Where does it all end?  With each technological leap and bound, librarians and their libraries are flocking to  become involved with and have a presence in the new big thing. As the Journal of Library Innovation noted, regardless of the medium, “the library is always looking for new, inexpensive ways to promote the library and its services.”  One of the buzzwords that has been floating around for a few years now is “Library 2.0”. The Annoyed Librarian refers derisively to Library 2.0 librarians as twopointopians in a 2007 blog entry. Personally, it’s a term I hate.  It grates on me, almost worse than fingernails on a chalkboard.  It makes me want to double over in the fetal position.  The whole bandwagonish culture of twopointopians makes me feel weak in the knees. We’re an information institution, not something dreamed up by Bill Gates.

As one of my classmates so astutely noted in a discussion on the use of social media to promote information institutions: “Look at me, I have no friends, but at least the LIBRARY likes me!” If that’s not the way to improve the library’s image and make it ‘cool’, I don’t know what is. The Polite Librarian over at “A Librarians’ Guide To Etiquette” also summed it up pretty well way back in December 2005:

Keep up to date with new technologies that you can co-opt for library use. So what if no one will ever listen to the pod casts of your bibliographic instruction lectures, subscribe to the RSS feeds from your library’s blog, send your reference librarian instant messages, or view your library’s profile on Facebook.com? At least you did your part to make all these cool technologies a little bit lamer.

Would it surprise you to learn that the Polite Librarian also maintains a Facebook page?  I thought so.

As you might be able to tell, I have some fairly strong opinions on the use of social media in promoting libraries, archives and other institutions.  Personally, I wouldn’t choose to befriend a library on Facebook (Twitter is a little bit different), because I’d like to keep my personal life separate from my professional, academic and public lives. It has always struck me as a little weird, quite honestly. I would, however, follow an institution on Twitter, because for me, Twitter is about gathering information from sources, and Facebook is about connecting with friends. Social Networking Librarian’s Anna Laura notes this, as she writes ” I am guessing that most of our patrons are not on facebook [sic] to stay in touch with the library. The same can really be said of twitter [sic] as well. I find that more librarians use it to stay in touch and to network with each other than our patrons use it to learn about the library.” I realize others may still disagree with me, although a study cited by Ruth Sara Connell in the January 2009 issue of Portal: Libraries and the Academy indicates that most undergraduates, like myself, “resent a library/librarian’s intrusion into their private space.”

Social media can be beneficial in some circumstances, but, like all marketing and outreach opportunities, it must be worked at or else you’d end up investing time and energy into maintaining a social networking presence that nobody knows or cares about. Generally speaking, social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook have the potential to fit well with the other services that a library offers, particularly with those libraries that try to do a lot of outreach to the public. However, too often, using social media ‘incorrectly’ can be even more damaging than not having a social media presence at all.  As was discussed at the British Columbia Librarians’ Association 2011 conference, it’s better to have minimal web presence and retain an aura of mystery than have too much of a presence, and prove to the world that you apparently have nothing worth following.  The poorly-managed library Facebook site is reminiscent of a group of post-New Year’s dieters.  At a particular point, everybody jumped on the bandwagon because, in theory, it was the cool thing to do, everybody else was doing it, and it made sense.  Then, everybody realized how much work it really involved, and only a few serious people out there continued with the original plan and succeeded. Everybody else went back to eating potato chips and trying to forget that period of momentary madness.  However, unlike post-New Year’s dieting, the remnants of a Facebook page rarely disappear.  Rather, the page gets forgotten about and lingers on, trapped in a modern-day circle of Dante’s purgatory, showing the world that you began something, abandoned it and couldn’t be bothered to even delete it.

Don’t be the library that goes back to the big bag of Old Dutch salt and vinegar. There are plenty of great examples out there of instances when a social media presence was useful.  This blog will explore some of those svelte, sexy institutions and size them up, critiquing and evaluating their web presences.