How Technology Keeps our Love for Reading Alive
Many of us would have grown up with libraries playing a big part in our lives. Against the backdrop of an increasingly affluent society and convenient access to abundant reading materials on the Internet, libraries have continued to feature prominently in our everyday lives through the engagement of technology to stay relevant to users and the community.
Technology as an Enabler to Better Users’ Experience
Managing a network of 26 public libraries across the island, the National Library Board (NLB) has consistently focused on adopting technology to transform well-used, process-heavy services, by shifting service delivery away from manual touch points and towards technology-driven interfaces. NLB was one of the first libraries in the world to implement Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to track the movement of library items. This transformation enabled our users to check-out and return items independently. Self-checkout stations, which were introduced to public libraries in 1998, reduced the time needed to borrow a library item from 45 to less than 5 minutes. Subsequently, transaction kiosks known as eKiosks provided a one-stop, self-service platform for a variety of transactional and payment functions. Users not only enjoyed significant time savings but were also able to complete more transactions on their own.
Most recently, Reservation Lockers give users the convenience of self-collecting their reserved library items. This was previously a two-stop process that required staff to manually retrieve library items and then process the loan. The new service enables users, who receive SMS notifications when their items are ready for collection, to retrieve and borrow the items in a single step by scanning their library cards. Accessible even outside library opening hours, the lockers give users absolute flexibility in collecting their items.
Beyond Physical Library Spaces
Recognising that Singapore has one of the world’s highest mobile penetration rates1 averaging 149.2% between July to December 2016, it was evident that library service innovations should be adapted to a digital lifestyle through extended offerings to the online space.
In response, the library has invested significantly in its digital provisions. In addition to e-content subscriptions, massive efforts have been made to digitise local content, and collaborate with local newspaper vendors to provide digital newspapers. These materials are now easily accessible online, and users can access NLB’s websites and e-resources on their mobile devices. Digital content displays and reading terminals in newer libraries also allow users to browse seamlessly across print and digital content. Such initiatives allow customers to access NLB’s e-contents seamlessly, anytime, anywhere.
Reading on the Go
A new mobile application, called NLB Mobile, was launched in September 2014. Beyond transactional services, the application provides easy access to NLB’s other services and collections, delivering value to users with diverse information needs.
A key feature of the app makes innovative use of the smartphone camera to scan NLB bar codes, allowing library users to check-out physical books on the spot (for example, while they are browsing the shelves) using their own mobile devices. Library users can now perform transactions on their phones which previously could only be done at stations in fixed locations, a major breakthrough innovation in libraries around the world.
The app, which underwent a revamp and was re-launched in 2016 with a suite of new and enhanced features, was a key milestone in NLB’s efforts to provide an even more personalised and contextualised experience for patrons, seamlessly integrating the physical and digital library spaces. The new NLB Mobile app interface not only allows discovery of both physical and digital resources, but also provides up-to-date information on library events and programmes. Users are able to receive recommendations of events and titles based on their own location and borrow history. The app also includes a catalogue search function that searches across NLB’s physical and digital collections, and allows users to borrow and read eBooks and eAudiobooks within the same app environment. This ensures a seamless browsing experience of digital resources on personal devices regardless of whether they are outside or within the libraries.
The NLB Mobile app won the prestigious American Library Associations’ (ALA) Presidential Citation for Innovative International Library Projects in 2015, and the Best Community Service / Government app at the Mob-Ex awards in 2017. Several enhancements are already in the pipeline for subsequent releases, including the integration and access to eMagazines and eNewspapers.
There is no doubt that the true value of NLB remains the same – a reliable provider of quality information resources. Intrinsically, this has propelled NLB to proactively expand digital collections to provide access to popular reading materials such as digital books, magazines and newspapers.
In summary, thoughtful use of technology provides a great tool for the library to deliver value to users who now have different information consumption patterns. To that end, the NLB has put various digital and technological strategies in place to ensure that the organisation is always able to meet its commitment to deliver a delightful user experience for all library patrons. This is an ongoing journey – and NLB is well prepared for it.
1 According to published figures by Infocomm Media Development Authority on https://www.imda.gov.sg/industry-development/facts-and-figures/telecommunications/statistics-on-telecom-services/statistic-on-telecom-service-for-2016--jul