Seekonk-ed Out

Oh, Seekonk Public Library, what are we going to do with you? Let’s start with the positives. For a small public library, it is encouraging that they provide a clear link to the mobile version of their site, as bloggers such as the Anna Laura at Social NetworkingLibrarian predict that mobile-friendly sites will increase in the future. Links to both the Facebook and Twitter pages are easily found on the Seekonk Public Library’s homepage…sadly, the Facebook link is no longer active. This is pretty deceiving, and it would be easy enough to remove the link from the homepage if the Facebook page was no longer being updated. It’s not exactly encouraging user interaction, a reason that Eugene Barsky and Michelle Purdon cited for the adoption of social media in libraries in their 2007 article, “Introducing Web 2.0: Social Networking and Social Bookmarking for Health Librarians.” If a patron had never used Facebook before, they might wonder what they were doing wrong when clicking on the link didn’t work. Visitors get the distinct impression that much of the social media is there almost gratuitously; unlike the British Library, Seekonk doesn’t seem to be doing much with its social media networks and as such, it doesn’t really integrate into the rest of the library’s services, and I got the impression that they were there because a librarian read about the advent of Library 2.0 and felt they should participate in it. It has a strange feeling of being ‘tacked on’ as an afterthought. As Social Networking Librarian‘s Anna Laura notes, most libraries aren’t using social media as effectively as they could be, and Seekonk provides a clear example of this. However, it is admirable that Seekonk is trying to reach out to its users; it should just be making more of an effort and perhaps narrow its focus to either Twitter, RSS feeds or Facebook, rather than trying to focus on all three.

Seeing as the Facebook link doesn’t even work, I probably wouldn’t use this method of connecting with the library if I were a Seekonk patron. In the interests of fair reporting, I did my best to actually track down the errant Facebook page through Facebook itself, trying to give Seekonk the benefit of the doubt. At first glance, it seems that most of Seekonk’s patrons have sided with me, and aren’t using social media either. Upon further examination, I realized that there appear to be two Facebook pages; one of them has no profile photograph, no customization and only 12 “likes”. Sarah Houghton-Jan at Librarian in Black would probably have a fit, as this first Facebook page basically breaks all ten of her social networking tips. The second page has substantially more followers (394, to be exact), although how these patrons have discovered this page is unclear.  This Facebook page has been updated more frequently and is quite current, which begs the question: Why does the library have two pages when they clearly only use one?  As a librarian, I would be concerned that patrons were finding only the inactive page, and not digging deeper to find the active one. If Seekonk does one thing only, it should be to delete the inactive page.  The active one has quite a bit of useful information, from event reminders to trivia about Bruce Willis. However, Seekonk must remember that just because they are using the internet as an outlet, they can’t forget general conventions of spelling and style. Having their “about us” section written entirely in capital letters reflects poorly on the institution and is quite unprofessional.

Seekonk Public Library's first Facebook page

Seekonk's second Facebook page

Seekonk’s Twitter feed is in a similar position as its first Facebook page. With only 74 followers and no new tweets since October 2011, this is one Twitter feed that should be updated more frequently. Over at Social Media Butterfly Librarian, they note that content is like produce – it should be fresh! Let’s just say if Seekonk’s Twitter feed was a produce market, the vendors would have shut up shop and the remaining produce would be so old that it would probably have started to sprout legs.  The library account is only following one other Tweeter – perhaps if they followed more people, more people would follow them. As Andy Burkhardt notes, Twitter should be about creating dialogue and interaction and engaging in conversations.  Right now, Seekonk is teetering on the verge of talking to itself.  A quick glance at previous tweets reveals that Seekonk was tweeting only about once a month, which is not enough to keep patrons engaged.  With a clear, easy-to-find link from Seekonk’s homepage, it seems that only a handful of people are interested in using this medium, and with a Twitter feed as rarely updated as this one, I wouldn’t be interested in it either.

That’s fine; not every library is a grand national library with a budget and staffing levels to match, and even Librarian In Black’s Houghton-Jann tells libraries that it is fine to delete your account if it’s not working for you.  Institutions should recognize this, and direct their efforts into initiatives that will captivate their users, and not spread their resources too thin and bring down the library’s web presence.  Meredith Farkas summed it up nicely in her 2011 lecture, “Going Where Your Patrons Are“: “Make sure that you are creating a site that will be useful to your users; your only goal should not be to make the library look cool.” Rather than trying to keep up with institutions like the British Library, Seekonk should find something that works for it and go with it. If the library focused on maintaining one social media outlet instead of two (two and a half?), they would be quite engaging and have a page worth following. However, at the moment, the library’s web presence seems drab and tired, and quite frankly, more than a little Seekonk-ed out.

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Facebook, Twitter and Libraries, oh my!

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.