McNabb: YouTube in the Information Space

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.

-Caroline McNabb


8 thoughts on “McNabb: YouTube in the Information Space

  1. cybrariansam

    I am also interested in studying the ways that library and information science organizations use YouTube. In my LIBR285 class last semester my final research paper was proposing an ethnographic inquiry into the bibliovlogosphere as it is currently represented on I sense a great deal of untapped potential with LIS professional use of YouTube. I am excited to see how LIS organizations will use YouTube as we move into the future. I especially appreciate the story time videos you mentioned. I agree with you that LIS staff should think about making a point to disable comments, or actively participate in moderation of the comments. I could say a lot more on this topic but I will save it for my blog post which I will focus on YouTube also.

    1. mcnabbarchives Post author

      Yes, storytime videos are a real gem. I look forward to reading your post- I think I just scratched the surface and am interested in learning more about YouTube’s possibilities.

      1. cybrariansam

        I ended up focusing my post this week on blogs instead but my post about Michael Stephens and his survey of biblioblogosphere were a jumping off point for my interests in studying the bibliovlogosphere as currently represented on I am excited to see how LIS professionals utilize YouTube for bibliovlogging as we move into the future. Seems like a ton of untapped potential at this point.

  2. cogsighhh

    Those cat videos sure can be entertaining, though. 🙂
    I agree with you on the fact that the comments on the Toronto Public Library’s YouTube page should be moderated as far as removing spam and replying to negative comments, but I must disagree about eliminating comments altogether. I feel that would remove one of the unique qualities about social media, which is that it facilitates input from both the entity and its users. Taking that away would remove an outlet for negative feedback, yes, but also removes the possibility for really constructive comments.

    1. mcnabbarchives Post author

      It’s a tough call, because while libraries are supposed to be about intellectual freedom, a string of unmoderated pornographic comments can’t be good for our image. Certainly, stifling negative comments goes against our core values, but is it really better to just ignore all comments? I don’t have an answer for this.

  3. Lauren Peters

    I think that there is a difference between removing negative comments and removing offensive comments. Intellectual freedom should mean equal access to information without harassment. I am not worried about myself being offended, but I would like my children to have the same access to the library comment section without being abused.

  4. Christy Confetti Higgins

    Hi Caroline – Thanks for choosing to investigate YouTube and the role in libraries. I agree it’s channel to showcase library services and provide services through video – an important media!

    In any social media plan, there must be time carved out to respond. Thank you for bringing that up Caroline as you can’t engage and connect with your users if you don’t respond to them – it’s critical.

    Thank you –



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