O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon Public Library wins national contest for free website upgrade

Ryan Johnson, assistant director of the O’Fallon Public Library, and was instrumental in the OFPL winning the Website Makeover Award contest through EBSCO Information Technologies and Stacks Inc.
Ryan Johnson, assistant director of the O’Fallon Public Library, and was instrumental in the OFPL winning the Website Makeover Award contest through EBSCO Information Technologies and Stacks Inc. rkirsch@bnd.com

The O’Fallon Public Library won a national contest and will receive a free, three-year website remodel, complete with maintenance services.

EBSCO Information Services teemed up with Stacks Inc. to quarterback a Public Library Website Makeover Award to one community library.

“The contest was a great way for libraries to look at their websites and whether it provides the best experience for their patrons,” Kathleen McEvoy, vice president of EBSCO Information Technologies communications, said.

Ryan Johnson, assistant director of the O’Fallon Public Library, said it’s not only an honor to have been chosen from a pool of 300 other nationwide library branches, but it’s also a relief to the staff.

“So on a whim, you know, crossing my fingers, I submitted an entry to that contest. A few months went by and I kinda of forgot about it, and then they called me out of the blue (in April) with news of our selection as the winner,” Johnson said.

The timing couldn’t have been better. There was a need but not enough in the budget overhaul the library website anytime soon, Johnson said.

“It’s all very exciting, because we had a need for a new website, but in the hierarchy of needs, it wasn’t that high up there. So it wasn’t going to happen until this kind of an opportunity came around,” Johnson said.

With over 70 years experience working with libraries as a subscription agent and content provider, EBSCO is a leading company when it comes to digital integration of all kinds of content for public access and consumption.

“Public libraries are typically associated with books and physical spaces in their local communities. However, more and more public libraries, like O’Fallon, are offering high-quality, premium access to the best science and medical research, the most trustworthy news reporting and the best consumer information online,” said Gar Sydnor, EBSCO vice president of SaaS Innovation. “Whether patrons visit online or in-person, public libraries are still following their historic mission to inform the public with the best information that may not be affordable or accessible to everyone.”

The library had a local build a website about three years ago, but Johnson said he began exploring options for a new website platform when it started to become old, and it was a lot of time and hassle for staff.

“The old site served us well, but over the last couple of years it is quickly becoming outdated,” Johnson said.

Had the OFPL Board of Directors approved staff moving forward with purchasing the same services it will receive by winning the contest, it could have cost the library about $5,000 annually, Johnson said.

Everything at your fingertips

While the new website isn’t fully live just yet, it should be soon, Johnson anticipates. Staff training has already begun.

“They are throwing their entire technical support team behind us. They’re going to be collaborating with us a lot — very hands on, and making sure this website is everything we want it to be,” Johnson said.

Confident the new platform will meet the needs of the OFPL’s patrons, community and staff, Johnson said there’s also a silver lining.

“They want to be able to show us off, to be able to say, ‘Hey, here is an example of a public library using this platform or succeeding with it,’ i.e. a featured spotlight customer. ‘This is great, and by the way, your library should consider doing this too,’ ” Johnson said.

Round-the-clock technical support will be at the OFPL staff’s fingertips, Johnson said.

“By taking this to EBSCO/Stacks we will not have to trouble shoot endlessly and wait for help when our website creator was out of town or in disposed, like we had to before. We will have professional engineers and developers on hand to help us with the issues that we had,” he said.

In terms of time efficiencies and work flow, Johnson said this project is “going to make my life and that of everyone else’s who uses the site easier.”

“It’s going to enhance discovery, not just for the materials we have, but also the different services we have by highlighting and making people aware of what we have to offer,” Johnson said.

A new feature Johnson is looking forward to is the multi-translation features, coming soon.

“So we will be able to code the entire website in English, but then the user will be able to — on whatever device they are using to access our site — be able to go in the top corner of the site and toggle to French or Spanish or German, a whole new group of languages. You name it, and they’ll be able to use it,” he said.

This language addition will be very useful for those who use English as a second language or students and visitors, too.

“It’s going to make us more accessible to a wider range of people, especially with the Air Force Base so close,” Johnson said.

Johnson said, it’s been a long time coming, but he can’t wait for the website to go live, because it will be mobile-friendly across all devices.

“It will also help streamline our registration process for all of our programs and events,” Johnson said. “The last few months we are averaging about 1,100 attendees, monthly, including adult, teen and juvenile.”

“This means someone registers for a program — like yoga, cooking or story time — they’re going to get an automatic reminder two days before that. That was work we were all doing by calling or sending out emails. Now, that’s all going to be taken care of. So it’s going to be a huge time saver for staff,” he said.

Just over 15,000 people walked through the OFPL doors in a month’s time, approximately, Johnson said.

“We checked out just under 30,000 items in March,” he said.

Two companies, one goal

EBSCO and Stacks are separate companies but work closely together on projects, McEvoy said.

While EBSCO Industries Inc., the parent company for EBSCO Information Services, was founded in 1944 selling magazine subscriptions, it has gone from being a “pioneer of the library services industry,” and grown to having international influence as a database provider. For example, EBSCO Information Services, provides service to the Australian government through IP Australia, which EBSCO Information Services describes online as, “the government regulator of intellectual property rights in Australia, specifically of patents, trademarks, designs, and plant breeders’ rights.”

The Stacks Inc. platform has supported more than 500 libraries since its first iteration in 2009, even the Microsoft Faculty Library is part of the Stacks story, according to its website.

“We have partnered with Stacks to bring their website solution to libraries. They are a small company, and we have a large staff, so teaming up gives Stacks the ability to reach out to more potential customers,” McEvoy said.

Since EBSCO believes that the library websites are an essential part of delivering content to patrons, McEvoy said, “We are able to help libraries showcase their collections in a more effective way.

“We believe that when libraries succeed, we succeed so by working with Stacks and improving library websites, we are able to improve access to information and help libraries serve their communities,” she said.

EBSCO has been tracking this trend with a number of internal and published patron research projects recently to help public libraries better engage their users in an online world, according to Gar Sydnor, EBSCO vice president of SaaS Innovation.

“We are enthusiastic about putting this research into practice in partnership with libraries, like O’Fallon Public Library. While O’Fallon and its patrons will get a new website and improved functionality, EBSCO and Stacks will be learning more about what patrons need and how to help libraries provide it,” Sydnor said.

Stacks CEO and Founder, Kristen Delwo, said: “EBSCO and Stacks partnered to offer a subscription solution that empowers libraries of all types to deliver superior digital experiences. The website contest sought out a public library that applies a forward thinking approach to serving both its patrons and the community with the hopes of improving digital access to library resources and programming.”

She went on to say, “O’Fallon exceeded this criteria as evidenced by its excellent program offering and innovative approach to providing services and resources for the community. Stacks will provide this already robust library program with a web platform that combines excellent user experience standards in web design. O’Fallon Public Library is a fantastic and active library that we hope to further enhance by helping to bring the library into every home in the community.”

Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch