Councils could do better on digital library services, says Socitm

13 Jan 17

County council websites are relatively weak at providing digital library content, Socitm highlighted in its latest usability research.

A Socitm survey of the user experience provided of all 27 English county council websites, carried out in December, found that less than half (45%) were ‘good’ or ‘very good’ at enabling visitors to sign up for “e-resources” such as e-books, online magazines and audio content.

In contrast, websites scored much better for ease of renewing a library book online, with 74% judged to be good or very good in earlier research.

For the surveys, reviewers test sites by carrying out a number of tasks and usability tests, which are used to create a rating ranging from “poor” to “very good” (represented by one to four stars).

Socitm said that the “main failing” of councils in the e-resources survey was lack of clear explanation about how to use e-books and other digital resources.

Just four in ten councils (41%) of councils were given a “yes” answer for the question “Is the process for borrowing e-books clear including whether/how I need to 'return' ebooks?”

And 59% were given a “yes” for “Are there clear instructions on how to access and use e-resources?”

The report highlighted East Sussex, Kent, Staffordshire, and Suffolk County Councils as examples of good practice. Suffolk Libraries is divested from Suffolk County Council and has its own, independent web team.

Socitm says that the provision of e-services is important because it opens library facilities to new audiences.

Vicky Sargent, director of the society’s Better Connected programme, said that improving access to digital content had the potential to cater to new audiences.

“Clearly there is an opportunity to reach a whole bunch of new readers who wouldn’t necessarily stroll down to their local library. And then of course there is a whole bunch of audiences who may be housebound,” she said.

The organisation says that, according to its data, library services account for around 8% of visits to council websites.

Socitm has used its Better Connected surveys to assess local authorities’ online performance in a range of areas, such as paying council tax and applying for housing, since 1999.

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