Tag Archives: Profile

The Boyertown, PA Community Library on Twitter: A Sure Thing?

4 Dec

What I took away from the Houston Public Library on Twitter was, more or less, that Twitter is a useful tool that’s easy to use and, to put it bluntly, pretty hard for libraries to mess up. I was impressed with the tool itself but it seemed to have relatively little to do with the library’s use of it. It seemed to me like just about anyone could be successful using Twitter; they need only to plug in a very small amount of information about whatever programs or events are going on at the library.

To test this theory (not exhaustively, of course… or even thoroughly, for that matter) I wanted to look at another library using Twitter. To this end, I looked at Boyertown, PA’s library, the J.K. Boyer Boyertown Community Library, and its Twitter account.

As I suspected, it was an excellent example of a library using a Web 2.0 technology in an effective and relevant way. BCL’s tweets provide timely updates about library and community events, as well as information about ongoing library services and programs. I was also pleased not to find evidence of any Internet slang in a single one of the tweets, proving that many libraries have already mastered the art of making Twitter work for them, as I discussed in my last post.

So, all the elements are there: the Twitter account is incredibly easy to access from the library’s homepage, the account has an attractive layout with enough context to let users know what they’re looking at, and the information provided is current, useful, and given in an accessible style. It’s updated frequently and it’s actively social, replying to user comments individually, following other libraries, and listing favourites.

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

I’m left wondering, then, if the praise should go to Twitter’s (nearly) foolproof format or to the libraries using the format in effective ways. No doubt it’s a bit of both, and really, it doesn’t matter. The material point here seems to be that Twitter is one of the most useful Web 2.0 tools for libraries that I’ve come across so far; while it doesn’t allow for the same levels of customisation, multi-media, and creativity as many other tools in the Web 2.0 sphere, this is also where its strength lies. These days, many libraries are increasingly pressed for time and resources, and tools like Twitter offer them an oppourtunity to participate in the 2.0 movement in spite of lacking time, staff, expertise, and funding.

I must say, from my own point-of-view as a user, I’m going to go right now to see if my own local library has a Twitter feed, and start following. This might be the closest libraries get to 2.0-for-dummies, and it’ll be a smart move to take advantage.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Bloomington, IL Public Library on Flickr: Two-Point-Uh-Oh?

28 Nov

I will admit, I’m going into this assignment a little bit skeptical about the real power of Web 2.0 tools as they are used by libraries. Perhaps it’s the result of watching too many uncomfortably awkward Youtube videos, those increasingly popular misguided attempts at convincing people that the library is a hip, happening place to be, which in the process prove just the opposite.

However, as an aspiring librarian and, for the most part, a fan (or at the very least, a tentatively curious participant) of the Web 2.0 phenomenon, I’m resolved to remain optimistic about the potential of libraries’ involvement in it.

That said, the Bloomington Public Library’s Flickr account was perhaps not the best place to start.

BPL really gets off on the wrong foot to begin with, as it seems practically impossible to find a link to its Flickr page through its website; I had to give up and Google search the site, in the end. It’s certainly not something users are just going to stumble upon, so I have to wonder what the point is, really. It seems unlikely that there will be enough BPL patrons or potential patrons already on Flickr, and who will think to check out a possible library presence on the site, to make it worthwhile. If they’re not promoting, or at least making visible, their participation on Flickr, why bothering putting energy into maintaining an account there at all?

This question was answered for me pretty quickly. Very little effort, it turns out, is put into maintaining the account. BPL’s profile shows a couple of groups it belongs to, as well as its (very few) contacts, but otherwise there is no description of the library or the community. This lack of information and context is consistent throughout the account; it’s clear from the sets that images were uploaded quickly and haphazardly, with little to no editing, and no names or descriptions for the photos… apart from the always informative “IMG_8587.”

The absence of captions or explanations for the photos might be more forgivable (but only a little) if the photos themselves offered some kind of context. Unfortunately, though, nearly all of the photos are just close-ups of people’s faces, with a few other body parts or inanimate objects occasionally thrown in. Some of the pictures offer interesting composition and artistic merit, and will certainly be of interest to the people in them, but otherwise, they offer no evidence that the people and events being depicted have anything to do with a library… or really, with anything.

Close-up of woman's facehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/bloomingtonlibrary/3717691209/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/bloomingtonlibrary/page9/

Lastly, the quantity of the content is also very lacking. Strangely, though BPL’s profile states that it joined Flickr in 2005, there are no photos that date from before 2008. Also, there are only three sets of photos, the latest dating from July 2009. This begs the question, then, should libraries start using these tools if they are unable to keep up-to-date with them? I would answer “no,” and from discussions with many of my colleagues, I know I’m not alone in this. Staying current and topical, after all, is one of the most important characteristics of the 2.0 librarian.

If a library is going to delve into the big, scary world of 2.0, it has to have the motivation and capability to maintain its presence there. The motivations for getting involved in these kinds of endeavours, as we’ve discussed already, are primarily to generate buzz about the library, to make the library more visible and engaged with the community, and to make patrons more aware and involved. Starting up with a web presence can go a long way to achieving some of these goals, but if there is an initial buzz about a site (a blog, a Facebook or Flickr account, etc) and then it’s neglected, it will only do more damage to the library’s image than if it hadn’t started one at all.

Of course, I realise that these days, libraries may be more concerned with staffing shortages, funding cuts, and increasingly tight budgets. It goes without saying that many won’t have the resources to allow their staff to use and maintain Web 2.0 tools on behalf of their libraries. Doing it half-way, though, or focussing on the quantity rather than the quality of the library’s tools, will only damage the library by reinforcing the very ideas and stereotypes they are trying to break: that the library is increasingly an archaic, irrelevant institution that can’t keep up with the needs and interests of its community.

So, what to do? I think the simple solution here is one that we’ve been hearing for ages. As technologies like those of Web 2.0 and emerge and gain popularity, libraries should examine and carefully assess them, and determine how best to serve the needs of users. Only after it has been decided that the library is able to consistently provide useful, interesting and up-to-date information to its patrons on a long-term basis through one of these tools should it be adopted by the library.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… Nice try, BPL, but you’re going to have to do a little better than that to be a serious Two-Point-Whoa contender. And I just happen to know a library student who could help you with that…