Librarians have at one time or another attempted websites that allow community members to personalize the digital library experience.
One experiment that comes to mind was conducted at North Carolina State University, circa 1999. MyLibrary allowed a student or faculty member to customize their library home page.
It certainly seemed like a cool idea at the time. For one reason or another it never caught on. Perhaps the community members were fine with the existing page and found little added value in taking time to set up a personalized library home page.
I suspect personalization technology is now far more advanced. We can probably offer some even cooler forms of customization. The cost it comes with is privacy – and earning consumer trust.
In an article about consumer digital experiences at Digital Content Next, Michelle Manafy writes “Today’s consumers are more worried about data privacy than they are about losing their income. At the same time, they expect increasingly personalized digital experiences.” If fear of giving up too much personal data is what kept MyLibrary from catching on, then the “the more things change the more they stay the same” speaks volumes.
Manafy points to user studies that claim the majority of consumers are willing to share their data with companies – but with a caveat. First, they want something of value in exchange for giving up their data. To me that sounds like some sort of rewards system where consumers earn points redeemable for free goods and services. Second, it only works if the system is completely trustworthy.
In an age of data breaches, just how much can consumers trust corporate data systems? They could hardly be blamed for having doubts.
There’s also a considerable difference between “MyLibrary” and today’s personalization. It’s called “hyper-relevance”. It’s more than just allowing your community members to customize what appears on their library web landing page. What makes it hyper-relevant? It’s always on. It is a dynamic type of personalization, constantly changing to reflect the user’s latest activity and always evolving.
What might that look like for a library? Let’s say a faculty member’s Research Information Management system profile changes to reflect a new interest or collaboration. The hyper-relevant website would adapt itself to accommodate that change and immediately start serving up relevant content.
Here’s the catch. Hyper-relevance requires hyper-data collection. Here’s how Manafy describes it:
Data gathered from website visits, social media posts, or previous purchase histories will not suffice. Rather, what’s needed is information that is much more personal in nature—such as health data transmitted via wearable biometric technologies. Needless to say, that’s getting highly personal. And when things get that personal, the potential rewards go up immensely. However, risk also rises.
Now that may require a level of technology not yet found in most higher education institutions. But with rapid technology change and the type of data available about students and faculty, it’s hardly farfetched.
Achieving hyper-relevance requires three actions on the part of those seeking to build hyper-relevant digital portals:
1. Look beyond the traditional customer journey. Get creative about what this new world of personalization could make possible. Just miss your flight? What if you immediately received an email or text providing all the possible options – and making it easy for you to pick. While the hyper-relevance system is at it, why not rank the options from best to worst (let’s say using “hassle-free” as our rating criteria).
2. Rethink data to the point where users have full control over it at every touch point. Hyper-relevance will absolutely require predictive analytics based on the latest user information, behaviors and preferences. As stated above, it will also require a level of data security that wipes out the possibility of data breaches. Otherwise, how can data trust be achieved. In a world where hackers are constantly upping their game, this is no easy task.
3. Trust is the key to it all. Delivering on the hyper-relevance personalization experience means establishing a level of trust between data owners and data collectors that just doesn’t exist right now. The first organization that can deliver on sustainable data security, especially when handling the type of data needed to drive hyper-relevance, may be able to build the type of trust that makes it all work.
It’s exciting to imagine the type of personalized experience that a hyper-relevant library could deliver. In our current environment, with many librarians expressing their privacy concerns about big data, analytics and other services that depend heavily on collecting and manipulating community member data, hyper-relevance will be a tough sell. It also requires getting students, faculty and community members on board and feeling totally comfortable sharing the type of real-time data on which hyper-relevance depends.
My guess is that we’ll be looking to the business world to see how this hyper-relevant digital experience scenario evolves. If it works there and the necessary level of trust can be built, then it may be that librarians would find their community members expecting a similar hyper-relevant experience. We should try to be ready…just in case.