How Suffolk Public Library Went from Disappointing eResource Circulation Numbers to a 70% Increase in 1 Year Using Online Training for Patrons and Staff

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By the Numbers

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Data taken from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Survey of Public Libraries

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Who is this for?

If you are an eResource or reference librarian who wants to make a real difference for patrons in your community, but are struggling with disappointing eResource circulations, and you're tired of spending money on things that don't get used, this is for you.

The State of America’s Libraries report shows a multi-year decline in the circulation of physical resources. Electronic circulation is growing steadily, but not enough to offset the decline in physical materials circulation.

With the impact of COVID-19, increasing the circulation of electronic resources is our best opportunity to help more people understand the value of libraries and to make a real difference in individual lives. 

The Core Concept

It’s possible to dramatically increase circulation of your electronic resources but most libraries don’t see those results because they don’t address the real barriers to adoption.

Traditional resource promotion methods (signage in the library, social media posts…) may help with awareness, but they don’t overcome technical obstacles and they don’t help patrons connect the eResources with their own real needs and interests.

More effective online training for patrons and staff is the key to successfully addressing those barriers.

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Our Story

Niche Academy Founder & CEO, Jeromy Wilson, didn’t choose the library life. It chose him. Jeromy was only 4 years old when his father, Jim Wilson, helped found Dynix, a software company responsible for the integrated library system that replaced the need for physical card catalogs. Growing up, he tagged along to countless library conferences and events, before eventually taking a job at Dynix after graduating. But after a few years, as the world was going digital, Jeromy began to notice a problem: despite the increase in available online resources, they just weren’t being used.

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Jared, Jim, & Jeromy at PLA 2018

So in 2013, Jeromy set out to find a solution, and that’s where the idea for Niche Academy was born. He started out on his own, adding to the platform in his free time and taking advantage of the industry contacts he’d already made, but he soon realized that he wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. That’s when he decided to recruit the help of former Dynix co-worker Jared Oates. Together, they were able to get Niche Academy off the ground and it wasn’t long before they found a whole team of people who believed in their idea. 

Seven years later, we are now a team of 15 (and counting!), and are trusted by over 800 public library systems (including state libraries, local libraries, and consortia) all across the world. 

After getting our start with just a few short library tutorials, we’re now helping to build the future of online resources and e-learning

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A Better Way

Old Approach

Most eResource training was almost entirely live, either in-person or over the phone.

New Approach

Make eResource training always available online to patrons and staff. Always available online access enhances, but doesn't entirely replace live or in-person offerings.

Old Result

Only those who proactively called the library for help or showed up in person during regular library hours were served. Even then, they may not have always connected with a staff member familiar with the resources.

New Result

Prospective users have the option to explore eResource offerings at any time without the need to contact library staff. Live sessions are almost always more effective when people have already seen the online training because they're no longer starting from scratch.

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Many prospective eResource users prefer self help, or need help outside the timeframe when staff are available.


Old Approach

Video tutorials relied on YouTube or navigation to a vendor’s website.

 

New Approach

Embed video instruction seamlessly & prominently into the library website complete with links directly to library resources.

Old Result

Once on YouTube or the vendor’s website, users often became disoriented or distracted and never made it back to the library website to access available resources.

New Result

Learners can access instruction without the distraction of unrelated video recommendations or extra steps needed to get back to the library resources.

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Extra navigation steps and distractions pose a significant adoption barrier to patrons with limited tech skills.


Old Approach

Questions about eResources were routed to the few staff members who were inclined to take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the resources.

New Approach

Train all public-facing staff so they can recommend eResources appropriately and help patrons get started with using them.

Old Result

Help with eResources was consistently delayed by the routing process and was restricted by the availability of those specialists. Patrons are less likely to connect library resources with their own needs. For example, immigrant patrons may be unaware of ESL language learning tools, entrepreneurial patrons may be unaware of business databases and tools, and vacationers may be unaware of available downloadable eBooks.

New Result

The number of high impact patron-staff interactions increases significantly and staff begin to include eResources as a natural part of library programming. For example, staff can match a new immigrant patron with an ESL language learning tool, an entrepreneurial patron with a business research database or a business plan creation tool. They can match a vacationer with a downloadable eBook.

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Essential knowledge about library resources can be distributed to all library staff, not just a few specialists. This dramatically increases the number of patron experiences where the library delivers more value than they anticipated. Patrons remember these experiences and tell their friends about them. Word of mouth is the only way that viral growth is achieved.


Old Approach

Training was created or delivered as a one-time effort, and while libraries intend to update the training, they never get to it.

New Approach

Update eResource training continuously.

Old Result

As resources evolve over time, training quickly becomes outdated and no longer matches the reality users encounter. Patrons become frustrated and staff become skittish about introducing the resources.

New Result

Staff and patrons always find the instruction to be current and relevant.

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Fresh and up-to-date training is essential for a consistently positive patron experience and for staff to feel confident when they present resources to patrons.

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To Dramatically Increase eResource Circulations

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Options

Option 1: In-House Creation of

eResource Training

  • Requires dedicated staff member with both instructional design training and the technical skills to record & edit video, and embed the tutorials seamlessly into your website.
  • Requires staff member to create training programs for other staff in a learning management system that allows them to assign training and track learner progress to completion.
  • Requires constant updating of both the staff training and the patron-facing training as resources evolve over time.

Result: This is a huge investment of time and money. The actual impact of the effort will depend on the quality and professionalism of the product.

Price: Finding and hiring someone with the required skill set can be difficult and requires significant administrative overhead. A conservative estimate based on GlassDoor salary information indicates a minimum cost for this staff person of $50,000/yr before benefits. Custom work to integrate training seamlessly into your website will cost at least $1,000 in staff or contractor time. A typical learning management system subscription will run around $3,000/yr.

Timeframe: It will take a full-time instructional designer a full year to create the website integrations and enough tutorials to meet the needs of a mid-sized library with about 20 eResource subscriptions (a mix of state-provided and local subscriptions). Reducing the up-front staff investment extends the timeframe.

 

Option 2: 

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  • Niche Academy provides a complete training solution for patrons and library staff.
  • The platform makes it easy to embed training in library websites and also provide a complete online learning environment for library staff.

Result: Libraries that implement Niche Academy for patrons and use it to train their staff see dramatic increases in eResource usage.

Price: Tiered pricing is based on service population. Subscriptions start for as little as $500/yr.

Timeframe: Full implementation of a website integration and an online staff training academy typically takes less than 2 hours of library staff time.

 

Niche Academy is for eResource and reference librarians who want to see dramatic increases in their eResource circulations, but that have struggled to make that happen.

Case Studies

 

"Niche Academy has solved problems that are both urgent and very important. The pandemic really highlighted for us two sides to that. Again, you've always got the public and the staff side of things. For the staff side, the pandemic really highlighted for us the gap in technical knowledge that existed within the various levels of staffing that we have. So when we shut down, I think everyone's staff were having to learn all of these new different tools to be able to do their work in a new environment. So Niche Academy was both urgent and important to be able to get that information out to them as fast as possible. So we use it for that. For customers, our use of digital collections during the pandemic understandably skyrocketed. So there's a lot of people using those for the first time, at a time when we didn't have the usual staff levels of support available to them. So Niche Academy was hugely important for us to be able to direct customers to when we couldn't support the in-person training like we used to. At a time when the resources were more in demand."

North Vancouver City Library

Began working with Niche Academy in 2019

Before Niche...

North Vancouver Public Library's database contained a wide range of materials that needed to be updated regularly, but were often not.

Staff time was taken up by patron questions that could be solved with the right tutorials.

With Niche Academy...

eResource usage in 2019 increased 10% over 2018 with the highest usage coming in the last three months of the year. Usage in 2020 is on pace to be 68% higher than in 2019. Part of that growth is due to the availability of a new ebooks collection, but even excluding the new ebooks, the rate of usage increase for all the other resources is the same. The pandemic also led to a sharp rise in eResource usage. Niche Academy helped people have good first experiences with these resources rather than getting frustrated or giving up. As with many other libraries, the introduction of Niche Academy eResource tutorial widgets strongly correlates with increased usage of those resources.

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Scottsdale Public Library

Began working with Niche Academy in 2017

Before Niche...

eResource support was "piecemeal, chaotic almost, and it relied on personal interest of staff. The ones who were interested in the digital world would handle the digital issues.”

Scottsdale was looking for videos and tools to provide patron instruction and looked at creating them in-house. The difficulty was keeping the tutorials up-to-date as the eResources changed and were updated over time. Also, their strategic plan emphasized staff training. The goal was to have all frontline staff familiar enough with the library's resources to navigate and find things and know at least a beginning of how to set things up, particularly on mobile devices. Niche Academy provided both patron instruction and staff training.

 

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With Niche Academy...

Now Scottsdale has everyone handling the digital issues, and Niche has taken staff training to the next level. It allows it to be personal, self-paced, and interactive. Whenever a new service is added, the tutorials can be immediately deployed to the website from Niche Academy's large catalog of ready-to-use tutorials, and it allows for control of the widgets without a single edit to the website.

"Niche Academy was really easy to install. I mean, we've had zero problems technology wise. So, that side has been a relief. We don't have control over our website, so getting things embedded into our website is a big deal.

We use Niche when we add a new resource. We just added Acorn TV and... we've seen a huge use in Acorn TV for patrons, and that's been very helpful in not having it hit me quite so hard. So, it's like we're a team, Niche Academy and me with the patrons, a team up."

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"I use Niche almost every day. And this is no exaggeration, I literally am in it like every single day, because I have found ways to use it in my position."

eResource usage before Niche...

Before using Niche Academy, Suffolk was seeing modest increases of just a few percentage points a year in the usage of their electronic resources.

With Niche Academy...

Suffolk Public Library purchased Niche Academy midway through 2015. They saw a 41% increase in their EResource usage that year. In 2016 they saw an even larger 70% increase from 2015 levels, more than doubling their overall usage compared to 2014.

Suffolk Public Library

Began using Niche Academy for eResource promotion and patron instruction in June 2015. In 2017, they began using it for more serious staff training.

Training before Niche...

Before using Niche Academy, there was no regular system for training staff. There was no system for ensuring staff had mastered basic technical competencies, for example.

With Niche Academy...

Today, Suffolk PL has a systematic onboarding and professional development based on core competencies. They also have a robust continuous learning program for all library staff.

The staff training program is much easier to manage because it doesn’t require the same scheduling headaches it used to. Staff can move at their own pace and have the ability to revisit training whenever they choose.

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Tom Green County Library

Began working with Niche Academy in 2020

Before Niche...

Tom Green County Library runs a week-long rocketry camp each summer in collaboration with Angelo State University. Participants receive a rocket building kit and over the course of the week, learn the science and engineering required to actually build the rocket. On the last day of the camp, participants actually launch their rockets. COVID-19 prevented the in-person camp, but Wanda and her team were determined to find a way to hold the camp online.

With Niche Academy...

Wanda identified Niche Academy as a Learning Management System that would be simple to use for learners, administrators, and content creators. They quickly added the content for the courses into Niche Academy including activities that allowed participants to upload pictures and completed documents for review. The online camp worked beautifully. It even allowed some people to participate who would not have been able to otherwise because they lived too far from the library.

The online camp was so successful that they are now applying for a $170K NASA grant that would allow them to expand the content and the reach of the camp.

“It was an easy system to set up… it was very easy to set up… with original content. So if you have a library that's doing something unique, and they're looking for a way to take it online, I think that's its real value and strength.”

 

Beyond Rockets...

Once they began using Niche Academy for the rocketry camp, they quickly saw that it could also help them restart the certification programs for the equipment in their 10K square foot makerspace. COVID-19 had prevented people from becoming certified to use the equipment because of the risks inherent to in-person training. By putting the certification training online people have begun to get certified again. Post COVID, the library will continue to use this online certification process because it is a huge timesaver for staff. It lets them track what training has actually been completed and makes the in-person time much more effective.

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 "Having subscribed now to Niche Academy, it takes away some barriers because it means that there's a place where this training can go, and there are some tools that would allow me to easily create training and easily update training that I've already created and to push it out to either staff or public.”

 

Barrie Public Librarys In-Person vs. Online Event Attendance (2)

 

Barrie Public Library

Began working with Niche Academy in 2020

Before Niche...

Most on-boarding and instruction consisted of a single sheet of paper filled with as much information as would fit on the page. Online resources had to be manually updated and many were outdated. 

There were attempts made at creating online video tutorials, but they never ended up making it to the website. The library also tried using YouTube, but didn't like having to send users to a third-party site.

Barrie Public Library was known for its popular in-person programs, especially its children's story times, book chats, and craft sessions. Due to the pandemic, these events faced being cancelled, so a very large percentage of in-person programming had to be moved online.

 

With Niche Academy...

Barrie is using their online academy for both patrons and staff, to assist with on-boarding and instruction. They now have tutorials consisting of brand new types of media, and are currently working on creating a more structured training program for using Niche Academy. With a whole group of staff who can create videos and tutorials, Barrie can focus on expanding into a wider variety of tutorials and instruction. 

Barrie was not only able to continue offering popular events to their patrons, but they have also seen an increase in participation that is more than double what it was before. The decision to move programming online has resulted in Barrie seeing record participation due to the convenience and ease it provides patrons. In-person events brought in just over 10,000 patrons in 2019, but with online events, Barrie’s participation numbers in 2020 were over 28,000!

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Niche Academy Helps You

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Dramatically increase circulation of your electronic resources without major new staff/time investments.

 

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Offload the burden and the cost of keeping your eResource training up-to-date.

 

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Avoid the cost of continual website updates to keep your eResources current and relevant.

 

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Feel confident introducing any patron to any eResource without major new training overhead.

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How It Works

Professional Quality eResource Tutorials

Creating video tutorials in-house will cost around $50k/year. Avoid months of time and excess costs by taking advantage of Niche Academy's professional quality tutorials for all the most commonly used Library eResources.

Continual Tutorial Maintenance

Niche Academy eliminates the cost of maintaining tutorials on your own. While the maintenance may cost less than the $50,000 listed above, you'll need the same skill set and you'll need to have someone that makes it a top priority. We are constantly updating our tutorials as library eResources continue to evolve over time.

 

Seamless And Prominent Website Embedding

Avoid the cost of up to $1000/yr for custom coding on your website to create video tutorial integrations. Niche Academy provides 7 different kinds of tutorial widgets that can be seamlessly integrated into your website in 10 minutes or less, completely covered by Niche Academy Support. 

 

Ready-To-Use Staff Training

Niche Academy is a full learning management solution that includes staff-focused versions of all our eResource tutorials. The staff training versions include professional development elements like hands-on exercises, talking points, and quizzes. This makes it easy to invite learners to take the training and completely eliminates the need for licensing and populating a learning management system with professional development instruction for all eResources, which can cost up to $3000/yr.

 

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The Value of Niche Academy

Niche Academy Value

Niche Academy did not increase prices in 2020 due to COVID, but we expect a price increase for new customers in the second half of 2021.

If you subscribe before then, you’ll be locked in and will not see a price increase.

Our Policy: No price increase upon renewal. 


 

COVID has created a focus on eResources. This is an opportunity.

Our Guarantee: If you implement Niche Academy widgets in your website and train your public facing staff,

we guarantee an increase in usage of your eResources or we will credit you a full year for free.

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Questions?

Q: Are we limited to a certain number of training and support hours?

A: No. A Niche Academy subscription includes unlimited professional support. See the answer above on what’s included in the price.


Q: What’s the process for reaching Niche Academy support?

A: Niche Academy support specialists can be reached by phone, by email, or through questions submitted within the platform itself. In addition to the live support, Niche Academy provides a searchable knowledge base and a collection of self-paced help tutorials covering basic administrative tasks and the process for tutorial creation.


Q: What maintenance and support is included with a Niche Academy subscription?

A: Niche Academy provides live technical support during business hours. There is no additional charge levied for Niche Academy support and there are no support tiers. Small customers get the same thoughtful attention as everyone else.  

All aspects of initial onboarding are included in the Niche Academy support offering including:

  • The creation of customer academies and initial population of appropriate tutorials from the Niche Academy marketplace.
  • Basic configuration of tutorials within each customer academy including invitation of learners, the addition of custom links, and showing or hiding available tutorial elements appropriately for the intended audience.
  • The creation of website widgets and their integration into a customer’s website. When a customer doesn’t have administrative access to their website, we work directly with the third party who does to ensure efficient communication. In many cases, our customers provide temporary administrative access to Niche Academy support staff in order to maximize the efficiency of widget implementation.
  • Live training calls with all customer staff that need to learn how to use Niche Academy.


Q: How long does it take for Niche Academy to update tutorials when resources change?

A: Depending on the scope of the change, Niche Academy can turn around an update within a few days to a few weeks. Because we actively watch for new and upcoming changes, we’re often able to make the updates before most of our customers are even aware of the change. In some notable cases, we’ve made updates even before the vendor sales staff knew the changes were coming.


Q: Are accessibility features available?

A: Yes. Niche Academy is compliant with the WCAG 2.1 standard at the AA level. This is something we work hard to maintain as we continuously update the platform. If you spot anything that’s slipped through our testing, please let us know. A thorough enumeration of our compliance level is available in the Niche Academy Accessibility Conformance Report.

Q: What if I can’t afford this?

A: Each library needs to determine for itself the value of increasing circulation numbers and program participation rates relative to other priorities for limited library funds. We do make an effort to keep the cost of Niche Academy very low relative to the value we provide. Over the last 6 years, we have increased pricing for new customers commensurate with the increasing value of the service we provide. It is our policy, however, not to raise prices for our existing customers. Libraries are renewed at their original subscription price. Libraries who subscribe at our current pricing will pay less than libraries who start later on. This policy is one factor contributing to a renewal rate of over 95%.


Q: Will this work for a library like mine?

A: We serve libraries of every known shape, size, location, and budget. We serve small libraries with just a few staff as well as the largest systems with many hundreds of employees. We serve libraries that are almost entirely staffed by part timers and volunteers as well as libraries with highly specialized professionals. We serve libraries located on inner city streets as well as on rural routes. We serve libraries with thriving and secure budgets as well as those facing serious cuts. We have built the platform to add value for libraries that can create unique and extensive in-house training, but also get results as a plug-in solution that can work with near zero administrative overhead.


Q: If my state library subscribes to Niche Academy, why does my local library need it?

A: If your state library’s subscription includes a subscription for each local library, you won’t need a separate subscription. If your state library’s subscription does not include a subscription for each local library, you’ll be able to access training that the state library provides, but you won’t have the ability to do any of following:

  • Add widgets to your own website.
  • Create your own local academies.
  • Assign and track training at the local level.
  • Create your own tutorials.

The most significant gains in program participation and eResource usage come when widgets are available within your local library’s website and patrons are connecting to programs created by local librarians.

 

 

 

More questions? Check out our FAQ page.

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