Tag Archives: Public Relations

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/

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…