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.