Tag Archives: Information

Houston, TX Public Library on Twitter: Getting Back to Basics

4 Dec

While I must say that it took me a long time to understand all the hype surrounding Twitter, I’m starting to come around to the idea of micro-blogging and I like the idea of using it in libraries. The purpose of using it as a technology, and the ways of reaching our Two-Point-Whoa goals through its use, seem much more immediately clear to me than they did with Flickr or with YouTube. While I’ve seen now that both of those can actually be used in very effective ways, I do like that Twitter is so simple and straightforward about what it offers users: a chance to communicate important, up-to-the-minute information about an organisation to whomever chooses to listen, and without all the distracting, unnecessary “extras” found on other blogging or social networking sites.

Take Houston Public Library’s Twitter account, for example. While not exactly forthcoming on HPL’s website, it’s not difficult to find either, after a bit of browsing. HPL definitely gets points for keeping up-to-date with its participation on Twitter; it seems to “tweet” nearly every day. Most importantly, its tweets are useful and informative about what’s going on at the library and in the community. In keeping with Twitter convention, the library often directs its tweets at specific followers, usually replying to their questions or comments. In this way, HPL is very directly connecting with users, and on a very personal level. The information contained in the tweets is succinct and concise, although this is thanks to the format of Twitter itself and its maximum tweet lengths rather than being a characteristic of HPL’s communication style.

http://twitter.com/#!/houstonlibrary

Overall, I think Twitter is a good Web 2.0 tool for libraries in and of itself. Due to its simplicity and standardized format, it’s generally difficult for libraries to go wrong using Twitter provided they follow that cardinal rule of keeping it up-to-date.

But before I give HPL the thumbs-up, I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a bit and go off on a little tangent- because, let’s face it, this was just too easy.

So while I like the fact that Twitter makes it hard for libraries to stray too far from the norm (and the socially acceptable), this simplicity is also what keeps me from getting altogether enthused about it as a Library 2.0 tool. Maybe it’s just because it provides me with less to criticise, but I can’t help but feel like the no-nonsense brevity upon which, as I understand it, the site and its popularity are based, are not necessarily conducive to some of the library’s goals.

Let’s go back to HPL. Unfortunately, not all the features of Twitter or of HPL’s account are accessible to those who don’t have their own Twitter accounts, but this isn’t uncommon among Web 2.0 tools, and is relatively easy to remedy. Where inaccessibility becomes problematic, in my opinion, is when the format, enforced maximum, and language of tweets can cause barriers to communication.

Many tweets are fine, making announcements like “Houston Public Library will be closed on Thursday, November 11, 2010 for Veteran’s Day.” These are simple enough, relaying important pieces of information that don’t require any further explanation or interpretation. Others, though, can be a little more difficult to decipher: take for example, “Help us promote the “More Money @ your library” financial literacy classes. Find a class near you http://ow.ly/2Kxjq (Oct 1-31). Pls RT”. For many users, parts of this tweet will appear to be written in code. To some extent, I would argue, and for some users, this kind of communication will only make library-related information more opaque and less accessible. We need to be careful to keep long-standing missions and mandates in mind here, and to remember that libraries are supposed to always and above all prioritise access to information.

I’m not trying to sound like a luddite here, and for the most part I really am just playing devil’s advocate. I know a lot of people would respond to my objections by pointing out that the kinds of users who will be scared off by Internet slang won’t (or maybe shouldn’t) be on Twitter in the first place. Maybe this is true, but I think it comes back to the question of just how far libraries should go in conforming to the habits of their users, no matter how low-brow. To those who would argue that this kind of communication does actually enable access to information, by exposing patrons to a different kind of community, and by reaching those users who feel most comfortable communicating with this kind of language, I would agree. But libraries still have an image to uphold and a responsibility to their users and communities to promote learning, knowledge, and culture- so shouldn’t they be expected to be grammatically correct, at the very least?

I don’t have an answer to this question, but I think it’s an important one to ask. My instinct is that libraries should continue to embrace technologies like Twitter, but that some of them might want to work more at making the tools better fit their existing policies and approaches. Indeed, this is what many libraries are already doing quite well. Tweet away, but drop the lol-speak and go back to using language that all users can understand- and respect.

I am totally on board with the idea of libraries engaging with users where they are and in what form they choose, and I think the benefits of Twitter are considerable and worth looking at for all libraries. It probably seems too obvious even to say, but I want to point out, if only for myself, that we need to take things like this slowly and with a grain of salt.

What looking at HPL on Twitter has made me realise is something so basic I’m embarrassed to be bringing it up only now; I think it’s because it seems so fundamental, maybe, that it never occurred to me in this specific context, although it is such an important principle for technology and for libraries, at all times. As I say, it should just go without saying, really, but perhaps in all the hype and excitement of a trend as big as this one, we need to remind ourselves. While we can hope that Web 2.0 tools like Twitter will help us reach new users and expand our audiences (and hey, nearly six thousand followers at HPL is nothing to sneeze at), we need to realise the limitations of these tools as well, and acknowledge that traditional forms of communication are going to remain necessary for libraries for a long time to come. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, but add these Web 2.0 tools to our arsenals while continuing to take advantage of those tried-and-true methods that have served us for years. For our own sakes, and those of our patrons, we need to constantly and critically evaluate and re-evaluate the technologies that we adopt, and decide which ones best suit the needs of our communities, all the while adapting the tools themselves to suit our purposes and conform to our goals.

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The New York Public Library’s YouTube Channel: The Gold Standard

30 Nov

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the most hip, stylish, and exciting example of library participation on YouTube comes from New York City- at least that I’ve encountered. Indeed, the New York Public Library’s YouTube channel is something for libraries everywhere to aspire to.

Of course, right off the bat I should acknowledge that few libraries in the world have the kinds of resources that NYPL enjoys, and many of its programs are out of the reach of most public libraries. That said, there’s no reason we can’t look to NYPL’s success for inspiration and guidance, and learn from it in order to work similar strategies into our own library 2.0 projects.

Again, perhaps not surprisingly, NYPL’s website is a thing of beauty, both to behold and to use. Its homepage offers a brief but comprehensive menu at the top, where users can easily find and navigate to the “Blogs, Videos & Publications” page. From here, all of NYPL’s blogs and other 2.0 pages are available for users to explore, including a link to its YouTube channel.

Its YouTube page is informative and professional-looking, clearly and effectively separating it from the more low-brow content that YouTube is generally better known for, and that could potentially turn off some patrons. This is also achieved by NYPL having and enabling easy access to its own channel, rather than just posting separate videos to the site that are easier to link or relate to other videos posted by other users, including those with which the library may not wish to be affiliated.

NYPL YouTube channel

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=NewYorkPublicLibrary#p/u/171/ui5P78HJWmc

This is an important and notable success. There has been much attention paid to the debate about whether libraries belong in social networking spaces, or whether their presences there are inappropriate or uncomfortable for users. This post on Meredith Farkas’ “Information Wants to be Free” blog provides many interesting links on the subject. I would argue that this idea could apply to a site like YouTube as well; most users have fairly specific expectations about what kind of content is found on YouTube, and they usually don’t include serious library materials or subject matter. While it’s no doubt a positive thing that NYPL can contribute to broadening users’ horizons and expectations, and participate in such a pervasive and important method of communication, there also needs to be an effort to strike a balance with different kinds of users and to maintain a level of seriousness with regard to the library’s identity and mandate. We are, after all, talking about public institutions, pedagogical icons dependent on tax-payers’ support and funding.

Anyway, I’m getting off-topic again. Suffice it to say that NYPL does a very good job of striking a balance between conveying a serious, professional image appropriate to a library, and keeping up with the light, social tone of the YouTube community

Moving on to content, the videos themselves are really what impressed me. As I’ve mentioned before, there are far too many examples of libraries (mis)using YouTube, examples that merely confirm growing suspicion that the library is hopelessly out of date and –let’s face it- just… lame. Seneca Library provides an excellent case study:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMVMgDWnoaA

Videos like this are why I was so relieved and impressed to find the NYPL channel. Its videos demonstrate that libraries really are capable of using Web 2.0 tools to engage with the public and promote the library in authentic and relevant ways, without sacrificing their dignity and professionalism. While libraries should, as many have pointed out, go out and engage with users where they are, they should go out into these (often virtual) spaces with their sense of self-worth still intact. Libraries are inherently valuable and relevant institutions, and they should own this fact not by imitating pop culture they can’t hope to compete with or degrading the complexity of library services, but by presenting themselves in genuine, honest, and respectful ways. Likewise, it does a disservice to users to assume that they can’t or won’t listen to what the library has to say unless it puts a dumbed-down, kitschy spin on its message. Personally, I find many of these videos not only saddening but also condescending and even alienating.

NYPL’s videos, on the other hand, promote the library in ways that feel natural and inoffensive, provide content that is actually informative and useful, and maintain that serious, professional tone that I’ve been going on about. Some are resources in themselves, offering patrons the chance to learn from experts about things like calligraphy without even leaving the house:

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=NewYorkPublicLibrary#p/u/5/XwUNxsEIP6I

Others provide recaps or behind-the-scenes looks at events and lectures held at the library, promoting attendance and allowing those unable to attend a chance to feel involved. Still others make up television-like series that showcase library-sponsored projects like “Anti-Prom” and “Design by the Book,” which involve members of the community and local events. Some also examine specific resources and collections in the library to promote awareness and increase circulation. All of these are done tastefully while still managing to fit in with the fresh, hospitable, and laid-back spirit of YouTube and Web 2.0.

To any libraries interested in creating a presence for themselves on YouTube, I highly recommend a visit to the NYPL channel first.

The London, ON Public Library on Flickr: Restoring My Faith

29 Nov

After looking at and being rather disappointed with the Bloomington Library’s Flickr page, I was curious (and really hopeful!) to see if other libraries were more successful with this tool. Even before Bloomington, I was admittedly a little dubious about Flickr’s potential utility in a library context. After all, I thought initially, how useful could a bunch of photos be for engaging and attracting library patrons? Happily, the London Public Library has changed my mind and proven me wrong.

To begin, the Flickr account is really easy to find through the library’s website- a very good start. Their attractive and usable homepage has linked icons to all of its various Web 2.0 tools, which are very visible and, of course, highly recognisable!

Another very important part of the good impression that LPL’s Flickr account makes is its commitment. Unlike many other libraries I’ve encountered on Flickr, LPL has a brief but very well-written and informative profile, so that users and voyeurs alike can get a feel for what the organisation is and what its visions and values are. I’m sure it took someone only a couple of minutes to write up this little profile blurb, but it really does make all the difference in terms of making LPL’s online presence feel more authentic and relevant.

This kind of ongoing commitment that so impressed me was visible throughout the site. LPL has joined groups, listed its contacts, and displayed its favourite photos from other Flickr members, demonstrating that it is an active and social member of the Flickr community, and not merely paying lip service to a trend. This can also be seen in the frequency and abundance with which photos are posted; it has dozens of “sets” (Flickr’s terminology for an “album”) and new ones are put up at least once a month.  As well, each set is given a description explaining the content of the photos. This small addition, again, makes such a big difference, but unfortunately is missing from so many other library Flickr accounts. These ones don’t take full advantage of these tools and therefore miss out on important oppourtunities to make Flickr really work for them, providing context and communication and, once again, relevancy.

What most impressed me about LPL on Flickr, though, were the photos themselves. Perhaps it’s because this was what disappointed me the most on its Bloomington counterpart, but I think it probably goes without saying that Web 2.0’s actual content is where much of our scrutiny should be focussed. The medium is the message, of course, and we won’t be able to forget about that fact in a discussion like this, about new mediums and media… but we are librarians, after all, and the information itself – unabridged, unrestrained, uncensored- should still be our top priority.

But, I digress. Let’s get back to LPL. A quick glance at its photo sets will give you the impression that keeping up with its Flickr account will go a long way to keeping up-to-date with the library itself, and isn’t this one of the most important goals of 2.0 libraries? Likewise, a more in-depth perusal of the photos will start to make you feel like a member of the LPL community as you become familiar with its buildings and physical spaces, its patrons, programs, collections, and events.

One set of photos, for example, offers a kind of virtual tour around one of the new library buildings currently under construction.

Photo of building constructionhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/londonpubliclibrary/4897730981/in/set-72157624737955438/

Library board members took and posted photos of their tour of the building-in-progress, essentially making it possible for all members of the community to take part. Flickr is being used here to increase inclusivity and democratise the library, then, checking off another box on our Library Two-Point-Whoa to-do list.

Other sets and photos capture events put on by or at the library: A Harry Potter- themed party, a teen concert, an open house, and Library Week, just to name a few. The sets aren’t exhaustive in their documentation, of course, but they do a good job of allowing viewers to “catch a glimpse” of the festivities and feel, in some way, like they are a part of them; it’s certainly more effective than those newsletter “recaps” that are still done by so many libraries.

My favourite sets, however, are those that invite and encourage more involvement on the part of the user. Several of LPL’s sets do this by showcasing things like contests put on by the library. One shows the entries from a “Literacy Photo” contest, while another displays the patron-created contributions to LPL’s “MyLibrary” campaign. These examples go even further to including and engaging patrons who might not otherwise come to the library or get involved in these kinds of community initiatives and activities. This teen photo contest (shown below) demonstrates this idea perfectly:

Flickr contest pagehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/londonpubliclibrary/sets/72157624739059652/

Teen users’ entries are posted, users vote on their favourites, and a prize give-away party to be held at the library is advertised, all on Flickr. Teens are invited to participate in the contest and selection process online, making them feel involved in the teen library community, and from there they are invited to become still more involved and come in to the library itself.

LPL’s presence on Flickr makes sense in the context of its other 2.0 participation, too. While these photos could be included on LPL’s Facebook profile (and in many cases, they are), Flickr is arguably even more user-friendly and to-the-point, and therefore it makes the photos accessible to a wider audience. While the photos provide opppourtunities for users to catch up on what they’ve missed at the library and gain a sense of involvement and community, LPL’s Twitter works on a different level to advertise upcoming events and encourage future participation. Likewise, its Facebook profile offers a more social kind of involvement and input, while its Youtube channel provides reader’s advisory and current awareness functions. Overall, LPL has a well-maintained, lively, and above all, effective presence in the sphere of Web 2.0. Its various appearances are easy to find and to navigate, and its ongoing commitment to the quality and currency of its online presence makes it an incredibly useful tool for engaging the community and promoting the library.