U.S. libraries of all types are turning more and more to social media and Web 2.0 applications and tools, using a wide range of applications to connect with customers. Facebook and Twitter in particular have proven themselves as useful tools not only in publicizing the availability of online collections, but also in building trusted relationships with users.
In a report published in February 2012, 87% of respondents in a survey conducted by the South Carolina State Library cited social networks as the top use of Web 2.0 applications to promote and market library services. Blogs remained the second-highest response (52%), and many libraries continue to use photo-sharing tools (40%) and online video (33%). Virtual worlds (2%) continue to be the least used.
Libraries that have already implemented Web 2.0 tools mostly use them for:
|Way that libraries use Web 2.0 tools||2010||2011|
|Promoting general library services||83%||88%|
|Marketing specific adult programs and/or services||70%||72%|
|Providing quick updates to users||66%||75%|
|Reaching a new audience of potential users||51%||54%|
Source: Social Media, Libraries, and Web 2.0: How American Libraries Are Using New Tools for Public Relations and to Attract New Users — Fourth Annual Survey, November 2011.
An overwhelming proportion of respondents (96%) said they find Web 2.0 tools important for marketing and promoting library services, and many provided detailed comments. Asked to rate each tool’s effectiveness in achieving marketing or promotion goals on a scale of 1 (not effective) to 5 (very effective), respondents continued to rank social networks as the highest, with an average of 3.7 (slightly higher than last year). Coming in second was online video with an average of 3.3.
The majority of respondents said that people 18–25 years old were the most likely to be influenced by the library’s use of Web 2.0 tools, with ages 26–35 and 36–45 ranking second and third. A total of 749 individuals began the survey, and 548 (73%) completed it. Almost two-thirds of the respondents represented public libraries, and one-fourth represented academic libraries.
A wide range of applications
Social networking is used to publicize library events such as gaming nights; to alert users to additions to collections; to provide links to articles, videos, or Web content that might prove relevant or helpful to patrons; and to provide a conduit for community information. Social media also play an important role in fostering relationships with the community by allowing patrons to ask questions or provide feedback about library services.
Consider the case of Meg Gerritsen Knodl, senior librarian of information and online services at Hennepin County Library, Minnetonka, Minnesota. Knodl “manages Bookspace, the library’s internal social network that includes a blog, book lists, and other readers’ advisory tools, and maintains profiles with thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube,” according to an article in Library Journal.
Knodl is one of countless librarians who have tapped into the vast potential of social media.
“The number of users on popular social media sites is growing at exponential rates,” said Andy Burkhardt, writing in the January 2010 College and Research Libraries News. “Facebook has more than 300 million active users, which rivals the population of the United States. [As of December 31, 2011, Facebook had 845 million active users, 2.7 times the population of the United States.] From February 2008 to February 2009, Twitter experienced [a] 1,382% growth rate. Millions of people are using these tools as part of their everyday lives for both work and play.”
Facebook use huge, and growing
Facebook is in fact arguably the king of all social networking platforms for libraries. OCLC reports that about 11% of larger public libraries have Facebook pages. As of January 2011, Facebook had more than 15,000 URLs with the word “libraries” in them.
In the spring of 2010, Library Research Service visited the websites of 689 public libraries in the United States and found that one in three had a Facebook presence. According to the LRS study (PDF), “Of all the web technologies examined in this study [U.S. Public Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies], public libraries have seen the greatest change in social media. This arena, which was nonexistent a few years ago, and into which very few public libraries had ventured even in 2008, has seen a veritable explosion of growth.”
The study said that Facebook in particular has seen tremendous use — eight out of 10 public libraries serving 500,000 or more people had a Facebook presence. Facebook representation, it said, was strong in nearly all population ranges. More than half (58%) of the libraries in the study in the 100,000–499,999 and 25,000–99,999 ranges and nearly half (44%) of those serving 10,000–24,999 people had a Facebook presence. Even among the smallest libraries—those in communities of 10,000—nearly one in five (18%) interacted with its patrons via Facebook.
A day in the life of a Facebook-connected librarian
David Lee King, digital branch and services manager for the Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library, in his May/June 2011 American Libraries article “Facebook for Libraries” recounted some of his activities on one particular day.
“Today, I spent part of the day connecting with people. I complained about a silly election video, chatted with a college friend about a band, and put some finishing touches on plans for a conference taking place at the library. I did all this through Facebook.”
King said he surveyed other librarians regarding what works on their library’s Facebook page.
One said, “Using Facebook to post events brought new users to events by making our users the advocates.”
Using the example of posting an event as a status update, he wrote, “Five of your ‘fans’ share the event. If they each have 130 Facebook friends, that information was just, in essence, forwarded to 650 more Facebook users — most of whom are likely to live in or near your community. When your library’s Facebook followers share the library’s content, they are acting as a type of advocate for the library by helping spread its message.”
Texting, Twitter, and Google+
Even the lowly text message has assumed a significant role in how libraries communicate with their customers, Diana Silveira and Chad Mairn of Novare Library Services noted in a presentation in May 2011. The average “mobile teen” in the United States now sends or receives an astonishing average of 2,899 text messages per month, compared to 191 calls. And libraries are part of that interaction.
The Text a Librarian mobile reference service made its debut in 2008 and is currently used in 800 public and academic libraries in the United States, according to a post in The Digital Shift, which says that the service evolved from patrons initiating interaction with the library to libraries beginning the conversation by such means as texting an announcement about an in-library event. Now Mosio, makers of Text a Librarian, have announced the launch of Mobile PRM (“Patron Relationship Management”), a set of new features that let libraries send out text-message alerts and announcements to subscriber lists or individual patrons.
Twitter is also a popular platform for libraries to communicate with patrons. An article in Collection Management noted that one list tracked more than 850 accounts held by libraries or affiliated groups.
Libraries like the New York Public Library are also using Google+ to connect with users.
Google’s social networking site, Google+, was launched in June 2011 and has since built up a membership of more than 40 million users. But only in November 2011 did Google begin allowing organizations, and not just individuals, to create their own pages on the site, David Rapp writes in The Digital Shift.Following Google’s change in policy, Rapp says, dozens of libraries created Google+ pages, from large public libraries such as the New York Public Library to smaller, tech-savvy one such as Darien (Conn.) Library and Skokie (Ill.) Public Library. Several academic libraries have staked out Google+ pages, as well.
Comments, and a comment on the comments
In the South Carolina State Library survey, a last open-ended comment option was provided for respondents. Below are selected comments:
“Many school libraries do not permit the use of Web 2.0 tools because of their content filters. This is the case at my school for most tools. It is unfortunate because these tools could really help promote our library and learning.”
“I think social networking has been way oversold. I don’t know of a single library that relies on these gimmicks to achieve their core mission. Mostly a waste of time that would be better spent providing direct service to customers.”
“Non-library administrators are too afraid of ‘bad press’ to even let us try to use social media of any type! It is extremely frustrating to be stuck in basically a pre-Internet age. We only have online video tutorials accessible from our webpage. <sigh>”
“I don’t believe the average public library patron is acutely aware of Web 2.0 technologies and what they can do for/with them. It would be great to see more PSAs [public service announcements] about libraries and library services.”
In a press release, study author Curtis R. Rogers added his own comment concerning the comments: “It was difficult to filter all of the comments because so many library staff members had so much to say about their successes with social media. It was also interesting to see that some libraries are still not employing these free tools, especially in such tough economic times.”