Online library services ‘still poorly integrated’ with main council websites

Online library services are still poorly integrated with councils’ main websites, according to a new review.

In a survey carried out in January, Socitm, the representative body for public sector ICT staff, found that the issue is still dogging borrowers, four years after the problem was first highlighted.

On the question ‘Were all the relevant pieces of information/pages for this task linked together to make a smooth, coherent journey?’ positive responses fell from 49% of sites last year to 34%.  However, there were improvements in some areas such as the provision of “forgotten password” links.

A statement from Socitm said: ‘Does the result of the 2016 survey suggest that libraries are going backwards when it comes to the online experience?

“The survey report says not, but does raise the question of whether libraries are improving their online offering fast enough, given the wider context of development of web and social media technologies and user behaviours.”

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This year’s study underlines conclusions from previous reports which have criticized the integration of third party library software with the library pages on main council websites.

Reviewers said:  “Taking the ‘renew library books’ link from the main council site [into the third party system] immediately changes the site ‘look and feel’, confusing the user.”

On many sites, key tasks, such as renewing books and logging into the site were difficult to find.

Confusingly, instead of being asked for their library card number, users were often asked for “borrower ID”, “user ID” or “library barcode”.

In addition, links back to the main council website to find information such as fines schedules were often non-existent.

Socitm highlighted a number of councils for their good performance – East Riding of Yorkshire; East Sussex CC; North Lincolnshire; Staffordshire CC, Surrey CC, Warwickshire CC and West Sussex.

In January, the Society of Chief Librarians said that English libraries need to break away from council websites and create a new common national online architecture. 

Socitm is set to produce similar reports on paying council tax, objecting to a planning application, finding out about keeping fit, applying for housing and registering a food business.

Surveys on usability, accessibility, and website performance when accessed from mobile devices will come after this, and an overall ‘star ranking’ for each council website will follow in April.

Colin Marrs

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