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.
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.