Texas Library Association Conference 2012: Creating an Onsite-Online Presence for Your Organization

Organizations looking to create a seamless and successful onsite-online presence need to remain true to their vision and values, play to their customers’ needs and desires, and foster a spirit of collaboration, attendees at the 2012 Texas Library Association conference were reminded during a session here in Houston yesterday.

Offering guidance that could easily be applied far beyond their library audience, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Chief Executive Officer Gina Millsap and Digital Branch & Services Manager David Lee King talked about how designing a digital branch library is “everyone’s job”—an assertion that makes sense in any endeavor involving the creation of an online service that is consistent with an existing physical presence.

Using their own library as a case study, Millsap and King noted that their efforts began with an obvious community need: they have a service area with a population of 177,000 and, by design, a single library building, so creating something that could more effectively reach larger numbers of people within that service area was an enticing challenge. Meeting that challenge in a way that remained true to the library’s mission and to the values of the community being served provided an additional foundation: “Ultimately, it’s about building relationships with people,” Millsap observed, so the digital library is designed to foster those relationships.

Before hiring King to help with development of the digital library—which, among its offerings, includes access to ebooks, downloadable music, original content including blog postings created by staff, and integration of social media tools to engage key members of the community—the library established clear and measurable goals, including a commitment to offering services onsite and online, creating unique content on the web, and acknowledging that the digital library would, for some users, be their only branch library. That virtual organization, furthermore, was designed to provide exceptional customer service, be consistent with the library’s strategic plan, and deliver a key element of what the library offers by promoting librarians as information consultants.

It also remains highly personal and engaging by avoiding library jargon and acknowledging that “customers and patrons” think of themselves as “library members” rather than “patrons.”

What those members find when they use the digital library is a focus on staff and important services; a strong commitment to reaching members where they are, i.e., on Facebook and on Twitter as well as on YouTube; and a team-based approach that makes the digital library with its social media sites work in engaging and interactive ways, King said.

And they arrived at that success through “lots of talking with my peers, with administration” as well as plenty of brainstorming, followed by planning, King noted.

Commitment by all staff members remains critically important, Millsap and King said. No one can opt out of involvement in the digital branch; the approach remains heavily team-based; participation is part of staff members’ formal job descriptions; and the organization deliberately hires people with a commitment to supporting the digital library.

The result has been that the library wants and continues to build trust with its community partners: “We’re sharing good stuff, making friends, interacting daily,” King explained. “We’re turning strangers into friends; that’s a goal for us.”

And if all of that sounds like a perfectly good roadmap for any organization wishing to better serve its constituents through a consistent blending of onsite and online operations, so much the better.

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