One does not typically think of the library when the term e-commerce is used. After all, the wonderful thing about libraries – at least public libraries – is that they are free to members of their community! However, we information professionals know a thing or two about lending and borrowing, and we can certainly borrow a thing or two from our for-profit competitors to enhance our users’ experience by providing social commerce tools to improve engagement with our collections.
Consumers can get just about anything on Amazon.com, including print and digital books. Before purchase, would-be buyers can read reviews provided by others who have purchased the item. Researching goods is a wonderful way to help spread knowledge (as the rater/review writer) and make a more informed purchasing decision (as the consumer). However, this feature can benefit individuals who are not about to exchange funds for merchandise. Think of the process of looking for your next book to read in your public or academic library. How helpful would it be if you could see a brief synopsis and reviews from others who have read the book before you? Would not it be more beneficial to you to have the option of making a more informed decision even when you’re only paying with the time and energy to read a book as opposed to monetary funds? After all, time is money. Perhaps it might be helpful to patrons if libraries considered creating a new type of app – one that marries the catalog with the conveniences of social commerce that businesses have been successfully utilizing for years.
I can easily imagine an app such as this sample I’ve created above that allows users to read and write reviews, rate a title, and hear what an expert librarian has to say about a book of possible interest. And the reviews don’t have to just be for the benefit patrons – surely library staff could make use of the ratings gathered when making future selecting (and de-selecting) determinations.
While we’re at it, let’s go one step further and make the library experience even more social. Let’s get some free marketing out of our patrons’ reading enjoyment. Some online stores allow consumers to post announcements through social media when they’ve purchased an item, and this could work for libraries too! Did you love that book you just finished? Tell your friends all about it and perhaps even more people will become aware of the hot titles found in the library’s collection. It’s like a virtual display case that staff don’t have to design or devote space to maintaining!
While creating apps to provide essential library information for users on the go is important, there are other exciting ways that libraries can try to engage their patrons with their collections. These are just a few ways – as you can see by the other buttons on this imaginary app, there are others! Just because we do not charge for our services does not mean we shouldn’t work to adopt some of the strategies used in the commercial world that turn consumers on to products and services. It’s all about selling what you’ve got, even if only in a figurative sense.