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Small changes would make big difference for users of council library websites says Better Connected’s latest report

Small changes to wording, links and the hierarchy of information could significantly improve the user experience of libraries online, says Better Connected in its latest report on the usability of council websites.

46% of Scottish councils and 32% of Welsh councils provide a good or very good service for website visitors looking to sign up for e-resources, including ebooks, emagazines and other digital resources, from their library service.
Access to library services is a highly popular part of council websites that accounts for around 8% of visits according to Socitm data. The provision of e-books and other digitally accessible resources opens council library facilities to new audiences, including those unable, or disinclined, to visit the library in person.
The facility to access e-magazines free of charge, including downloading latest issues to a smart phone, shows council libraries to be taking advantage of new services made possible by the latest technologies. Making these easy to use is critical if the opportunity to gain a whole new segment of library users is to be realised.
When the same survey was carried out last year for English county councils, 44% were rated as good or very good.
Those responsible for creating library pages need to recognise that processes for borrowing e-books, magazines and audio resources are different and more complicated than traditional book borrowing and that readers will often need to download software or apps to do so. They will usually need to sign up for accounts with third party providers in addition to having a library account with the council. Sometimes they will need to be signed in with both accounts at the same time in order to access resources.
In this context, poor wording and the wrong hierarchy of information can make a huge difference to the user’s ability to complete the task. Lack of attention to detail will lead users to give up or phone for further information.
Many sites offer resources from more than one of the ebook systems, such as OverDrive or BorrowBox. Where this is the case they need to explain what the difference is so that the user can choose their preferred system – or indeed sign up for both. 
Sites should not just rely on the ebooks/magazine supplier’s help pages because like much IT-provided ‘help’ information they are not always easy for everyone to understand.
Better Connected found some good examples of comprehensive but easy to read introductions to ebooks, but fewer than half the sites surveyed told users what kind of devices and e-readers can be used  to access library e-books and only 55% provided clear instructions on how to access and use these resources.
Despite these observations, a number of councils are recommended in their approach, including Aberdeenshire (‘It is also easy to see which devices can be used. The English is clear and does not rely on technical knowledge’), East Renfrewshire (‘Excellent introduction to ebooks. Getting a library card number and PIN by email looks really easy and seamless’). Midlothian (‘The introductory page was excellent - really simple to read yet full of information’) and South Ayrshire (‘Very good introduction to ebooks with direct links into the help pages on OverDrive: overall an excellent example of how to implement ebooks’)
Results of the library survey for the 32 Scottish and 22 Welsh councils tested are now available. Individual councils can find their results from the council index page on the Better Connected website. The ‘all council’ reports can be found by following the links on the website.
The next service-based report from Better Connected is on social care and covers all 152 English councils with social care responsibilities. A report on finding out about parking online, covering 199 shire districts will be published befor the end of January. Results of stage one of the Better Connected accessibility testing have already been published.
Better Connected Live 2018 will take place on June 27 in Birmingham.
Notes for editors:
Better Connected is owned and was originally developed by Socitm. Since May 2015 it has been run in partnership with Boilerhouse Communications
Anyone can access ‘all-council’ reports and individual council headline results from Better Connected surveys on the website.
Full details of individual council reviews are available to Socitm subscribers only.