Communicating with library users via the catalogue

Contributed by Ann, the Assistant Librarian who has taken the lead in responding to user comments on the catalogue:

In previous posts, Chris and Heather have written about two of the ways in which we have tried to promote engagement with our users (our behind the scenes tours and our promotional video). Another, more everyday, way of engaging with them is by giving users the opportunity to provide feedback directly via the catalogue itself. 

When we were designing our new catalogue , we chose to make a feedback link one of the main options on the home page. This has yielded a regular stream of comments and suggestions. In line with our Service Level Agreement, each email receives an automatic acknowledgement and a further substantive response, if applicable, within 10 working days.

As one might expect, a substantial number of e-mails have been related to circulation queries  (for instance, ‘Why can’t I renew my items?’). However, a significant number of comments and suggestions we have received have been about the catalogue itself.

One of the common themes to emerge from our feedback is the expectation some of our users have that our catalogue should function in a similar way to many well-known commercial sites. Users expect to be able  to browse the collections rather than retrieve details about known items. Typical emails include ‘What DVDs does my local library have?’ or ‘What are the new items in stock?’. Other examples have been requests for ‘shopping carts’ and the ability to rate or append comments to titles on the catalogue.  Some of these requests have been taken forward by the catalogue development teams and have been incorporated into the development of our catalogue.

It is interesting that the feedback we have received does not always support the common assumption that all of our users will want to search the catalogue using  simple keyword searching. Users have asked questions about more complex topics such as the use of classification and date range searching  – and one comment queried the apparent duplication of English as a filter in a drop down list on our advanced search.

Finally, receiving feedback has made us increasingly aware of the visibility of our catalogue online. We have had enquiries from colleagues in other libraries requesting details about bindings, illustrations and  signatures of rare books that we have in our collections. We have also received queries from individuals using our catalogue in Europe, New Zealand and the Americas, who are using our catalogue in the course of their private research.

Though very welcome, this can sometimes lead to a little cross-cultural confusion.  One reader queried why she was unable to log in to her account.  We eventually worked out that, although she was a member of the library of the Corporation of the City of London, it was the one in Ontario, Canada – and not ours!

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