Friday, 6 July 2012

ABF 2012, part 4/4: digital resources survey

From 7th to 9th June 2012, the ABF (Association des Bibliothécaires de France - the French library association) held its 58th annual congress in Montreuil, near Paris. And I was there! I had been invited by a friend on the ABF regional branch committee for the wider-Paris area to help out during the three days. This gave me the opportunity to attend several sessions, most of them directly linked to the conference theme: 

The last session I would like to share with you is a presentation by the company Vodeclic of their first ever annual digital resources survey.
Vodeclic is an e-learning firm, selling IT tutorials to different kind of organisations, from businesses to libraries. It has recently undertaken a survey of digital resources in French libraries, the results of which were published in February 2012. The survey was sent to the 1000 biggest public library services in France and got 235 responses. Note to non-French readers: in France, public libraries are under the authority of the town, an administrative entity that can be much smaller and therefore with less financial resources than the British counties and cities.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the results with a UK library I am familiar with; for this purpose, I was kindly allowed to use figures from Newcastle Libraries.

28% of the libraries responding to the survey declared they did not have any digital resources available to customers. However, half of these were planning on launching a digital offer in 2012.

Of the remaining library services, 75% declared having at least 3 digital resources - meaning, for the most part, online databases - and 58% had at least 5. Unfortunately, more detailed data was not available; the Vodeclic speakers did admit they needed to refine this part of the survey for next year's. In comparison, Newcastle Libraries offer at least 20 resources!
Most of the libraries surveyed had launched their digital offer more than two years ago, which is also the case for Newcastle. Unlike in Newcastle, however, 62% of French libraries said they did not reduce their budget for paper resources when moving to digital resources.
32% of libraries have a budget of less than 5,000€ (about £4,000) for digital resources and 52% of less than 10,000€. Only some of the bigger cities (22% of the respondents) have a budget reaching over 20,000€ (about £16,000); Newcastle is also in this group, with a budget about £70,000.

The most popular types of digital resources offered by French libraries are, in descending order: self-directed learning, press, encyclopedias. In Newcastle Libraries, resources are mainly encyclopedias and dictionaries or related to business and law.
In more than half of the French libraries resources are only available on-site, whereas Newcastle Libraries customers have access to 15 online resources anywhere at any time, via the 24 Hour Library.

Vodeclic also asked the libraries how the resources were promoted: 80% used their website as well as leaflets and posters. Only 40% declared that library staff had received training, and 20% had workshops for customers.
In Newcastle, the resources are also promoted using both paper materials and the library's website. There is training available for staff on some of the resources (classes, presentation of the resource in internal newsletter) and regular classes or one-to-one sessions for customers on family history and business resources.

In France, over 75% of libraries esteem that less than 10% of their customers use their online resources. This is similar to Newcastle, where the number of visits to digital resources and active borrower figures for the month of February 2012 show a usage of 9%.
The feedback received by the French libraries seemed satisfying, though 25% of them admitted not knowing what their customers thought. I had access to feedback collected by Newcastle Libraries from customers attending business resources workshops - most comments mentioned these being "interesting" and "useful". For other types of digital resources, unfortunately, the library tends to hear about them only when there is a problem.

In the conclusion to the results of their survey, Vodeclic pointed out two main issues: budget and training. Libraries and local authorities consider digital resources are too expensive for them to acquire and offer for use in a way that is convenient to users (i.e. with a sufficient number of simultaneous connections and off-site access). More training should be provided in order to increase awareness and usage of the resources: training for staff so that they can promote the resources and training for customers to help them get started.
In comparison to the French libraries surveyed, Newcastle Libraries seem to be doing very well! Though again, it should be mentioned there is a difference in size and therefore budget between library authorities in France and in the UK. It would be interesting to get more comments from Newcastle Libraries customers on several types of digital resources: which ones they use and what they think of them, which ones they don't use and why, which ones they would like the library to offer. More ways of raising awareness - and eventually, usage - of the resources could be developed: perhaps by offering more workshops on different subjects or being able to work more closely with schools regarding information literacy classes; all of which are I believe already being looked into.

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