September 21, 2017

George Coe on App Fatigue, Title Level ROI, and other aspects of the Digital Shift

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

Baker & Taylor Inc. is a Gold Sponsor of the conference, and LJ reached out to George F. Coe, President and CEO of Baker & Taylor, 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: What needs or challenges do your customers report as their current priorities, and how are you helping to meet them?

GC: Our library customers have been concerned about two major aspects:

  1. The fragmented world of apps that service different needs of content provisioning. It’s causing what we have come to [know] as “app fatigue”— too many apps and too many hoops to jump through to get content that a patron would like to access. It also takes away precious hours from librarians where they have to retrain patrons every time a new app is added; all of the apps will have different ways to authenticate, browse, and checkout. So we think simplicity is the key, and that is where we are headed. Our mission is to keep innovating our digital library service Axis 360 to a point where a patron can get access to any content they wish within a singular digital service in three steps or less.
  2. The other challenge highlighted is the complexity in procurement when you have many different print and digital content providers, and the hours consumed ordering/reconciling content from different providers. As the only integrated print-digital content provider, our mission here is to simplify our ordering platform TitleSource 360 to a point where a librarian can intuitively order a mix of print and digital content in one platform. We currently offer the functionality to convert a physical cart to a digital cart instantly, without having to search and build all over again. We are also looking to add advanced analytics that can provide predictive guidance to selectors to simplify the purchase process based on the needs of their community.

LJ: This year’s theme for the Digital Shift event is connecting communities. How are libraries using technology to connect to communitywide initiatives at the local, state, and even federal level?

GC: Baker & Taylor is committed to helping libraries connect readers with community resources. For example, our Axis 360 digital platform is powering digital resource sharing between Johnson County Library and the Blue Valley Schools and other school districts around Kansas City, KS. Ensuring that students can use ebooks and audiobooks from their school as well as their public library, on the same familiar platform, provides continuity of access and increases utilization of publicly funded resources.

We are also extremely proud to be the content technology partner to the White House’s new Open Ebooks Initiative, contributing our Axis 360 infrastructure and services. [Editor’s Note: See “President Obama Announces New Library Initiatives” for more.] This important project, coordinated by the White House and involving B&T, DPLA [the Digital Public Library of America], First Book, and the New York Public Library, provides age-appropriate digital books to underprivileged children throughout the United States. Baker & Taylor is also supplying collection development expertise and tools so that the thousands of titles that participating publishers are donating to the program are aligned to the reading level of these deserving young readers.

LJ: As Big Data permeates more areas of library decision making, how can libraries most effectively use metrics for outcomes, patron usage, and collections while still leaving room for experimentation?

GC: The most successful libraries are those that understand their communities and continuously shape their collections to reflect the needs of local readers. Libraries do generate a lot of data! And library management systems are great at tracking their purchases and circulation, but the best they have been able to do on the analysis side is to tell libraries what to weed. There has been no conception or accountability for return on investment at the individual title level. Baker & Taylor acquired collectionHQ to enable its library customers to understand how expenditures in inventory can be optimized across locations but, more importantly, how data can be used to help to predict demand for like titles published in the future. There will always be room for the art of title selection at libraries. But accountability for budgets—measured by materials circulation—demands the analysis of library transaction data blended with the rich bibliographic metadata to make data actionable.

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?

GC: Simple, simple, simple. That’s the focus and design goal that has been driving development of our new Axis 360 app which was released this month. Take down the hurdles of multiple logins and credentials, reduce clicks, and create the shortest possible path between discovery and use. Our Axis 360 app now provides the simplest user experience among library vendor apps.

There are other exciting design projects we are participating in as well, including Queens Library’s econtent app and the Library Simplified app funded by the IMLS [Institute of Museum and Library Services] and developed at New York Public Library. These projects create a single user experience for patrons accessing digital content from multiple providers, so that libraries can partner widely but not have to train staff and support users on multiple proprietary platforms. This may be the single biggest UX advance in play for library users today.

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?

GC: Digital materials are now solidly established as a must-have format in library collections. So patrons should expect easy access to digital formats no matter how they access their library. Baker & Taylor works with libraries to raise the visibility of their digital collection both in their buildings and on their websites. Marketing materials such as shelf-talkers and book stickers let patrons browsing shelves know that digital editions are also available to borrow. And we provide website graphics and social media page assets to help link online users to digital collections. All of this activity is not to promote Baker & Taylor as the provider, but to boost the visibility and increase access to the library’s resources. Digital resource vendors need to change focus from seeking to brand their digital services to library patrons and, instead, work to become the trusted partner that in the background reliably and easily connects patrons with what it is they want to read.

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