My resolution this year is to read more books. At least one a month. So far, so good.

I still love a real book. You can’t beat a good second-hand bargain from a charity shop – with real pages, well-thumbed (and well-loved?) by previous owners.

But it is 2017, and I like to read on my tablet too. It’s convenient.

So like a lot of people, when it comes to reading, I’m a little bit old school and a little bit new school. Part analogue, part digital.

Which brings me to the point of this article. A lot of public services are trying to let their customers do more online.

It’s not always about saving money. Sometimes, it’s about meeting expectations.

And there’s often a balance between holding onto the more traditional parts of a service that people still value, while developing the new things that people expect. Providing services that are part analogue, part digital.

Libraries are a good example of that.

a social responsibility?

Most of us have used our local library at some point. I used mine the most when my children were young.

We’d spend ages picking our books, and it was a lovely weekly ritual. All those stories. Endless possibilities and adventures. It was great.

These days, you can do a lot in a library. Watch archived TV footage (we’ve got a fabulous British Film Institute resource in Wrexham).

Use the internet. Listen to music. Take part in workshops

But if you’re over 40, you can probably remember when libraries were all about the books. No computers. No films. No wi-fi.

You went there for the books. That was it.

Or was it?

For a lot of people, the physical act of going and choosing a book was part of the enjoyment. A quiet activity. But a social one all the same.

I think that’s still true. A lot of people still value the experience of going to the library, and they remain important physical spaces.

They fulfil a social need – not just an informational one.

For a lot of customers, it’s not just about finding something to read. It’s about going to the library to find something to read.

Libraries also provide lots of group activities – workshops, courses and clubs (we have a really popular coding club at Wrexham Library for example).

Again, a lot of people really enjoy the experience of going to the library to learn. It’s an important social thing.

the digital customer

But that doesn’t mean customers don’t expect to access library services online as well. They do. And libraries have worked hard to oblige.

For example, you can do a lot of things through the libraries section of our website – wrexham.gov.uk

You can:

  • Find books and check their availability across Wrexham and the rest of North Wales.
  • Renew or reserve books.
  • Get recommendations using the ‘who else writes like this?’ tool (great if you’ve read all the books by your favourite author) or the ‘who next?’ tool (useful if your child needs to progress to the next level).
  • Download e-books via services like Borrowbox and Welsh Libraries.
  • Download e-magazines and comics (this can save you an awful lot of money over time – see what the Welsh Libraries website has to say).
  • View extracts from over 10 million research and academic articles.
  • Find information on family history and ancestry – without having to pay a subscription.

That’s pretty good. And the kind of service that a lot of customers – who do their shopping, banking and other daily tasks online – would expect.

In future, you’ll probably see more creative digital skills being taught and practiced at libraries. Coding clubs, gaming, 3D printing and so on.

So as well as accessing library services digitally, more people will go to libraries to collaborate and get creative with digital technologies.

giving people what they want

So the point I’m trying to make, is that libraries are doing a great job of retaining the traditional things that customers value (e.g. the experience of going to the library), while developing the new things that customers expect (e.g. online services).

There’s probably a lesson here for all public services.

An analogy might be the iPhone. The basic concept hasn’t changed that much since its launch in 2007. It’s retained the things that Apple customers love (design, build quality, beautiful interface).

But it’s also continually evolved to make innovative use of technology and keep pace (or even shape) consumer expectations – introducing features like Siri, pressure-sensitive touch technology and so on.

It might seem odd to compare a library to a mobile phone. But their success boils down to the same thing: understanding customers.