As you may have noticed from many of my other posts, I truly enjoy research. Whether because of my job, the courses I have taken, or simply because of my general interest in the subject, much of my recent research has revolved around social media use in various types of libraries. Two projects I am currently working on have involved surveys of librarians about social media and other emerging technologies, how they are (or are not) used by their libraries, and the librarians’ general perceptions about the use of these technologies by libraries. What amazes me is the dichotomy of responses I encounter in these surveys, no matter what type of librarian I survey.
Although certainly not all libraries are involved with social media, the profession is no stranger to it either. Many libraries have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts; some have YouTube channels and GoodReads libraries; others are even branching into Pinterest. As evidenced by much of the positive feedback in these surveys, many librarians praise social media as another means of connecting with patrons and the community, through avenues many of their patrons already frequent (ex: Facebook Newsfeeds).
Yet for every positive comment I come across in these survey responses, I also find many opposed to libraries’ use of social media. Often these comments refer to the uselessness of social media generally, not just for libraries. Some see it as too time-consuming. Others see it as a separate sphere of existence, that the social sphere and the professional sphere should not overlap.
Clearly, I am a proponent of social media use by libraries. My favorite aspect is the bridging of formal and informal; I can post library announcements and links to pertinent news articles and research, but I can also post historical pictures of the library, fun and informative infographics I come across, etc. For instance, here is an image (of my dog) that I made first as a slide for our digital sign and later posted to our Facebook page:
Like so many proponents of social media use by libraries, I appreciate the ability to reach our patrons where they already spend regular amounts of time. With the interconnected abilities of various social media outlets (ex: I can pin something on Pinterest and have it automatically post on Twitter and Facebook as well), I can hopefully reach patrons through their social media of choice — some may prefer Facebook over Twitter or vice versa. Of course, I realize that not all patrons use any social media, and that’s fine – I think it is important to note that our use of social media does not replace any other services of the library; non-social media users can still receive information about the library in other ways, such as email and print announcements. I’m not sure that I would support replacing social media with any other library service, because I think you risk isolating a significant patron base that does not use social media.
Social media use by libraries is by no means without flaws. I think you have to know what you’re getting into when you sign up for social media accounts of any kind. Social media is unlike static web pages; the content is always changing, fluid. If your library doesn’t have the time to regularly, at least daily, add a new post or tweet, then now is probably not the time to get involved with social media. As social as it is, it’s still a real responsibility. That said, I think it can also be an excellent outreach tool and creative outlet for libraries, and I think its use by libraries will only continue to expand and improve.