I’ve been curious about the role of YouTube in pedagogy and outreach. Nestled within the millions of cat videos, how many public libraries have grabbed onto this powerful tool? I know I’ve searched YouTube to find instructional videos about how to knit, dry a wet book, and replace a record player needle. I’ve also used it to find storytellers to introduce kids in my life to folktales from other cultures. There’s a wealth of information to be found and many ways to participate.
I decided to explore YouTube both as a producer and a user. From the homepage, I scrolled to the bottom and found a navigation bar. Clicking on “About” led me to a very informative page including community guidelines, tips for getting started, and a list of features. It’s very easy to create an account; YouTube is part of Google and requires only a username, password, and TOS agreement. Under the tips section, you can learn how to upload or record a video, add relevant tags, share your video, and control your channel. For users, there are tips on how to browse and filter content, comment, share, and subscribe to channels.
I did a quick search for public library channels and found two that I’ll highlight here. First, the Toronto Public Library has 541 videos and 704 subscribers. Wow! Their videos are sorted into playlists that include various author presentations (“Star Talks”), instructional videos, and storytimes (“Ready for Reading”). The instructional videos are professional and clear, but there are only two. The storytime videos are a major strength. There are 24 videos that include rhymes, fingerplay, and stories. This channel is wonderful and gets a lot of views, but I was a little dismayed about the video comments. The instructional and storytime videos have very few comments, and the star talks are full of spam and crass comments. The threads seem to be unmoderated. Perhaps the Toronto Public Library should moderate and respond to comments, or simply disable commenting entirely.
The second channel I looked at is the Denver Public Library. Their feed is more modest at 83 videos, and they have fewer subscribers with only 106. However, they have some stellar videos. Sadly, their feed is not filtered into playlists, so the user has to scroll through to find relevant content. They appear to have quite a few instructional videos (many in Spanish), “30 Second Staff Picks” that summarize and review books, and presentations and events held at the library. Separating videos into categories would really help users find what they need, and give the channel a cleaner look. As with the Toronto Public Library, videos get lots of views, but comments are sporadic and spammy. Denver Public Library would do well to moderate or disable commenting, or at least be part of the conversation threads.
It seems clear that YouTube can be a wonderful way to extend the public library into patrons’ homes, providing instructional materials and entertainment to folks that may or may not ever step foot in the library. Participatory media creates a collaborative experience and gives patrons a sense of ownership of their public library. Users could potentially share content, ask questions, and make comments—but the library’s role can’t end with uploading. They really need to respond to users so threads can become a conversation. If there is no staff time for this, commenting should probably be disabled to avoid trolling (it’s so sad this happens on public library channels) and spam.