“WE ARE TOGETHER: Interaction with Library Users as Instrument to Ensure Audience Growth. Inostranka Case”: continued.

By Alexandr Parshin in cooperation with Svetlana Gorokhova and Daria Belyakova. All Russia State Library for Foreign Literature, Moscow, Russia

On the 18th of May we posted material on the series of online professional webinars examining methodological principles and practical aspects of how to: conduct surveys, study customer behavior pattern, involve users into various library projects, make a system of feedback analysis, develop strategic plan, etc.

This post contains data on the next three webinars and the results of the whole series.

The conception was to present the experience of LFL (Library for Foreign Literature) in management approaches regarding the matter of communication in different forms with the library users. So that libraries and other cultural institutions interested in their patrons loyalty could learn techniques in getting maximum feedback about the services, quality, and potential areas of the institution operations and projects. We were very close to strategic management issues at the webinars as well. The speakers showed how data collected from surveys, users suggestions, different feedback forms, influence the way we work out the strategy. Finally we live in the dramatic conditions and remain in high voltage uncertainty: restrictions in the industry, oversaturated online environment – top concentration of online educational events given by cultural and library institutions in .ru-domain. When every library is in the same condition, time is to overcome trouble sharing the successful experience.

The series is suggestive and usefulness for the libraries to focus on the main questions. First, ask your client (library user): How do you see the shift of our work and what online services are you looking for? The second one – ask yourselves: Do we need to adjust the strategy and make more reasonable decisions to improve our work taking into account the crisis. The answers give us a chance to be more prepared for all sorts of problems in the industry. So the library strategy and the patrons (library users) – two rails that guide us in our endeavor to pass the crisis with minimum losses. We went from the interaction with the audience, getting maximum from the manner of enabling them in our projects, then – propositions for the strategy and services. Certainly, the significant part of our techniques were adapted for the pre-quarantine times. Nevertheless recommendations give us food for thought on how to interact with online audience and prove that its critical to regularly conduct patron behaviour research (plus the audience involvement in library projects), research of the services quality and stimulating the feedback system in the organisation.

These were as a matter of fact the main goals which we set when brainstorming the conception of the webinars.

Now let’s see what we argued about. The following are the theses, results and thoughts we came to during the series.

1. Explore the audience, analyze the results and decide what to focus on in the strategy. The rule is to immediately make a questionnaire and launch it on the Web site or offline whatsoever but the outcome should be: you efficiently adjust the current library projects according to patrons’ opinion just like we did on our first “online week” when the conditions changed dramatically.

2. Getting the profile of the library user cause us to center on the projects matching user interests and preferences. The half of the audience of LFL include students and academic community. This fact pushes us so that we will be able to expand the online resources and scientific services in the library otherwise we are about to lose the substantial part of the audience in the prospect.

3. What is the involvement of the audience with respect to the library? LFL has got the triune formula for the interaction and communication with the library users – so called Involvement. We state: the library users can give us an assessment (feedback). Usually we conduct surveys to make that real. Then the users might give us an advice or even a professional recommendation. This happens on the focus groups and over the period of the big interviews with users. After that another possibility is open for our patrons. They could embody the authentic ideas and launch their projects in the library, starting from the development phase and ending with the defense or implementation.

4. Volunteers in the library projects – not the assistants but the active participants in pitching ideas and making the breakthrough. They bring new ideas to improve our Customer Services – we share experience, give professional references and discover new talents. Library internship and the social role of the libraries in parallel could develop the library and our users significantly.

The series raised some meaningful points indicating the position we face in Russian regions libraries.

About 90% of representatives of the Russian regions libraries which participated in the live discussion at the webinar (up to 30 respondents – executives and librarians) conduct audience surveys. And mainly in order to discover how to improve services (53%), define the volume of demand (18%) and to be acquainted with the audience (16%). The regularity of using the data from the surveys is encouraging enough. 52% of our colleagues use the results repeatedly. This shows a good implementation of the survey-method. We conclude that the industry understands the correlation between the library users feedback and the pace of growth.

But the point is that the need to convert the collected data from surveys into strategic planning ideas is misjudged – our respondents think (the figure – “How regularly the audience survey results are used when developing the strategy of the library?”). It means that there is an impression that the importance of the data is not obvious for the executives or perhaps there are other fair obstacles, for instance, low budgets for big ideas or patrons’ unconcern in the destiny of the organisation.

Up to 65% of the respondents (25 executives and librarians) confirm that they organise the volunteer programmes in their organisations. Those who say “no” emphasize an array of difficulties such as the complicated process of volunteer recruitment (“volunteers are hard to motivate”), lack of experience. Thereby this part of involvement (volunteering) is not so common. But probably the usage of such an important technique and a generic feature of the library social function will rise in the nearest future. The good news is that our colleagues see the sense in high degree engagement of library users in organisation’s projects. Almost 50% of the respondents deem volunteers make contribution to their organisations (the figure – “What benefits do you see in engaging volunteers in library projects?”).

The result of the discussion proves the right choice we made. Starting sharing our methods of work throughout the industry hopefully could bring inspiration to proactive and motivated librarian commands.

Video of the webinars (in Russian) is available.

The materials are also presented at the LFL website.

We would be delighted to provide the summary of the findings in English, German or French by request. Please contact us at ifla@libfl.ru