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).
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 http://plinternetsurvey.org/sites/default/files/publications/DigLitBrief2011.pdf
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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J198u5HK0pY&feature=youtube_gdata_player
Rukavina, P. (2013, February 5). Welcome to crazytown: public libraries confront digital objects. Ruk blog. [Personal Blog]. Retrieved from http://ruk.ca/content/welcome-crazytown-public-libraries-confront-digital-objects