for the fact that processes for borrowing e-books, magazines and audio resources are different and more complicated than traditional book borrowing and that readers will often need to download software or apps to do so. They will usually need to sign up for accounts with third party providers in addition to having a library account with the council. Sometimes they will need to be signed in with both accounts at the same time in order to access resources.
In this context, poor wording and the wrong hierarchy of information can make a huge difference to the user’s ability to complete the task. Lack of attention to detail will lead users to give up or phone for further information.
Our reviewer commented that a number of sites scoring only 2 stars for this task would need to make only small amendments to their content to score 3 or 4 stars.
Better Connected recommends that councils provide an overview page on their own website describing key features and aspects of their e-books/magazines/audio services and how the process works. One important issue to include in this would be the process for returning the e-resource when borrowing period is up, including what happens on the device used to access it. One site refers to e-books being 'automatically recalled' – but what does that actually mean?
Headline information about using e-resources needs to link clearly to the process for joining the library, recognising that some users may have no previous experience of joining and using a council library service. Some may expect to be able to create a library account and start accessing resources instantly. If this is not the case, this needs to be made very clear.
Given the complexities involved, library services should test a range of possible customer journeys carefully with a range of different users, including longtime library service users who may be new to e-books, and tech savvy individuals who may be new to library services.
It is disappointing that our test shows (questions 7, 8 and 9) that one third or more of library services don’t make the process of joining the library very clear, don’t provide a completely online service, and are not clear about whether people can join and use e-resources instantly (as they probably expect from experience with other online services).
Wording around the registration process can give out mixed messages, like this example from West Sussex. One sentence suggests that you gain immediate access to e-books, but read a bit further and it seems that you have to go to your library or wait for a card in the post. User testing should reveal ambiguities like this and help identify the best form of words for most users.
Sometimes ‘join the library’ information is bypassed altogether where e-books information is found using external or internal search engines.
In our 2015 report on the task ‘Find out how to borrow e-books’ we said:
Generally, councils do not explain the service very well. Many fall into the trap of relying on the third party service on which e-books depend, and often the supplier’s help pages are lacking in quality.
This tendency to direct users to the providers’ help pages without providing sufficient introductory information remains today and is another key reason why many councils have been marked down.
Sometimes services are referred to by name without any introduction, and where more than one service is used, it was rare to find information about the difference between these services, so the first time user is left wondering which to try. Hertfordshire achieves this in just a few words:
We have 2 catalogues: OneClick Digital – for audiobooks; Overdrive – for ebooks and audiobooks. Both have a wide range to choose from. Each has different titles and authors so take a look at both.
Given the back and forth required with the third party services for e-resources, great care needs to be taken with navigation and linking. Overdrive is one of the commonly used eBooks suppliers and number of councils make use of the help they provide. But too often the link takes users to the ‘browse catalogue’ page of Overdrive when it should take them directly to the main help page.
One problematic feature of the Overdrive 'Getting started guide' is that to get the correct link to information for their particular service users have have to select an image that looks like the titles on their own library service’s website. This involves navigating back to the 'browse catalog' and then trying to remember what the image looked like.
Finally, and perhaps because access to e-resources is a relatively new service, terminology does vary between councils (e-books, e-library, digital library, e-resources). So ‘Lancashire Digital Services’ takes the reader to e-books but Hampshire Digital Library takes you somewhere altogether different. This sort of variation may cause problems for people who use more than one library service.
Since the process and technologies used for e-books and e-magazines may be new to many people, provide a simple step-by-step guide to introduce the e-book loan concept, including:
East Sussex CC
Overall this was a very easy task to complete and I really liked the page describing e-books. Just one or two things that could be improved.
I really liked the simple description of e-books on the main page. Navigation is very easy and intuitive.
Well promoted, easy to find and a generally consistent customer journey. I was really impressed that there is an explicit statement saying that you have to delete ebooks from your device at the end of the loan period to prevent using up too much space. I think this is the first website I've reviewed which specifically says this. It's just a simple thing but really important for inexperienced new users. It shows thought for the customer.
It was very easy to complete the task with really good explanations along the way. The whole journey has been thought out with the customer in mind and I was particularly impressed that the Council is not relying on third parties to provide help and guidance. It is a good example of how you can make the most of third party software but still make sure the customer journey is largely in the hands of the Council's web team.
NB Since the above comment was published, Suffolk Libraries have contacted us to say: Suffolk Libraries is divested from Suffolk County Council and we have our own completely independent web team. We design and code our own, separate website. So while one of the customer journeys would start from the Suffolk County Council website, most start either from Google or our own website. The SCC website simply points to our website.
We are very pleased that Suffolk Libraries got in touch. This example shows that the online experience delivered by services provided by third parties can be as good those delivered more traditionally. As we see more and more services like leisure, housing and recycling (see our next report) delivered by independent or arms lenth organisations, it doesn't mean that quality of the online service has to be compromised. We are planning to develop this conversation as part of Better Connected Live (28/29 June in Birmingham)