The Socitm Better Connected survey has revealed that more than half of English county councils are not providing a good online service to help people sign up for e-resources.
As part of its annual Better Connected survey, Socitm – which represents IT and digital professionals in local government – looked at how easy it was for people to sign up for e-resources on English county councils’ websites.
The survey found that 44% of councils provided a good or very good online service for e-resources – a significant decrease from the 74% of county council library sites that achieved the same level for the previous year’s task of renewing a library book online.
It is also lower than the 52% of county councils that passed the mobile-only test for finding out how to borrow e-books online in 2015 – although Socitm did note that the questions involved in passing that test were “perhaps less challenging” than those for this year’s e-resources test.
Staffordshire and East Sussex were the only counties to maintain their four star – top-rated – performance from 2015-16’s assessment to this year’s library task, Socitm said.
In its report on the survey, Socitm stressed that people often visit council websites in order to access library resources, and that e-resources should by now be “prominent on library services landing pages”.
As such, it said it would be “surprising to find even a handful of sites where this is not the case” – but that the resources were “not always well promoted”.
However, the survey found that the main reason for failing was the lack of “good, clear explanations” of how to use e-books and other e-resources, with 41% of sites providing a clear process for borrowing e-books clear including information on how to return them.
In its report, Socitm said that the people working on 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”.
It added that they would often need to download software or apps, and possibly sign up to third-party providers, but that more than a third of councils don’t make the process of joining the library very clear, provide a completely online service or offer clarity on whether people can join and access e-resources immediately.
“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,” it said.
Socitm said that councils should provide an overview page that describes the main features of their library e-resource services, headline information on how to use the service and focus on improving the wording of registration processes.
“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,” Socitm said.