Thursday June 11, 2009

Win-win for answer challenge

During Library and Information Week we ran an online event to raise awareness of our electronic resources.

Mosman Library vs That Search Engine pitted Mosman Library’s online databases against information available from the search box on the world wide web.

Our Information Services Librarian, Jane Broadbere represented Mosman Library. Our Internet & IT Services Librarian, Ken Donnellan represented the search engine. Each day we posted a question at 10am, with each player posting their answer by midday. Visitors to the site were invited to vote on who provided the best answer, with voting open for 24 hours. Visitors were also invited to leave a comment, and we were surprised and pleased with the discussion that ensued.

The idea for the challenge came when listening to John Law’s presentation at Information Online 2009. ProQuest’s paper (available online) shows that while students and scholars recognise the library as the definitive resource for valuable, credible content, they almost always adopt alternatives to the library as a starting point for online research.

The goal of this promotion was simply to raise the profile of our online resources.

For the two week period May 22 to June 4 the challenge site got 2,756 visits, 1,764 absolute unique visitors and 9,442 pageviews. 102 comments were posted. The average number of pages viewed was 3.43 and people spent 3 minutes 45 seconds on the site. Compared to our regular numbers for social media spaces and Library web pages, this was exceptional.

Visits tripled to our Library web pages that list and link to our electronic resources. They dropped off quite quickly after the event but we’re still seeing visits a little higher than average. Having said that, the total number of visits to the database pages is still quite low in comparison to other areas of the Library and Council website.

More important has been the local word of mouth. One of our Councillors raised it as a Question without Notice in a Council Meeting, praising the initiative and saying that he’d learnt a lot about searching and the Library’s resources.

An interesting side note is the power of Twitter’s word of mouth in marketing. On the Friday afternoon before Library Week, before we’d launched the site, one of our librarians tweeted the challenge URL. Within a few hours it had been retweeted more than 10 times and over that weekend the site had more than 100 unique visitors. Twitter remained the top referring site for the duration of the challenge and, with Facebook, was responsible for most of the buzz.

Response to the challenge from librarians in NSW and overseas was very positive, and we think the challenge would work well as a training tool within libraries, similar to Fairfield City Library’s excellent Slamming Reference competition sports for library staff.

The challenge was built with open-source and third party tools – all free. A website was deployed quickly using Textpattern (a publishing tool similar to WordPress). The CSS framework 960 Grid System provided the layout grid, voting was handled by the PollDaddy service and avatars were generated using Council’s graphic designer knocked up a logo for us.

Devising good questions that were weighted in favour of our online databases was difficult and required some lateral thinking, but the process gave us insights into the strengths and weaknesses of both search strategies.

And the result? Mosman Library took the rounds 4-1, but the winner is the library customer!

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