Saturday, September 5, 2009

Physical and virtual library services: social media influences

Web 2.0 has had a significant influence on the way library services are delivered. Clients now face an abundance of library help through SMS, IM, email, phone, face-to-face, classes, workshops, online tutorials and more. The challenge for libraries has always been; how do we reach our clients and provide them with high quality services? Many libraries have recently sought to address this issue by creating social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ning and LibraryThing with the goal of reaching clients in their online communities. By entering these spaces, libraries are allowing open communication with their clients and breaking down the tradition notion of the library as place. Thanks to mobile devices and social media, the library is transforming from a physical place to a ubiquitous space. For this to happen, libraries need to consider how they reach their clients in both physical and virtual space.

Creating a ubiquitous library service model must fit in with the theory of physical and virtual convergence and the social and personal framework that has been discussed in previous blog posts. Therefore to be ubiquitous, service must be integrated across physical and virtual, make use of social media influences and allow personalisation. Some examples include:
  • 24/7 access to online and physical library services
  • Wider range of physical and online spaces for clients to interact, share, engage, collaborate
  • Being able to 'fave' your favourite librarian for personalised service
  • Wider range of online and physical reference help spaces
  • More interactive and engaging information literacy
  • Maximising potential of mobile devices, QR codes and RFID
  • Jumping on 'the cloud' - allowing shared spaces for collaboration and information mashups
  • OPAC's becomes AIRPAC's then SOPAC's and move towards augmented reality with tagging of physical space and resources
These changes would allow clients to interact and engage with the physical library in a similar way to the online library. In particular, library services need to be customisable across physical and virtual spaces to better meet the needs of clients. For example, libraries could learn from the Apple Genius bar and provide more open plan reference help areas with casual seating, room for groups, laptops, and extended consultations. Following this approach could be a more visible and open plan area providing casual information literacy classes. Librarians also need to be integrated in the physical and virtual by using web 2.0 and social media tools to access clients anywhere, anytime. The librarian or the client could be in the library, cafe, on the bus, at home or in a lecture while at the same time participating in a reference help session using IM, email, SMS, Twitter, or Facebook.

A possible scenario
As libraries go mobile and social, clients will be able to search for resources on their way to the library via their phone, let their friends know they'll be in the e.g. engineering learning commons, look up recommended resources for their subjects as voted by clients, read comments, then create a list and send a request to the library for collection from the automatic storage and retrieval system (ASRS). While at the library, they could scan the latest library tips QR code to watch a video on their phone of what's new, participate in an online information literacy session or meet their 'fave' librarian in the cafe for a reference question. Finally, this could all be happening at anytime of the day or night.

This scenario may seem far off for some but I believe we are already close to being there. The exponential growth of technology and mobile device use will see expectations change in such a short time that clients will demand the types of services described in this scenario. The ubiquitous library is coming and it is up to us to anticipate the ways we can provide the types of integrated services our clients will need and expect in such a continuous and ever-changing physical and virtual environment.

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