The Wonderful World of Libraries & Social Media

In a few moments I’ll be talking about social media and the library, but before then, I had a random thought the other day; has the ability to take pictures so easily with smartphones made photography as an art form less valuable? What is beautiful about pictures is the ability to convey so many different feelings to the observer, and it doesn’t have to be a Picasso painting or a picture from National Geographic. I found my staring at a painting of a man on a boat at a diner in Blue Mountain, Ontario. I couldn’t help but imagine a lie for the tiny man, where he was taking the boat to, hell, I found myself wondering if this man was real, out there somewhere in the world. That’s the true beauty of a picture or painting.

I’m lucky enough to know a great photographer who has been featured in magazines across the globe, and I brought her in to run a workshop last week. She spoke to teens about finding their inspiration and how to carve a path in the art industry. When I asked her that same question I mentioned above, she answered without hesitation, “yes.” While the advancement in cellphones has been phenomenal, it isn’t without it’s advantages and disadvantages.

Just like the scenario I just mentioned, social media has its pro’s and con’s. People love social media for its immediacy, and the ability to share and access information at will (Xie & Stevenson, 2014). Looking for the latest info on a hostage situation or plane crash, Twitter is the place to go. That’s the positive. The cyber-bullying that takes place across the world, that’s the negative. I’d be naïve to say that social media hasn’t changed the way we experience the world.

What does this have to do with libraries and social media as an outreach platform? It’s easy to attach ourselves to the newest trend. For an industry that is tirelessly trying to appeal to the younger generation, it might seem like the easiest solution, and that’s not entirely misguided. After all, 75% of teens use social networking sites on a daily basis (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). However, before we can do anything, we need to understand how to properly use social media to ensure our efforts are met with success.

Libraries are amazing spaces. They’re judgment free gathering places for all members of a community to imagine, create, learn, and grow. Gone are the days when a library was simply used for research, or cracking out a roll of microfiche. Today, they’re more known for being on the cutting edge of technology with the libraries offering services including 3D printers, makerspaces, and other forms of technology.

Here’s the thing, not everybody can make it out to a library. Our area has a number of retirement residences, and I’m sure there are a good number of residents who would love to make it to the library, they just don’t have the means. It’s naïve to think that just because they’re in a retirement they don’t access social media, but you’d be amazed at how many of them are active on Facebook and Twitter! These are the types of excellent opportunities to use social media as outreach to an underserved group of the community (Collier, 2012). You can inform them about programs they, or their friends and family, might be interested in, or let them know about the extensive collection of eBooks the library offers. You wouldn’t believe how happy some of the seniors were when they found out they could use the tablet their grandchildren got them for Christmas to read books at the library. Oh, and when you tell them they don’t have to worry about late fees, well, let’s just say we had quite a few happy campers after that visit. To be, that’s a clear benefit to social media.

In order for libraries to be successful in using social media as a form of outreach we should be sharing fun entertainment based information, but always finding a way to connect the Tweet back to the library (King, 2015). Here’s an example to better explain my point: last week I organized the first Tech Talk Week at my library. One of the activities was a LEGO robotics demo that would be facilitated by a local high school. Leading up to the event I kept Tweeting different articles and images about LEGO, but at the same time, I always provided the link to the LEGO programs we were offering at the library. Social media channels, especially Twitter, are great ways to inform your community about the upcoming events at your library, but only if you’re able to blend the fun attention grabbing information with your libraries services.

Here’s where you can run into problems with your social media account. One fault I’ve found with library social media accounts is the lack of responsiveness from whoever is monitoring the account. If you’re hoping to use social media for outreach, you must be timely with your responses to peoples inquires. Think about how frustrating it would be to tweet out a question to your library and never get a response, but see them update their account with new material daily. As a customer, you’d be ticked off, and you’re less likely to speak positively about the library. In order to avoid this, a library system must take several steps including creating a strategy and goals for all social media channels, establishing a team to run the social media accounts, a mandate to connect and communicate with customers using social media, and to track usage and engagement levels using analytics and insights (King, 2015).

If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate it, but what I’d like you to take away from this post is while social media is as relevant as ever, in order to be successful in applying it to your organization, there needs to be a clear plan developed on how to maximize the strengths of social media. There’s many groups in your community who would love to use the library, but can’t for a variety of reason. It’s your job to use social media as an effective tool to involve those individuals in all the amazing services your library has to offer.

Collier, R. (2012). “Professionalism: social media outreach.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal, 184(11), E587–E588.

King, David Lee. (2015). “Landscape of Social Media for Libraries.” Library Technology Reports, 51.1 10,15,2.

King, David Lee. (2015). “Managing your library’s social media channels.” Library Technology Reports, 51.1.

Lenhart, Amanda., Purcell, Kristen., Smith, Aaron., & Zickuhr, Kathryn. (2015). “Social Media & Mobile Internet Use Among Teens And Young Adults.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. 

Xie, Iris., & Stevenson, Jennifer. (2014) “Social media application in digital libraries” Online Information Review, Vol. 38 Iss: 4, pp.502 – 523.