Libraries and User Experience

The gap between the number of people who think the library is important and the number of people who have actually used the library is huge. Comparing a Pew Research study conducted in 2013 and an American Library Association survey done in 2012 showed that, while 95% of people think libraries are important to society, only 52% have actually used their library in the past six months (Roskill, 2014). So why does this divide exist? Poor user experience and the ever increasing digital divide.

Libraries do many things well, but providing easy access to digital resources is not one of them. As the use of mobile devices continues to skyrocket, libraries will fall behind if they cannot create user experiences similar to “big box” brands like Amazon. As librarians, we are constantly promoting the eServices available through our respective libraries, but these services are severely lagging behind in the usability department. For example, take blogger Peter Rukavina’s (2013) experience when he tried to check out an eBook from his local public library (Figure 1).

Adapted from Peter Rukavina's blog post

(Figure 1) Adapted from Peter Rukavina’s blog post

In his post, Rukavina talks about “download[ing] an XML wrapper file for the audiobook, [which] in the end was simply three non-DRMed MP3 files.” Now imagine you are a 93-year old grandparent who has been given a Kindle for your birthday. You don’t have wireless in your home and you can barely send an email, even with the help of you grandchildren. You bring your Kindle into your local public library, where the librarian walks you through the “simple” twelve step process for checking out an eBook. How many times do you think you would use the library to access eBooks if this was the process each time? Amazon, on the other hand, is preloaded on the device. It stores all of your information and you can purchase a book for less than $2.99 in a single click. Amazon 2.99, libraries zero.

Libraries have been curating information for ages, yet we ourselves are not bridging the digital divide as efficiently as we should. To expect our digitally illiterate patrons to utilize our resources, we must simplify their user experience by providing easy access to the resources we promote to them. Libraries—especially public libraries—must step into the roles of content creator, provider, and curator. They must also understand that even with the majority of public libraries providing public internet access (IPAC, 2013) digital literacy cannot occur without access to digital resources and proper training. By creating user experiences that allow patrons to expand their digital literacy skills, librarians can begin to train the members of their community to become productive members of an increasingly technologically advanced society.

Information Policy and Access Center. (2012). Public libraries & digital literacy. [report]. Retrieved from

Roskill, A. (2014, May 14). Get a read on this — libraries bridging the digital divide: Andrew Roskill at TEDxCharleston. (2014). Charleston, S.C.Retrieved from

Rukavina, P. (2013, February 5). Welcome to crazytown: public libraries confront digital objects. Ruk blog. [Personal Blog]. Retrieved from

>I Feel Like a Filthy Traitor

>I have been eyeing a Barnes and Noble Nook for some time now. Every time I see a commercial on television or receive a B&N email, it renews my eReader fervor. I have become completely convinced that I must have one. I do, however, feel like this makes me a terrible librarian. I keep fighting to keep my beloved books stocked on library shelves and yet I feel the need to venture over to the dark side, the side of eBooks.

I feel like this begs the question. Does it make someone less of an advocate for “physical literacy” if they own an eReader? Is it ok for me to have an eReader as long as it jives with our libraries current Overdrive system? Am I really a dirty traitor?

>Kindle Books Now Beating All Print Versions Combined…

>…on Amazon

This statistic is coming from Amazon re: Amazon, it is not encompassing the entire book industry. Even though Amazon has quite the market share when it comes to books, they don’t have all of it!

Amazon is, for lack of a better phrase, the “Wal-Mart of the internet” and people treat it as such. When I want to buy a book, I do not normally think to purchase it off of Amazon, rather I venture to Barnes and Noble or an independent book-seller. Especially now that Borders is gone and B&N is the only major chain selling books, I will try to take as much of my business to Barnes and Noble as I can.

How does this affect the library? So far it hasn’t. We still have people clamoring for the newest paper copy of James Patterson’s book of the week and I don’t see it affecting rural/semi-rural public libraries in the immediate future.

>Mike Matas: A next-generation digital book | Video on

>Mike Matas: A next-generation digital book | Video on

Software developer Mike Matas demos the first full-length interactive book for the iPad — with clever, swipeable video and graphics and some very cool data visualizations to play with. The book is “Our Choice,” Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth.”

>Gaiman, put your money where your mouth is!

>If you haven’t already heard: Harper Collins is Evil

We had a meeting about it at our branch, so I decided to highlight some points for you:

– HarperCollins chose 26 checkouts because the standard loan period is 2 weeks, this gives the library about one year worth of use for the eBook. Apparently books only last for a year….

– OverDrive, which is the distributor that most libraries use for downloadable eBooks, didn’t really stand up to HarperCollins, they rolled over and let libraries take another hit. Apparently OverDrive agrees with Harper Collins that libraries replace the majority of their physical collection every year!

– The way OverDrive works is that the library systems have to buy a license to use it and then purchase the books separately (at around $100 a book). This means that you will have to renew your license every year with OverDrive as well as re-purchase the book every time it hits 26 check outs. OverDrive doesn’t allow for libraries to purchase pre-selected collections for the price of the license, so that means paying for the service and for the product separately.

– The 26 check out limit poses a problem for librarians. “Do you have this book?” becomes a guessing game. “Well it was here yesterday, but it may have been removed from our collection because it hit 26 check outs.” It will also delete the hold that someone has on the book, so if you reserve a book and it’s checked out 26 times, it will cancel your reserve. I so look forward to patrons wondering why they are no longer on reserve for the eBook. “I’m sorry, according to HarperCollins, this book would have been removed from our collection after 26 check outs and it looks like you would have been check out number 27.”

– The consortium of libraries (ours includes 13 libraries) means that we are sharing the 26 check outs and thus every library within the system only has around 2 check outs. Sorry small public libraries!

-HarperCollins is requesting the library card policies of libraries who distribute their eBooks. They want to make sure that non-residents can not get a library card and download books

This entire situation has really rubbed me the wrong way. As someone who deals with the in’s and out’s of the library system daily, it is scary to see something like this happen. Some publishers have just flat out said, “No way” to letting their eBooks exist on OverDrive and the general consensus is that libraries are suppose to be happy that HarperCollins has decided to give us any books at all, but that (to me) is just backwards.

I hope this doesn’t sway other publishers to start doing the same thing, if that is the case then many of the smaller libraries will no longer be able to afford to carry eBooks through OverDrive.