Some observations about social media and libraries…

Thinking and learning about social media for libraries over the past few months I have had many realizations and drawn some conclusions.  Some of them may seem obvious, but for this post I’d like to share some of them in no particular order.

  1. When a library’s social media plan is good it is very good.  When it is bad, it is very bad.  Harris County Public Library is the library I studied for my social media evaluation and they really do social media right.  First, they have a very visually appealing, Drupal run website that allows for multi-directional communication.  A variety of blogs figure prominently on the page as well as links to their other primary social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Pinterest.  These sites offer a large variety of content in a manner that is both humorous and informative and very appealing to any book lover.  Montgomery County Memorial Library System is the library I am using to create my social media plan.  Their use of social media seems to be inspired by the idea that everyone is doing social media, so we should be too, but we don’t really have a plan for how we’re going to accomplish this.  The result is social media for social media sake.  The key ingredient – engaging the user – is missing and therefore so is the social aspect.  As a result, their social media is not very effective.
  2. Less is More.  When creating a social media plan it is better to focus on one, two or a few tools really well; rather than try to do too much and none of it very well.  In my opinion the most important tools for libraries to focus on are in this order: 1. Website; 2. Facebook; 3. Pinterest; 4. Twitter.  I’m a bit surprised myself that I put Pinterest before Twitter but my reasoning is 1.) that much of what is accomplished through Twitter can be accomplished through the website and Facebook and 2.) Pinterest offers a different, highly visual platform that allows the library to post content – collections of images; craft ideas; book covers of new arrivals – in a way that may appeal to a whole new audience or an old audience in a new way.   After reading Caroline McNabb’s post today, I would have to add Goodreads to this list as well.  Goodreads fits so perfectly with the library’s social media goal of building community and literacy as well as being an excellent readers’ advisory tool.
  3. Twitter – the way I’ve seen most libraries use Twitter is as a reminder system.  Tweets about upcoming events, programs, and services seem to be the norm.  This is fine, but to keep followers engaged, I would suggest mixing up the content with more items about things followers care about, for example: info about authors, books being made into movies, book reviews, interesting facts, or even local community happenings.  Twitter can’t be just about marketing services and events; it should also consist of some, “hey, we thought this was interesting and we thought you might think so too” information.  The libraries should also follow a variety of Tweeters so if they see something interesting they can retweet it to their followers.  Again, it’s about engaging the user and building a relationship; once again, the social in social media.
  4. There is not just one audience for one organization.  Libraries have patrons that represent a wide variety of ages, ethnicities, religions, uses of the library, etc.  Trying to target everyone through one platform may not be the best idea.  Sometimes it may be necessary to branch off and have a separate Facebook page for teens (or if teens are more into Instagram or Tumblr using that platform).   If there is a large Korean or Hispanic population, it may be better to create a page in those languages as well.  Specialized pages convey the message that the library appreciates and respects all their patrons and can meet their needs.
  5. I am surprised by the fact that many libraries that engage in social media do not have a clearly stated and visible social media policy.  I mentioned to Linda Stevens at HCPL that I was surprised they did not have a visible social media policy and she said they were working on one.  I’m happy to report that as of 3/18/2013 it is available on the HCPL website  I think it is a pretty good example so I’ve shared it.  A social media policy for both library staff and patrons is essential to clearly state the guidelines for acceptable use of social media.
  6. Since beginning this class, I see articles and information about social media everywhere – in magazines, the newspaper, Yahoo news feeds.  Social media is probably one of the fastest growing enterprises we have witnessed in our lifetimes.  It’s hard to believe Facebook isn’t even 10 years old and Pinterest is barely three.   The sites may change, but the phenomenon is here to stay.   Rather than blocking access to sites, schools and libraries should be teaching students how to navigate these tools, not only as responsible digital citizens, but as a means to learning through access to experts and shared educational endeavors.  When school librarians John Schu and Colby Sharp use social media tools to connect their classrooms and also to authors like Jennifer Holm (Babymouse), it is an excellent lesson in the power of these tools to create engaged learning.

These are just a few thoughts I had that I wanted to share.  Thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Some observations about social media and libraries…

  1. Nomi

    “I am surprised by the fact that many libraries that engage in social media do not have a clearly stated and visible social media policy.”
    Thank you for pointing this out! I had assignments last semester that required that I looked into the internet usage policies in various libraries and I was blown away by how little information I was able to find. One of the reasons that I was particularly confused was that I had often used the library as my after school hangout when I was growing up because my parents knew that it was a safe place where I could be engaged and learn and grow. As programming for tweens and teens expands, I would imagine that parents want to know that their kids are in a safe place, and being able to see that there is some kind of publicized internet usage policy suggests that there is oversight that will help ensure that their children are being exposed to things appropriately.
    This does not mean that I think that it is a library’s job to be a babysitter or to make the decisions as to what is appropriate for anyone! It is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children to make good choices, however, having things like pornography blocked on library computers seems to me like it is an appropriate choice with regards to creating a safe place for all users. That being said, what happens if you are legitimately needing/wanting to do research on a subject that is deemed to be “unsafe” and therefore is blocked within the library computer system? How do libraries ensure that patrons are able to fulfill their information needs even if the information is uncomfortable – I wrote a paper on sexual violence as a form of genocide used in the civil war in Yugoslavia and the research left an internet search history that you wouldn’t have wanted a child to find…


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