I recently posted a request for people to share their most burning questions about library marketing and communications. In response, I received this question:
How can I get my library to invest in a more effective website design/hosting company and event/meeting room calendar software?
Great question! I can think of many reasons, but I would recommend putting together a business case for the changes you want to see. Here are a few points that you can use in your case.
When many libraries had to close last year due to the pandemic, the website was the only way that customers could use the library and one of the top three ways that libraries could communicate with customers (the other two being social media and email). Being able to provide access to digital content and library services was critical during this time. That’s why it is so important to have an up-to-date website that is clean, easy to navigate, mobile friendly and easy to find on search engines. It’s also important to integrate (as much as possible) your catalog and digital services into your website as much as possible. This includes third-party offering such as Hoopla, Overdrive, etc. You also want to make sure that your website partner (the company you use for design and hosting) understands libraries or is willing to listen and learn about how libraries serve their customers.
There are many considerations to making a website accessible, and that requires specialized expertise. Not only are there ADA requirements, there are also other considerations such as mobile design and search engine optimization. Also images that reflect the community you serve, language that is welcoming, easy-to understand instructions, and so on. Make sure the company you use understands that, and let accessibility be your north star when redesigning your website.
Marketing & Customer Retention
I always like to remind folks that marketing is the science of understanding human wants and needs, and delivering products and services that meet those needs. That’s why I strongly recommend looking at programs, collections, services and spaces holistically from the perspective of the customer.
Let’s imagine a customer named Marie, a new small business owner. She could benefit from books, programs, meetings rooms, and databases. So why would we keep these offerings in silos on our website? In a traditional library website, Marie would have to 1) search the catalog for books, 2) search databases for articles on her field, 3) look at a program calendar to see if there are any programs about small business ownership, and 4) call a branch or fill out a form to reserve a meeting room. At some point, Marie is going to get overwhelmed and give up. Running a business, she doesn’t have time to jump through al of these hoops and will go elsewhere to meet these needs, paying for things that would be free from the library.
If you have a more integrated website with a robust search that includes all resources and programs, with integrated event registration and meeting room reservations, you can offer (and market!) a more seamless experience for customers. And it’s not just Marie. It’s Joe, the high school student who needs a study room to offer tutoring and resources to finish his term paper. Or Tanisha, the mom who’s looking for picture books and programs for her kids.
It is not an exaggeration to say that for some library customers, the website may be their only interaction with the library. Even before the pandemic, there were customers who only used online resources and e-materials. This became even more common during the pandemic, and even though libraries have reopened, some customers have remained digital-only. And this is ok! Your website s a service point. Think or it as such, and make sure you are delivering as good of an experience on your website as you would in your best branch.