May 23, 2018

Jim Petersen on Serving the Entire Patron Base, Evolving UX, and other aspects of the Digital Shift

Jim-Petersen-headshot-225x300On October 14, Library Journal and School Library Journal will host their sixth annual virtual conference, “The Digital Shift: Libraries Connecting Communities.

Library Ideas is a gold sponsor of the conference, and LJ reached out to Jim Petersen, Chief Revenue Officer of Library Ideas, to participate in this series of interviews addressing libraries’ evolving role in using the latest technology to connect patrons to the information, tools, 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?

JP: We believe it is critical to not only provide libraries with excellent digital products, but also to provide libraries with the ability to promote the products effectively to their patron base to maximize usage. Amongst the many challenges libraries face is adequately marketing their outstanding services to patrons. We have developed a set of marketing best practices garnered from our more than 5,000 library systems worldwide. These are the 10 most successful practices implemented throughout our network. Libraries that implement these best practices have reported more than doubling their usage. We are adding on average a new library every day, in part due to the usage rates.

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

JP: We’re meeting the needs of all patrons with huge content. The greatest challenges that libraries face in a digital age is providing high demand premium digital products in a manner that serves their entire patron base. Amongst the challenges for libraries using other providers of digital content is their models. A model that provides digital content either on a “one copy one use” or “pay per use” model effectively leads to rationing or limiting the number of patrons that can utilize the content, in short allowing some patrons to use the content while turning away others. In a digital world where patrons are conditioned to always having content available in the consumer market, this is a wholly unsustainable model. The patrons simply stop using the library. With all of our products (music, ebooks, movies, and language learning), we provide them to libraries on a subscription basis with a flat annual fee; all of the content is available on an unlimited simultaneous uses basis and is available to all patrons to utilize every week. In short, every patron of the library can check out our products every week; libraries serve their entire patron base every day; no one is excluded. The price does not change, no matter how much use there is. This concept of a complete shared resource is exactly the concept libraries were founded under. Libraries in our network love it. In the past year we had more than 2.2 million unique users and several libraries that have in excess of 1 million transactions in the year.

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?

JP: What data and more effective metrics have shown libraries is that they are effectively not meeting the needs of their entire patron base. The greatest challenges that libraries face in a digital age is providing high demand premium digital products in a manner that serves their entire patron base. New metrics are highlighting this disparity.

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?

JP: We are constantly enhancing and evolving our interfaces and the user experience. The key to high use is a very easy to use, simple interface. Of course the simpler the interface for the user, the more sophisticated the back end or “behind the scenes” is. As a provider we believe it is critical to never stop developing and improving the interface and the product. For example, in the five years since Freegal Music has been live, we have had four major updates to the interface and dozens of smaller ones. Or with Freading eBooks, we rolled out a major update to our app in the past year that now allows for all functions to occur seamlessly within the app (authentication, search, checkout, download, reading,..etc). Can you think of any major consumer market digital company that has not evolved their product over the past five, three, or even one year? Heck no, because they are out of business! It goes beyond just the UX, the product itself has to continue to evolve as consumer tastes evolve; for example with Freegal Music, we added full streaming to the service two years ago and the already high usage tripled! Well, the addition of streaming and the addition of another 2.2 million songs in the past year…it all goes hand in hand, continued development of the UX and further development of the product itself.

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?

JP: First and foremost the library needs to provide excellent digital services for their community that are available for the entire patron base, creating a positive impression. From there with the service, the library has to be at the forefront, which there are many ways to reinforce. We developed our products linking the service to the library every step of the way. Of course the user must access it with every session from the library’s site, authenticating with the library’s existing authentication system (which is often the library card), branding the service to the library. Not just the opening page but every page the patron views is branded to the library. All of these things tie the service to the library and reinforce for the user exactly where they are accessing this content from. Other services utilize secondary authentication systems or access the service on an ongoing basis without ever using the library site again or having the company “platform” at the forefront. We have a different philosophy. We believe the library is the “forward face.”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.