In a 25-year career as an automation librarian, I worked exclusively in libraries that used Innovative products for online cataloging, web cataloging, and discovery platforms. Innovative was always well-known for an aggressive and imaginative approach to product development. As the ILS field began to get muddied by factors such as corporate buyouts and open source options, things began to change for the Innovative team. When I heard that several key players had moved on and formed their own library automation company, I wanted to know more.
I found out that the Third Chapter Partners, LLC consultancy started only 2 years ago, but its company, Patron Point, has already attracted libraries such as the Delaware County District Library in Ohio, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, the Ferguson Library in Connecticut, and the Skokie Public Library in Illinois with its patron-relationship management system, also known as Patron Point.
I reached out to Gene Shimshock, a genial former VP of Innovative who helped develop a highly successful international campaign that put Innovative products on every continent. I found out that his new company’s effort is not an alternate ILS—Patron Point is a full-service marketing automation product for libraries. In the brief time that Patron Point has been in business, it has targeted well-established public libraries that want to fine-tune their marketing. This turnkey program works with data from the library’s existing automated services, creating systematic email and web campaigns and value-added analytics.
What Patron Point Can Do
Patron Point prepares an email campaign for new patrons, using language developed by the library itself. New patrons are welcomed to the library and given a brief overview of its services. Later, they are sent a series of emails centering on particular aspects of the library’s mission. Each of these emails contains a number of links, and library staffers have access to a report that shows the open rate for the emails and the hit rate for each link. Those that underperform can be fine-tuned for greater effectiveness. Innovative is well-known for its reporting capabilities, so it makes sense that administrators from that background provide useful analytics.
Patron Point also identifies young patrons who are moving from juvenile to young adult services and lets them know what the library can do to help smooth that transition. When patrons’ cards are up for renewal, emails are generated in advance to ensure continuous service. If patrons tell the library which authors and subjects are of interest to them, Patron Point sends personalized messages when new acquisitions are a match.
Another interesting Patron Point feature takes patron data from various sources and assigns users a Patron Engagement Index score for their devotion to the library. Points are given for circulation activity, catalog searches, followed links, social media activity, and attendance at programs. The final result is an identification of “super patrons.” All libraries have an anecdotal sense of who their biggest users are, but often there are patrons who quietly interact with the library a lot and are not as visible to the staffers. The Patron Engagement Index takes the guesswork out of this analysis.
Library staffers can use the Engage program to give more attention to low-activity patrons. With the Restore program, libraries can give patrons who have dropped off all activity “We want you back” messages. Sometimes patrons stay away because of the fines they have accrued. Patron Point can implement a fine-forgiveness message to help bring back patrons who have a guilty conscience.
Patron Privacy Concerns
Shimshock admits that with this particular product, there comes discussion about privacy matters. “The concern seems to be entirely on the side of the librarians. We don’t know of any patron who has felt uncomfortable about this system and we don’t capture information the library feels uncomfortable collecting. Finally, the user always has the ‘opt-out’ of marketing messages while still receiving operational messages like overdue notices.” This makes sense when you consider that patrons live in an online world where if they search, for example, for vacuum cleaners, minutes later, when they log in to a social media site such as Facebook, they are presented with ads for vacuum cleaners. One library near me runs an adult summer reading club that gives patrons credit for book reports turned in and programs attended. Patron Point does the same thing, but more efficiently.
Ease of Use
Shimshock emphasizes that libraries do not need to perform any programming. Staffers simply provide information about the library, and the Patron Point team does the rest, with the application resting in the cloud.
“Patron Point enables our library staff to get a holistic view of our community, a view that allows us to serve everyone better. We are better able to be part of the community conversation when we have a better understanding of the community,” says George Needham, director of the Delaware County District Library, in a statement.
In addition to Shimshock, the management team includes Ted Fons, who was a product manager at Innovative. In a productive career there, he helped develop the first electronic resources management (ERM) product to hit the library automation world. After that, Fons became executive director of data services at OCLC. His work there included the operational management of and strategic planning for WorldCat.
Every library needs to develop a strategy for dealing with competing information sources and social media. Patron Point has been well-received in a short time to fill exactly that need. I see it as a company to watch.
For more information, such as pricing and the scheduling of trial installations, visit the company’s website.