Social Networking

state of america's libraries: a report from the american library association

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Table 1: How libraries that have implemented Web 2.0 tools use them

Use of Web 2.0 tools

2010 2009 Change

Promoting general library services

82.5% 77.7% 6.2%

Marketing specific adult programs and/or services

70.0% 60.3% 16.1%

Marketing specific children’s and/or youth services programs

63.0% 56.8% 11.0%

Providing quick updates to users

65.6% 56.8% 15.5%

Reaching a new audience of potential users

50.6% 48.7% 3.9%

Source: Social Media, Libraries, and Web 2.0: How American Libraries are Using New Tools for Public Relations and to Attract New Users –– Third Survey November 2010.

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Libraries making good use of social media and Web 2.0 applications

U.S. libraries of all types continue to make increasing use of social media and Web 2.0 applications and tools to connect with library users and to market programs and services, according to a report published in November 2010 by the South Carolina State Library.

However, the report, based on a survey of more than 900 library administrators/managers, librarians and other staff, does indicate that while many libraries are using social media “voraciously,” a few are not using them at all.

An overwhelming majority of respondents (92.2 percent) called Web 2.0 tools important for marketing and promoting library services, while only 7.8 percent said they did not. Social networks (78.6 percent of 676 respondents) and blogs (51.9 percent) remained the two most popular, with many libraries also continuing to use photo-sharing tools (40.2 percent) and online video (29.1 percent). Virtual worlds continue to be reported as the least used.

In short, there was general, if not complete, consensus that technology is developing rapidly and that libraries and librarians who are slow to adapt put themselves at risk. (A Google search for “social networking libraries” returned 14.8 million responses.)

As Cindy Romaine, president of the Special Libraries Association, said in a post on her “ Future Ready 365” blog: “The consumer electronics industry . . . is moving very, very fast — and will eat our lunch if we are not moving at least at its pace of change. To keep up, we need to adopt a strategy of being flexible, adaptable and resilient. In short, we need to be Future Ready!”

In a separate study, Facebook emerged as the runaway winner when respondents were asked to choose from a list of 25 Web 2.0 and social media tools their library uses. The top three:

  • Facebook, at 84.3 percent (Facebook had “scored” 74.7 percent in predecessor surveys conducted in March and November 2009). Said one respondent: “We’re getting a lot of feedback via Twitter and Facebook –– patrons asking questions about services, ref questions, etc. We’re having fun connecting with our community.”
  • Twitter, 49.2 percent, up from third place in 2009. A respondent comment: “Twitter is a great tool for reminding the media about an event. They already have the press release, so when I send a tweet the day of, they are reminded to come cover the story. We have received coverage many times because of this.”
  • Blogging tools, 42.4 percent. Comment: “The blog is especially useful when we want a soft introduction of a new product or service. It reaches a few, which allows us to ramp up/work out bugs without being inundated.”

One respondent observed, however, that social media and Web 2.0 tools “are only as effective as the user” and noted that since a library often cannot support a full-time position in this area, the work is often distributed among several staff, which reduces its overall impact.

Still, the study’s author, Curtis E. Rogers, said that “we cannot ignore the ever-increasing use of these tools to connect with library users.” He notes that 8 percent of American adults who use the Internet are Twitter users, according to a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. From October 2009 to October 2010, he says, Facebook increased its unique visitor total almost 22 percent, from about 109.7 million to 133.5 million.

And many will be surprised to learn that older adults are leading the increase. Overall use of social networking use by online adults went from 35 percent in 2008 to 61 percent in 2010, but Pew Research Center data indicate that the rate of online social networking soared among “older boomers” (9 percent to 43 percent) and the “GI Generation” (4 percent to 16 percent).

However, respondents did say that people less than 35 years old were the most likely overall to be influenced by social media. “More of our students are tweeting and using social media,” one respondent said. “The younger ones view email as antiquated, so we message them more and more on Facebook.”

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“Putting sociotechnical changes in context is what librarians do best.”

“Librarians know better than anyone how new genres of media reconfigure public life,” danah boyd, blogger, social networking researcher at Microsoft Research New England and fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said in an interview in School Library Journal. “This is why so many librarians have been part of movements to increase literacy and democratic participation.

“This new [social networking] genre is radically reconfiguring public life and information dissemination, as well as sociality. . . . All of a sudden, media is not just something to consume, but to interact with as part of identity presentation and communication. We’re seeing a cultural iteration. . . . All that happens online is an extension of what was happening before, inflected in new ways.”

“Librarians are trying to help young people understand the world around them,” Boyd continued. “If they recognize the ways in which new social media [extend] old practices, they can help provide guidance in a meaningful way. . . . Understanding the relationship between new media and old media is critical. Putting sociotechnical changes in context is what librarians do best.”

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Where should a librarian go with questions? The answer should be obvious . . .

American Libraries now partners on a blog with the ALA Library to deliver answers to frequently asked questions. ALA Library staff blog on “ Ask the ALA Librarian,” offering another way to stay on top of library-related issues that are on people’s minds.

“We’ve had great response to the weekly ‘Ask the ALA Librarian’ feature in AL Direct,” said ALA Librarian Karen Muller.

The ALA Library is both the in-house special library for ALA staff and the “librarian’s library.” The library’s staff answers more than 500 questions a month about the ALA — its activities, history, positions and policies — and about librarianship in general. The questions come from all over the world, from members, publishers, authors, students and others, Muller said.

Table 2: Percentage of American adults in each group who own each device.


(ages 18-34)

Gen X


Cell phone

95 92 86 84 68 48 85

Desktop computer

57 69 65 64 48 28 59

Laptop computer

70 61 49 43 30 10 52

iPod/MP3 player

74 56 42 26 16 3 47

Game console

63 63 38 19 8 3 42

E-book reader

5 5 7 3 6 2 5

Tablet (e.g., iPad)

5 5 4 3 1 1 4

None of the above

1 3 8 8 20 43 9

Source: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Aug. 9-Sept. 13, 2010 Tracking Survey. N=3,001 adults 18+; interviews conducted in English (2,804) and Spanish 197). Posted on Stephen’s Lighthouse, “Pew: Generations and their Gadgets,” 2011/02/07/pew-generations- and-their-gadgets/.

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A plethora of devices, in use by all generations

Many devices have become popular across the full spectrum of generations, with a majority now owning cell phones, laptops and desktop computers, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Aug. 9-Sept. 13, 2010 Tracking Survey as described on Stephen’ “Younger adults are leading the way in increased mobility, preferring laptops to desktops and using their cell phones for a variety of functions, including Internet, email, music, games, and video,” blogger Stephen Abram says.

Among the key findings of the Pew project:

  • Cell phones are the most popular device among American adults. About 85 percent of adults own one, and 90 percent of all adults –– including almost two-thirds of those age 75 and older — live in a household with at least one working cell phone.
  • Millennials are the only group that is more likely to own a laptop computer or netbook than a desktop: 70 percent own a laptop, compared with 57 percent who own a desktop.
  • Almost half of all adults own an iPod or other MP3 player, but these are still most popular with Millennials –– 74 percent of adults ages 18-34 own an MP3 player, compared with only 56 percent of the next oldest generation, Gen X (ages 35-46).
  • Overall, 5 percent of adults own an e-book reader, and 4 percent own an iPad or other tablet computer.

    In fact, mobile computing is “having a profound effect on the way users find, access, and process information,” writes Jennifer C. Hendrix in “Checking Out the Future: Perspectives from the Library Community on Information Technology and 21st-Century Libraries.” Indeed, many experts insist that in the future, all personal computing will be mobile.” Hendrix says that phones, media players and computers may before long merge into smartphones and other portable devices that will free the information seeker completely from wired sources.” The implications of people becoming “digital nomads” are engaging sociologists, anthropologists, architects . . . and librarians, who are considering what this means for libraries of the future (or, the present).

For as American Libraries noted in its top stories roundup for 2010, many public and academic libraries have already been busy creating applications that deliver their programs, collections and services to the mobile user. Cases in point:

  • Oregon State University Library has two versions of its website, one for smartphone users and another for Web-enabled cell phones with a smaller screen.
  • Miami University Libraries (Ohio) offer a mobile Web app built in Drupal that gives users access to the catalog, selected databases, social media content and library staff via text, IM, voice and email.
  • North Carolina State University Libraries Special Collections has an app called WolfWalk (, that guides students to 90 different historical spots on campus through a GPS system and supplies images and information on each.
  • The Orange County (Fla.) Library System Shake It! app provides suggestions for library books or movies when patrons physically give their phones a shake.
  • Gale has launched AccessMyLibrary apps that allow mobile users to search the Gale databases.

Some academic libraries are also beginning to make use of QR codes, which are matrix barcodes readable by smartphones with a camera; the QR codes can link the user to audio or video enhancements of library exhibits, orientation tours, signage and video tutorials.

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