Library of Congress – Part II

Although this blog was originally designed to evaluate the effectiveness of Twitter and Facebook as used in public and national libraries, I’ve decided to also include a few posts on the user-friendliness of the homepages of several institutions, with a focus specifically on accessibility and navigability. They are, in a way, related to the use of social media, as users aren’t likely to connect and engage with an institution if the homepage isn’t user-friendly and they don’t know how to navigate it effectively. Also, to be totally honest, this second part was an optional part of our blogging assignment, and I thought I’d incorporate it into my work.

With that out of the way, I decided to take a look at the overall design of the Library of Congress website. The Library of Congress has an immense collection, and one would expect that it would be difficult to express this effectively online while maintaining a user-friendly interface that gives the user what he or she wants.  As the site presumably attracts hundreds of visitors a day, it has to be easy to use and easy to learn. Users don’t have time to try and constantly learn how to navigate new webpages, and thankfully, the LOC makes it easy on them. The website is esthetically pleasing and laid out in a simple three column design. Although full of information, it doesn’t appear too busy or cluttered. The page is accessible and has a reasonable, but not great, sense of organization, brought about by the three-column design. Users can navigate around the site using the left sidebar, and they access important information such as “contact a librarian” quickly by using the top navigation bar.

However, one of the annoying things about this site is that it does not chart your path correctly.  What do I mean by this?  If a user clicks the  “Digital Collections” button on the top of the page, a site with a directory of ten different thematic topics appears.  These topics including the performing arts, legislative information and American History and Culture.  However, if a user clicks through to “American History and Culture”, rather than being shown a ‘breadcrumb trail’ of “Library of Congress>Digital Collections> American History and Culture”, they are shown the path of “The Library of Congress>American Memory Home”.  Supposing a user wanted to navigate back to the Digital Collections, they would have to use the “back” button on their browser.  Clicking the “Library of Congress” link would return the user to the homepage, where he would have to click through to “Digital Collections” once again.  Of course, this is really frustrating, and although it’s a problem that is easily remedied by the user, I can see a lot of peoples’ parents getting quite frustrated by clicking on a link that they think is going to take them somewhere and ends up taking them somewhere else.

One of the great aspects of the LOC website is that it recognizes that people skim websites, they don’t read.  Steve Krug noted this in his book Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, as well as noting that people have a tendency to not read the instructions, but rather to “muddle through” and figure things out on the fly.  The LOC has included several wonderful images on their homepage that serve as places to direct one’s attention. They serve as one-dimensional representations of “Visual Affordance”, in which the portrayal mimics the “real world”. For example, if users are searching for newspapers, the newspaper image is obvious, and will attract one’s attention.   The user finds himself focusing on them and then reading the content next to them. People don’t want to be reading great long chunks of text to find what they’re looking for, and the LOC lays everything out nicely for users. This has the added benefit of letting users easily learn how the site works as they go, without having to think too long and hard about how the webpage might ‘work’.  With a quick glance, users can understand what is happening on the page without having to read every single word. However, there is plenty of content available for those who do wish to read in detail, and it’s nice to see the LOC finding a balance between casual and detailed users.

All in all, the design is well done, but it would be nice to see some additions to the navigation structure.  I’d say this one gets a 9 out of 10!

“Leninka” – The Russian State Library, Part II

In the interests of critiquing an international selection of webpages, I’ve decided to take a closer look at the English-language version of the Russian State Library webpage. The layout is straight-forward and easy to navigate around. Clean and uncluttered, the webpage lends itself to to a quick skim, as Krug noted in his 2005 book, Don’t Make Me Think.  By and large, the interface makes sense – any user, regardless of language, can intuit what is on the site and where it is, which is a good thing as we’ll see in a moment. The homepage of the site does have some large chunks of text, but these are rendered a little more accessible by having the important information in bullet points, with the absolutely most important information as the top bullets, keeping in line with the fact that most people skim information and want to see the most important information at the top.

Unfortunately, one of the major downsides to the website is that which we saw before: the language issue.  While the site is ostensibly presented to users in English, there are several sentences and places where translation has not occurred, most notably in the large images that cycle by highlighting the library’s collection, and at the top search area.  This latter one is perhaps the most inexcusable, as two of the three options are translated to English, and as they are simple text, they would not require a great deal of work to translate (unlike the images, for which an entirely different version of the presentation would have had to have been made).

The Search function on the Russian State Library website

For scholars or armchair enthusiasts who do not speak Russian, this can be a limit to the accessibility of the site.  Let’s just say this is something that might make Krug think. One of the first things we were taught in LIBR 500 was that you must ask yourself: who will be visiting my site?  This is evidently something that was overlooked in the creation of the translated site.

However, the navigability is straight-forward and easy to use. Visitors can navigate using both the side navigational bar, or the “breadcrumb trail” at the top of the page when users begin to delve further into the site.  Krug would be happy; he doesn’t have to think to be able to effectively and quickly skim through the pages. The architecture of the site “makes sense” and is relatively easy to learn and use, regardless of what language you are using.

Apart from the Russian that was never translated, the Russian State Library gets two thumbs up from me!

Vancouver Public Library II

For the last blog post, I thought it only fitting to evaluate the homepage of my host city’s public library.  Although one of the most cluttered of the ones that I’ve discussed, there is order to the chaos, and as a result, it isn’t too distracting for the user.  The interface attempts to present a lot of information all at once, but there is likely no other way to do this.

The navigability of the site is wonderful.  All the important information is at the top of the page, meaning that Steve Krug and users don’t have to think. The interface presents users with the most important information on the left-hand side of the page, where studies have shown, people tend to look first. This is certainly a page that lends itself to skimming, but although the page is busy, there is not so much text as to be overwhelming. Upon clicking further into the site, users find information broken down into specific headings that are clear and easy to use.

Accesibility! This site is pretty good in terms of accesibility.  The interface is designed to be easily enlarged by users with visual difficulties – an important point to keep in mind when designing a website for the general public.  Evidently the designers have asked themselves the question, “Who is my site for?”However, rather surprisingly, the VPL has the same problem with language accessibility as did the Leninka.  When users change the language, the navigation bar on the left side of the page and search bar at the top of the page remain in English, which limits its accessibility, especially in a city where many elderly immigrants live who do not speak English.

Although the homepage is ‘busy’, that’s because they have a lot of information to fit into one small spot.  Thankfully, they keep the background white, which is nice and simple, and is easy to read for those users who have poor eyesight or monitors with poor contrast.

All in all, the VPL website is fairly user-friendly.  Although there are some aspects upon which they could improve, the VPL does a good job of making their website accessible for the vast majority of their patrons, regardless of eyesight, age or language.

Vancouver Public Library

Last but not least, I’ve decided to review the Vancouver Public Library.  In the middle of their page, they have a “Connect With VPL” section, featuring links to the mobile version of their services, their Facebook, Flick and Twitter accounts, and the VPL’s newsletter. Easy to find, the links provide quick and easy access for even the most novice users of social media.

The VPL’s Facebook page is well-maintained, and the sense of humour of the social media librarian shows through.  With everything from postings of bizarre lost-and-found items, to the placement of the VPL on a list of the world’s 12 coolest libraries, the Facebook page serves as a showcase for the weird and wonderful.

However, it’s not all crazy and irrelevant to libraries.  They post event information and questions that both engage their patrons and provide them with valuable feedback, such as “What keeps you coming back to your library”? This is a perfect use of Facebook, as it allows the library to connect with its users and get useful information.  As Hilary Davis noted on the blog InTheLibraryWithTheLeadPipe, Facebook is “a low cost, minimal effort venue for engaging with current and potential library users. ” It’s not only a good way of answering patron questions, but of answering the library’s questions as well.  It doesn’t take long for a patron to hit “comment” and type up a quick sentence while they reply to other Facebook posts from their friends, and is probably quicker and easier than asking them to fill out a form in the library, when they may be in a rush to go somewhere or have their hands full of books. The Facebook page is also used as a way of showcasing patrons, as they have a special section for photos of patrons.  This is a great way of engaging with the community, and showing that they are an active part of it. The Facebook page is maintained well, and the social media coordinator takes time to reply to comments in places other than on the wall.  At the announcement of the newest version of their catalogue, a patron commented on a photograph, saying that they didn’t like the new version and didn’t understand it.  Within an hour, the library had responded, saying, “we’d love to know what your specific issues are. Send a note to and we’ll try to help!”  The patron explained her problem on the Facebook page, and the VPL attempted to teach her how to remedy the problem.  Overall, I’d say the VPL uses their social media outlets quite well, as they clearly monitor the posts and respond in a timely fashion.  They care for their patrons, and this is evident on their Facebook page.

The Twitter page appears to be maintained in a similar fashion.  It’s highly customized, and it seems as if the VPL has put a great deal of effort into it. Unfortunately, their “about us” blurb should be changed slightly, as they promise to tweet daily, but don’t quite follow through, usually posting every couple of days. Unlike the Library of Congress’ Twitter account, the VPL posts mainly library-related material to their followers.  However, much like their Facebook page, they let their sense of humour and personality shine, posting links to book parodies such as Game of Groans and Hunger Pains. They respond to their patrons’ questions, concerns and queries, and retweet patrons’ messages if they pertain to the VPL.  This is another institution that uses HootSuite, and it’s nice to see that they’re utilizing its potential by replying to tweets that are hashtagged #VPL but are not tweeted directly at the library itself. HootSuite was actually discussed at the 2011 British Columbia Library Association’s conference, and it was recommended that libraries use it in order to see what people are saying about the institution.

Overall, both the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the VPL harness the power of social media effectively.  They allow the VPL to communicate to and engage with their patrons, and they remain fairly involved with the process. They make it easy and straight-forward for patrons to engage with the library in a stress-free environment, and even patrons who are social media novices will find these outlets easy to use. These are definitely tools that I will look into using in the future.

From Russia With Love?

In an effort to diversify and include some institutions outside of the traditional Anglo-North American sphere, I’ve decided to take a look at Moscow’s Russian State Library(homepage in English).  The homepage has links to five different social media sites, including one that is specifically Russian,, (VK, or VKontakte, is essentially a Russian version of Facebook).  The links are easy to find and are located at the bottom of the side navigation bar, along with information on virtual reference services.  This is a great place for them, because anybody hoping to contact the library virtually will be looking there anyways.  Being a state library, it’s not necessarily surprising to see that they employ several different methods of connecting with their patrons and the world at large, although I’m a little suspicious of the variety of media.  They have a Facebook page, LiveJournal blog, VK page, Flickr account and Twitter.  Surely they’re spreading themselves a little thing?

The English-language version of the homepage has been translated well, and doesn’t appear to have been thrown through a translation service like other Russian institutions in the past (the Russian Science Academy famously translated its webpage to proudly declare that it was the “Squirrel Institute“). Presumably then, one would expect a language other than Russian to appear on the Facebook page. Unfortunately, that’s not so.  The entire page is in Russian, with no equivalent English-language version to be found.  The only page that comes up when you search Facebook for “Russian State Library” is essentially a copy of the Wikipedia page, which, although interesting, doesn’t quite serve the same purpose. However, they are friends with IFLA, which would indicate that it would be beneficial if they posted in English once in a while.

A quick look at Twitter reveals much the same thing.  The library is followed by 582 users, and follows 102 other accounts.   It is active, and ticks all the boxes for ‘things a library Twitter should do’.   They’ve customized the background and added their official logo as their Twitter avatar.  The account provides a link to their official homepage, and they tweet about events and post images to a series they’ve called “Pearls of the Leninka” (The library is named in honour of Vladimir I. Lenin, and ‘Leninka’ is its pet name). If I was a patron here, I’d love to follow their Twitter account.  They evidently have a sense of humour, and they post many interesting things. They reply to questions, and are even tweeting about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…but it’s all in Russian.

Although Flickr accounts are outside the scope of this blog, I decided to take a look at theirs just to prove a point. Their Flickr account is maintained in English. Obviously somebody on the staff speaks English, and speaks it quite well from the looks of it. The library even hosted a delegation of publishers from the UK!  This isn’t surprising, given the fact that the Leninka is located in Moscow and its staff must be quite highly educated.   So why then, don’t they post to their Twitter or Facebook in English as well?  Twitter would probably be the easiest, due to the shorter message space. The social media accounts are easy for patrons to use and communicate some great information, but only to Russian-speaking patrons.

Now, I can hear you asking, “Well, it is the Russian State Library! Why should they have an English page anyways?” The answer is simple, and is even stated on the Library’s homepage.  The world is effectively getting smaller by the day – more collaborations are sprouting up, and institutions need to communicate with each other. The homepage states that the “Russian State Library boasts of long-term work connections with peer-libraries around the globe as well as with the relevant international bodies, such as International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) and UNESCO.” Despite how you might feel about English becoming the international language, let’s face it. We need a lingua franca, and it just so happens that it’s become English. For the state library of the world’s largest country to have social media in only one language is a real shame. Part of having a web presence in the first place is to connect with patrons, users and those who are interested, and it’s a real limitation to have four of your five social media pages in Russian only.

Despite the linguistic drawback, I am tempted to use at least one of the variety of social media tools to connect with the Leninka.  At worst, it’ll be a good way of practicing Russian, and at best, I’ll learn something interesting about the library at the same time!

Library of Congress

No library blog would be complete without at least some mention of the United States’ Library of Congress. After all, they introduced the world to the Library of Congress Subject Heading system, which along with the Dewey Decimal System forms the two major classification systems used in Western libraries today.  Surely they must have something good to offer us in the way of social media?

The Library of Congress maintains four different social media outlets: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.  The links to these sites are easy to find at the bottom of the Library of Congress’ homepage, near the words “Connect With Your Library”.  The presence of social media fits well with the other services offered by the library, as their homepage offers everything from “ask a librarian” to “tours of the Library of Congress” to “ways to explore and discover”.  It’s clear that a key part of the Library of Congress’ mission is to connect with the public and its patrons, and social media is yet another way of facilitating this.

A quick click of the Facebook icon, and we land on the official Library of Congress Facebook page. The have over 65,000 “likes”; a staggering number of patrons and other interested persons who have actively sought out the Library of Congress Facebook. This interestingly supports Bodnar and Doshi’s 2011 findings published in their article Asking The Right Questions: A Critique of Facebook, Social Media, and Libraries. They found that over 75% of interviewed students would friend or accept the friend request of a library on Facebook. The Facebook page is updated almost every day, but there is a reasonable number of postings, and they’re not overwhelming.  The Library of Congress reaches out to its followers, and attempts to engage them in activities, such as the Veterans’ History Project, for which the Library is seeking the stories of war veterans.  The LOC also posts historically relevant material, including “on this day….” type posts.  It is interesting to note that the LOC doesn’t seem to censor the posts that people make to them, or the replies to certain posted material.  As Bodnar and Doshi noted in their aforementioned 2011 article: “…users might criticize the library or use hateful speech or language that the library does not endorse. Such a fear seems reasonable at first glance. Just look at the hateful words inscribed on many tables and walls in libraries. Nevertheless, libraries need not be overly concerned about this fear.” In this instance, however, “friends” are not criticizing the library per se, but are arguing amongst themselves.  While the LOC obviously can’t control everything that happens on their page, it would be nice to see them step in once in a while and remind users that they are on a public forum and should remain respectful both to the materials and each other.

The Library of Congress’ Twitter feed takes an entirely different approach with the material that they post. Most recently, they have been participating in live tweets, and retweeting a substantial amount of health information.  While I am tempted to “friend” the LOC on Facebook, I probably wouldn’t follow them on Twitter.  Although I realize that the LOC has to serve all its patrons, I find the majority of the health information they have posted to be fairly irrelevant to the rest of the services that they offer at the library.  Although the Twitter account has the potential to be useful and has over 356,000 followers, I wouldn’t use it as a platform to disseminate health information.  As a patron, I would be following the Twitter account for library information and expecting to receive more historical Tweets in line with the rest of the library’s services, and not want to feel as if I was in a doctor’s office. Surely, if the Library of Congress is as it describes itself on Twitter – “We are the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in our collections.” – then they have something else to Tweet about.

Recent tweets from the LOC Twitter feed

All in all, the Library of Congress is using social media effectively and has a huge number of followers who contribute to that success, but they could tweet about more relevant subjects than health information, and they could monitor what people are posting on the Facebook a little bit better.

National Library of France

In my ongoing effort to branch out and cover a variety of libraries, I have chosen to take a look at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, or the French National Library (homepage in English).  Now, most of the national and state libraries that I have looked at have, of course, had more of a social media presence than libraries in small American towns, but I was astounded when I saw what the BNF had to offer.  Not only do they have eight social media links on their homepage, but they have six Facebook pages and two separate Twitter accounts. Really? Is all this actually necessary? It’s a bit overwhelming, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to maintain.  Hopefully they have a master list of passwords somewhere…

List of all the BNF's social media links (you didn't believe me at first, did you?)

A fair flood of French Facebook pages

The nice thing about the overwhelming number of social media pages is that they are all easy to find. On the English version of the site, they’re on the top right-hand part of the page, laid out in neat, eye-catching row, and on the French homepage, they are on the bottom right-hand part of the page.  Rather ironically, they’re easier to find on the English version. Clicking on the Facebook icon with one F will take you directly to the main Facebook page, and clicking on the one with multiple Fs opens up a page where users can choose where they want to go.

Unfortunately, much like Russia’s ‘Leninka‘, the Facebook page of the BNF is devoid of English content.  It would be nice if, amongst the plethora of social media outlets that they employ, they could have one in English, or even Spanish, the other language in which that they offer patrons their page. If you’re going to have a million Facebook pages, and three different versions of your homepage, it might be a good idea to include multilingual content on your social media.  It doesn’t do much good if your Spanish- or English-speaking users can access the homepage, but then are directed to pages that they can’t understand, or can’t understand well (because if they could speak French fluently, they wouldn’t need to Spanish or English versions of the homepage, would they?). Social media should be an extension of your business’ presence, and if you can offer content in multiple languages in one place, then it should be available everywhere.  That said, their French-language Facebook page is doing very well.  The majority of the users are between 25-34, and it has 7, 384 “likes”. They definitely do seem to be going “where their users are”, to use Meredith Farkas’ term. But wait, it gets better!  If a visitor were to check out one of the many other Facebook pages, for example, Gallica, you notice that they have over 13,000 “likes”. Gallica appears to be an online library of items pertaining to France, much like we might have a Canadiana or Americana collection. This Facebook page is laid out much like the main BNF one, but the point I’d like to make is that it is nice to have so many different pages.

At first, I was sceptical.  How can they maintain that many? However, they are all kept up-to-date and are well-maintained, and the great thing about having six different Facebook pages is that it allows users to follow exactly the type of content that they are interested in.  Interested in Gallica but not in the library’s on-site events?  That’s fine; you can “like” Gallica and not be bombarded with thousands of “come and visit our open house on Sunday!” type of messages.  Great idea, BNF!  If I was a patron, I’d probably add several of the pages to my Facebook “likes”. As Jonathan Bodnar and Arneet Doshi note in their 2011 article Asking the Right Questions: A Critique of Facebook, Social Media and Libraries, “does having multiple pages affect the impact of that library’s brand?” I would say that, in the case of the BNF, having multiple pages does affect the brand positively.  Users can see the vast scope of material that the BNF encompasses, and allows patrons to target and pinpoint their interests within the structure of social media.

Venturing forth to the two Twitter accounts, visitors note that they divided thematically: LaboBNF (634 tweets and 1909 followers) deals with the technological aspect of the BNF and posts about GoogleMaps and e-books, whereas GallicaBnF (3604 tweets and a stunning 6, 897 followers) takes on issues related to everything else, including some that seem to have nothing to do with the BNF at all, but show the fun side of the library (at one point, they posted in French: spiderpig, spiderpig, he can walk on walls….). Nice job, BNF!  By splitting the two, the more serious of the patrons can follow LaboBNF, and other users can follow GallicaBnF.  Honestly, if I was a patron, I’d go for Gallica.

At first, I was really skeptical of a library that had so many social media outlets.  Is it trying to be too cool? I wondered. The BNF made the right choice.  All the outlets are maintained regularly and are professional, and some let allow the library to let its fun side out.  Maybe splitting up social media thematically is an idea that other national libraries should be investigating – it seems that once again, the French are trendsetters and showing us exactly what is chic.

Seattle Public Library

Seattle Public Library made waves several years ago when they opened their new downtown building, which at first glance, seems to be made entirely of glass.  It’s a stunning building, and a stop for many visitors to Seattle, myself included.  So, after having seen how their fancy new library building compares to others, I decided to see how their Twitter and Facebook pages stack up against the world’s best and brightest.

First, let’s look at how we find the Facebook and Twitter links from the homepage.  They’re buried down at the bottom of the page, which is fine because they’re with the other contact information, but both the Facebook and Twitter icons are blue.  This wouldn’t be a big deal, if the footer that they’re embedded in wasn’t also blue.  I must admit that it took me a moment to find them, as they didn’t stand out as well as those listed on the page of the State Library of Russia, for example.  Perhaps it’s the contrast on my laptop screen, but I’m pretty sure one of the big tips we were given (and graded on!) for LIBR 500 was to ensure that our webpages were easy to read and the colours didn’t detract from readability.  This is not easy to read.  For shame, Seattle!

Anyways, once a user locates the links, they’re easy to use.  One click and you land on the Facebook page.  Let’s explore further, shall we? The cool thing about the Seattle page, is that they have a link to “ask a librarian” directly on the Facebook Timeline.  Nice work, SPL! As Meredith Farkas noted in her 2011 lecture “Going Where Your Patrons Are“, “there’s a big difference between ‘being where our users are’ and being USEFUL to our users where they are.'” This is a prime example of the latter. Another great thing about their use of Timeline is that they are replying to posts that have nothing to do with the library but everything to do with books. It’s nice to see them engaging in conversations with their patrons, as both Andy Burkhardt (Information Tyrannosaur) and Sarah Milstein (Information Today) have remarked that it is important to use social media as a tool to facilitate conversation.

Moving on over to the Twitter page, we see more blue, but this time it’s legible.  Oddly enough, SPL’s logo looks a lot like that of Continental Airlines, but it’s nice to see that they’ve got it placed prominently on the Twitter page.   The “about us” blurb is probably one of those most descriptive and personable ones I’ve seen yet, and it still manages to include contact information within the limitations of 140 characters.  They follow over 200 other accounts and have a massive 2,232 followers!  This is obviously a library that’s doing something right.   They tweet almost every day, and respond promptly to patrons’ concerns. It’s nice to see that they’re easily findable on Twitter by having “SPL” in their Twitter handle, but they’ve jazzed it up a bit by calling themselves “SPLBuzz”. The SPL really takes Sarah Milstein and Information Today‘s advice to heart: “do treat Twitter as a conversation rather than a broadcast medium.”

Damage control as handled by the SPL (very smooth, I might add)

What I really like about this Twitter account is that they tweet about their bookmobile for housebound patrons.  This is great!  Why don’t other libraries mention this on their Twitter feeds?  Maybe they do, but I certainly didn’t see it anywhere else.  I find it a very inclusive move on the part of the SPL, and it’s nice to see that not only have they tweeting about events that take place at the library, they’re updating patrons who can’t get to the branch about events that affect them. They have everything from how to place a hold, to events, to the bookmobile to where to access interviews that might be of interest to patrons.

I think the following tweet says it all:

Nice job, SPL! This is well-deserved recognition.

Greater Victoria Public Library

The Greater Victoria Public Library is a good example of a library that
hasn’t spread itself too thin when it comes to social media. Instead of
having a YouTube channel, Twitter feed and a Facebook, the GVPL has
decided to concentrate on Twitter. By concentrating their effort on one form of
social media, the library can create quality content and reply to patrons’
queries and concerns in a timely fashion, rather than be scattered and try
to reach out to the highest number of people. Sarah Milstein has also
stated on Information Today that libraries should post several times a day
without overwhelming users, and that it is not advisable to let the
account go silent for an extended period of time. GVPL has been able to
strike a balance between too many posts and not enough, posting at least
once a day and taking the time to respond to patrons’ tweets. The link to
the library’s Twitter feed is fairly easy to find on the homepage.
Although it is buried at the bottom of the page, it is grouped with
relevant related information, such as other methods of contacting the
library. However, in order to truly streamline the process, I’d like to
see the library add a “follow us on Twitter” link to their contact page, as other modes of contact are listed here, and it just makes sense to include all contact
information together. Certainly if I was just looking at the top half of
the page, I’d be more inclined to go to the contact page. This makes it
easy for non-Twitter users to start using the Twitter feed, as the link
goes right to the Twitter website where new users can create an account if
they so desire. If they just want to read the tweets without subscribing,
that is possible as well.

The Twitter feed integrates well into the overall atmosphere of the
Greater Victoria Public Library. It furthers an ethos of outreach to the
public, which is embodied in everything from “Guys Night Out Toddler Time”
(“for babies and the guys who love them!”) to the Twitter feed, and the
library comes across as personable and fun. The tweets on the feed itself
are quite varied, with everything from information about book-related
activities to quotes from Maya Angelou to pysanky (Ukrainian painted eggs)
decorating workshops. The librarian who maintains the Twitter feed is
actively involved with the community, and responds positively to posts
such as “my local branches have an abysmal audio selection, and sadly,
most CDs aren’t available through inter-library loans, @gvpl”. As Social Media Butterfly Librarian says: would you ignore a billboard outside your business that read ‘You Suck’?”  That’s exactly what’s happening when business don’t do a bit of damage control on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, so it’s nice to see the GVPL is dismantling those billboards before too many people can see them, so to speak.  Jonathan Bodnar and Arneet Doshi note in their 2011 article Asking the Right Questions: A Critique of Facebook, Social Media and Libraries that some libraries may be afraid of using social media because they cannot necessarily control their online image. While this is true, patrons are likely to complain whether the library is there to hear them or not, so it’s better for libraries to be able to access these comments and respond to them, thereby doing a bit of damage control. Unlike the quote about taking social media and making it lamer, I think the GVPL has been able to successfully integrate Twitter into their overall service
structure. They engage with the community at large, posting about the
movies Tintin and the Hunger Games, and often reply to patron queries and
comments the same day that they are posted. I think it’s great that they don’t shy away from replying to negative comments and trying to put a positive spin on them. This is definitely a library that uses HootSuite social media software, and it’s nice to see that they are effectively utilizing its potential.

Social media librarians at the GVPL actively engage with their patrons via Twitter

I used to be a patron at GVPL and never used the Twitter service, although
now that I’ve started to review it more, I think when I move back to
Victoria, I will follow the library on Twitter. They don’t bombard their
followers with meaningless tweets, and offer a wide variety of topics of interest to all members of the community, including librarians looking for work. I find the links they post to be relevant to library patrons, and I appreciate the fact that they engage in dialogues with their patrons, even if it is just to say “thanks!”. It’s difficult to provide suggestions as to how the GVPL could improve their social media service, although it would be nice to see more a personal biography in the “about us” section of Twitter.  The tweets are handled tactfully and effectively, and it would be nice to know who is responsible for this.

I’d say the GVPL Twitter feeds gets 5 stars, even from a social media-hating dinosaur like myself.

The British Library

The British Library is a fine example of a library that successfully employs social media.  On Facebook, they have nearly 45,000 “likes” and 1000 people are “talking about” the institution. The page is updated regularly, and “The British Library” takes the time to reply to posts and “like” comments that people have left for them. The photographs are varied, and include everything from a photo of the building to images of the collections and patrons hard at work.  The “about us” section is personalized and is more than a list of opening and closing times.  It informs visitors that they have free wifi and host events, which some traditionalists may think is beyond the scope of a traditional library.  The Library has added additional tabs to the side, which says to me that this institution cares about its page and has put some thought and effort into thinking about what the user will find most useful. The 2011 British Columbia Library Association’s conference noted that libraries who use social media should try to personalize their account as much as possible, and to show patrons a little bit of their personality.

The Twitter page is equally as engaging, with customized wallpaper, an icon that reflects the library and some information about the senior content manager. I love the wallpaper they’ve chosen; it is very historical and much nicer to look at than the default one that Twitter provides. @BritishLibrary tweets about events and tips for visitors, and engages in conversations with other Twitter users, sometimes resorting to jokes and plays on words.  No wonder it has nearly 270,000 followers! I would guess that they are probably even utilizing some sort of social media software, such as HootSuite, to monitor what is being tweeted about them. As noted at the British Columbia Library Association‘s conference in 2011, this can be a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of your patrons.  If somebody tweets, “The XYZ library is too noisy to work in!”, then XYZ library can see the problem, respond to the patron and begin to establish a virtual rapport. As Andy Burkhardt notes on the Information Tyrannosaur (a blog that I support for what may be obvious reasons!), you can’t control what people say about your library, but you can at least reach out to them and try to do a bit of damage control.

The British Library shows its sassy side!

Links to the institution’s social media pages are quite easy to locate on the homepage; once visitors go to “About” they are able to find all the ways in one might “keep in touch” with the library. For users who have never used Facebook or Twitter before, the British Library makes it all straightforward and painless – simply click on the “Follow us on Twitter” link, for example, and visitors will be taken straight to the Twitter page where they can read the tweets or sign up for their own account.

The British Library's homepage, showing the "About" tab selected.

Unlike other institutions, the social media aspect fits the British Library well.  It doesn’t come across as forced, and integrates seamlessly into what one would expect of a major national institution that maintains several blogs and a YouTube channel.  Thankfully, both the Twitter and Facebook accounts are maintained well and kept up-to-date, and reflect quite well upon the institution.  If I was in London, despite my rabid dislike of information institutions on social media, I’d be pretty tempted to add them on Facebook, in order to receive quick little updates on the latest events.  They don’t appear to post an excessive amount, but it would be an easy way to keep abreast of goings on. As far as the Twitter account goes, I actually think I’ll go follow them when I finish posting this blog. Working within the limitations that both tools offer, the British Library couldn’t do much more to improve their services, although it would be useful if they added their opening hours to their Facebook page.  The SocialMediaButterflyLibrarian notes in a recent article that some libraries have actually installed widgets on Facebook that allow patrons to search their OPAC, or access JSTOR through Facebook.  What an amazingly brilliant idea, and a great way to reach out to students who are loafing around Facebook in an effort to waste time.  I’d love to see what the British Library could do if it linked its collections database to Facebook.

What I do really like about the British Library Facebook page is that you “like” them rather than add them as a friend. To me, this clearly establishes a divide between people, with whom you can be friends, and institutions, who you can like. It maintains a professional air- rather than the British Library trying to become your new best friend, it makes itself available for admiration.