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…
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.