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The Library’s website as a destination
In the early 2000s, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library called on communicators and designers to work with teams of staff members to create engaging, informative sites that were easy to use. “Readers Club” and the “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story” came online in 1997-1998, and within a few years the “the PLCMC family of websites” had formed. Several of these served children and their caregivers with suggested readings and activities. Others gathered together useful resources on specific topics – “Bizlink” for small business resources, “Healthlink Plus” for reliable medical information, “brarydog” for homework help.
All of these sites addressed questions that librarians had responded to most often in person. The librarians on the teams responsible for them gathered and organized the most helpful information. As such, these sites filled users’ needs by placing book reviews, business tips, and health advice from reliable sources at their fingertips, and the sites received favorable attention.* The evolution of the world wide web was so rapid, however, that these worthy ventures were soon overshadowed by commercial and social media sites that offered the most current information with more pizzazz. Of all the sites for adults created by the library, only “The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story” survived. It served a niche market – persons interested in the history of the city of Charlotte the and county of Mecklenburg.
This discussion of programming and internet content has illustrated one of the library’s marketing phrases about the library from this period: “Books are only half the story.” Books and the face-to-face service they symbolized remained at least half the story, however.** As the library rethought its possibilities, people experienced new ways to enjoy reading and reference services that they already associated with the library
- Branches sponsored book clubs to create groups of loyal users.
- Rental books were introduced to give borrowers a chance to pay $2.00 to read a current bestseller rather than put in a request and join a long list of others.
- Borrowers were able to check out digital devices for reading books or listening to audiobooks. Besides supplying stories, the e-Readers and Playaways introduced people to these types of devices for reading and listening.
- Enhancing its long-standing service of telephone reference, the library joined a 24/7 virtual reference service called “NCKnows” in 2004. “Public Library provides answers "24/7" with NCknows,” Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Press Release, May 25, 2004
- With the opening of the new Main Library in 1989, the audio collection included compact discs; in the early 2000s the regionals and then the rest of the branches added DVDs.
All of these efforts reflected a push to keep the library relevant, to show people that it could add value in the digital world as well as in the world of brick and mortar.
* Examples of awards include
- “HealthLink Plus, one of the family of Web sites published by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, has been named "2001 Reference Site of the Year" by LibrarySpot.com” - “Library’s HealthLink Plus Web site earns online honor” – Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Press Release, March 27, 2002;
- “Readers Club has recently been awarded the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2001 Achievement Award.” July 3, 2001, “PLCMC – Award Details,” http://www.plcmc.org/sharedPages/awardDetails.asp?id=14, archived October 8, 2006 by the Internet Archive
- Flags & Maps of the World and StoryPlace, two of the Library's web sites designed for children, received StudyWeb's Academic Excellence Award.” “PLCMC – Award Details,” November 1, 2000, http://www.plcmc.org/sharedPages/awardDetails.asp?id=4, archived by the Internet Archive, October 8, 2006.
** Books brought the library into the news when a patron, objecting to the presence of sexually explicit material on library shelves, read passages out loud at meetings of the County Commission. This one man was responsible for 95% of the complaints the Library received in 2000-2001. See John Woestendiek, “Dirty-Book Guy,” Charlotte Observer, March 4, 2001, p.1E
“Public Library provides answers "24/7" with NCknows.” Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. Press Release, May 25, 2004