I know that most of what has been discussed here has been stuff like Facebook and Twitter, but having worked for an organization that is, for all intents and purposes a special library, I would say that sometimes we need clarity/transparency more than anything else! This library and archive has thousands upon thousands of items that no one knows anything about and while we try to increase usage, etc., it is very difficult if the public (and most of the people who are already involved) don’t know what all we have. For that matter, I worked there for five years and generally feel like i have a relatively limited understanding of what all the library and archives contain.
I think that one of the things that some organizations are doing really well is using either separate blogs or creating a spot on their homepage that they use as a “blog” to tell people about what they have and/or what’s going on. I frequently suggested that one way to showcase our amazing resources was to highlight individual volumes, files, artifacts, pictures, recordings, etc. I figured that I couldn’t be the only one in the world who would happily read a few paragraphs (more or less) that talked about a collection of letters, a book, some photos, etc.
It’s also very useful from a fundraising standpoint. It is highly unlikely that any one person is ever going to know the entire contents of a collection (certainly not one that is as large as my previous employer’s), however, showing people what we have and why each item is important enables us to illustrate the value of who we are and what we have and do. Case in point, it is highly unlikely that anyone is ever going to read Robinson Crusoe in Yiddish ever again. However, it is important that that volume is kept as a part of a testament to a Yiddish-speaking society that was highly literate and cosmopolitan. It’s relatively easy to make that argument, but if no one knows that you have the book, they don’t care why you might want to keep it. Having someone write two paragraphs and maybe include a scanned picture of a page of the book or the cover or something showcases that this item exists in the library and that it has value.
Overall, I would think that blogging is an underutilized tool for telling people about collection contents. Just as bookstores have staff picks, best sellers, and new in paperback tables that highlight some of their “collection”, libraries and archives can, and should, more effectively show off the contents of their shelves. I found one of my favorite series of books on the shelves of my high school’s library when I was volunteering in there. They had been there for a while and had never been checked out. I read them, loved them, passed them on to the librarian, she loved them, and in the 15+/- years since then, she has passed them on to countless other people (as have I). It’s true that all of these things take work, but it’s a lot less work to post a paragraph about something a couple of times a week than it is to create exhibits and while museum exhibits can be fascinating, it would be really interesting to see if having a well updated blog about an archive’s contents can bring a similar quantity of traffic.