There is no denying that the technology available to libraries greatly impacts on the quality of the services they can provide. At a time when libraries are striving to increase visitor numbers and re-energise their offer, library managers are increasingly working closely with technology suppliers to modernise their services.
We’ve taken the opportunity to explore this topic further, having gathered substantial data from a survey of over 50 public library authorities, as well as during our annual netloan user groups in late 2015, which were attended by more than 80 library representatives (the photo above shows proceedings at the London and South East group held at Willesden Green library). The result is an article published in the PMLG (Public and Mobile Libraries Group) Annual 2016 which explores current library technology trends and what they represent for attracting and retaining library users. In this first extract, we focus on the People’s Network of public PCs.
Raising the appeal of the People’s Network
Public PC provision continues to be fundamental in libraries, especially with the Government’s digital agenda driving the need to get online to access basic services. The technology used to deliver the People’s Network is key to the attractiveness of the service, both in terms of hardware and Operating System (OS). Fortunately in 2015 most libraries said goodbye to Windows XP, which launched 14 years ago and has been unsupported for the last two years. Over 80% of public library authorities are now on Windows 7, with only 15% still using XP.
This is a massive change from the 50% of library authorities running XP 12 months ago, but what does this activity mean for library users? More modern software and better PCs attract greater usage, as the quality and responsiveness of PCs is enhanced. After all, no one likes using a sluggish or out of date computer! Job seekers, school children, young people, local businesses and those that have entered retirement will all be attracted to new, modern library facilities – all readily available, often outshining what they have at home, and providing the right environment for work, study, fun and interaction. There are also those that have no alternative provision: an estimated 20% of the population are thought to have no digital technology at home according to the Sieghart Report in December 2014.
While 2015 was a busy year for People’s Network refreshes, a third of libraries are still to conclude their Windows 7 roll out in 2016. So what does the continued investment in Windows 7 mean for libraries? It is inevitable that the next refresh cycle will be faster, with Microsoft extended support lasting less than 5 years until 2020. This is a big consideration as new OSs often involve computer upgrades that run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. On the upside, Windows 7 now comes with 6 years’ experience and familiarity having launched in 2009, so it is a safer bet for libraries. Application compatibility can largely be taken for granted now; an advantage which is lost with a move to Windows 10, for instance, especially with its new Edge browser.
It is apparent from the choice of OSs that libraries are choosing mostly to avoid Windows 8 or 8.1. Less than 5% of library authorities moved to this since its launch in 2013. Despite its availability for the last two years, it is likely that more library authorities will move to the new Windows 10 by the end of 2016. Windows 10 presents a smoother progression from Windows XP and 7, with similar default settings and a more traditional desktop approach than Windows 8, so users will have less to get to grips with. Its tablets mode will also prove useful for touchscreens in libraries as well as in the growing provision of tablets – a trend which is discussed further in this article.
For the full PMLG Annual article, please click here.