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21 May 2008 / Julie

Library as Experience, Or the easy stuff should all be done online

At the Maryland Library Association conference last week I participated in a program that talked about, among other things, experience buying. Experience Buying is not a new concept in business; Starbucks has been doing it for years. In a late afternoon work-stupor I even touched upon it briefly a while back.

It seems to me that if i’m going to take the effort to get out of bed, get dressed, get in my car, waste more gas, hurt the environment, and potentially deal with mass amounts of people… and lines… that what that physical place offers me HAS to be an experience. If I just needed a product, I’d buy it online and have it shipped to me which saves travel time, often money, definitely gas, and makes me infinitely happy when i see boxes in front of my door when I return home from work.

I was thinking about what Joe Janes says about having to be better online than in person and while I agree with that, i think we don’t necessarily need to be better, just different (unless he means “better than we are now” which i ABSOLUTELY agree with). Better in the first case implies we do the same thing in 2 places and one is superior to the other. I think what needs to happen is we need to have systems in place that allow our customers to do everything they need to do ONLINE and self-served and have our physical presences- buildings, kiosks, whatever- be EXPERIENCES worth the effort of getting there.

This isn’t to say, of course, that I think our online presences shouldn’t be experiences too- they should be- but they primarily should be places people can get to easily and easily do the things they need to do- like get a book brought somewhere, pay a fine, synchronously interact with a human, etc.

Libraries need to be places where, if i never come into the building, I’m not missing out on any basic-or-enhanced library activities. I can pick out books, get books sent, do research, do things to my account, pay fines, interact with other people (lib staff & other customers) synchronously and asynchronously, get involved with programming, etc.

I don’t want to see the physical buildings go away, because they also serve a purpose as people will always, at some point, need a physical place to go besides their classroom, place of work, or home to do the things they do and be the things that they are. But as more and more people (thank you millennials and screenagers) rely on the internet to do everything they need to do, we need to make it easy for them to find us and do those things- we need to capture them quickly or else there’s a million and one other places they can go for what they need. I’d say you’ve got about 2 minutes or 4 clicks before you lose someone- if what they’re looking for can’t be found or done in that time, things need to be simpler.

The point: let your customers do what they need/want to do online (everything you can do physically) and make it EASY. Then, be that awesome, human-touch, experience in person- they deserve it if they made the effort to come to you in person. :-)

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