Tag Archives: YouTube

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.”


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


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:


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:


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.