Social networking and libraries

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Table 1: Proportion of U.S. libraries with a presence on selected social networking sites, by size of library population served.

Libraries Using Social Networking Sites
  <10,000   10,000-24,999  25,000-99,999 100,000-499,999 >499,999



















Adapted from Lietzau, Zeth, U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies. Denver,
Library Research Service, 2009, p. 9.


In the world of online “friends,” many libraries are still loners

Have libraries been successful in using social networking sites? Not if success is to be measured by the number of “friends” libraries have acquired, says Richard W. Boss in “Social Networking Sites and Libraries,” a paper prepared in October 2009 for the Public Library Association. Most libraries have only a few hundred friends, Boss says, and none has more than 10,000. On average, fewer than one percent of the population served by a library have identified themselves as “friends” of their library on a social networking site.

“While a large number of friends is not the only measure of success, it is the only measure that is readily available,” Boss says. “To the extent that libraries have been able to attract people who are not regular users of libraries, even a small response could be considered success. Unfortunately, there appear to be no studies of the demographics of persons who have accessed libraries on social library network services.”

Many of the libraries that “do” social networking focus on one-way communication; those that encourage feedback appear to have more “friends” in relation to population served. Also, some public libraries maintain separate presences on a social networking service for teens and for adults; this seems to increase the number of teens who identify themselves as “friends.”

“Facebook and MySpace appear to be more successful reaching teens than the other social networking sites,” Boss writes, “not only because they have a very high percentage of teen members, but also because feedback is much easier than for the other major sites.” Flickr and YouTube appear to be more successful for posting a lot of content, and Twitter specializes in “tweeting”—sending and receiving brief messages.

Here are thumbnail sketches of the five social networking sites that were most visited and, as of the third quarter of 2009, most widely used by public libraries:

  • Facebook was launched in 2004 as a social networking site at Harvard University but quickly expanded to other universities and, within a couple of years, to anyone at least 13 years old. A user can join and create as many as 200 groups according to his/her interests. In the fourth quarter of 2009, Facebook had five times as many visitors each month in the United States as MySpace, despite the fact that the latter had more U.S. members. Worldwide, Facebook membership was almost 300 million, many of them people of high school and college age.
  • YouTube (2005) allows registered users to upload unlimited videos; unregistered users can watch them. YouTube has more than four times as many visitors each month as MySpace and almost as many as FaceBook. Its age distribution is the broadest of any of the social networking sites: 15-55 years.
  • Twitter (2006) is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read “tweets,” text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s “followers.” A tweet can include a link to a URL. As of late 2009, Twitter had 44 million members and almost as many visitors each month as YouTube. The age range was 18-45. Twitter does not appear to be much used by libraries, except, possibly, for announcing library events. (This paragraph is way too long for a “tweet.”)
  • Flickr was also launched in 2004 as a website for sharing images and videos. It has both free and fee-based accounts, the latter with unlimited uploads, bandwidth, and storage. As of late 2009, the site had 32 million members and was fourth most popular in terms of number of visitors. The Library of Congress and many public libraries, museums, and archives post images on Flickr.
  • MySpace, launched in 2003, was the most popular social networking site in the United States until 2007 but by late 2009 ranked fifth. It saw a 20 percent drop in number of visitors in the first half of 2009, but still had more than 100 million members worldwide. In late 2009, MySpace shifted its focus to the delivery of music and entertainment. Membership consists primarily of people ages 13-24.

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Number of social networking users doubles in two years

With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites growing rapidly, it’s not surprising that the number of social networking users has doubled since 2007 Specifically, 55.6 million adults in the United States—or slightly fewer one-third of the population—visited social networks at least monthly in 2009, according to a report from Forrester Research. That’s up from just 15 percent of adults in 2007, and around 18 percent in 2008.


“It’s the job you have. And the job is changing.”

A panel of “techie librarians” convened at the ALA’s 2009 Annual Conference to address the question of whether Library 2.0 has lived up to its promise—and began by admitting that they couldn’t agree on exactly what Library 2.0 is. They did, however, agree that traditional ways of thinking might not be sufficient to judge Lib2.0 effectiveness. The session was sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association and the ALA’s Internet Resources Services Interest Group.

“The Library 1.0 Committee is still out on what the Library 2.0 promise is,” joked one panelist, noting that using Lib1.0 criteria to discuss Lib2.0 values misses the point.

The panel did agree that Lib2.0 tools—blogs, wikis, widgets, social networking, etc.—are usually free or very inexpensive but still take a lot of staff time implement effectively.

Meredith Farkas, head of instructional initiatives at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, and technology columnist for American Libraries, noted that 2.0 librarians are still doing the same things they’ve always done at their jobs—and more; panelist David Lee King suggested that librarians who say they have no time for Lib2.0 initiatives have bad time management. Panelist Michael Porter added: “You may not have signed up for this job, but it’s the job you have. And the job is changing.”

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School librarians “need to keep the digital doors open on line”

School librarians can play a crucial role in “keeping the digital doors open to help young people think about learning beyond the classroom,” according to Danah Boyd, an authority on online social networking sites and a keynote speaker at the 2009 national conference of the American Association of School Librarians.

Boyd has unique and often controversial perspectives on how America’s youth are engaging in sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube. “A lot of social learning . . . goes on in schools that we need to figure out how to support,” Boyd said, and school librarians “need to be as public and transparent as possible in every way” when dealing with children and social networking, “In the same way that you keep the doors open in schools, you need to keep the digital doors open on line.”

“Digital media [make] visible what is going on in the everyday lives of children, and that’s not always pretty,” Boyd said, “Social media [help] kids make sense of things. Young people are getting access to more information than ever before, often unstructured and with no easy way to make sense of it.”


“Top 10 Social Networking in Libraries Trends for 2010”

Blogger AnnaLaura Brown’s list:

  • An increase in the use of mobile applications for library services. This includes things such as text messaging but also the development of library Web pages on .mobi domains for use on mobile devices and maybe even libraries creating iphone applications for their libraries.
  • Even more ebook readers and the popularity of the ones that already exist. New and existing ebook publishers and device manufacturers will find ways for patrons to download and read a higher number of ebooks from popular collections such as ebrary and netlibrary on ebook readers. This is still a challenge and it will be easier by the end of 2010.
  • The usage of more niche social networking sites for the public at large and this will spill over into libraries.
  • An increase in the amount and usage of Google Applications such as Google Wave and other similar applications.
  • The Google Books controversy will more or less be resolved and patrons will begin to use it more.
  • Library websites will become more socialized and customized. Patrons will be able to interact more directly with the library’s website.
  • College libraries will use more open source software and more social networking sites to educate their patrons and for library literacy in order to save money.
  • More libraries will use podcasting and itunes U to communicate with patrons and to offer value.
  • More libraries will offer social networking classes to their patrons.
  • Social networking in libraries will be viewed more as a must and as a way to save money than as a fun thing to play with or to use to market the library.”


Figure 1: Libraries’ uses of Web 2.0 tools 

chart with complex data - long description provided

Note: Respondents could choose more than one use .

Source: Curtis, Roger E. Social media, Libraries, and Web 2.0: How American Libraries are Using New Tools for Public Relations and to Attract New Users—Second Survey. November 2009. Colombia, S.C., South Carolina State Library, 2009.

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Among administrators, enthusiasm for Web 2.0 . . . but some hesitation, too

Results of a survey conducted in November 2009 indicate that while more than 90 percent of library administrators are enthusiastic about the use of Web 2.0 tools and social media for marketing library services, many remain divided on the benefits of using them for other purposes.

The survey of 768 individuals was conducted by Roger E. Curtis, communications director at the South Carolina State Library. A majority (56.3 percent) of the respondents represented public libraries, and 25.3 percent were at academic libraries. Most respondents reported that their main responsibility was in library administration or management.

An overwhelming number of respondents (92.7 percent) said they considered Web 2.0 tools “important for marketing and promoting library services.”

In response to a question concerning which types of Web 2.0 applications the library uses “to promote and market library services,” social networks (374) and blogs (322) were the highest on the list. Virtual worlds were used the least, possibly because of the level of sophistication and the time needed to create and navigate through tools such as Second Life.

Social networks also received the highest rating among respondents in terms of achieving marketing campaign and/or promotion goals; second highest was online video.

Respondents from libraries that have already implemented Web 2.0 tools indicated that they mostly use them for promoting general library services (77.7 percent). Other highly ranked uses were marketing specific adult programs and/or services (60.3 percent), marketing specific children’s and/or youth services programs (56.8), providing quick updates to users (56.8 percent), and reaching a new audience of potential users (48.7 percent). Respondents also cited a wide range of other uses.

The survey results indicated that people 18-25 years old were mostly likely to be influenced by the library’s use of Web 2.0 tools, with those age 26-35 and under age 18 ranking second and third.

When respondents were asked to choose from a list of 26 Web 2.0 and social media tools their library uses, Facebook “finished first” with 74.7 percent, follow by blogging tools (53.1 percent) and Twitter (50.0 percent).


New challenges—and opportunities —for librarians

The increase in social networking suggests a set of skills that librarians should possess as social networking–literate information professionals capable of implementing library services and using information at social networking sites, Joe Murphy, science librarian at Yale University, and Heather Moulaison, a doctoral student at Rutgers University, said in a presentation in 2009. These include skills for interacting with patrons within the sites, understanding and articulating the nature of social networking sites and their potential roles related to library services, creating presences and content, evaluating and applying information, and being able to help patrons acquire and apply these skills. The next step should be to pass these skills on to library patrons by applying them to library instruction activities.

Where to begin? asks Stephen Abram, of Stephen’s Lighthouse. Just start anywhere and make incremental progress, he says, citing a post at the Lowrider Librarian blog. Committees are the enemy of progress, iterative play is its friend.

  • Start a blog.   
  • Start a Twitter feed.   
  • Share your best practices on a Wiki.   
  • Start an organizational discussion board.   
  • Start a Facebook organizational page.   
  • Start a YouTube or Vimeo channel.
  • Scrap that old print newsletter.  
  • Incorporate social software into your organization.   
  • Create a Flickr account to share organizational photos.   
  • Begin or maintain an organizational culture that is free and open.

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