The Undercover Librarian

Making the Most of Social Media in Your Library

Until I began my library and information technician studies, I hadn’t given a lot of consideration to social media tools, or how they could be used in my particular line of work. It was only in my second year, when I took courses on the use of Web and Library 2.0 technologies and on the use of these tools for professional development, that I began to really understand how they could be utilized to enhance patron experience, and to increase information sharing for both patrons and staff. After beginning these classes, and learning more about the technology and its uses, I became fascinated by social media and by its implications for libraries and information sharing.

But this can also be a highly confusing subject. There are a huge number of social media tools available, and they can be used in a variety of ways, and this can make selection and effective use challenging. After examining the use of social media at a variety of libraries, including public, school, and academic institutions, I’ve developed a (highly unscientific) list of tips to make the most of social media in a library.

1. Picking and Choosing: Select the Right Tools
Not every tool is going to be well suited to every library. Selection should involve consideration of what the library wants to achieve:

What kinds of information does the library want to communicate, and what medium is best suited to that information?
What demographic does the library want to reach?
Who are the library’s patrons and how do they use social media?
What are the key needs of both staff and patrons?

For example, a public library might want to provide information and reviews about new materials in the collection. A blog or a subscription to Library Thing would both be effective ways to deliver this information. Or, if library staff want a space for professional communication, collaboration, and information sharing, a wiki would be a useful tool to have. As the library’s needs change – and as new tools are developed and become available – libraries can adopt new tools and technologies, and faze out those that are no longer useful or effective.

2. Keeping Tracking: Creating a Plan
After deciding what tools to start with, it is helpful to develop a basic plan for their use:

How often will accounts be checked and updated?
What kinds of information will be made available?
Which staff members will assume the responsibility for these tasks?

It sounds a little too simple, but solid planning means that accounts will be maintained regularly, and that regular communication with users and patrons can occur – one of the main purposes of employing these technologies to begin with.

3. Keep It Simple: Streamlining
With so many social media tools available for every conceivable purpose, it’s easy for an organization’s social media plan to become bloated with multiple, overlapping accounts. Consider streamlining the tools being used and limiting the number of accounts. For example, consider having only one blog or Twitter account for an organization, or, at most, individual accounts for specific departments. For example, a multi-branch public library system might want to consider having central accounts for the whole system, rather than one for each branch.

4. All Together Now: Developing a Complete Package
Consider developing a complete social media package for the library, and have a series of linked accounts that can be used in conjunction with one another. This gives a library multiple outlets to provide information to patrons, and gives patrons a variety of ways to communicate with their library.

5. Keeping an Eye Out: Observing Other Libraries
Keep an eye on what other libraries are doing, and communicate with other library professionals about what they’re doing in their libraries, and what does – or does not – work. I have yet to encounter a library professional who isn’t willing to share; most staff are happy to exchange information about what their library is up to. By sharing what works and what doesn’t, we can make the most of our time and resources, while not wasting time by making the same mistakes over and over again.

6. Listen Up: Take Note of Feedback
One of the key characteristics – and benefits – of social media is the way in which it allows communication between users. Set up comment feeds so that feedback from staff and users is immediately available, and listen attentively to what they have to say.

Conclusions
These are only a few ideas; what are your best tips for using social media in libraries?

Additional Resources

The New York Public Library – the most successful use of social medis by a library in the world?, by Aarontay, from Musings About Librarianship, Mar.31, 2011.

10 Ways to Really Connect Through Social Media, by Aliza Sherman, from GigaOM.com, Jul. 7, 2010

Connecting Social Media, from Macasso.net, Sep.22, 2010.

What Is Web 2.0?: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, by Tim O’Reilly, from oreilly.com, Sep. 2005.

Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries, by Jack M. Maness, from Webology, Vol.3, No.3, June 2006

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This entry was posted on September 14, 2011 by .
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