Tag Archives: Relevance

Sunnyvale, CA Public Library on Facebook: D.O.A. or Just Late to the Party?

5 Dec

I’ve been putting off dealing with the matter of Facebook. It seemed so inherently problematic to me, really, that I just didn’t even want to go there.

There are scores of articles (like this one) and blogs (like this one and this one) that discuss the issue, and debates about whether or not users (usually students) want their libraries to be on Facebook (in a lot of cases, it’s determined that the answer is a rather emphatic “no”). While most of the focus is on academic libraries, since students were the initial, and continue to be the most well-known users of Facebook, I think the issue certainly extends to public libraries as well. The fact of the matter is, libraries are widely seen as old, stuffy, and authoritarian, and librarians as those stereotypical, shushing curmudgeons we’ve all heard so much about. While libraries all over the world are hard at work trying to break free from these stereotypes, they’re not going to disappear overnight, and right now they are still hanging on rather stubbornly. I think it’s fair, then, that many users feel uncomfortable with the idea of encountering their library or librarian in spaces that they expect to be distinctly informal, irreverent, and above all, social.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into this debate, because it’s been done exhaustively, and quite well, by many others. Suffice it to say that this idea of library culture being rather antithetical to that of Facebook is what has dominated my mindset regarding the issue up until now, if only in a very vague, unscientific sort of way.

However, I did my best to check these nagging doubts, and to go into this with an open mind. I’ve been pleasantly surprised during this assignment already, and lo and behold, it’s happened again.

Examining Sunnyvale Public Library’s Facebook profile demonstrates both why the library’s entry to the realm of Facebook has been such a fraught one, and why these concerns are blown too much out of proportion.

To start with, although most individual profiles on Facebook are visible only to those who are registered members of the site, SPL’s page is visible to anyone with Internet access. While Facebook might at first appear intimidating to some users with all its different “apps” and options, it is fairly intuitive to use, and users can engage only at a very basic level if they so choose.

SPL Facebook pagehttp://www.facebook.com/sunnyvalelibrary

Nearly all of SPL’s “wall” is taken up by its various notes, which convey information about upcoming or ongoing library events and programs and community news, as well as highlighting specific materials in the collection. This works well because users can scroll up and down the screen, looking at the titles and first paragraphs of each note to see if any are of interest to them. If they find one they want to read more about, they can simply click on the link to take them to the note (essentially a short article) in its entirety. While I don’t think the format of Facebook is ideal for conveying news through this kind of RSS-like feed, it definitely does the job. It makes the library news easy to browse and therefore, perhaps, more palatable.

The whole point of Facebook, though, is to be social, and I think this is where it can get tricky for libraries. Sometimes it works quite well, such as when users post links or news articles that are relevant to the library and its users. On SPL’s wall, for example, there’s an invitation from a children’s author to read her books at the library and to see her Facebook page; this kind of interaction not only gives a face and a personal, social aspect to library news, but also serves to showcase materials in the collection and promote the use of the library. Other times, I would argue, it certainly isn’t harmful, but neither is it very useful. The “like” feature that has become so pervasive in and emblematic of Facebook is an awkward one, I think, for libraries. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have users “like” various upcoming events, or news items, or resources that are mentioned. But it also seems irrelevant and –dare I say it again- verging on the unprofessional. It’s not a point I want to belabour because I don’t think it’s a terribly important one, but I think this is one feature that might justify concerns about the library culture not being an ideal fit for the Facebook environment.

"Like" feature on Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/sunnyvalelibrary

Where user interaction does become genuinely problematic is in the “spam” wall postings that are now so prevalent on Facebook. These usually come in the form of some kind of advertising, either of products, services or websites that are wholly unrelated to the library or its interests. While for most Facebook users this is merely a nuisance, it can be seen as more of a complicated and serious problem for organisations like libraries. As public (and sometimes academic) institutions, they are expected to be free of product placement or advertising. While it could be argued that there are ads on almost any website and that this is unavoidable, I think it’s much more serious when they are actually part of the content itself (in this case, SPL’s “wall”), where the library’s knowledge and endorsement of such information is much more likely to be misconstrued. This kind of spam can be seen in several instances on SPL’s page, where it’s apparent that staff members aren’t in the habit of deleting such content, or of disclaiming library affiliation.

Spam wall posthttp://www.facebook.com/sunnyvalelibrary

While the SPL profile has several tabs displaying features like “Calendar,” “Photos,” and “Events,” it uses these features very little or not at all. As well, it really doesn’t use the “Info” page to full advantage.

None of these are very serious or important offences, and are certainly not reasons to determine that SPL shouldn’t be on Facebook. They are merely evidence, I think, of the fact that libraries and Facebook aren’t a great fit- or certainly not a natural one.

This is perhaps the price libraries pay for trying to go out into the spaces of their users. It’s inevitable that they will feel foreign at first, and that interaction will be awkward, but I think perseverance is the best bet.

In my newly optimistic opinion, Facebook is definitely worth a try if resources allow; it might not be an ideal format in which to communicate news or interact with users, but if the “likes” are any indication, Facebook users are certainly warming up to the idea of their libraries entering their social space, and even welcoming them. There may be a few kinks to work out yet, and some lessons to learn, but libraries have embedded themselves in the social circles of Facebook, and I think they’re there to stay. The “likes” of the users have spoken, and who are we to leave the party early?

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.

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.

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 profilehttp://www.youtube.com/user/deniseraleigh

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.”

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…