Mad about social media: putting libraries on the (digital) map
What is social media?
Built on Web 2.0 technology, social media applications connect groups of users and promote network sharing of user-generated content in the forms of interactive media (images, Web links, audio, and video). Among the dozens of social media applications, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest might be some of the popular ones that you have heard of.
Who has time to play with social media?
Like staff of other academic libraries, Saint Mary’s College of California (SMC) Library staff is constantly busy serving the needs of faculty, staff, and students. We are also in the midst of getting funding for a new building. In addition to the regular library operations (campus committees, reference, instruction, and collection development), we have very little time to do professional development, not to mention energy to invest in using social media.
Libraries generally recognize that social media can be a useful tool to feature and promote library news, information, and services to library users who are digitally savvy. However, library staff members are often too overwhelmed and unable to go beyond our daily responsibilities.
Libraries are user-centered institutions
A librarian is charged with being sharp and sensitive of what is happening around the information world. There are signs that show if something is a worthy venture for the libraries. If you read about popular technology tools in literature and hear Internet users mentioning them, it is time for your library to explore these new tools. If you see other libraries promoting new social media tools on their homepage, you better hurry up and catch the train. Social media is a new and friendly way to connect with users. Your online presence in their favorite social media pages makes it easier and more convenient for your users to reach out to your institutions.
The niche of a new librarian
I am a new librarian with no administrative or supervisory duties. My primary job is cataloging and reference. I am involved in collection development activities and instruction. In the profession, I am considered “too young” to take charge of other major responsibilities. Fearful of becoming invisible, I have been desperately searching for some place to exercise my strengths and I found my answer in social media. Granted, I am not a power user in these applications. I don’t know all the hips and hooplas, but one thing I do know is that social media is not a fad going away anytime soon. I would like to share with you our library’s involvement in Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Pinterest.
In the beginning: Twitter and Tumblr
Twitter is widely used on mobile devices. We use Twitter to send timely announcements to our “followers” (https://twitter.com/#!/smclibrary). It is very handy to tweet our basketball games highlights, scores, cool links, special hours when the timing is important. We also use Tumblr mainly to post interesting images and book covers to showcase Saint Mary’s College Library’s newest resources (http://smclib.tumblr.com/).
Addicted to Facebook
Our library has accounts on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook but they were not very active. A few months ago I volunteered to be one of the Facebook administrators. I became addicted to Facebook initially because of its networking component with my friends. I figured since I am on Facebook most of the time I should do something useful with it. I am a faithful reader of AL Connect, the American Libraries Online Newsletters. Every week I post interesting links on the library’s Facebook page along with taglines and questions to attract viewers’ attentions. It has become part of the routine for me to post the library’s new announcements on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SMCLib).
Going berserk with Pinterest
My coworker is one of the first staff members who discovered Pinterest and how it could be used in the library. Pinterest is an application that allows users to post, organize images on the Web and share images with other users. I was not familiar with Pinterest and found it clunky to use initially. It was difficult and cumbersome to get the right images to post. However, we discovered that Pinterest can be an excellent navigation tool to showcase our library’s collections in self-assigned categories, and to help users to discover the hidden treasures in the catalog. I joined my coworkers to become a contributor for our Pinterest page. Together, we developed a consistent method to post images and descriptions that link users to our catalog. As of this writing, there are 48 categories on Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/smclibrary/), and 223 followers. Both numbers are growing.
Social media apps all in one place
The social media application icons (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest) are featured on our library homepage. We configure the app settings so that posts from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest can be shared with one another. We promote our social media pages whenever we can: at the service desks, during library instruction sessions, or orientations with visitors and perspective students. We are happy to support and connect to other libraries, library users, and information organizations through social media. Although some library users may not be active in social media, they can still visit our pages and stay in touch with library news, latest resources, and development.
Three things libraries need to thrive in social media
A library that wants to get its feet wet with social media apps needs to do a bit of planning, reflection, and conviction to carry out its mission. SMC library is supportive of using social media to promote library services and resources. We have a number of enthusiastic staff members who love to take on new projects. We have had very encouraging feedback with our social media tools since we started to follow the social media trends two years ago. Before libraries embark on any social media projects, they need to be convinced of the need, significance, and effectiveness of social media on library advocacy. There are three ingredients libraries need to possess: passion, devotion, and collaboration.
SMC library staff members are always eager to look for new ways to promote our services and resources, and to connect with our faculty, staff, and students. We want to be strong advocates for any technology tool that enhances educational effectiveness. We are not blind followers of the social media fad, we know what we want to do with these apps and we develop strategies to carry out our plans.
It is indeed difficult for library staff to squeeze anymore time and energy from their busy workload to play and experiment with new social media apps. However, there are always one or two self-starters who are willing to go one step beyond the call of duty; someone who is bold enough to take the lead and just do it. Here at our library, we have staff members just like that. They do the groundwork from scratch, smooth out the kinks, and set a great example for other interested staff members to follow their footsteps.
Sustaining the activity and currency of library social media pages is a challenging project. The project is a work in progress and it should not rest on the shoulders of one or two staff members alone. The more staff members are involved, the less burdensome it is to keep these library pages running, and these pages will have more interesting and diverse content.
Playing with social media is not a waste of time. On the contrary, it has become one of the channels to connect ourselves with library users on their level. According to Pew Internet report (2010) on social media and young adults, 73% of online teens and 72% of young adults use social network sites. 40% of adults ages 30 and older use social networking tools. These numbers are not negligible. Libraries need to realize that while the goal to connect and communicate with our users has not changed, there are more nontraditional ways out there we need to explore in order to reclaim our positions on the digital map.