November 19, 2017

Nader Qaimari on Ebook Integration, User Experience, and other aspects of the Digital Shift

Nader Qaimari headshotOn October 14, Library Journal and School Library Journal will host their sixth annual virtual conference, “The Digital Shift: Libraries Connecting Communities.”

Follett School Solutions is a gold sponsor of the conference, and LJ reached out to Nader Qaimari, Senior Vice President of Content Solutions and Services, Follett, to participate in this series of interviews addressing libraries’ evolving role in using the latest technology to connect patrons to the information, tools, and services that they need—and to one another.

LJ: How has the digital shift evolved in libraries since last year’s event? What digitally driven trends have you seen taking off, fading out, or becoming the new normal?

NQ: While schools are still acquiring digital content at a rapid pace, I feel that they are a little more cautious this year, evidenced by the fact that print spending is also growing for the first time in years. Libraries have built really large collections and at times are not seeing the usage they expected from ebooks, so they are investing their dollars into what they feel will be most beneficial to their students. All of the once “new features” of ebooks are becoming the norm and libraries are now looking for features that will drive utilization, for example: integration with systems, easy authentication, and connections to curriculum facilitated through technology. They are also relying on providers to offer more support to help increase ebook awareness and usage.

LJ: What needs or challenges do your customers report as their current priorities, and how are you helping to meet them?

NQ: The main challenge continues to be around awareness and usage. Follett launched a new nurturing program to help support libraries, and it’s just the start. Our goal is to put the content in all the places a student needs it—the classroom, library, home, etc.—through better integration points and more interoperability. Further, we are looking for ways to add more utility to the content—making it easier for teachers to assign it and teach around it and librarians to share it with students, and finding ways to get parents involved so that they can support student use at home.

LJ: How has your [company’s] approach to UX and design evolved in recent years? What are a few characteristics that patrons have come to expect in electronic resources?

NQ: UX and design are my top priorities when it comes to digital resources—specifically around Destiny and our ebook platform. For many years, design was focused on the needs of our customers, with little thought about how students at different age levels and capabilities interact with the software. At Follett, we have created a whole department focused entirely on gleaning insights from the students, so that our design and UX accounts for their specific needs, while also balancing those against the requirements we need to meet to keep our customers satisfied. They are already in the field running labs where students are the focus. This will lead to some great enhancements in the coming months. One other benefit of all of this work is that we are beginning to identify that it is best to leverage some of the great technology that is out there and already exists, rather than building every feature from scratch. For example, if students and teachers are using Google for notes and authentication, we should be too.

LJ: Collection and analysis of customer data is enabling companies to develop enhanced recommendation engines and other features tailored to individual customers’ needs. Yet this type of data collection is at odds with traditional views and policies on privacy maintained by many libraries. Can libraries keep pace with consumer services while maintaining high standards of privacy? Do traditional notions of patron privacy need to evolve?

NQ: It’s a very delicate balance, and one we take very seriously. We support student privacy and would never do anything to jeopardize that. Where there still needs to be debate, however, is whether or not data gathered in the aggregate with the purpose of supporting decisions—with no direct ties to individual students—is a violation of that privacy. For example, I think that schools can gain a lot from knowing what’s happening at other schools, but this may violate certain privacy rules. This is a topic that will continue to be debated, and while we will offer our voice, the decision ultimately lies with our customers.

LJ: Electronic resources and ebooks offer convenience, but many do not require a patron to visit the library. What are some ways that libraries and their vendors can ensure that the library, as an institution, is top of mind when patrons access content remotely? Similarly, what are some effective ways to let infrequent library visitors know that these resources are available?

NQ: The library really needs to be everywhere. The idea of locking everything up in a fortress, and expecting people to knock on the door, really is a thing of the past. This does not mean that libraries should not market themselves on every access point to their resources. I believe that is where the effort needs to be exerted. Librarians and media specialists are beginning to make great inroads into classrooms, as many of them are teachers, and are marketing their services in exceptional ways. It is through these efforts that they will demonstrate the greatest value. Unfortunately, while in a perfect world everyone would already know what great resources exist in the library and how valuable librarians are, that is not the world we live in. It’s going to take effort, and it is our obligation as partners to librarians to help them fight that fight.

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