Recommendations Engines: Let your users’ reading habits do the talking

Crime writer, Ann Cleeves, shared memories of her trips to the local library with her parents. She said:

“I don’t remember any of my teachers from then but I do remember the librarian, Mrs McGregor. She knew the sort of books that I would like. Every trip was such a huge anticipation. She’d pull out from behind the counter a book that she had saved just for me.”[1]

For those of us with a library qualification, or experience with users’ demands, this kind of event is commonplace, indeed it has a specific title – the Professional Interview i.e. not just “what are you looking for?”, but “What do you want it for?”. It is the latter question that teases out alternative sources that could be useful.

In Axiell’s Library of the Future report, 86% of adults agreed that library staff can have a positive impact on their library visits.

But Librarians are never going to be able to personally satisfy the demand from hundreds of thousands of online users across the county.

The role of a recommendations engine is to turn data generated by user behaviour into a few simple and actionable results that help users discover additional content. The result being, for example, a phrase that has become prevalent across the web, ‘You might also be interested in…’

Libraries can offer their patrons a scalable, and yet personal experience, from within their online content discovery portals. Axiell’s Trend, for example, suggests content to patrons based on titles other patrons at their library have borrowed and only shows those titles that the library has in stock.  Thus further adding value to a library’s online experience by localising recommendations for its users.

However, algorithms cannot occupy the physical space – something seen as vital by respondents to the Future Libraries report. What’s more, at least for the foreseeable future, these clever bits of code cannot provide those moments of true inspiration, just as Mrs McGregor did.

The Library of the Future report shows that we need to cater for both spheres: the personal and the digital. But to truly succeed, there needs to be a marriage of the two.

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