Hey everyone, my blog is now found here http://josephsandersmorgan.com/neolib/

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you at my new site!



The measurement and analysis of social media is still very young and far more difficult than previous examples. First, the encounters often happen through third pary systems (for example, through twitter or facebook) so measurements like bounce rate and conversion don’t make as much sense (nor are they really accessible).

More importantly, the currency is different. Web analytics and optimization are built around many individual encounters. Primarily how many single visitors react to our web page. Social media is built around connections and relationships. It’s not just how one relates to many individuals, but how one fits into the environment.

Relationships and Connections have an impact

The return on investment (ROI) is more complicated. (And, of course, for libraries the investment is less in dollars than it is in personnel.) However, there are many examples of how social media can have real returns. For example, Dell computers found that the generated $3 million in sales through Twitter. Another study found that engagement over the social web correlated to higher sales. In fact, the groups with the highest levels of engagement found an average increase of  18% over 12 months while groups with low levels of engagement found an average decline of 6%. (A pdf report of the study, which is excellent, can be found here).

Despite all of the evidence of value added, the vast majority, 84%, of social media programs do not measure the return on their programs. Not only is it hard to do, but many seem to feel it is against the spirit of the community to rank and measure engagement.

Well, fortunately we are libraries and we cannot increase profits. So consider the measurement of social media to be an exercise in strengthening our connection to patrons. After all, if people enjoy and connect to certain actions more than others shouldn’t we try to increase our efforts in those areas? So, enough intro, onto the analytics.

Measuring Participation

286709039_105881e4b9_mOne of the easiest ways to analyze social media programs is to measure how our participation is accepted and used by the community. In twitter, this is often measured by two things: how many people follow our links and how often our tweets are retweeted.

There are a couple tools that can help follow these. To find statistics on links, the easiest tools are just the standard url shorteners. The most common, bit.ly, has accounts that will give statistics on how many people have clicked on the link that you’ve posted as well as how many people in total have viewed the link (for example if another users posts the shortened url).

This has two advantages, first, it helps give an idea of how “interesting” the links we post are to other users. Maybe patrons snooze over links to local election results, but love the link we post on job searching tools online. Second, we can see how links to our pages are being viewed. For example, we may see that many people have followed a link to a library program. Of course, this only measure those who follow a link through a bit.ly shortener, but they are one of the largest in the industry, so this is a minimal disadvantage.

Another way to track stats is with ow.ly. This is my favorite since it is both a twitter client (called hootsuite), a url shortener and a stats tracker in one. Here for example are my stats for the last thirty days(click for full image):


Ok, so I’ve been a little lazy the last few days. However, it is interesting to see what kinds of links my followers enjoy. Here’s a look at the top clicks:


So I can tell that many of the people following me must be librarians (no surprise there). However, they also are the type of librarians that like comics.

This is fairly low level stuff, but it’s worth considering what your patrons like.

Another tool, one that I haven’t really used, is called postrank. It combines with google analytics to measure things like blog posts and how they can take on a new life in Twitter, Reddit, FriendFeed, or other social media.

However, beyond measuring how individual posts fare. Hootsuite, along with other tools, give you the ability to track mentions of your twitter name or the ability to follow keywords. This is less important for measuring your individual participation, but can help measure discussion of the library.

Next Week

This took longer than I thought. As I mentioned, this is a new area so it is very exciting and full of many different groups trying out different strategies. Next week I’ll discuss how to go beyond tracking and analyzing library participation and show tools to measure the discussion of libraries and how to follow the buzz about different library programs over twitter.

So with the information on the site coming in, the next step is to redesign the site to capitalize on what patrons want. This is called website optimization. And the best way to create a optimized web page is with a multi-variate test.

Step 1: Develop Different Pages

The strategy in a multi-variate test is to create a couple of versions of the same webpage. For example we could change where the links are located on the page or  how much (or little) information is displayed on the frontpage. Change can be as little as a single picture.

Essentially, we are testing a series of hypotheses. For example, we may notice that many patrons come to our library’s youth services page using a search for “Storytime” but the bounce rate is high suggesting that they did not notice the calendar link.


We suspect that this information is too hidden. So one version of the page may add the link higher up in the hierarchy. Another version might par down the information so that high demand content (such as event schedule) is highly visible while other information is not yet presented.

Step 2: Test

748443511_e3b89339d2So after making a few changes to different pages, upload them to Google Website Optimizer. This tool will randomly send visitors to different versions of the page. Each different version of the page will have slightly different usage statistics.

As an example, check out how Tim Ferris of 4 hour workweek used the Google Website Optimizer to improve his page.

Step 3: Analyze

So with all the information gathered for different versions of the site, it is easy to determine which one is most useful. So for our storytime example, we may have noticed that promoting the link higher in the menu decreased the bounce rate for that site and increased the number of clicks to the calendar.

However, maybe still more people clicked schedule on the minimal site suggesting that our control site was leading to a paradox of choice where too many options and too much information sent people away.

Step 4: Update

This is the easy part. With the analysis in, you can turn off the optimizer and alter your site to use the best page.

Key Points to Rememer

  • Have a goal: The key to optimizing a page is that there needs to be a limited number of factors. With a focus on a specific goal (increasing the number of people who click on the events schedule), it is much easier to design alternatives
  • It’s easy: There’s no real trick. That best optimized sites are making subtle changes. Just tiny little changes in how information is presented can have big results. And since I know librarians love books. . .Check out the book Nudge for an example of the psychology of small pushes.
  • It’s efficient: Imagine if you could have every patron that walked into the library fill out a quick survey. That is the beauty part of optimization. Since it is automatic, patrons will give lots and lots of feedback without needing to be inconvenienced.

For more information on creating a optimzation strategy, check out this white paper.

Next week, I’ll start with the ever confusing problem of Social Network analytics. And, as always, drop me a ling in the comments or at twitter @joesmorgan.

Photos available under cc license:

Websites are Real Estate

As I’ve said before (and I’ll likely say again) websites are probably some of the most valuable real estate that libraries have. It is an intro point and main area of engagement for many many patrons. In the case of academic libraries it may even be the only point of engagement. 3171601721_478a5e2fcdWhy is it, then, that the amount of effort that goes into planning and developing websites is often less than buildings? When a building is going up, you know there will be management involvement. It is guaranteed that they will hire an outside consultant. The process takes years and lots and lots of time.

Granted, buildings are around a lot longer than websites, still a prime point of access for patrons should involve constant attention. The beauty part of websites is that there are so many tools that can help us analyze, understand, and test what works for patrons. Imagine if you could build a new library and then slide around the bathrooms or computer areas to find out what best works for patrons as if we were in some type of library Hogwarts. That would be pretty sweet.

So without further adieu, here’s a quick guide to web analytics for libraries.

Gathering Information and Understanding Visitors

The easiest and quickest way to begin analyzing a webpage is with Google Analytics. Do you have access to you pages html code? Can you copy and paste? Great, than you can begin to analyze visitors. With google analytics, you can paste a small piece of JavaScript into each page and it will gather information on visitors, where they are from, how long they stay, and so on.

Here’s a view of traffic sources at the limnology library.

Lim Sources

There are, of course, plenty of other analytics options out there. Many of them are free. This is just the one that I am most comfortable with. And it will have most of what a library needs to begin analyzing their website.

Bounce Rate and Conversion. A quick look at site efficiency

So there are plenty of different stats out there, but we’ll look quickly at a couple of the most revealing; Bounce Rate and Site Conversion.

The bounce rate is essentially the page from which users leave. This, of course, is not good. This means we’ve lost patrons. They aren’t engaging our site anymore and, in the worst case, left without the information they wanted in the first place.

The prime cause of bounce rates, according to analytics guru and Google’s analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik, is a disconnect between customer intent and webpage purpose. So pages with a high bounce rate mean the patron came expecting to find something and left because they could not find/do what they intended.

mismatch_customer_intent_webpage_purposeOur goal in optimizing our web site is to align our webpage purpose with customer intent (of course figuring that out is hard).

slight_match_customer_intent_website_purposeThe more we can align, the better our webpage. An overlap like this is good, but can be made better.

How Do We Lower Bounce Rate: A Solution

So how can we make that match? Well, here’s a quick and dirty solution proposed by Galen DeYoung of Search Engine Land.

In short, we find the keywords patrons use to land on our site, and multiply the bounce rate of each keyword with the number of visits using that word. This will give us a list in order of importance of what users expect.

keywords better

Here’s an example from the (admittedly low traffic limnology library). Click to the larger image shows that, not surprisingly, ‘limnology library’ does not bounce while ‘thesis binding’ has a high bounce rate. This suggests that I should make information about thesis binding more prevalent and easy to use.

Galen suggests that on top landing pages we can use the keyword information to make a targeted piece of information available to encourage users to stay and click through to another page.

What’s Next

Of course, gathering statistics is only so helpful. It is necessary to turn these statistics into actions. Next week I’ll talk a little more about turning stats into change through web optimization.

Comments, Suggestions?

So, did I leave anything out? Does your library have an analytics program? How does it work? Drop a line in the comments or hit me on twitter @joesmorgan.

See you next week.

Photos from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/3171601721/

New Media vs. Old

1218994391_13fce9e808One of the greatest challenges libraries, or any organization, has with social media is recognizing how it’s so fundamentally different than what we are used to. Most noticeably, many library blogs, twitter accounts, etc. read like an extended marketing efforts. The posts are mere announcements and serve only as a broadcast of information, not a conversation. But that’ missing the best part, the social nature of the web. Don’t feel too bad, it’s easy to forget how social always trumps technological. Even Yahoo missed out on this one. And history is full of other examples. Alexander Graham Bell thought the telephone would be a great way to broadcast symphonies. Here are a few easy ways to actively engage patrons.

Always (always, always!) invite feedback

This is probably the fundamental difference between “newsletter” type writing and active engagement. Sure most, if not all, blogs have space for comments, but actively asking for feedback does a couple of things. It lets patrons know that you really are interested in their feedback, that you are listening (in addition, its best to respond to comments). And it creates an opportunity for patrons to talk to each other via our space. So we are, in essence, creating a new social sphere. Never doubt the value of the third place.

Use Ideas from Patrons

Probably my favorite form of user engagement lately is Starbuck’s “my starbucks idea” campaign. Its brilliant, a simple place for users to upload their ideas to make Starbucks better. Users can submit something simple (bring back the walnut scone) and other users can vote, comment on, and share these ideas. It’s a simple idea. After all, its merely an extension of the comment box, right? Well, the big difference is that users can see their ideas in action. They aren’t dropped off and then forgotten forever. Its a form of active listening. The best part. Starbucks will actually use ideas and the users have seen the full circle of their engagement. 280789933_193dc40036

This is an easy and very simple way to engage patrons. There can be suggestions for speakers, reading programs, events, “book of the week”, anything really. The point is not to mine ideas from patrons, but to create an opportunity for people to engage a project and shape it from start to finish.

Incorporate All Aspects of The Library

Its important to work as much as possible with all departments and programs in the library. A colleague of mine was sending around this article from the Boston Globe about a private school that is getting rid of its books and replacing the library with a multimedia learning space. The sad fact is that many librarians think this is the end result of social media and the web. Its important than to keep web engagement and space engagement (such a speakers) entwined. In many ways the value of the library in the public mind is tied to the buildings. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Active promotion can work both ways. Promote web resources at events. Promote events from the web.

Edit: D’oh. Way to not follow your own advice. Please, leave me a comment let me know what you think! Or hit me on twitter @joesmorgan

photo credits:http://www.flickr.com/photos/p_kirn/1218994391/sizes/m/

So much social media, so little time.

2945559128_53078d246b_mSocial media tools create incredible opportunities for libraries. The limitations of physical structure fall away and personalized, in depth communication can occur in real time. Advocates can have more access to materials, new users can find out about different services, services themselves can be expanded and presented through these medium. The problem is there is no end. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel notes that even die hard techies like herself cannot keep up with all the new social media, so why should organizations feel they need to keep up? The answer is, they shouldn’t and neither should libraries.

Free is not without cost

The problem many libraries have is they do not realize the cost of free. Social media do not require large initial expenditures of money, they can be cancelled easily, so libraries do not devote the time to careful planning. But they do cost staff and they cost reputation. The staff costs make sense. After all someone has to set these up and time is money. More importantly, if they aren’t maintained, they look neglected and dead which reflects poorly on the whole institution. Many a library blog would be better if it were never created whether than being left up with only a few posts that are 8 months old.

What happened to planning?

It’s easy to start new projects. Just sign up and go, right? Well, that’s just part of it. Web projects are both a blessing and a curse. They can be started quickly, but abandoned even quicker. No one wants to become paralyzed by inaction, but there still needs to be a level of planning and accountability if the project is going to work to benefit the library system. So, how should social media fit into the greater framework?

First, know your audience and goals

This simple truth is often ignored in the context of the web. After all, potentially everyone is our audience, right? Well, no. No one ever visits a library’s website that’s not their own. Why would they? So the definition of audience becomes more important than ever. I have worked in libraries were plans have been made to add tagging and commenting to different services. Sounds like a great idea. The problem is that the department the library served was only about 20 people and as I’ve said before certain social media only work with a critical mass and really cannot be retrofit to a small centralized population that communicates mostly face-to-face. Audience is key. We are primarily a public service organization, so we need to know our public.

Second, create social media in support of these goals

Again, this seems intuitive, but is often ignored. Don’t believe me? Take a look at second life. If any company actually looked at the customer base, they would’ve realized that second life is, well, nothing. No one used it (or at least very few used it). Similarly, if I were to develop a teen area for the library, I would not commit time and resources to twitter. Why? Because teens do not use twitter. Oddly though, if I were promoting new books or services for adults, I’d set up twitter because there are more adults over the age of 55 using twitter than people under 25. The goal is to avoid what is called Cargo Cult which is imitating the success of others without understanding why they work. Understanding how social media work in the larger framework is crucial to creating a successful program.

Finally, commit!

Commitment is key. As with any project having a key individual to take charge and become accountable is crucial. This doesn’t mean there is someone to blame if the project does not connect with the audience. After all, the cost of early adoption is increased potential for failure along with increased potential for success. The idea of accountability is to be able to assess features. Has there been no blog post in a month? Why? Should we scrap the whole thing? Do we need to promote it more? Is the scope too narrow? A leader of each project can help answer these questions. Finally, focusing on commitment helps avoid the “Free is not without cost” problem that social media creates. It is better to have a few well-developed highly promoted community interfaces rather than a shotgun approach of half-hearted attempts.

Who fits?

Well, I have just finished interviews for my future replacement at the Center for Limnology Library. It’s been a very enjoyable experience, actually. And since I am me (big surprise there), I had to thoroughly research interview and recruitment techniques. I read several good articles, but the best I found is from our own field. The article The Most Important Management Decision: Hiring Staff for the New Millennium by Roy Tennant pretty much summarized what I’d been circling around. The fact is, in my position most tasks can be learned quickly by most people. The best, though, are those that are ambitious, excited, curious, and able to bring change. Now as Tennant points out, these are not skills, but traits. So hiring staff with these traits takes a little more digging.

Reviewing Staff

It’s sad to say, but all that advice about resumes I’ve ignored is true. Action words count for a lot. You don’t need to tell me that at the circulation desk you checked in books. I know what happens at a circulation desk. I’d much prefer someone discussing the blog the made for the library, or the Wii night they organized. These are things that I couldn’t guess from the title.

Enough about me, tell me about you

There is significant literature that shows that the best interview questions are behavioral. Instead of saying “are you detail oriented” (and of course, if an interviewer is asking, they will say yes) ask them to “describe a situation in which careful attention to detail was important.” This moves into actual situational specific instances. Here are a few questions I asked that I found particularly useful in evaluation.

  • If you need to build a library from scratch, what services would develop first. Why?
    • This one was great. It really demonstrated to me where they envisioned libraries, how they saw their role in the research process.
  • Give a time when there was resistance to an idea you’ve had. How did you work with people to convince them of your view.
    • This was another question that really had a lot under the surface. Some people had a hard time answering this one. To me it demonstrated two things: 1) Creativity. Anything new will have a few detractors. It’s part of the process. 2) Willingness to take risks. If you don’t try something controversial, there will never be big gains.
  • Describe a situation when you’ve needed to balance ongoing responsibilities and new project development. What did you learn? What would you do differently?
    • This one really demonstrated how people valued innovation and creativity on the job. There will always be mundane and routine tasks. If there is not an explicit attempt to create new things, it likely will never happen. I always tell staff that they should budget time to tinker and mess around with new ideas. Personally I’m a fan of Googl’e 20% rule but I understand that can be hard to implement in most places.

Maybe I’ll put up the rest later. Although the one question I wish I asked was: What is one thing you wanted me to ask about. I always find there something I’d like to bring up (a skill, an experience, a project) that I just couldn’t work in. Irregardless, at least I didn’t have to hear anyone’s 3 worst traits.

Final Thoughts

Because I’m an organized guy, I threw together a table with the skills I wanted and the evidence I found for each. Here’s a rough view:

Rating Evidence Thoughts
Risk Taking
Public Service Oriented

After each interview, I’d fill in the table. It really helped focus my thoughts onto those traits I determined where important and forced me to find specific instances and not just gut instincts.

Overall, not a bad experience. I learned a lot and met some great people.

As part of my usual plea to completely audit library services and create web-based versions, I’ve been thinking lately of examples that could bridge the final and most difficult gap . . . the stacks.

This isn’t Barnes and Noble?

Really, I don’t think it’s a bad idea or one that is particularly difficult. There are many times that patrons will ask me for “the World War II section” or something like that. Well, it’s hard to say where that is, but the really they just want to browse and need to know where to start.

Integrating Visual Cues

OPACs are great. No doubting that. But in the end, they just spit out a list of items that meet a query. When patrons have a fuzzy idea of what they want, queries like this are a problem. So what can we do? When they are in the building, it’s easy to walk to the stacks (relatively) to look through books. But with delivery systems and distance patrons, this isn’t always on option.

Well, the easiest solution would be to make a more browsable catalog. Here’s an example of something that could work. Ebling library in Wisconsin added this widget to their webpage to give a quick visual guide showing new titles. Granted, it’s not a complete catalog and they aren’t necessarily in order, but they could be.


This is something that can be easily developed and with Google Books integration into library catalogs. It’s only a short step to a visual tour of the stacks.

Library management here at UW-Madison sent around an article which they are using as a guidepost for future library programs. The article is entitled A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century by David Lewis.

This is probably the best article I have seen on where libraries need to go (probably because I already believe several of the points). Lewis defines a five-part strategy to keep libraries an important, vibrant part of the campus community. Here’s a brief look at each.

Complete Migration from Print to Electronic

This is one that seems the most ‘academic specific’. It is true that most (if not all) users want information primarily in electronic format, but this is mostly a reflection of the research process. Nonetheless, this has been on the move for awhile and I agree that it is time to make the final push to convert everything we legally can.

Retire Legacy Print Collections

This ties in with the next point. It is important for libraries to use space effectively and perhaps miles of stacks are not the best way. He recommends moving to outside storage so that they can still be accessed, but not as quickly.

I agree this is a good idea, but I think a corollary should be that we develop a new style of “browsing”. Patrons do enjoy scanning the shelves. Many specifically request the “area” for a subject. It is possible to create an online “shelf” that has a visual spacial impact. It is important not to disregard this need and benefit of libraries.

Still, the point is well made. Since most material takes up space, why not keep it more efficiently and compactly off-site.

Redevelop the Library as the Primary Informal Learning Space

This one seems uncontroversial, but *phew* be careful of patrons who enjoy a traditional library. An underlying assumption that he doesn’t quite mention is that the expectations are new. We do not need to create the space as more informal (coffee, cell phones) because it will be good for the library. We need to create informal space because that is now what people expect. This isn’t a strategy as much as a declaration of reality.

Now the counter argument is that some people value the quietness. And this is certainly true, but libraries need to engage the whole campus community, not just the subset that do not want to sit in the union. So keeping different areas with different levels of noise is important, but not as much as engaging everyone.

Embed Library Tools into Teaching, Learning, and Research Enterprises

This idea is both vague and exciting. Lewis admits himself “It is unclear what the best approach to instruction will be, but I suspect a new mix of tutorials, learning tools, and in-person classroom involvement will need to be developed.”

Really, this is where libraries can become very creative. Personally, I’m a big fan of seeing library virtual space as real estate. David Lee King phrased it well when he asked what can you do at the library’s website .

The best move would be to completely audit all services and determine an electronic counterpart. Then, ask ‘what can we do that we’ve never done before.’ There’s a lot possible, but we need to look beyond retrofitting different tech on the library and instead seek to find what we can do that is unique.

Migrate Focus from Purchasing Materials to Curating Content

Probably the most controversial (and therefore quite interesting). This is a chance for real specialization and focus. I thought he would mostly talk about holding data and collected raw information (which he mentions) instead, he focuses on how special and local collections are the gaining importance. This is a good point, one that I had not considered. Since there is are many libraries with many duplicate copies of certain works, special collections are a way to help strengthen a library. Ironically, this point pushes out the middle road of librarianship (collecting and organizing traditional scholarly communications) and emphasizes both the more archival roles as well as the technology roles.

I think the idea of collecting and organizing data sets is a huge opportunity. This is something with great value that, in all likelihood, is lost right after it was acquired. The difficulty, of course, is the huge, huge, amount of data that is generated and the potential for corruption. However, with the plummeting cost of storage who knows if this worry will seem quaint someday.

It’s about legitimacy

The beauty behind Lewis’s article is that he emphasizes over and over that these strategies are not fun parlor games or the eccentric ideas of librarian-futurists, but are essential to remaining relevant to the library community. Many in the sciences have mentioned that they do not even know where the library is. Well, if that’s the case, we have important work to do to ensure that they will remain strong supporters of the library system.

Innovation or Adaptation

I’ve been thinking a little about innovation in libraries. I consider myself a fairly tech savvy person. I enjoy learning about it, messing with it and so on. However, it is frustrating to me how much library “innovation” is merely taking some other web app or tool and cramming it onto the library despite it’s lack of relevance or usefulness.


This is one that I’m constantly arguing with people about. Tagging is great! It works very well on things like delicious and even smaller services like Library Thing but I’m not sure it’s relevance in libraries. Why? Because for these to work, there needs to be lots of people tagging. So while your potential Library Thing audience is the entire English speaking world, the audience for a university or public library is much smaller.

Real Success

So the question is what do we as libraries do? I’ll admit, I’m not quite sure. Surely, though, we can do something better than creating a seldom read wiki or taking up space in second life. The greatest library success lately is without a doubt Google Books. Today alone I chatted with a individual from Germany who found a Turkish census book in our library via Google Books. He received info on his old village, we got to shake the dust off a book that’s so old no one bothered to recatalog it in LC.

Our Position in the World

We are at a crossroads now. We will never have the adaptive and technological capacities of Google, but we do have something: recognition and trust. So we are torn between the dual motives of completely recreating ourselves vs. focusing in on our strength (i.e. books and published information). I’d like to see a focus on what we offer that is unique and building innovations from there rather than spending time playing catch up.