The Seattle Public Library recently released the results of an online survey of its patrons (pdf link). While the results are biased by the same problem that infects most surveys like this (you’re usually only looking at answers from your fans), there are some interesting results.
For me, the interesting part what the results regarding non-traditional media like library-created and patron-created content.
Lets get to the idea of patron created content first.
While reception of other sorts of social media are positively lukewarm to negatively lukewarm (+50 percent to around 37 percent), I think those responses are skewed. Like I noted above, Seattle Public only asked users of the library that would respond to a survey about the library what they thought about patron created content.
Since the group they asked is likely the group most bought in to the library as it is, a lukewarm reception to a drastic change in how the library sees content would be expected.
Imagine if they went to the people already creating their own content (not for monetary goals, but for the love of creating content) and who don’t already use the library. Ask them if the library should become a locally based resource, forum and archive for their work, I think you’d get a much better than 54 percent affirmative.
If you want to get a good idea of what people who don’t respond to this kind of survey are thinking about, you should look at what everyone is using, not just patrons that respond to the survey say they’re using. Look at the ebook/audio book downloads vs. podcasts.
Podcasts are vastly more popular than other downloadable media available from the Seattle library.
Even though Seattle Public didn’t include all podcast downloads in their data (they removed the single most popular podcast for some reason), the total podcast downloads were ~550,000 in 2009, compared to ~125,00 other digital audio/ebook downloads. Even without the most popular single podcast, they still outpaced normal downloads.
This is likely because podcasts are tapping into the broader non-library using population. People get podcasts from various places, and they generally might not be direclty interacting with the library website. They might be using iTunes, searching for their favorite authors name or following links from Facebook or Twitter.
On the other hand, if you want to use the libraries downloadable media, you either need to sign in with a Seattle library card to see what’s available or go through the steps that Overdrive requires you to take to download and use their media.
This same sort of phenomena can be seen in the library’s claim that they’re website is very popular. You likely like the website of an organization for whom you’d fill out an online survey. What they didn’t measure is how popular the site is compared to other websites (local, other library websites, etc…).
Currently the Seattle library’s website is well-designed but generally static resource for users who’d like to reserve books and pick them up, and probably learn about upcoming events at the library.
But, in terms of a place where patrons could generate their own content, help others improve on their content, it isn’t. But, it probably could be and would draw in new users that don’t right now see the library as a resource.
Even the relatively mild act of recording events at the library and posting them on the internet has drawn the largest digital crowd the library has. If they opened themselves up even further, providing a place for local zinesters, authors, and artists to interact, I think the response would be even larger.