Is a Library a Social Business?

It is time for Libraries to react like a business enterprise. The debate about what to name library users should end. Are they patrons, visitors, borrowers, clients, community members, customers, students or users? They are customers! Since all libraries are dependent upon funding whether from taxes or donations, it is a business. Librarians need to justify their contributions and value to any funding entity. Libraries have stakeholders just like any business.
Who makes the funding decision? There are many people with power to decide if the library should survive. State libraries depend on the Head Librarian and taxes. Public libraries depend on the community vote about how to allocate taxes. Library Staff and volunteers are and important stakeholder to be appreciated and included on news and education. It is vital that libraries reach their constituency using the way each part of the community chooses to communicate. Therefore, a library will need a variety of social media tools to justify its value and reach as many residents as possible. I perused the list of educational books on the ALA website for books and found that one of the most popular topics is the use of social media to market services. For instance, Professional development: and digital operations and services .
One way to improve a library’s social communication is to hire a social media tools expert. An expert is aware of which tools to use to communicate with each stakeholder and provide the most efficient workflow for a library. The consultant will know how to apply the library brand consistently, train the library staff on the new tools and design a workflow with assigned roles. Finally, the head librarian can assign a staff member to each role.
An example of the difficulty of using social media in a library is Sutro Library (a branch of California State Library system). Sutro is a genealogy/History library that has a specific collection. It is vital that this library can market its collection yet it is caught in bureaucracy. It is controlled by the Head Librarian of the State system and unable to have an individual brand and options for marketing is limited. Sutro Library’s conundrum is not unusual. Most libraries have a controlling body which must be convinced to become an advocate of any social media tools.
The future of any individual library will depend on location and communication with a controlling entity. Any business enterprise needs to convince and enlist the decision makers. It is inevitable that libraries hire staff which believes that a library is a business and can be persuasive when necessary. I am encouraged on future careers for MLIS graduates.
How about you?


2 thoughts on “Is a Library a Social Business?

  1. Nomi

    I agree wholeheartedly, but at the same time, until and unless the funding comes through, the people doing these jobs have to do it out of their own generosity. The people who approve funding want proof that having an active and organized social media presence will enhance the library and “pay off”, but without having someone who will do the work, there is not necessarily much proof to show. Therefore, it would be an interesting thing to see about having MLIS students work on building libraries in social media as student projects, with the goal that when they graduate (or earlier!) they are eligible for and entitled to the jobs that are created to manage social media in libraries.
    It’s very interesting that no one with any hope of success would try to have a business selling a product without some kind of advertising plan and budget (even if it is very limited), but libraries and other similar institutions seem to think that they will be able to survive without giving their product the same kind of branding and marketing.

    1. Michelle Chimento Post author


      I can definitely understand lack of budget. The library where I work is a “half-branch” of the California State Library System. That translates to no budget allocation. We are in the cracks.



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