Libraries Leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media

Monday afternoon I was a part of the Technology Forum for the Midwest MLA Annual Conference in Columbus, OH.  I spoke on libraries using Twitter and Facebook.

You can see my slides at http://bit.ly/hA9g0.  I specifically wanted to show examples of what other libraries were doing with these two social networking sites.  I tried to find as many medical library examples as possible (I even found one example of a hospital library).  But there were also neat things being done by other libraries and I went with those examples when I found they were doing something that the medical libraries hadn’t picked up on yet.

Some of my favorite examples:

  • Weill Cornell and Loma Linda both have tied their catalog new books feed into their Twitter account. So when a new book is added to the catalog a tweet is sent out with a tinyurl.  Clicking on that tinyurl gets you to that record in the library catalog.  I thought this was cool.  I don’t know how difficult it is to set this up, perhaps somebody who has done this could comment.
  • Health Library & Resource Center of El Camino Hospital put their patient education material up on their Facebook page under Notes. 
  • UTS Libraries (University of Technology, Sydney Libraries) use Twitter’s tweet poll feature to create a quick survey and ask for feed back on an issue.  In this case it was the use of QR codes, but almost any question could work.

I notice a lot of libraries out there dipping their toes into the social networking arena, but as I was researching this topic for the presentation, I started to notice that a lot of libraries good efforts seemed a little disjointed.  What good is having a Twitter account if you don’t list the feed on your home page.  I’ll even go a little further with that idea.  What good is even having the Twitter icon on your site if you don’t have the feed displayed anywhere on your website.  There are tons of libraries that are using Twitter as a sort of “what’s up at the library” news service.  Yet, I really couldn’t find all that many that tied this news feed into their own news feed on their own library web page.  Why?  Why do these libraries have two different news feeds?  Which on should a patron pay attention too?  We spend so much time on authority records in our catalogs and databases, yet where is our authority control on our Twitter and news information feeds?  I don’t mean specifically what they are posting but the fact that there are two (or more) sources of different news information.  This is extremely distracting.  So a library patron has to subscribe to the Twitter feed to get information and check the library’s site for information, not good.

There are lots of widgets, plugins and other things that allow you to include all of these social tools (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube) into your current web site.  I am just going to use Twitter as my example.  Twitter has its own widget that allows you to display your Twitter feeds on your site, all you have to do is copy and paste the code.  But lets say you don’t like the look of Twitter’s widget and how it displays on your site, there are other widgets and applications out there on the web that you can search for that will allow you do to this too.  Additionally there are ways to send your blog posting’s URL and title to Twitter.  And don’t forget about RSS.  If you there isn’t a widget out there that will do what you want, you might want to look at the RSS feed and figure out how you can import it easily into your page.

Why is having your Twitter, Blog site, YouTube account, SlideShare account, etc. tied into your library’s home page important?  Because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  A library’s Twitter news account there hanging out on the web is not as useful or helpful by itself.  Same with the blog, YouTube, and slides from SlideShare.  How is a patron going to know you have a particularly helpful video demo on using PubMed and RefWorks if it is just on YouTube under the library’s YouTube account.  Sure you linked to it, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to be able to see the video within the library’s website? (I know many hospitals can’t access YouTube, in this example I am really appealing to the academic medical librarians.) Let’s say you have a bit of news for the library on a new database that is greater than 140 characters (Twitter’s limit).  You decide to write a blog post about this new database.  The blog is linked to on the web site.  Heck your library might even be grabbing the RSS feeds and be posting them on the web page.  But if you use a little widget you can get that blog feed put in Twitter which you now display the feeds on the News and Information area of your site.  Finally to use the Cornell and Loma Linda catalog Twitter feed example.  Take that Twitter feed and display it under the a section on your website labeled new books.  Loma Linda has a recent books  link, but that goes to a list that can kind of large and somewhat confusing to patrons. 

Wrapping all of this stuff together makes these sites more powerful in the context of the library and the library website.  It also makes these resources more valuable to us and our patrons.  Of course that brings me to the end of my presentation where I discussed making sure you evaluate your usage of these resources and try to determine your ROI.  Don’t just assume these things are doing there job and they are important to your library and your users, but measure them.  These applications are all very new and sometimes there aren’t the best things out there to measure usage (aka popularity) but look for something that might work.  If you are unsure about how to do this you really need to check out TechSoup’s Meeting Archive: Understanding the ROI of Social Media, it is specifically directed at nonprofits and libraries.

**Update**
I have had a few emails from people asking me about the time commitment for something like this.  Everybody is doing less with more and have little time to invest in new projects.  My response is, these things do require some time to create and get going.  But if done correctly and depending on how extensive your project, the upkeep is extremely minimal. 
Here is a an example:  Our library has an Inter and Intranet website.  Right now if a major system like OhioLink goes down we post a red note at the top of both home pages to let our patrons know about the problem.  To do this the web adminstator goes to our saved copy of each page, adds the news item, uploads it to the server, then we wait for a half hour to an hour for the server to refresh before our message is live.  If we add our Twitter feed to our page we won’t have to do all of that and any librarian could add a message, not just the web admin.  So if we discover Illiad has freaked out and isn’t working, any one of the librarians can go on Twitter write the tweet which is then automatically displayed on our home pages.   Easy squeasy. 
That is just one example and it illustrates how you need to have a plan for your social media.  Don’t just go out an adopt it because all the cool kids are doing it.  Look at what is out there and determine whether it meets your needs.  Too many libraries and librarians are creating Twitter accounts for the library without a plan and without logically tying it into library services.  They have Twitter accounts floating out there with news and information and they wonder about its effectiveness.  You have to make it relevant to yours and their situations for it to have a chance at being successful.  A link or the icon to the library’s Twitter feed without putting it in any context isn’t relevant to most users.

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