Chapter 4: The challenge of enhancing traditional services – Libraries for Users


The challenge of enhancing traditional services


Three decades of online catalogues

The current framework in which the information search and retrieval develops has triggered irreversible changes, both in the function traditionally assigned to the online catalogues and in the position that they occupy in access to information, in competition with the collection of global tools for retrieval implemented in the web. It seems clear that nowadays catalogues do not represent nuclear elements in the information search and that they have to limit themselves to occupy a modest second level.

Originally, the online catalogue was conceived as an essential library tool and we think that, to a certain extent, this conception of the OPAC has survived on the part of the professional community which has considered the catalogue as a product of the technical processes of the library rather than as a service to the user, a user immersed in the information society and that seems to demand very different online catalogues from those provided nowadays.

Libraries, and specifically university libraries, have made huge investments in order to adapt to the technological changes required by the web, placing particular emphasis on interoperability and standardisation. However, resources, library services and Information and Documentation professionals seem, in a way, to go unnoticed in the universe of superabundance of information that characterises our society and to hold a marginal position in the consumer market of electronic information.

Apart from modifying almost every technical task in the centres, the Internet has brought about one of the main challenges the professionals face at this moment: the incorporation of traditional and electronic, physical and virtual information, in fee and under licence information. Paradoxically we can notice two trends that affect the conception of the OPAC as a retrieval tool in the library: integration and diversification. As we have pointed out, on the one hand, the catalogue in the hybrid libraries includes books, e-books, printed and electronic journals, web resources, etc., and, on the other hand, from the library web portal the user may access databases subscribed to by the institution, platforms of electronic content providers, other catalogues, repositories and resources. This situation has an important level of complexity for the end user in order to understand the functionality and the added value of the OPAC in contrast to other retrieval tools, and to choose the online catalogue as the first search element, even in the library portal.

The different information units have articulated the solution from three essential non-exclusive patterns: the inclusion of resources in the catalogue, inserting the link in the field 856, the implementation of metasearch engines which allow the simultaneous and cross-reference search to different electronic resources, making good use of metadata, such as MetaLib1 or Research Pro,2 and finally, solutions with specific tools that make up a new interface dissociated from the OPAC, such as AquaBrowser,3 based on concept maps, indexes automatically, presents the results in order of relevance and redirects the user to the precise source, both inside and outside the library system; moreover, it compares the search terms of a user to the metadata from his catalogue with the aim of creating visual maps of associations or views of fields of interest.

To all these things we have to add the settlement of the systems of quotation links which makes good use of the advantages of OpenURL and the technological solutions provided by some of the main industry companies, that have specific applications to solve the complex network of links established in the treatment of electronic resources SFX from ExLibris, WebBridge LR from Innovative Interfaces or Resolver for SirsiDynix4 illustrate this type of tool.

In spite of all the efforts aimed at the development of new catalogues, the obvious technological developments introduced by the vendor companies of software intended for resource integration, the work of the library community in the design of the portals and the adaptation of the services provided, it is inevitable that users do not find the OPACs easy to use. The arguments explained before are taken up again by Borgman (1996) in his study from 1986 to confirm the clear difficulties in using the online catalogues a decade later. The improvements in the interfaces, according to Professor Borgman, have been superficial; they have not responded to the essential functionalities of the OPAC, whose search systems are designed for the professional librarians with a solid conceptual background in information retrieval. Bearing in mind all these problems, we shouldn’t be surprised by the conclusions of the report of Calhoun et al. (2009: 51) in which significant differences are emphasised between the qualitative priorities established by the users and librarians in the use of the catalogue, as well as in the data that this must provide. Whereas the librarians’ point of view still clings to the classical principles of information arrangement, the users’ expectations are clearly influenced by the web tools and services at their disposal.

For Novotny (2004), the interest shown in the OPACs started to decline when the concern in the libraries at the end of the 1990s focused on the inclusion of electronic resources in the collections. In this period, a new generation of users has entered the university, hoping that the online catalogues function as a search engine. The strategy of the standard question entails looking for the keyword and, as Novotny adds with greater surprise, ‘these users do not have too much curiosity to know how the catalogue works, make the least possible effort to formulate their search and do not understand the capacities of an OPAC’.

In order to understand what Karen Markey (2007) calls the ‘fall from grace’ of the catalogue, the author reviews the lost opportunities from the beginning of the 1980s until the Google era and of the projects of massive digitalisation. From the golden age of the catalogue in the 1980s we pass to recommendations suggested in the 1990s, which have not been dealt with suitably:

 To make the subject search easier, using post-Boolean probabilistic searches with automatic spell checking, weight of terms, smart stemming, relevance feedback and arrangement of the results by relevance ranking.

 To invigorate the decisions of users’ selection in the catalogue, adding tables of contents and indexes.

 To reduce the volume of failed searches in certain subjects, adding full texts to the catalogue, such as journal and newspaper articles, encyclopaedias, theses, reports from the different administrations, etc.

 To increase the search strategies through classifications.

In the same work Karen Markey points out ten reasons, with which we fully agree, explaining why these suggestions have not been applied:

1. Obsession of library professionals with descriptive cataloguing.

2. The priorities of the technical services were focused on the retrospective cataloguing or authority control.

3. Dedication focused on the technical services in contrast to the need to promote services to the user.

4. Constant increase per item in the cost of cataloguing.

5. Failure of the research community to reach an agreement about the most urgent needs for catalogue improvement and about the solutions to be adopted to reduce the costs allocated to cataloguing.

6. Failure to act harmoniously in the system improvements.

7. Inflationary trend in the library budgets.

8. The cost in the development of collections and the resources allocated to the licenses of electronic contents that drive the growth of the open access movement.

9. High costs, generally technological, of the Integrated Library System (ILS).

10. Failure of the ILS vendors to make changes in the retrieval technology that respond appropriately to the system improvements. Marked lack of connection between the institutions and the market forces to converge in a direction that keeps the users alert to OPAC.

The Calhoun (2006) report, commissioned by the Library of Congress, emphasises how the users attribute to the catalogue the tendency to contain mainly references, with very little capacity to do full text searches. People being interviewed at work categorically agree that the catalogue does not constitute a priority search tool in the range of existing possibilities; what’s more, the catalogue provides insufficient coverage in the universe of academic information. The users surveyed seem to answer clearly the question of catalogue integration with other information retrieval tools, being inclined to go for the inclusion of the library collections in Google.

The current catalogue covers an important core collection, especially books and journals, in printed and electronic format, but this collection is limited with respect to what students and teachers wish to find and use. In view of this weakness, the user appreciates Google and appreciates particularly the tool Google Books, a huge project which couldn’t have been possible without the digitalisation agreements undertaken in collaboration with some of the most important libraries all over the world; in addition to these agreements the collaboration with OCLC is also a significant fact, specifically the link to the results of WorldCat,5 also accessible from Yahoo, or in Spain the agreement with REBIUN (Red de Bibliotecas Universitarias)6 since 2006, combining the results of the Google Books searches and the collective catalogue in this network. Opinion is largely in favour of incorporating the catalogues into web engines, one of the actions recommended by Markey (2007) or the CIBER study (2008).

In the same report by Calhoun (2006: 38) it is stressed that the catalogue interface, whether unique or collective, ‘should be similar and work as Google’. Users expect instantaneous satisfaction and positive feedback from the systems that they use. Likewise, people being interviewed suggested the enrichment of the catalogue with cover pictures, reviews, tables of contents, etc. In the same way, new ideas were considered for the improvement of usability of the catalogue through the FRBR concepts, display techniques and interactive characteristics. More interactive catalogues were suggested which could offer RSS sources, social marking, etc.

In that respect the report on Libraries of the University of California (2005: 7) is conclusive: the current library catalogues are inadequately designed for the tasks of search, retrieval and selection in the growing pool of resources available in our libraries. They are better adapted to the siting and acquisition of known items and, both for librarians and users, the catalogue is only another option of access to our collections. They offer a fragmented group of systems in order to search published information, catalogues, databases, platforms of electronic journals, institutional repositories, etc., each of them with different tools for the identification and procurement of materials. For the user these distinctions are arbitrary; they seek only simplicity in the search and satisfaction in the answer.

Also recently the common aspects of the catalogues have been noticed with the successful model of virtual bookshop led by Amazon.7 Functionalities that the users appreciate especially in Amazon must make us reflect. Zumer (2007) notes six Amazon characteristics entirely comparable to the OPACs: simplicity, picture of the cover, recommendations based on the tracking of the behaviour of users, reviews- recommendations made by the readers, arrangement of the results according to popularity and availability of the content, and full text search.

While the progress made is acceptable, and the technological improvements implemented in the OPACs are noteworthy, the reality shown in the above paragraphs reveals the difficulties of the online catalogues; the coincidence and persistence in the research results for almost three decades is an unquestionable fact: the end user finds it difficult to use the catalogues and, moreover, the success of the web has led to the decline and displacement of the OPAC as a first order element in information retrieval.

Framework for the development of the catalogues

Evolution in the Integrated Library Systems

Traditionally, the OPAC functionalities were directly related to the system of library management used, a linking adopted for a long time, which is refuted clearly in the report of the University of California Libraries (2005: 42) where it is pointed out as one of its basic principles ‘to rethink the architecture of the system in order to approach it according to the services, and not to the systems’, emphasising the fact that applications such as the OPAC cannot be determined by an ILS. The need to revise the viewpoint of the system architecture is emphasised, with a view to get applications defined by the services rendered to the users.

The middle of the 1990s is considered the transformation age for library management systems; for Rowley (1998) this is the transition moment from the third generation systems to those of the fourth generation, in parallel with web expansion and with unstoppable trend towards standardisation and interoperability.

At present the ILSs are based on the client/server architecture, use of non-proprietary operating systems which make interoperability feasible and the integration of different platforms in the same system. Generally, they are based on relational databases management systems and object- oriented programming languages, and both in large and in small systems the graphical interfaces and the multimedia environments have been consolidated. To the traditional modules the vendors have been adding a suite of applications that let the libraries discard out-of-date interfaces without having to change the whole system.

We think that at this moment there are two main challenges of the ILSs: managing electronic collections appropriately and improving the interfaces of the OPACs. Salse Rovira (2005) points out how the OPAC modules are the ones that show more variations recently in coordination with an important range of additional programmes. Since the adoption of the OPAC web at the end of the 1990s we have gone to an online catalogue which acts as an integrator of resources and that allows, among other functionalities: addition of enriched content to the bibliographical record, access to services of virtual reference, act as metasearch engine, integrate links or allow access through mobile devices.

The industry companies present constant developments and innovations with OPACs in which the influence of the generic search tools in the web can be perceived as an adaptation pattern to the user preferences for access to the information. In this way, simpler environments come up, the use of menus or the advanced search seems to have been pushed into the background, even in the university or specialised library catalogues, including advanced functionalities, arrangement of results according to relevance, faceted navigation, fuzzy technology, searches in natural language, etc.

AquaBrowser (see Figure 4.1) was the pioneering product in the development of new interfaces; for its part, Ex Libris launched Primo, Innovative Interfaces Encore, VTLS8 introduced Visualizer, etc. The emergent open source products, with Koha9 at the top, have to be added to the commercial products. We agree with interpretations such as those of Breeding (2008), for whom the library automatisation business based in proprietary software licences is broken, products have become much more mature and the number of implementations of ILS open source has grown considerably. In this sense the work by Garza (2009) documents the successful implementation of Drupal10 and other public APIs in an academic library, showing its integration with Millenium WebOpac, OCLC, LibraryThing, Google tools, etc.

Figure 4.1 AquaBrowser Library© in Queens Library

In that respect special mention should be given to the eXtensible Catalog (XC)11 project, hosted at the University of Rochester and funded from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholarly Communications Program, which is working to design and develop a set of open- source applications for libraries. At present they have two complete applications, whose source code is openly available. XC software is aimed at three areas: ILS and repository integration, metadata services and user interface. It is designed as a group of components rather than a monolithic traditional system, so the library will install the tool that fits its requirements.

One of the open discussions in the current literature focuses on the future role of the ILSs. On one hand, as Salse Rovira (2005) points out, we have the position of those who, like Borgman, defend the preservation of these systems, which will have to become more modular and fragmentary. On the other hand, authors such as Pace (2004) think that the ILSs as we know them today will tend to disappear, considering the possibility that the librarian selects the modules that better adapt to the centre, regardless of the vendor of these modules. In the same context, Tardon (2002: 269) suggests the need to redefine the ILSs operation; he adds that it is not enough to automatise technical tasks and offer collections to the users, it is necessary to increase the complexity of the information system and to develop this by means of the interconnection of information resources and the services with a view to optimise the efficiency of the resultant value chain. This trend seems to be endorsed by the designations themselves that this type of programme receives, now considered as applications platforms, rather than integrated systems; this is shown in labels, increasingly used, such as LMS (Library Management System) or LAF (Library Application Framework).

The report by JISC and SCONUL (2008) discusses a totally consolidated market, which tries to compete with services such as Google or Amazon, being focused on fostering the added value that their ILSs may provide to the libraries, observing the standards and pursuing interoperability. We consider that, specifically, the online catalogues and the related applications will benefit from being more receptive to the open source software, interfaces non-dependent on the system and a line of work aimed at adding value to the library data, moving away from the ‘simple’ lists of results and details of bibliographical records in order to move the collections from the hybrid libraries to the user environment.

Initiatives in the field of bibliographic information display

The study of the OPACs and the behaviour of the users constitute one of the richest and most prolific research areas and undoubtedly its results have benefitted the continuous evolution and improvement of the systems. García López (2007: 20–3) revises the main research projects undertaken in the Anglo-Saxon countries that have contributed to the unquestionable improvement of the OPACs, among which we must mention: the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) Online Project, developed by OCLC in 1984–5; the OKAPI Project, started in the middle of the 1980s by the British Library; the Bibliographic Elements and Displays Project, from the University of Toronto, set in motion in 1994; and the Contextual Resource Evaluation Environment (CREE) Project, initiated in 2003 with the participation, among other institutions, of the universities of Hull, Oxford, Edinburgh and York, focused on the analysis and preferences of users for the use of different search tools and in various contexts.

For the user, the information display plays a crucial role when assessing the quality of a system interface and decisively influences the success of the information retrieval in it. Online catalogues have considerably increased the information scenario that they provide, and their design depends to a great extent on the MARC structure of the bibliographical records. There are a lot of people who consider that we are not taking full advantage of the potentialities of the current display systems and all this has moved the discussion to the cataloguing field.

A good number of recent works, Calhoun (2006), Marcum (2006), Mann (2006) or Markey (2007), suggest that the detailed attention paid to the descriptive cataloguing cannot be justified any longer, prevailing opinions in which the simplification of cataloguing is proposed, considering the possibility of removing the subject headings in favour of automatically generated metadata.

Another line of strong debate has been made clear in the Research Information Network report (2009: 37), where it is shown that the current processes of bibliographical records are imperfect and ineffective, having a bearing on the decrease of the value and usefulness for the end user of the individual libraries’ catalogues and defending a redefinition of the standards and the quality of the records which let us consider the availability of shared catalogues. The RIN study emphasises the need to develop business models in which libraries, publishers, aggregators and content distributors or companies such as Google, among other, work together.

The OCLC projects on the use of metadata, culminating in the integration of CORC (Cooperative Online Resources Catalogue) in the WorldCat, have to be combined with the main proprietary companies of library management systems that have made it possible for the OPACs to offer any type of documents, whether in MARC or in Dublin Core. In this context we should add the discussions arising at the heart of Web 2.0 that are aimed at social OPACs. An example such as LibraryThing12 (Figure 4.2) illustrates new ways of information display and a way of grouping the bibliographical references undoubtedly close to that proposed in the FRBR model.

Figure 4.2 LibraryThing

It was in 1991 in the IFLA Conference in Moscow that the Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographical Records (FRBR) was created. In 1997 in the Conference held in Copenhagen the final report was accepted and it was published in 1998 as Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report (FRBR). Since 2003 it is the FRBR Review Group that takes charge of promoting the FRBR model and issuing guidelines for its implementation in the creation of bibliographical and authority records, as well as encouraging its use in libraries, archives, museums, software industries, etc.

Despite all this, its implementation does not rise above the merely superficial, in spite of opinions such as those of Zumer and Riesthuis (2002: 80), who describe as revolutionary the structural framework of the FRBR model. In their opinion the OPAC is no longer considered as a sequence of bibliographical records, ordered according to strict rules or as a mere replica of the traditional catalogue in index cards in a computer, in order to evolve towards a network of connected entities. We should not ignore the previous need of introducing adaptations in the different rules of national catalogues, of harmonising its relations with the metadata field, of steering the FRANAR (Functional Requirements and Numbering for Authority Records) project safely through, in which the entity-relation is applied to the records of Authority and accommodate the MARC format to the new proposals of FRBR.

Martín González and Ríos Hilario (2005) analyse various prototypes of catalogues in which the new conceptual FRBR is used – Austlit Gateway, Virtua, LibDB and RedLightGreen – concluding that the implementation of the model in the online catalogues constitutes a significant development because it allows better and more complete information retrieval and a more effective organisation of records. However, they add, their advantages have to be proven, and for that it is necessary that some of these projects reach the end of the experimental stage and are used daily.

The IFLA dealt with the display of the bibliographical information in the online catalogues for the first time in 1998 in their Guidelines for OPAC Displays, published as a second version in 2005, in which a more modern and updated attitude is observed:

 The guides are based on three principles: To meet as a priority the users’ needs, to give the highest importance to the content and the arrangement of the records and to call for the tracking of the international standards on the content and the structure of the information.

 They consider how a record configured under the FRBR model has to be displayed and describe the importance of the bibliographical relations in the OPAC.

 They include the need that the catalogue allows the appropriate navigation and visualisation of the authority records, allows navigation of all the authority records of a particular item, to display subject heading records related to a given one, etc.

 They have a direct bearing on the content, emphasise the need for the catalogue to include in an appropriate way links to the information external to the catalogue: electronic journals, full text articles, other catalogues, pictures, tables of contents, community information, etc.

In the collection of the bibliographical information of the catalogue, undoubtedly the thematic information and, particularly, the problems of its retrieval have occupied a good part of the scientific literature about OPACs. As an example we have the study by Marcos Mora (2004), whose conclusions corroborate lacks inherited by the catalogues since the 1980s:

 They do not facilitate subject access to users who have not clearly defined their need for information, or those who have indeterminate knowledge about the system.

 They do not offer enough information to the user in order to determine the relevance of the documents obtained, or facilitate the reformulation of the query to improve the results.

Villén Rueda (2006) insists that the indexation systems and, therefore, the subject authority control is still a matter pending in most of the institutions and considers absolutely necessary:

 Implement subject authority files with an appropriate synthetic (interrelated) structure in databases and library catalogues.

 Incorporate qualitative improvements in the indexing systems used and in the indexes display.

We agree with Professor Villen Rueda on the aforementioned aspects and on the need to carry on incorporating improvements; however, we think that in a good number of OPACS, specifically in academic and research centres, you can detect the determination to visualise the authority indexes, show the subject inputs related to one given or the possibility of using thesauri, although the use of controlled vocabularies requires a cognitive effort on the part of the user that clearly moves away from the current search habits.

Enrichment of the bibliographical records

This is one of the repeated demands required for the improvement of the OPACs, as has been said before. Peis (2000) points out that the increase in the thematic information relative to the monographs in the catalogues began in the 1970s. The project for the thematic enrichment of bibliographical records, known as SAP (Subject Access Project), directed by Atherton tends to be considered as the starting point for others such as the SAP-Sweden or the Mercury project from the Carnegie Mellon University.

In 1992 in the Library of Congress the BEAT (Bibliographic Enrichment Advisory Team)13 was created to research and undertake initiatives aimed at broadening the usefulness of the bibliographical records. Among the first actions, several projects focused on the enrichment of the bibliographical records were included, incorporating the tables of contents.

Peis (2000) himself noticed that one of the most important and urgent possibilities of improvement of the online catalogue was the inclusion of descriptive information, which could come from the table of contents. Pappas and Herendeen (2000) highlight three great advantages derived from the incorporation of this type of information into the catalogue:

1. Table of contents helps the users to determine the relevance of the titles with respect to their information needs.

2. The contents page improves enormously the effectiveness of the information retrieval.

3. They are used as a complement to the subject cataloguing.

Duchemin (2005) indicates as enrichment elements: cover, table of contents, back cover, abstract, author bibliography and even excerpts from the work. Recently Powell (2008) has shown in his work the integration in the OPAC of the University of Michigan of digitalised materials in its collaborative partnership with Google. For their part, Byrum and Williamson (2006) allude in their study to results in which it is confirmed that the level of use of the enriched records in the library is far higher than that of the current records; it has even been proved that the same record may increase its use by 45 per cent when it includes the table of contents.

It is worth mentioning the Catalog Enrichment Initiative,14 an initiative conceived in 2004 with the aim of encouraging the coordinated creation of tables of contents data from older publications, a collaborative project directed by Robert Kieft – Haverford College – in which some institutions such as OCLC, RLG, Library of Congress, etc. take part. The recent report from OCLC (Cahoun et al., 2009) emphasises the first-order importance that users give to data enrichment. Users wish to reduce the difference between the description of the bibliographical record and the item itself. We agree that libraries need to work together to share the costs involved in catalogue data enrichment.

The positive influence of online libraries allows that users and the library community consider at this moment as a fundamental added value the incorporation of the elements indicated in the OPACs; moreover, the ILSs have the technological solutions that make it possible and that allow the incorporation of enriched items. At this moment the preferential forms for the record enrichment are the purchase of the contents from the usual ILS vendor of the centre and the use of APIs which act on publishing companies and/or service providers such as Google or Amazon.

Catalogues 2.0

Fortunately, the overwhelming power of Web 2.0 has entered the catalogues. Just years ago we suggested the need for improvement of ergonomic aspects and its adaptation to the users: the personalisation of the query/retrieval formats, the Selective Dissemination of Information, the user profiles, etc. (Rodríguez and Alvite, 2004), at this moment, a good number of our catalogues try to improve on the Web 1.0 stage, marked by a hierarchical system-user communication and merely transactional.

‘OPAC 2.0’ is the bibliographical catalogue in which technologies and attitudes from Web 2.0 are applied (Margaix Arnal, 2007a). This same author (2007b), bearing in mind works such as those of Calhoun (2006), Alvarez Garcia (2005) or the University of California Libraries Report (2005), lists the main functions required in a social OPAC:

 Allow the users to introduce tags, rating and comments in the bibliographical records.

 Let the users select documents as favourites, organise them in folders and share these folders with other users.

 Include tools from social networks.

 Allow subscription to personalised RSS channels.

 Customise the search: limiting it to the books that the user has on loan, only those that he has marked as favourites, only in his tags, etc.

 Allow the arrangement of the search results according to the social information (frequency with which it has been selected as favourite, frequency of loans, rating assigned by the users, etc.).

 Display icons for the most borrowed books or those that belong to the basic bibliography in a chosen subject.

 Display the information introduced by the users: tags, comments and assessments, show number of times it has been selected as favourite, or has been lent, etc.

 Display other books that have been lent together with the one being displayed or other related titles, creating a system of recommendations.

 Allow navigation through tags and social networks (see who has selected that book as a favourite, see other favourite books of that user, etc.).

The advantages of this new OPAC will benefit the library itself (strengthening the catalogue as a retrieval tool, giving better use of the collective intelligence in the indexation, assistance in the collection planning, improvement in the institution positioning, etc.) and the user (arrangement of customised mechanisms, improvement in the search and navigation options, thematic retrieval in natural language, active participation in the creation of value added to the contents of the collection, etc.).

As we have mentioned, LibraryThing is undoubtedly the model of bibliographical service 2.0 converted to a referent, both for its contributions to the model of OPAC 2.0, and for its innovative character in the display of information. The implementation of the LibraryThing for Libraries tools in various libraries, the successful projects such as the Penn Taggs tool from the University of Pennsylvania, applications 2.0 from freeware such as OpenBib15 or Drupal,16 are combined with the proposals of the library software distribution companies such as Primo from Ex Libris or Encore from Innovative.

The qualitative leap derived from the implementation of the functionalities of 2.0 is unquestionable; however, it is advisable to remain cautious, as in interpretations such as those of Roser Lozano (2008) who reflects on the library 2.0 to draw attention to the true background of innovations of this social Web. According to Lozano, we get the opportunity of transforming the library model radically, beyond the fact of adding technological innovations that are no more than a simple make-up.

Catalogues and the semantic web

The objective of the semantic web is that the web turns from being a collection of documents to become a knowledge base. Therefore, it is to be expected that the search according to concepts of the semantic web will replace the search according to comparison of character strings in the current web or syntactic web. In this context, it is evident that the libraries and their catalogues are in a privileged position to be included in that new web – Web 3.0. This consideration is backed up by the commitment to standards, the authority control, and the use of terminological control instruments. However, as Bennett (2007) points out, in general the OPACs don’t take advantage of the expressiveness of the information they contain and still cling to interfaces based on static structures of predefined hierarchical navigation.

Yee (2009), using relevant projects from the FRBR Review Group, Library of Congress or DCMI/RDA Task Group17 has created a model of RDF data adapted to the FRBR rules, raising doubts about the adaptability of RDF to the most sophisticated model of FRBR. For his part, Malmsten (2008) has described the tools and techniques used to transfer the Swedish Union Catalogue (LIBRIS) to the semantic web, being based on the use of SPARQL and following the line of work of the DCMI/RDA Task Group.

Likewise, some prototypes have appeared such as that described in the study by Papadakis et al. (2008), in which a tool based in AJAX is presented to navigate through the subject headings of the OPAC by means of a dynamic and interactive structure based on graphs. The core of this semantic application is based on the use of an ontology which covers the subject headings and their interrelations. The results of the implementation of this tool in the OPAC proved to help the user in the topic information retrieval, meeting the information needs in a quicker, more effective and more intuitive way. For their part, Felip Vidal and Orduña-Malea (2008) propose the NextLib prototype, made up of LibX – an extension of the FireFox browser – a semantic database, software for automatic data detection and an example-based learning programme. The integration of these four tools would provide a more interactive, efficient and user-oriented system, displaying also an emerging line of work in the research in order to improve the information retrieval in the OPACs.

Online catalogues for twentieth century users

Thanks to the web and the continued technological developments, the last decade has allowed the OPACs to present radical changes, huge collections of integrated information resources and indisputable improvements in their interfaces. However, the current context of information access and retrieval, dominated by intuitive interfaces and powerful search engines, represents an undeniable challenge for the libraries and their catalogues, a challenge which requires adapting the systems design to the real behaviour of the users.

Among the trends that can be noticed in the recent evolution of the OPACs, undoubtedly the most radical and productive is that derived from the incorporation of technologies and services to Web 2.0. It is urgent to exploit the functionalities of the social technologies, make the most of the opportunity that we are given with the users’ active participation in the information system, the social enrichment of the records or the re-utilisation of contents. It is necessary for the library to involve users in the creation and development of content in order to show the potentiality and richness of the catalogues and grow together with the user.

Moreover, we emphasise the changes in the conception of the ILSs, the commitment to interoperability, the integration of different applications independent from the system – which share and re-use data (mashups) – and the appearance of competitive open source products which make it possible to implement more advanced OPACs. Interfaces tend to be simplified and to include increasingly advanced functionalities: algorithms of results arrangement according to relevance, faceted navigation, fuzzy technology, search suggestions, customised spaces, federated search, export results to bibliography managers, etc.

Even so, we must demand and promote continual innovations and adaptations: FRBR implementation, faceted navigation, the use of clusters, intelligent stemming and support of synonyms tables, the introduction of weight algorithms, use of feedback on relevance, a more exhaustive enrichment of records, multilingual search, improvements in the inadequate retrieval of information according to subjects including semantic applications, in which, apart from the classification and subject headings we should incorporate social information supplied by the users, information on the tables of contents, on possible citation analyses, etc.

We think that in the academic and professional context, quantitative and qualitative research projects are to be fostered, projects which let us suggest possible changes in the OPAC functionalities and not only in the interfaces appearance. It is necessary to know the use habits, the search strategies that have been adopted, preferences in the records presentation, the potential conceptual problems of the users, the understanding or not of the catalogue structure and of its capacities. Furthermore, monitoring the users’ actions in the system will help us to determine strong and weak points in the descriptive cataloguing, in the authority control systems and vocabulary used, as well as to detect possible gaps in the development of collections. It is necessary to adapt and stress the users’ training, which must go from the use of buttons to be focused on making them understand the structure and objective of a catalogue; it is required to study the real adaptation of automatic corrections or helps. In the same way we must assess the 2.0 services, measure the participation and re-use of the information, work in the users ‘profiles’ and in the identification modes.

In short, we need continued analysis and discussion, which involves also the software developers, in order to study how we wish to have our catalogues, whether or not we must integrate the OPACs in the web engines, how to incorporate the catalogues to projects immersed in the semantic web, and finally, how to keep a strategic view of the future and a relevant role in provision of information.

Information and reference services

Traditional reference services

The information and reference service is a key part of a university library, as it is charged with meeting users’ information needs. Until quite recently, the information desk and reference collection were the only resources libraries used to answer patrons’ inquiries, but nowadays there are many more tools, which we shall discuss below. In this first section, we shall make an in-depth examination of traditional reference services, which are still very important in university libraries, although today they are backed by other more modern and innovative techniques which make the service more effective.

Merlo Vega (2009) lists several objectives that any reference service must meet:

 It is an essential service, so patrons must be aware of it and use it. For this to happen, librarians must publicise the service and offer training on how to deal with the reference works and other information resources. It is important for the library to have suitable spaces set up for this kind of activity and to develop a simple system for receiving inquiries.

 All inquiries must be resolved satisfactorily, and this involves having a solid reference collection. It is also necessary to develop document access systems when the information required is not in the collection itself. It is a good idea to set up fruitful partnerships with the interlibrary loan service, as it will largely support this initiative.

The most common classification of the different types of

inquiries or requests that reach the reference service is:

 General information inquiries. This includes questions on the organisation and structure of the library, timetables, lending procedures, consultations of electronic resources, layout of the collection on the shelves, etc.

 Easy-to-answer inquiries. As the name indicates, this kind of question tends to be closed-ended, that is, in the majority of cases they can be answered with a single word or even a yes or no. These inquiries can be on a variety of topics. Librarians usually have to check with reference and information sources and resources to answer this kind of inquiry.

 Bibliographic information inquiries. This category includes all the other questions, that is, the ones that require more elaborate information. The end product of this inquiry is a set of bibliographic references on a given topic or topics which will help the patron carry out a project or study.

With regard to the person in charge of a reference service, in addition to being an expert in searching for and finding information sources and resources, they must also have the right attitude, as this heavily influences the quality of the service, bearing in mind that patrons are the cornerstone of the library. There is a series of techniques that helps reference librarians to perform their jobs optimally, including:

 A smile, the most effective communication instrument.

 Calling the other person by name, which helps the professional’s capacity to understand and engages both parties more.

 Practising active listening. To do this, it is a good idea to eliminate physical barriers, such as counters, and come out from behind them if necessary. Other techniques include not disconnecting from the patron, even though the librarian sometimes has to handle more than one matter at once; trying to keep eye contact, as when the relationship with the patron is reduced to a brief exchange of books, such as in loan transactions, the communication does not tend to be very fluid; observing body language, as the patron’s gestures and postures will communicate many things; and finally, listening empathetically, putting yourself in the other’s shoes. By following these guidelines, the communication between the two parties will be much easier.

When we defined the objectives that a reference service must fulfil in a university library, we mentioned the importance of a specific collection to respond to the inquiries submitted by patrons. Nowadays, we can talk about the printed reference collection, which exists in any university information service, but what are gaining more and more importance are specialised information resources available on the web. Many of them charge fees, so libraries have to pay a subscription; however, many others are free and open. In the early 1990s, Guinchat and Menou (1992) developed a classification of what we traditionally call a reference collection. They distinguish between three kinds of consultation or reference works:

 Bibliographies, catalogues and indexes, which refer to documents already analysed. They are used to respond to requests about works on a given topic, or by a given author, or to bibliographic inquiries.

 Dictionaries and encyclopaedias, defined as works that refer to ideas. This means that they will be useful for very specific, practical information requests. These works are the most appropriate for resolving occasional or easy-to- answer inquiries.

 Directories, guides and yearbooks, which contain specific addresses and information.

These authors classify other reference works into frequently consulted compilations of texts and figures like legal compendia and statistics; works that gain the value of continuity and integrity as part of a series, like reports, memos, norms, patents, etc.; and finally, discursive works that can serve as references, such as manuals.

With regard to information sources and resources on the Internet, Maldonado Martínez and Rodríguez Yunta (2006) present a list of highly useful tools that should always be a part of any reference service:

1. Subject directories and indexes. These organise electronic information resources into thematic classifications. They consist of hypertext lists of categories with subdivisions that hierarchically depend on the next higher level. The majority of these indexes also have a form for sending in direct inquiries. There are international, academic,18 specialised and other sorts of directories.

2. Search engines. These are tools whose databases store a vast number of websites located by robots whose mission is to jump from page to page using hyperlinks. Each stored page is assigned a series of terms representing its content, which will serve as the access point for the searches conducted by users. Nowadays, the best search engine is Google19 and all the other services it offers, including Google Scholar, Google Images, etc.

3. Library websites. Even though at first this kind of information seems like it is only useful for the library staff, actually these websites contain a great deal of information and links to resources chosen for their quality that are appropriate for all kinds of users, as shown in Figure 4.3, including library catalogues, online periodicals, official gazettes, e-journals, etc.

Figure 4.3 Leon (Spain), University Library Website

4. Bibliographic databases. This includes sets of information organised into registers and stored on an electronic support that can be read by a computer. A register consists of an autonomous information unit that is in turn organised into different fields or kinds of data. Usually this kind of resource is created and maintained continuously with the goal of resolving specific information needs. There are several kinds of databases, but the ones used most often in library reference services are document databases, which may include only the referential information that describes and locates the documents that it contains, or the complete text of these documents. As mentioned above, databases tend to be fee-based resources, meaning that the library must pay a fee every year to subscribe to them, although there are also free databases. Libraries tend to organise these information sources by thematic areas in order to facilitate users’ access to them.

5. Scientific e-journals. These are collections of articles resulting from research activities that are published under a common title via the web, with a certain frequency and a stable content structure. They come from a variety of sources, as some e-journals were founded directly on the web, while others had previously been published on paper and were then adapted to the electronic medium. The contents are variable, although the journals usually offer summaries of each issue with the complete text of the articles, the latter usually for a fee. This kind of information resource is being constantly developed, and they are often upgraded. For example, some of the most common added- value services in e-journals are alerts that enable users to receive occasional information on the release of new issues through email; information searches related to the journal; searches for articles within the publication itself through summaries, author and subject indexes; guides to specialised resources in the journal’s subject matter; discussion forums; access to supplementary material or appendices; inquiries as to evaluations of the articles by experts; downloads of bibliographic references and the ability to browse them; inquiry into the quotes from the articles; and RSS feeds that enable users to receive the contents of the journal as they are produced.

6. Electronic reference works. These are information and reference sources that can be used via the Internet, oftentimes free of charge and otherwise for a fee. The advantage of electronic dictionaries, encyclopaedias, glossaries, thesauruses, etc. is that they are easy to use, offer multiple forms of access to the information they contain, are constantly updated and are interactive with users.

7. Internet media. This includes online newspapers, news agencies, magazines, radio and television stations. These resources have characteristics inherent to the web including interactivity, the immediacy and possibility for the news to be constantly updated, the multimedia or multiformat nature in which audio, video, texts and images coexist, functionality and personalised services.

8. Open access resources. According to Suber (2004),

the literature on open access is digital, online, free of charge and exempt from the majority of copyrights and licence restrictions. What makes this possible is the Internet and the author’s or copyright holder’s consent. In most fields of knowledge, specialised journals do not pay the authors, who consequently may authorise open access without this affecting their incomes. Open access is fully compatible with peer review, and the majority of prominent open access initiatives in the realm of academic literature stress the importance of this point […].

The two ways to reach open access are the green road, or self-archiving by the authors into archives, repositories or open access repositories, and the gold road, or publication in open access journals. In this way, both institutional and subject-based repositories and open access journals are two other information resources or sources that should be carefully borne in mind in a reference service.

Virtual reference services

Virtual reference, digital reference or electronic reference is a ‘reference service initiated electronically often in realtime, where patrons employ computers or other Internet technology to communicate with reference staff, without being physically present’ (ALA, 2004; Wasik, 2000). Virtual reference has existed for more than a decade as a support for and complement to the information desk at university libraries. Even though their degree of implementation is not uniform in all libraries, there are more and more virtual services. Instant messaging and chatting are just some of the tools that are being introduced in library reference services, which we shall discuss in further detail below.

Wasik (2000) proposes a structured six-step process to implement any successful virtual reference service:

1. Informing, where preliminary research into areas of expertise and existing service areas is conducted.

2. Planning, where procedures, methods and policies that reflect the overall organisational goals are developed.

3. Training, including developing a training plan to prepare staff for the service.

4. Prototyping, where the service is tested and modified before launch.

5. Contributing, which involves publicity and resource development for service support.

6. Evaluating, which includes regular service evaluation to identify improvement opportunities.

Of all of these aspects that must be taken into account when offering a virtual reference service, the three most important are the staff team, marketing and assessment.

The team

In the opinion of Breznay and Haas (2003), it is crucial to have a team that is qualified to offer a high-quality service. Furthermore, it is also important to have three different positions within the group:

 Manager/Coordinator that will be the cheerleader, scheduler, troubleshooter and salesperson.

 Technical support, someone who has technical skills and can help set up the services.

 Web support, another important team member because this person will place the links in the proper places and will design the web pages and icons to make the project visible and successful.

Kovacs (2007) discusses the different skills and competences that the members of this team should have. She stresses three groups: technical skills, related to computer applications, software, equipment, etc.; communication skills, which are important for the dialogue with patrons to be as fluid as possible; and reference skills, which are coupled with knowing how to search for and locate information and manage information resources and sources. All the librarians on the working team providing services in the virtual reference unit must receive training in line with the job they must perform in order to later offer it to the users of the service. Bearing in mind the study by Gronemyer and Deitering (2009: 433) about librarians’ attitudes to instructions in the virtual reference environment, ‘it is easy to let the technology be a barrier to teaching and learning, but searching via virtual reference does not depend on new technology, it depends on policies, reference interview skills, and perhaps most important, attitudes that are geared towards looking for opportunities to put the patron in control of his or her learning’.


This is a crucial activity in any university library, so we have set aside an entire section for it. Promoting and advertising the products and services offered within an information unit will help these units work smoothly. Barber and Wallace (2002) developed a list of ten tips for marketing virtual reference services (VRS), as follows:

1. Treat your online services like a branch library. Support them with appropriate budget and staffing for both developing and marketing ‘the product’.

2. Have a communications plan. This plan should complement and extend your library’s overall marketing plan. The look, tone and voice should be consistent with the image of your library. Assign a coordinator to manage and carry out the plan.

3. Don’t forget your most important audience. The most important audience when launching any new service is staff. All frontline staff need to be up to speed, know the URL and be able to answer questions. They should understand both the message and why it’s important for the library.

4. Remember you’re only new once. The launch of a VRS is newsworthy because it is new and unique to libraries. Be sure to take advantage of it. Get out those news releases. Call those radio and TV stations!

5. Focus on what’s unique. Online reference and other virtual services provide an opportunity to focus on what people say they like best about libraries – the expert, personalised service that librarians provide.

6. Have a clear and consistent message. One that you use over and over again in all publicity materials, e.g., ‘Get answers in your pyjamas. Send your questions to …’ Make sure your ‘salesforce’ (the whole staff, Board, Friends, etc.) understands the message and is prepared to answer questions. Remember, simpler is better.

7. Harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Prepare and encourage all frontline staff to put in a plug for VRS at every opportunity. ‘Have you tried our new Ask a Librarian service? Let me give you one of these bookmarks with the URL’. Ask ten satisfied customers to tell ten friends. Also encourage friends and trustees to spread the word.

8. Track positive feedback. Provide an interactive form for VRS customers to give feedback. Collect testimonials to use in your next wave of publicity. (Use names only with permission.) Remind your ‘salesforce’ to forward any positive comments they hear to the publicity coordinator.

9. Work the web. Seek links with other websites of schools, government and other organisations to bookmark or link from their homepage. Offer an e-mail newsletter to keep customers informed of developments.

10. 10. Evaluate. Evaluation is critical to any marketing effort. Provide an interactive form for VRS customers to give feedback. Collect testimonials to use in your next wave of publicity. Track your publicity. Watch to see what works and what doesn’t. Aim to do it better next time.


MacClure et al. (2002) analyse the different indicators to bear in mind when assessing virtual reference services:

 Number of inquiries received. They recommend that you tally the inquiries received on an individual basis, in case there are several within the same message, and on a daily basis.

 Number of responses given. This indicator is closely tied to the first one and helps to analyse possible technology glitches and the effectiveness of the virtual reference interview.

 Number of questions asked virtually but not fully answered by digital media, which sheds light on the proportion in which this service is used, and is useful for staff planning and training.

 Total reference activity. This means the total number of inquiries received, without discriminating between those that were and were not answered.

 Percentage of questions received through the virtual service compared to the total number, an indicator that might be very useful for justifying the service.

 Correct answer rate. In order to tally this, we recommended that a peer-based review group or observer be appointed to analyse a set of answers individually.

 Time elapsed between the question and the answer. This indicator will show the efficacy and efficiency of the service.

 Number of questions asked that received no answer, including those only partially answered and unmet requests.

 Kinds of questions received. The categories that these authors propose include bibliographic, instructional, literature-related, quick reference, research, technical, outside the scope and others.

 Number of forwards or number of times the user has been forwarded to another service within the library. This measure will serve to support balanced collection development and to plan the scope of the service.

 Saturation rate, which is used to find out the degree to which the library’s potential users are involved in the service.

 Resources used per question. This identifies the number of sources and resources used to answer the information requests. This indicator provides exhaustive information on the kinds of sources checked and their characteristics.

 Return rate. The goal here is to find out how many users come back to the service more than once. This measurement indicates users’ degree of satisfaction with the service, although the data gathering and analysis to develop this indicator is tricky.

 Number of digital reference sessions. This includes visits to the service through the available applications: FAQ, chat, interactive digital video, etc.

 Use of the service. The main purpose of this indicator is to properly organise work schedules for the entire staff.

 Technology used by the users. This is primarily to adapt the library software and website to the virtual reference service, even though it must be standard so that it is compatible with all browsers.

 Existence of the service. It is important to determine whether the entire population is aware of the service provided. To ensure that they are, marketing campaigns must be conducted and data gathering procedures must be used which will help to evaluate the effects of this promotion.

 Accessibility. This includes factors like the time span when the service is available, the design of the website, compliance with web standards, ease of use, etc. In order to get this kind of information, librarians must hand out questionnaires, surveys or any other instrument for gathering data.

 Expectations. This indicator is recommendable when the virtual reference service is limited and the person in charge needs to know what aspects of it are in demand and which require more coverage.

 Other sources used to meet the demand, as before reaching the virtual reference service the user might have used other resources that they thought might help them answer their inquiry.

 Reasons why the service is or is not used. These indicators measure the success or failure of the service.

 Improvements and additional services. This includes the areas that are liable to being changed and improved based on users’ suggestions.

 Satisfaction of the staff working in the service. The team working in the service has a great deal to say, so their opinions will help to improve the service.

 Cost of the service in relation to the overall library budget. This measurement is useful for drawing up the budget and allocating resources to the service.

Virtual reference service tools

As mentioned at the start, the virtual reference service is a complement to face-to-face service. Both pursue shared goals, but the means of achieving these goals or the way that they are communicated to users to respond to their inquiries and requests is different. While in the traditional reference system we spoke about the librarian’s positive attitude and presence with the patron and willingness to answer any question, in the virtual service these considerations will be important, but not as important since the patrons are no longer in front of us, rather we use other means of communication and transmission to respond to their inquiries. E-mail and web-based forms are the two easiest alternatives in a virtual reference service, which is why both are being implemented at all university libraries. E-mail is users’ favourite method, as they can send in their inquiries from home without having to go to the library. Even if the library has not yet formally created a virtual reference desk, users can always resort to e-mail to get in touch with a librarian and make any kind of inquiry. Likewise, web-based forms are a more elaborate system than e-mail, yet they provide the library with the possibility of beginning the reference interview with the user in a passive way. This kind of form is created using empty boxes or fields to be filled in by the users, and they tend to be linked to the library’s FAQ system.20 The recipient of the forms is the reference service, whose librarians will be in charge of answering and resolving all questions and inquiries sent in.

Chat and instant messaging (IM) are other tools used in virtual reference services at university libraries. Their implementation in information units is not as widespread as e-mail and web-based forms, but many libraries now respond to information requests from users in real time and synchronically, as both the sender and the receiver are present at the same time. Both applications work in the same way, but using different technologies.21 The heads of information services that use these tools as a means of communicating with their users usually set up a timetable, although in libraries with highly developed virtual reference units this service is open the same hours as the library. In order for communication between the librarian and user to be possible, specific programmes like X-Chat, ChatZilla, mIRC, AOL Instant Messenger or Meebo must be used. As shown in Figure 4.4, the reference service at Amsterdam University Library22 uses instant messaging.

Figure 4.4 Chat in Virtual Reference Service, Library of the University of Amsterdam

In addition to offering chats as a means of communicating with its users, Amsterdam University Library also offers telephone and e-mail as a way of sending in inquiries in a timetable from 9:30  am to 5:00  pm.

It is still rare to see IP telephone and SMS (Short Message Service) being applied in reference units. However, there are two other means through which librarians can answer users’ inquiries. Telephone conversations via the Internet are possible thanks to free programmes like Skype and Google Talk. In the case of short messages, in the majority of cases users must pay for the messages they receive. Since January 2010, Fairfield University Library23 has been offering a new mobile messaging service for sending in any question to a librarian.

We do not want to close this section without talking about the programmes that have been specifically designed for performing a wide range of jobs within a virtual reference service. One of the most widely used applications at university libraries is QuestionPoint,24 developed by OCLC and the Library of Congress. It is a cooperative online reference service with an up-to-date database on the questions and answers that users send in, which libraries hiring the service may access. It offers a complete reference management system, integrating chat, e-mail, and chat widget (Qwidget), live help 24/7 through membership in the 24/7 Reference Cooperative and work with colleagues locally or globally with cooperative staffing and referral networks.

Marketing services

Marketing in academic libraries: concepts and definitions

Marketing is the management process which identifies, anticipates and supplies customer requirements efficiently and profitably. (The Chartered Institute of Marketing)

Marketing is about collecting information, forecasting trends, consulting all concerned, understanding markets, formulating objectives, planning strategy, implementing strategies, evaluating everything and communicating with everybody. (de Sáez, 2004)

Good marketing helps libraries ensure their customers know the full range of services they have on offer, and that those services are being used to their full potential. (Toby Bainton, Secretary of SCONUL, 2008)

Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals. (Glossary of Marketing Definitions, IFLA Section on Management and Marketing,1998)

These are just four of the many definitions that have been given to the concept of marketing. Promoting products and services is a necessary practice in any organisation. Although marketing has long been associated with private enterprise, nowadays it has become a core activity in all kinds of organisations, including in the public administration. Leaders of university libraries are aware of the importance of using marketing techniques and strategies to make their service more effective and to boost the library’s clientele, meaning that there is a wealth of marketing experiences and initiatives at university information centres. Likewise, we can detect an increasingly positive attitude among librarians towards marketing and their greater involvement in developing and promoting new services (Parker et al., 2007). Throughout this section, we shall analyse some of the concepts related to library marketing and then propose several practical suggestions.

Components of marketing

According to Shuter (1989), a marketing approach is made up of 14 elements:

1. Consumers or people who use the kind of product which the library provides.

2. Customers or people who exchange value for a library product. Apart from people using the library on their own account and people who obtain library products for others, in the public sector it is necessary to consider the many potential customers who are not consumers.

3. Need. This often refers to what librarians and community leaders think the community wants.

4. Demand. In contrast to need, demand is what members of the community are actually willing to use.

5. Market segmentation. This identifies the different individuals in the community and groups them in relation to their need or demand for a particular product.

6. Target markets. In practice, the library is there to serve the whole community but, given that the market can be segmented in terms of likely demand, it is wise to identify target markets, or areas of likely demand to which the library can legitimately offer a product. Priorities can then be assigned to particular markets.

7. Product. This is a good or service which is exchanged for value with a customer and it is a complex concept in the public sector. So with libraries, the product is not the book or the book loan but what the loan represents to the user: an evening’s entertainment, perhaps; help towards a qualification; help in putting up a shelf or cooking a dinner; increased understanding; greater profits, etc.

8. Price. The price is a combination of things: not merely the cost per ratepayer or the direct charge for a service like audiovisual materials or reservations. Librarians must consider the other costs to the user: money costs like fares; indirect costs like time and inconvenience involved in a library visit or the personal costs.

9. Packaging. In library terms, this is the system which wraps up the product. It is closely linked to price and is possibly its major component. One example of packaging is the classification system, supposedly designed to make information easily available. Libraries which package effectively base their services on the empowerment of the individual rather than the technicalities of traditional librarianship.

10. Place is the location where the product is available. It includes availability of products for home use, provision of reading or study space in the library, location of special collections, etc.

11. Promotion in two senses: image promotion, where an organisation is seeking a favourable public attitude, and product promotion, where the organisation is trying to gain customers.

12. Decision marketing. This means to decide what the library should be doing and uses decision criteria such as resource availability and urgency to decide what it can do.

13. Performance measures. Each objective must include a means of measuring its accomplishment.

14. Evaluation. This must be a continuous process from the moment a decision is implemented, and the results of the evaluation may well contain lessons for future planning.

Marketing plan

This is a crucial step in marketing success for the academic library. It is a strategic document that will identify market position, status, objectives, and outline how they will be archived, resources required and results expected (de Sáez, 2004). According to de Sáez, the marketing plan should be framed as an operational objective within the library’s strategic plan. As mentioned in the previous chapters, the library must sketch out achievable objectives and a clear line of action. Both are materialised in a strategic document that is crucial for the entire organisation and serves as a roadmap for all the professionals working in the library. Other important factors to bear in mind for a marketing plan in an information service to be effective include: staff training in marketing through workshops, market research, focus groups, etc.; gaining acceptance from the entire university community; audience; the marketing plan should run through the different stages and staff involved as it is developed; and timescales, as unexpected changes can always arise, which means that the plan must be flexible.

Likewise, a comprehensive marketing plan must include some of the elements analysed below:

 Brief executive summary: This describes the place of the academic library within the overall organisation and includes the plan’s objectives and content.

 The relevant elements of the mission statement.

 Environmental analysis: This is conducted through PEST variables25 or by examining all sorts of different external influences: political, economic, social, technological and legal.

 SWOT analysis26 or a study of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in order to reveal the status of the library at any given time.

 Portfolio analysis: This may be that a service could well be made available to other market segments, thus developing new markets.

 Specific, clear and realistic objectives of the marketing plan.

 Market segmentation or interest groups, which in a library will include everyone in the university community: professors, researchers, students and administrative professionals who use the service.

 Marketing and market research strategies, which we shall discuss below.

 Marketing mixes recommended

 Evaluation methods: They should be formative and the plan should be flexible enough to accommodate change, if needed, at evaluation stages.

 The timetable


Marketing tips

In 2008, Akers published 40 Marketing Tips for Academic Libraries on a Shoestring Budget on her blog ‘Marketing Your Library’.27 This information is extremely useful for libraries lacking budgets earmarked exclusively for developing marketing programmes. Below are some of the tricks and tips that can help librarians to successfully launch their products and services without the need to spend too much money.

 Use both traditional print methods and electronic methods to promote services and resources.

 Strive to position the library’s URL in highly visible locations.

 Don’t limit your graphic identity to books.

 Solicit feedback on your website via surveys or comments and acknowledge them upon receipt.

 Create an online newsletter available from your home page.

 Work with the editor at the student newspaper to place a bulleted list of short, promotional blurbs about services, collections, resources, activities on an ongoing basis.

 Buy plastic countertop holders for promotional material.

 Review headings on your website to make sure the content is ‘packaged’ logically and is easily navigable.

 Invite students from design or public relations or marketing classes to critique your print material and messages.

 Consistently use the library’s logo, URL and/or slogan on print material and electronic promotions.

 Use inexpensive items with your URL printed on them (pens, magnets, mouse pads, etc.) to promote your resources.

 Create friendly discussion and hang-out spaces; create interesting exhibits and displays which are up a month or so.

 Use campus bulletin boards to promote library resources.

 Place a news corner for library news on your website. Regularly add new photos and news.

 Promote services and collections by designing colour posters which can be printed on a large-format plotter and inexpensively framed and placed on easels.

Marketing in practice in academic libraries

Marketing cultures

Marketing is a practice that is now common in public services, despite the fact that the concept originated in and was inherited from private enterprise. However, it is not yet regarded as a priority in university libraries, and its degree of implementation differs from one library to the next. According to a study conducted by Singh (2009) on the marketing culture in 33 university and special libraries in Finland, very few libraries find marketing challenging and demanding and use modern marketing theories and applications for providing a successful customer-centred service. As a result, in the majority of them, marketing has not become very important, despite the fact that a strong market-oriented approach brings customers more satisfaction. Singh posits three kinds of marketing cultures in university libraries (see Figure 4.5):

Figure 4.5 Marketing cultures in libraries (Singh, 2009)

 The high flyers: Strongly market-oriented libraries whose main focus is to identify and ascertain its users/patrons’ information needs; thus, they try to put the customer at the heart of their activities. These are ambitious, innovative libraries that focus on using modern marketing tools.

 The brisk runners: Medium market-oriented libraries that put the most concerted effort towards goals which are satisfied with traditional marketing approaches. Since they do not feel the need to come up with new methods, they use conventional marketing techniques.

 The slow walkers: Weak market-oriented libraries that have low profiles in market orientation, marketing attitudes, knowledge, operational activities and service performance. These libraries perform tasks oriented at promoting their products and services, but they are reluctant to call it ‘marketing’ and prefer instead to call it ‘disseminating information’. Furthermore, the professionals working in this kind of library are called ‘spectators’, as they have a totally passive attitude towards these tasks.

Although it might seem somewhat counterintuitive at first, the marketing culture at university libraries in less developed countries has been quite advanced for more than a decade. Just to cite a few examples, Ghanaian academic librarians have been involved in implementing marketing strategies in their libraries, as they consider it important for achieving goals like retaining users, attracting others who have stopped using the library and securing financing (Martey, 2000). University libraries in Kenya use marketing techniques like public relations and advertising campaigns to promote a better perception of the library’s role within the university, and in this way, just as in Ghana, they justify the aid they receive from different institutions (Kavulya, 2004). In turn, Kaur and Rani (2008) base the attitude found in professionals working in university libraries in India on the marketing practices of their libraries, which in theory is highly active and positive, although in practice they are not very sure about the strategies needed to put it into practice.

Marketing strategies

Throughout this section, we have spoken about several marketing strategies that are appropriate in libraries. Below is a list of the ones proposed by Alire (2007), Helinsky (2008) and Baltes and Leibing (2008):

 Sending targeted e-mail alerts to all the members of the university community and thus to library patrons. In theory, this seems like an efficient strategy, but information saturation from e-mail means that oftentimes communication between professionals and clients is less than fluid.

 Organising training courses so that all library staff can become familiar with the marketing techniques and tools that they can use to promote their service.

 Using the institution’s website as a means of disseminating and promoting all the library’s products and services.

 Taking advantage of the library’s intranet as a means of communication and advertising.

 Using the library’s furniture as a marketing tool by hanging materials at the strategically best spot along with the signs and guides needed to use them, etc.

 Using media and publishing to design marketing campaigns.

 Presenting papers at congresses or workshops on the library’s efforts in order to share new experiences and initiatives. It is important to raise librarians’ awareness that all day-to-day work has to be visible to the outside, as this is unquestionably the major marketing action that a library can do.

 Preparing exhibitions, activities, games and competitions, thus giving the library a role other than just a place to study and research.

 Making use of ICTs and Web 2.0 tools to promote products and services: social and open software, mobile information devices, collaboration tools, mashups, etc.

 Word-of-mouth marketing which gets people to talk to others about library services.

 Guerrilla marketing’:28 this is one alternative worth considering when the library only has a limited marketing budget.

Marketing experiences

As mentioned at the start of this section, marketing has become a real need in all information services. Specifically, university libraries must be innovative29 with services and products that they offer, meaning that the director of the service must choose creative, versatile, proactive, empathetic people with sound communication skills to run their advertising projects. In some cases, librarians are reluctant to collaborate on promotion, advertising and marketing, as resistance of change triggers rejection of this kind of activity. For this reason, the leader should have the capacity and skills to know how to motivate their people, as just like in other kinds of projects, it is important for all the staff working in the library to get involved to some extent.

Below we shall share several particularly significant marketing experiences and initiatives conducted by university libraries that might serve as a pattern for others who would like to embark on a project of this kind.

Looking for the perfect slogan!

In 1999, the Rod Library at the University of Northern Iowa created a library marketing committee with the goal of heightening administrator, faculty and student awareness of library resources and services. Neuhaus and Snowden (2003) explain how for two years this unit was charged with promoting the library through newsletters, student surveys, advertising on pencil holders, t-shirts, etc. The library was aided in these efforts by library student assistants with artistic talents who drew pre-approved library slogans as sidewalk chalk art on prominent sidewalks around campus, such as:

The end is near! – The library is here

Looking for answers in all the wrong places? Try the library!

Write on @ The Rod Library Get a clue @ The Rod Library

Knowledge is power. Information is power. Power up at the Rod Library

Way too busy – feeling down? Too much homework

makes your frown? We turn those frowns – upside down! @ The Rod Library

Brewerton (2003) shows how ‘inspiration … available now from the library’ was the slogan used by the Oxford Brookes University Library30 at Freshers’ Fair 2000. The Inspiration Campaign used striking images like Newton’s apple, Rodin’s The Thinker, a penny dropping and a light bulb plus this slogan to promote the library’s website (see Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6 Images from The Inspiration Campaign

The library silk screened these designs on t-shirts, posters, stickers and other materials and used them to promote the launch of its new website. The number of visits to the site rose as the campaign’s effects were felt.

In turn, the American Library Association keeps a list of slogans that can help many libraries to create advertising campaigns on their products and services. The list is quite extensive,31 but a few examples include:

The Ultimate Search Engine @ your library

Volunteer @ your library

Untangle the Web @ your library

Food for thought @ your library

Everything you want to know about everything you want to know @ your library

Reward the best!

Prizes are a reward received by a person or institution for a job well done. In the case of libraries, if the prize is considered worthwhile, the professionals working in the service will be more motivated and will work more actively to earn it. Prizes are also a good marketing strategy for university libraries, as they bring prestige, recognition and, in most cases, money. In recent years, the Marketing Academic and Research Libraries Committee of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) was charged with organising the Best Practices in Marketing Academic and Research Libraries @ your library award. All the winning libraries were given a plaque and a monetary prize of $2,000. In 2005 the American University Library32 and Illinois State University Library33 won the prize, while in 2007 the Booth Library34 and the Winston-Salem State University Library35 were the winners. All these institutions demonstrated strategies and practices that can be adapted to other academic libraries to effectively market their resources and services to the campus community.

Likewise, since 2003 the IFLA has been organising the International Marketing Award in which all kinds of libraries take part. The goals of the prize are to reward the best library marketing project worldwide each year, encourage marketing in libraries and give libraries the opportunity to share marketing experiences. In the 2009 edition, first place was awarded to National Library Board (NLB)36 of Singapore, and the slogan for the winning campaign is ‘Go Library’. This marketing project is a multi-platform project which aims to entice customers to the library. Significant inroads were made in outreach efforts, e.g., to schools, institutes and organisations, where there is an increasing need to make the library relevant to those technologically inclined who may receive information from online search engines or other non-conventional mediums. The library received airfare, lodging and registration for the 2009 IFLA General Conference and Council37 and a cash award of $1,000 to further the marketing efforts of the library.

Change your library’s image!

Gambles and Schuster (2003) demonstrate in a study how in 2002 Birmingham Libraries launched a marketing campaign to change their image and introduce a new branding. According to these authors, the goals of the campaign were the following:

 Increase overall number of visitors to libraries.

 Increase number of Internet users.

 Increase numbers of book borrowers.

 Increase user numbers of family history service.

 Increase library use by under-represented ethnic minorities and socially excluded groups.

 Increase library use for learning and study.

The image change consisted of designing ten slightly different messages that stressed the point that libraries are changing and that libraries offer products that are relevant to young lifestyles. Successful examples (see Figure 4.7) included:

Figure 4.7 One of the ten successful messages

Mice don’t bite in the library – learning centres to teach you new technology. Birmingham Libraries are changing – learn how.

Cure your headache in the library – health information to keep you feeling good. Birmingham Libraries are changing – check it out.

Try yoga in the library – workout with health and fitness books and videos. Birmingham Libraries are changing – is it time you did?

Takeaways in the library – choose from over 250,000 recipes. Birmingham Libraries are changing – take away a book today.

Low-cost promotion

Cronin and O’Brien (2009) tell how the Waterford Institute of Technology Libraries38 (Ireland) was able to adapt to the prevailing financial climate, to engage in cost-effective initiatives and to promote itself and its services successfully. In academic year 2007–8, WIT Libraries launched a series of low-cost marketing experiences whose main feature was the low cost of creating and disseminating them, give that the library used 2.0 tools to publicise them. Several of these initiatives included:

 Fines Amnesty on Books (FAB): For two days, WIT Libraries waived all fines on all standard loan books returned, irrespective of overdue date. The campaign was advertised using traditional techniques including distributing fliers and posters and word of mouth. They also used web technologies including e-mail, blog posts, RSS and the library website as methods of advertisement.

 ‘Q-ness’ Quiet Study Campaign, which instigated a strategy to promote a defined quiet study area for students. The WIT Libraries utilised branded fliers, posters and blog posts to advertise the campaign.

 Staff publications and presentations: WIT Libraries staff are proactively involved in writing articles for various scholarly journals, delivering presentations at seminars and national conferences and getting involved in national committees and strategic review groups.

 Signage: WIT Libraries removed all existing signage and literally started again. This can have positive effects aesthetically, for patrons and for the physical environment within the library, and it is a chance to brand the library at an operational and strategic level. Surveys: WIT Libraries has carried out two library surveys in an attempt to gauge user satisfaction levels of library services and inform future service delivery.

Play and learn at the library!

We cannot close this section on library marketing without discussing another strategy used by librarians to publicise and disseminate their services. The idea is to introduce play into libraries as yet another element. Even though this seems somewhat unusual at first, many librarians are organising events related to different sorts of games in order to attract more users to their services. As examples, we can cite a game night and a tournament that have been held at Z. Smith Reynolds Library (ZSR)39 of Wake Forest University since 2005; the gaming program at the Claremont Colleges Libraries,40 which includes weekly game nights, periodic tournaments and videogame-related lectures, and the gaming station, Library Carnival or Murder Mystery Event organised by the Libraries of Fairmont State University.41 These events offer the Library staff an opportunity to meet students and learn more about the culture of gaming, and even play a few games themselves.


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18.One example of this kind of directory is INTUTE, which contains information organised by large areas of knowledge (


20.This association is useful, as the librarian recommends that the user review the list of FAQs before sending in a question, given the fact that oftentimes the FAQs contain the solution to the problem.

21.According to Francoeur (2008) chat programmes offer co-browsing, page pushing and the ability to form multi-library staffing groups, and IM programmes are externally hosted services that have been adopted by more libraries as a result of their low learning curve and prevalence among college-age individuals.




25.PEST analysis

26.SWOT analysis


28.The term ‘guerrilla marketing’ describes unconventional marketing campaigns and/or strategies which should have a significant promotional effect – this at a fraction of the budget that ‘traditional’ marketing campaigns would spend for the same goal (Patalas, 2006).

29.Innovation is the managed effort of an organisation to develop new products and services or new uses for existing products and services. It can be radical, if there are new products, services or technologies that completely replace the existing items in the market; technical if there are changes to a product, service or technology than involves the way the item is produced; managerial if there are changes in the way which products and services are conceived, built and delivered to customers; product if there are changes in the physical characteristics of performance of existing products and services, or the creation of brand new services or process if there are changes in the way products or services are manufactured, created or distributed (Rossiter, 2008)


31. yourlibrary.cfm






37.The winner is announced officially at the IFLA press conference.