There has been some buzz lately about the future of library websites. The Library Web Chic recently wrote a post in the subject that invites looking at the topic more closely. One of the questions to be answered, and this can apply to any website as well, is the idea of focusing on merely getting people to use the website as they use the physical library or if the site should be more about experience. This can be likened back to a physical space in a way, the beauty of the building or what waits for the patrons inside. Libraries used to be mainly spaces for books and learning, for people to come and sit and read or do research. It was a quiet place were people got their books, were shushed for making noise, and then when they were done, left. These days libraries offer programs for the whole family, they encourage people to come and stay and consider the library more of a social place. And it does seem to be slowly merging into that, even if it still primarily involves people on the computers close to each other.
The idea of the virtual as social on library websites is a relatively new one. Up until now there hasn’t been the proper technology and the idea of giving over any sort of control or freedom to the patrons to influence what was on the libraries virtual face was not one that would be well accepted. But now, with the push from Web 2.0 and social networking and software libraries are learning to innovate and to be more inclined to include these sorts of things. Libraries have all sorts of competition these days, from bookstores and the like, and so they’ve had to offer those programs to keep people coming and interested outside of just offering the latest James Patterson. Library websites have to do the same. Bokardo has a good short article on the idea of designing specifically for page hits (contrast that with circulation stats) or for user experience (program attendance) that is well worth a read. Offering programs and events as well as good customer service and a well developed collection adds value to communities. Online, allowing people to have their say, to be social and to see that the library isn’t some faceless place out of touch with the modern will hopefully do the same in the virtual arena.