Gail Borden (Elgin, IL) Public Library’s YouTube Channel: Two-Point-O-kay

3 Dec

No more puns now, I promise.

Exploring Gail Borden Public Library’s YouTube channel was sort of a reassuring experience for me. Before going into this assignment, I’d always felt sort of ho-hum about libraries using Web 2.0. I know that as an aspiring librarian I should really be excited about it. Or maybe even resolutely opposed to it. There are, after all, large groups on either side of the issue within the librarian community. Heck, each side even has its own manifesto (see the for and against here). But I have to say it’s never really been an issue that’s grabbed my interest in a big way. I don’t count myself against the movement because I do see value in it: I think it’s always a positive thing to try to engage new and old users on different levels and to keep up with the latest and greatest in the fields of media and communication and technology. That part seems like it should go without saying, really. But I can’t claim to be among the movement’s evangelists either, because so far I haven’t been able to see it as more than a fun, trendy side project, something to point to when libraries are asked what they’re doing to stay current. It’s just never seemed like a game-changer to me, in the way that a lot of people seem to speak about it.

I’m happy to say that this assignment is slowly but surely changing my mind. The more I think about it and the more I see examples of its practical application, the more I’m impressed and intrigued by the possibilities of the 2.0 library. What’s surprised me up until this point is that (as you’ve probably noticed), I’ve had fairly strong reactions to the examples I’ve found and discussed so far. It’s been a love-or-hate kind of thing. So when I came across Gail Borden’s YouTube channel, I admit, it just felt right that my reaction was, in a nutshell: “Okay. So what?” It was the reaction I’d been expecting from this assignment in general, and it felt familiar and comfortable in all its apathetic lethargy. I needed a break from the urgency and energy of my recent 2.0-related feelings.

So, back to GBPL. The link to its YouTube channel is very easy to find on its homepage. This serves them well, as their videos are also located on their own website, but are found on unattractive and not terribly user-friendly pages. Fortunately, these pages are much harder to find than the YouTube channel.

The first impression from this channel is not a strong or a lasting one. There’s no nice image or header like NYPL’s, and the profile gives a bare minimum of information about the organisation. Still, at least they have a profile, right?

GBPL YouTube profile

The videos have titles that are adequately informative about their content, as well as helpful descriptions.

The videos, themselves, well…

I would say this is where the mediocrity really shines. The subject matter of the majority of the videos, is, I think, appropriate and relevant and useful. There is information about library contests, programs, and events, as well as community issues. The videos are good resources and promotional tools.

Unfortunately, they’re just not well done. Take this one, for example. The message is a good one, and the idea behind the delivery is good too: having a librarian as well as a student employee to demonstrate the changes being discussed. In theory, it’s the perfect recipe for a library YouTube video as I’ve discussed them before; it’s professional and dignified, without being overly formal or old-school.  And yet, it falls short. It’s awkward and obviously entirely unrehearsed (at least I hope so). No one’s expecting librarians to possess any serious acting chops, but it just seems, in this case, like a little bit of practise could have gone a long (long, long) way. While conveying information about a useful topic, the video nevertheless gives viewers the impression that the library is really struggling to keep up with the 2.0 trend and that it’s uncomfortable in this newfound role and environment. Patrons might learn something about the new RFID service, but they’re still inevitably going to come away from the video with a new (or more likely, newly reinforced) image of the library as an awkward anachronism, and of librarians as the socially-inept stereotypes they have long been known as.

This brings me to a point I discussed a little bit in terms of the Bloomington Public Library (and I promise, it’s just a coincidence that it seems like I’m only picking on Illinois libraries so far. Illinois is a lovely state and I have nothing against it). While GBPL is not guilty, like Bloomington, of neglecting their YouTube channel in terms of quantity (it does seem to add new videos regularly and even rather frequently), it achieves a very similar effect by neglecting the quality of the content. As a viewer, I can’t help but get the impression that if just a little bit more time and effort had gone into videos like the one just discussed, I’d be able to get past the form of the message and concentrate on what they were actually trying to communicate. Instead, I was left cringing at the awkwardness of the presentation throughout the video, and by the end, I don’t know if I could have told you what she’d even been talking about. Again, it seems that if libraries can’t or won’t take the time to engage with Web 2.0 with the same levels of attention and professionalism they bring to other endeavours, it might be best not to engage with the tools at all.

I bring this up again as a general principle and not necessarily to imply that GBPL should stop making videos. With the exception of a few, I think most of their videos still hold some value to the library. They’re not going to draw in legions of new online fans, or replace a popularly negative image of the library, and for these reasons they fail important parts of the Library Two-Point-Whoa checklist. However, they do serve as tools of communication, allowing patrons to keep abreast of changes at the library and, at the very least, sending the message that the library is at least willing, and trying, to change along with its users… even if it’s not succeeding just yet. For these reasons, we can cross off some other criteria that are arguably just as important, if not as glamourous or immediate in their results.

So thank you, GBPL, for giving me a much-needed break from all the dizzying highs and lows of the ride that is Library 2.0. You didn’t impress me but neither did you disappoint. You’re exactly where it feels right for libraries to be right now; as much as it’s exciting to think that we could take this trend by the reins and switch into paradigm-shifting gear right away, it’s still new and largely unchartered territory for many of us. I think it’s perfectly okay for libraries to have a learning curve with these technologies just like anyone else, and while a few poorly-directed videos might prolong our roles as the misunderstood, underappreciated, and unsung heroes of our communities, this is nothing that libraries haven’t been dealing with, and surviving, for years now- so what’s a few more? Taking a long-term approach, I think that examples like these show that libraries are headed in the right direction, at the very least, and that a few bumps along the road will be well worth it if they are part of a strategic effort to attain all of the important goals we’ve been discussing; after all, I believe it was a wise woman who once said, “No Pain, No Gain.”


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