Is your library the baddest thing to hit the scene since the gangsta lean, (to quote MC Lyte)? Probably not. But that’s OK. You can get on board with Facebook or MySpace, or any number of social networking sites to connect with your library community. My advice is, just don’t try to be cool. Social networking can be one extra tool in a library’s outreach plan but it must also be created and maintained in a way that is somewhat organic and real, and not forced.
Let’s back track a bit. For those who don’t know, ODLIS (the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz) defines a social networking as:
An electronic service (usually Web-based) designed to allow users to establish a personal or organizational profile and contact other individuals for the purpose of communicating, collaborating, and/or sharing content with them. Most services allow members to restrict the visibility of their profile information to registered service members only, people on an established list of contacts, or particular groups of service users. Examples include Bebo, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Buzz from Google. Synonymous with social network service.
Like any Web 2.0 tool, libraries need to proceed with intention and purpose. Sarah Houghton-Jan, in her LibrarianInBlack.net blog offers a few tips for those considering incorporating social networking into their library practice. The first and foremost is that you need to do your research; look at all the features available, check out a few different sites and see how other libraries are doing. Also, keep the posts current; you work hard to build up a following and you want to give your followers and friends something interesting to engage with. Houghton-Jan points out that it’s great to have lots of friends, but the real reason for being there in the first place is to serve your clients; in other words, don’t collect friends for the sake of trying to look popular! And finally, don’t forget to have some fun.
There are lots of libraries using MySpace. You can find a list of libraries using MySpace to target their teen audience here. It’s difficult for me to assess the usefulness of these sites since I’m not a teenager. I also don’ t spend a lot of time on MySpace. I hope that they are reaching their target audiences by posting favourite books, event notices and pictures from the library. And while it may be true that the point is not to collect friends, of the library social networking profiles I checked out on MySpace, none of them had very many followers, and that has to say something. Even if relatively few followers were actively engaging, that would be a good sign but this did not seem to be the case. Oak Park Public Library’s MySpace is a clean page that is easy enough to navigate. My perusal of the comments on the page reveals that most of the followers are other libraries and authors of Young Adult novels. Some of comments are from young people who love libraries, but no one asked any questions or offered up suggestions other than for people to read a book that they had authored personally. This may add to existing presence for a library in a community, but is hardly an outreach plan on its own.
I would be more inclined to friend a library on Facebook, since I do actually spend time on that site. I “like” pages that I’m interested in hearing news from. (By clicking “like”, you essentially become a follower of that organization’s page and any news generated from them will go into your personal news feed.) Going to the Vancouver Public Library’s profile on Facebook, I see that there is much more activity than on the Oak Park Public Library’s MySpace page. For one thing, they have almost 1,500 followers. Posts are updated frequently (every few days) with interesting and dynamic content including event invitations, links and pictures. Perhaps most importantly, followers are active in engaging the forum and each other in conversations via commenting on links. In terms of what works for clients, I guess it depends where you go; friending VPL on Facebook works for me since I’m already on the networking site and interested in VPL goings-on.