Archive for March, 2020


Libraries are in a period of adjustment, learning to make the most of emerging technology to both expand and enhance services. We currently find ourselves in a pandemic where many libraries are finding that closing their doors to the public is the best thing they can do for their community’s well-being. But closing physical doors does not have to mean cessation of public services. Personalized reference and reader advisory services are an offering that can continue to serve the public even when the library’s doors are closed.

            I currently work at a public library that has been cautious about entering the world of the hyperlinked library. It has recently updated its online public access catalog to allow for reader ratings and reviews, but it otherwise has shied away from using the Internet as a means of engaging more fully with the public. Now is the perfect opportunity to roll out personalized reading lists for patrons seeking material for research purposes or plain old fun and entertainment. If a patron cannot physically come to the library, the reading list can be derived from the digital collection. Once the public health fears subside, the list can make full use of the library’s physical collection of books, audiobooks, and DVDs.

            I did not come up with this idea but instead found it while looking at neighboring libraries’ offerings on their websites. I found that Berkeley Public Library offers personalized reading lists, and all a patron has to do is fill out an online form found on the website. I performed a little more research and found that Berkeley is not alone in offering this service.


            Offering personalized reading (and movie) lists is a fantastic opportunity for the public library to engage more directly with patrons. It shows patrons that librarians care about their interests and needs, and it can help patrons explore more of what the library has to offer. Looking through the online catalog is useful, but it can be daunting, and, like Buckland (1992) states in Redesigning Library Services, a patron may not know exactly the best way to find relevant materials. As Bhaskar (2016, September 30) relates, technology, with all its algorithms, does not always provide the kind of curation people really want. By having the patron fill out a form online, it allows librarians more time to better research a patron’s needs and formulate a more appropriate and nuanced list of desired materials than an algorithm would be able to do. This added research time also takes pressure off librarian staff while providing even higher quality reference and reader advisory services to patrons. Having the form online also allows the patron an opportunity to explore the library’s website, increasing their odds of learning about even more services offered by the library.

            Another benefit is that it allows librarian staff to split the reference work more equitably, and it also allows librarians to play to their strengths. For example, one librarian may be the movie buff who is best equipped to create a personalized film list for a patron. Another librarian may be better versed in the latest and greatest fiction reading trends and will thus be able to provide the best fiction reading lists for patrons. As online forms are received by staff, they can appropriately share the workload while providing a unique and personalized service to the public. Staff buy-in is important to the success of the new service, and as Casey and Savastinuk (2007) say, collaborative participation will help fully realize the project and bolster its success.

The act of making personalized lists catering to individual needs also creates data from which the library can further curate services to the public. In other words, the introduction of this service could be the first stepping stone to myriad other services. Collection development, programming, guest lectures, author presentations, film screenings, and other services could be better informed by knowing the specific kinds of things the community are interested in.

Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:

  • Create online reading list request form embedded into library website
    • Allow choices for non-fiction, fiction, audiobooks, and movies
    • Allow for choice of physical or digital materials
    • Allow for choice of reading age (e.g., early reader, young adult, etc.)
  • Have choices for genre and/or subject
    • Have fields for patron’s likes and dislikes to aid in curating list
    • Have field for “recently read” to avoid redundant suggestions
    • Train librarian staff on how to access form results
  • Train staff in collecting form data for other library usage
  • Provide patrons with customized lists for reading, listening, and watching library materials
  • Reach new users who may otherwise be hesitant to use library services
  • Increase web site visibility and usage
  • Increase public knowledge of library services

Description of Community you wish to engage:

This service is designed with the general public in mind. It also has special interest in members of the public who are interested in using the library but are hesitant to do so.

 Action Brief Statement:


Convince the public that by filling out an online form to request a personalized materials list they will connect with the library and its website and receive a personalized list of materials within a week which will provide them personalized service that meets their information needs, teach them about the library website, and introduce them to more library services.


Convince library staff and administrators that by offering this service they will reach more library patrons, increase circulations, and increase public awareness of the library, its website, and its services, which will increase public support, library usage, and general knowledge because people will love the personalized service, explore the website, and make use of more of what the library has to offer.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:


Bass, H. (2014). Teens and Personalized Reading Lists: A Perfect Match. Young Adult Library Services, 12(3), 21–23.

Wright, D., & Bass, A. (2010). No Reader is an Island: New Strategies for Readers’ Advisory. Alki, 26(3), 9–10.


Support resources

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:


The mission of this new service is to provide library materials lists electronically to patrons in a personalized manner in alignment with the vision and mission of the public library.


Reference staff will provide reference materials and reader advisory materials in accordance with patron list request selections.

Reference staff will respond to patron list requests collaboratively.

Responses will be sent within seven (7) days of request receipt.

Additional guidelines will need to be developed for content of reference staff responses (e.g., form response, number of items chosen, etc.)

These guidelines will be further developed and finalized by administration in conjunction with reference staff.


Reference staff will uphold all library and public (city, county, or state) policies and ethical standards while providing this new service. Any additional policies regarding this service will be set by the library’s administration.

 Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:

The only upfront cost to implementing this new service is staff time and promotional materials. Staff time will be needed to create the web form and integrate it into the library website. If no library staff member is able to so, coordination with the public entity’s IT department will be needed. Additional staff time will be needed to train reference staff on accessing received forms and replying to patrons. Promotional materials will likely be minimal in cost. Because of the nature of these costs, they are likely to be covered by existing budget constraints. Additional funding may be needed if additional staffing hours are needed to cover added duty of new service.

Action Steps & Timeline:

Administrative staff must first sign off on the project. Reference and other library staff will decide on the general design of the list request form and its elements. Reference staff (possibly working with an IT department) will need to make a working web form. Once up and running, the form should be tested, evaluated, and have any needed adjustments made. Reference and administrative staff must then determine where in the existing library website to place the new list request form. It then needs to be added to the website. Reference staff need to be trained on how to access form submissions and respond. Promotional materials will also need to be made: designing, printing, and placing flyers and advertising the service on the library’s website.

Designing the form should take one week. An additional week is needed to create and test the web form, though needing to coordinate with an external IT department might slow this step. Both of these steps must be complete before staff can be trained and made familiar with the system, which should take no more than one more week. Promotional materials can be designed, printed, and placed in parallel with the web form’s design, testing, and implementation. Thus it should take approximately three to four weeks to implement this new service. Additional time may be spent for if more promoting is desired. Periodic evaluations should also occur to determine service’s success (as measured by requests received) and staff’s need for retraining.

Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:

This service will require time from reference staff, which means less time for other duties. Because the new service is handled collaboratively, and because of the amount of time provided to respond, existing staff should be able to integrate the new service into their existing duties. Administration should stay in frequent communication with staff to determine if more time should be given between patron request and staff response or if additional staffing hours are needed to implement the new service.

 Training for this Technology or Service:

Reference staff need to be trained on accessing list requests and on how to respond electronically. They must also be trained in what to include in responses. Training should be designed by the project leader, whether that is an administrative or reference staff member. The training is likely accomplished in a single one or two hour meeting and followed up with individual instruction as needed.

 Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:

Within the library, encourage reference staff about the new service. It is a way for them to provide reference and reader advisory services electronically, and every person that sends in a request is someone who trusts the library for information more than some other online source. It is empowering to provide this service, and it is an electronic revival of the work so many librarians love to do.

To promote the idea publically, flyers should be designed to be placed around the library and other public places where the library typically promotes its services. Additional promotional material should be added to the library’s home page to draw attention to the new service. Any public marquee could be utilized to display a message about the new service. Emphasis should be placed on the service being personalized for each individual.


Because this new service can be implemented at any public library, success will be proportional to the community served. Libraries should rely on initial measurements of other program rollouts and compare those values with this new service’s number of requests. Because a secondary goal is increasing general knowledge of library services, all programs and services should be measured after implementing the personalized list request service to see if they increase. These numbers can be checked regularly to determine if the service is a success in its own right, in promoting other library services, or if it is failing to reach the desired number of patrons.

If the service is a success, it will also provide invaluable data about patrons’ information needs. This data can be used to guide purchasing and collection development, form new programs, and help generate ideas for other services. Frequent suggestions could serve as the basis for a library book club, for lecture topics, for author events, or film viewings. This service could also serve as a stepping stone to social media reference services or utilization of other emerging technologies. Personalized service will lead to a truly community focused library.


Bhaskar, N, (2016, September 30). In the age of the algorithm, the human gatekeeper is back. The Guardian.

Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association.

Casey, M., & Savastinuk, L. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford: Information Today.

I have a strong interest in public libraries, and I am apparently not alone. According to Pew Research Center (2014, March 18), only 4% of the U.S. population openly dislikes libraries. Another 14% can’t or don’t use them, but most of them still see libraries as a positive entity. But although other research from the Pew Research Center (2015, September 15) shows that books are still the main draw for libraries, there is a growing percentage of people who want to use the library as, well, space.

Evie Hemphill (2019, February 5) reports on a library that listened to their patrons’ desire for a space to use and unleashed the power of the hyperlinked library. The Scenic Regional Library District in Missouri employed programming of local interest, interactive spaces like escape rooms, and classes with practical application. This district’s libraries serve as an example of the “four spaces” model of public librarianship that Jakob Laerkes (2016, March 29) speaks of in a blog post from IFLA. According to the model, the need for experience, innovation, empowerment, and involvement can be met through four distinct spaces within a library. Spaces for inspiration, learning, meeting, and performance allow library patrons to view and use the library as a community hub. As Laerkes points out, this kind of modeling will meet future community needs, and the Scenic Regional Library District demonstrates how it can be achieved with a tight budget.
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Professor Michael Stephens’ blogpost (2020, March 6) also shows a perfect example of community engagement with a simple, relatively affordable interactive setpiece: a sticker dispenser. The coin-operated machine dispenses stickers made by local artists, enabling the creation of information, the sharing of that information, and the empowerment and encouragement to make more future information—all generated and powered by the community. Thinking outside the box like this demonstrates how more than one of the “four spaces” can be achieved through a single, thoughtful (and inexpensive!) idea.

On the other hand, the Dokk1 library shows the marvelous things that can happen with a sizable budget and a completely fresh building customized to its community’s needs. In a video posted by Public Libraries 2030 (2015, April 27), Marie Østergård speaks of how the design of Dokk1 involved an ongoing process of community engagement to integrate the specific needs of the community into the spaces within the new library. That is powerful stuff, and I think also shows how important project management is to the future of libraries.

The hyperlinked public library is inevitable, and the evidence is the growing number of institutions that are successfully living it. They are doing it. It is happening now. It’s happening in Denmark, it’s happening in Missouri, in Salt Lake City, and elsewhere. And Americans want it. They want a community space that allows for enlightenment, engagement, and empowerment. This post explored just a few examples of how this is already happening, and we, as future librarians, get to be a part of the big and important task of bringing the hyperlinked library to even more places.


Hemphill, E. (2019, February 5). A look at the evolving role – and shifting spaces – of today’s public libraries. St. Louis Public Radio.

Laerkes, J. G. (2016, March 29). The four spaces of the public library. IFLA public libraries  section blog.

Pew Research Center. (2014, March 18). A new way of looking at public library engagement in America.

Pew Research Center. (2015, September 15). Chapter 1: Who uses libraries and what they do at their libraries.

Public Libraries 2030. (2015, April 27). PL2020 Tour – Denmark: A knowledge hub for the community [Video]. YouTube.

Stephens, M. (2020, March 6). Local artist sticker machine. INFO 287: The hyperlinked library.

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