On September 15, David Lee King, the Digital Branch and Services Manager at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and author of Designing the Digital Experience, gave a WebJunction Webinar on “Building the Digital Branch.” It was not only a wonderful program, but a great success.
It has been said that the medium is the message. In this case, the audience was the message. Over 420 librarians from all over the country attended this webinar. WebJunction Kansas may never try so vast a webinar again, but the appeal of the topic was clear.
David started his presentation by clarifying the concept of a digital library in very concrete ways. A real branch has a building, staff, collections, and community. To build a sucessful digital branch, a library has to take these same four elements very seriously.
A digital branch inhabits space, online space, that needs to be well designed, good looking, inviting, and easy to use. A digital branch must have staff that are offering expert, friendly, customer-oriented service. A digital branch must have a collection — a variety of useful and/or entertaining content that makes it worth visiting. A digital branch has a community — very wide community in fact. And it must have a rewarding, interactive relationship with its community, just as much as a small community library in a very rural area.
A library digital branch is different from a library website. A website has information about the library, but it is not THE library. A digital branch is the actual library, but in the online environment. It has real people offering real help, real content that people want to read/view/watch/comment on, and very real people not only using the library service but also creating it in a two-way, 2.0 partnership.
Having established the digital library as a very solid presence, lacking only the Millenium Cafe, David offered valuable advice to librarians on creating a digital branch. It takes explaining, a lot of planning, serious training and a lot of continuous communicating.
The branch needs to be designed and built and the staff need to be carefully trained in an atmosphere of safe exploration. There are a lot of roles in the creating and developing of a digital branch. The Digital Branch Manager is a community manager, executive editor, long-range planner, branch librarian and evangelist. The Manager needs people who do design, development, marketing, and content creation.
When the digital branch is built, the customers become creators, critics, collectors, joiners, and spectators.
Behind all of this, there must be a library administration that believes in the concept and its value and has the ability to win buy-in and trust while the process develops and continues over time.
Many things about Digital Branches are still new, but they require much of the same skill, knowledge, and commitment that a community has always needed from its library. And so many things have been “new” within the past 15 years and gone on to become part of the library scene.
In the process, librarians have somehow picked up an amazing ability to gain information and skills from each other. It is not the smallest marvel of the Information Revolution.