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Push-pull strategies in digital libraries
Crossing the threshold

Too pushy? Sometimes libaries seem to push too hard to get attention. To consolidate communities around digital libraries, push-pull strategies should be considered when developing content of value for audiences.

By Alejandra Quiroz Hernández

In the library field, we often have to deal with the imaginary barrier that prevents potential users from entering the library. Thanks to this year’s confinement, we were obliged to find innovative solutions to this problem. Conducting activities outdoors became common practice when meetings were permitted to resume. Some libraries had already put this into practice through their extension services, while many others were trying it for the first time.
 
How is this experienced in the digital sphere? Libraries have become used to engaging with the digital platforms that are available, so it is not surprising that we choose to disseminate our content and services on social networks. At first, this wasn't a bad idea at all. As the uses of social networks grew and diversified, restrictions were implemented on the appearance of content. Little by little this has led organisations to invest money to promote publications so that they appear in as many spaces as possible. The organic reach is no longer enough to stand out among so many offerings.
 
There is constant talk about the algorithm and the mechanisms it uses to show content to users. It also penalises or limits the publications of those accounts that seek to create traffic to their own website or platform. Leaving Facebook or Instagram becomes a problem for the impact of the projects. At the same time, it becomes difficult to maintain users’ attention within the digital library platform. Therein lies one of the main complications in creating a virtual community.
 
From this we are faced with a new inside-outside logic. This time, the inside will be the digital library while the outside will be the social networks. I am not raising an opposition or competition. I am referring to a new dynamic that is created in the transfer by potential users towards the digital library offer.
 
Staying on social media can be comfortable and inexpensive for the organisations. Consider how expensive it can be to maintain a server and website domain in an environment where budgets for libraries are often not enough. The idea is not to abandon the use of social networks but to show content that makes you want to be part of the digital library. If the physical space is characterised by forging an identity, what are we missing in the virtual sphere?
 
In this regard, I want to recall something that Marie Østergaard, from DOKK1 library in Aarhus, Denmark, referred to in the third seminar. She was quick to mention the push-pull feature and acknowledged that sometimes the library offering was very pushy, meaning we seem to push too hard to get attention. This notion struck a chord with me.
 
I want to relate this above all to the Mexican reality: 76 million Mexicans have at least one smartphone and 95.3% of users connect to the internet through them. The technological development of these devices has made it possible to diversify their functions. They even put them on top of books by declaring them obsolete. But is reading a practice on such devices? How much are libraries or repositories accessed from them? A trip on public transport is enough to make one realise that the majority of people are chatting, scrolling through their social networks or talking on the phone.
 
This coincides with the responses collected in the National Survey on Availability and Use of Information Technologies in Homes (ENDUTIH) 2019 in which users say that they use the internet for entertainment (91.5%), obtaining information (90.7%) and to communicate (90.6%). The survey does consider the data within the entertainment option: only 47.3% declare that they use it to read newspapers, magazines or books while 80.5% entertain themselves with audio-visual content.
 

I believe that the challenge for digital libraries can be solved if we manage to create valuable content that leads to the creation of digital communities with a physical grip.

Based on this information, I return to the pull-push function that Marie introduced into the conversation. The promotion of reading and the use of libraries has been characterised by having a function of impulse or ‘pull’, which means the offer of a product whose target audience does not know it is there or seek it out. It is generally presented at book fairs, local or national campaigns to promote reading, on events such as World Book Day or its local equivalent. Public opinion insists on how wonderful it is to read and how much one loses by not doing it. It is evident that the strategy has not worked because instead of gaining readers, we have lost them (4.6%).
 
By contrast, some digital services have been able to benefit from the pull strategy, in which tactics are consciously employed to create consumer demand. A great example of this was the campaign implemented by Bookmate in Latin America at the beginning of the lockdown. Under the motto #QuédateEnCasaLeyendo (#StayAtHomeReading) the platform gave free thirty-day trial subscriptions to allow users to get to know the app. This had a very beneficial impact on both the company and users.
 
What is the difference between the two cases that I present to illustrate push-pull dynamics? I think it has to do with what we call value. In the digital sphere, it is known that products that add value for users will be successful. The Bookmate strategy clearly offers much more value to users by suggesting they should stay safe while participating in a community of readers, as opposed to the traditional reading campaign which tends to lecture on the value of reading. In return, Bookmate is not only creating value but also making profit.
 
Although there are barriers such as the digital divide or insufficient digital literacy, it is possible to set a goal while using other means to address these issues. I believe that the challenge for digital libraries can be solved if we manage to create valuable content that leads to the creation of digital communities with a physical grip. It will be especially effective if we manage to position our content through an attraction strategy that, in addition to maintaining its audience, is able to reach new and more diverse ones.

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