Public libraries and social media: as local and as useful as your fingers


Social media is the ultimate seamless library service, not just a promotional tool

The public are increasingly using social media to find the answers to questions rather than going on to a website. So anything that can be done to be part of their social media mix will give libraries a higher profile and is also a natural extension of the public library service. It used to be that people had to physically come into the building to ask a question but now they don’t even have to switch tabs on their browser.

Libraries can be as local as the user’s fingers.

In many ways, this potentially seamless service is the dream solution as there is absolutely no barrier between the librarian and the user. For example, someone is already on Twitter so can simply ask the library a question: they don’t even have to go on to another website to do it. This truly minimum effort is the logical progression from the Victorian move towards having the local libraries. Libraries can be as local as the user’s fingers.

Social media can promote not just all aspects of the library service, including online services and other social media

Indeed, promoting online resources is the best possible use of social media as one can just click directly onto the link to, for example, A Library in Your Living Room. There’s no time delay between being told about a service and being able to use that service. Similarly, one can use Twitter to link to a public library blog post abut a new service or event and, vice versa, use a blog post to point out the wonderful things that the library twitter feed covers. If one is lucky enough to have permission to use multiple social media types (with the normal “full service” at the moment being Facebook, Twitter, Blog … with extra points for using Pinterest, Storify and Tumblr) then a managing tool like Hootsuite can be very useful. Using such a site makes it easy to saturate all outlets with the same message, co-ordinating a promotional campaign across all platforms.

Sometimes councils actively get in the way of an effective public library service online offer

Almost all councils now allow public library services their own Facebook account. However, there is still resistance in some authorities towards allow libraries their own Twitter feed or blogs. In some authorities, the library service has to ask permission in advance to have a tweet on the councils’ corporate twitter feed, thus negating the immediacy of the medium and meaning that the tweet is not targeted sufficiently to those interested.

“No-one knows more about the public library service than the public library service”

Public libraries need to convince council marketing/promotional departments that they can both provide a professional social media service and that they need to provide it. No-one knows more about the public library service than the public library service, after all. The tone on social media has to be friendlier than traditional press releases and media contacts but it also needs to retain professionalism. This last basically means that one needs to make sure that basics (like spelling – always embarrassing if a library gets that wrong) is accurate, that the message does not conflict with corporate objectives and that the message is consistent. This does not necessarily means that only one person should be in charge of the account: examples were heard of tweet accounts staffed by several people with their own areas of interest.

Don’t just stay in the building to promote the service

Getting out and about to physically talk to people about online provision seems almost contradictory but it has been found to work. This is especially effective in environments where the public are receptive and can see the need. For example, Sixth Form open evenings are being used by one authority to promote the online resources that are relevant to students and also the fact that the buildings have study space and assistance on tap. Initial contact at such evenings can be expanded to raising profile amongst teachers (always make full use of chatting in the staff room) and students in later information literacy lessons.

Social media is a rainbow, not a solid colour

The most successful library services make full use of the best of each of the social media, with the following continuum seeming to me to be a rough estimate:

  • Website – Almost no interaction and least frequency of change. However, this is the most used part of your online presence so make sure it looks brilliant and is selling what you want it to sell. Almost no comment. Content changed often only once a month or even more.

  • Blog – Low interaction and frequency of posting / Longest timescale. Best used for ongoing services, letting people know about an event in two weeks, book reviews. People can comment but this can be days or weeks later. Blog once a week.

  • Facebook – Medium to high interaction and frequency of posting / medium timescale. Can be for events on the day but can also be used to promote future events and promoting services. Facebook likes and comments can go on for days. Facebook two or three times a week.

  • Twitter – High interaction and frequency of posting / immediate timescale. Best for things which are happening now like events but can also be for instant links to local study pictures etc. Most Twitter interaction is immediate – within the first couple of hours – with the “success” of a tweet in terms of retweets, favourites and replies often known within minutes. Twitter is so immediate in fact that it works well for author interviews. Tweet several times a day.

Some of this stuff can be really immediate. For example one library discovered its wifi was not working downstairs because someone tweeted them. Note that they tweeted: it’s not something that would ever be left on a blog post as different media are used for different things.

“one library discovered its wifi was not working downstairs because someone tweeted them”

Always include/link to a picture (in whatever social media you are using) if at all possible. Users are visual beings (they read don’t they?), pictures are attractive and naturally give more space to your posting online.

Social media is social

It goes without saying that anything with the word “social” in the title is not just a soapbox for a service but this can still come as a surprise to some. You can increase usage by following others and see what they want. If you follow them then they often follow back. Follow other library services locally and nationally and chat to them. Follow local cultural institutions and cross-promote with them. Listen in on local business accounts esp. book related ones like Waterstones and independent bookshops and tweet them.

You can get some great conversations going about local photographs

You can get some great conversations going about local photographs etc. Try not to be too serious though. You’re a local service so tweet about local stuff – retweet from the local community groups you follow. After all, they may then retweet you to their followers, getting a nice viral effect going.

Don’t put barriers up, unless you have to

Allow people to join on-line to use on-line services. However, you will need to have a barrier in place to make sure people who do not live in your area simply join to take advantage. One authority had people joining from China to do this. This can cause some major problems with online suppliers and violate contract agreements.

“why insist on people using a password to access wifi in your own library? You know they’re there”

The same with wifi: why insist on people using a password to access wifi in your own library? You know they’re there (and thus eligible to use your service) because they can pick it up. What legal problem is there? There is come concern about children accessing the internet when they shouldn’t via using wifi … but bear in mind that these are children who have wifi enabled devices (so presumably have their parent’s permission to use them) and that many town centres and shops provide wifi with no password access. Why should libraries put barriers in the way that the local bakers does not?

The above are my thoughts after attending the OUP National Advisory Council on public libraries, June 2014.  I was very grateful to them for the chance to meet with other practitioners.  As part of the day, we learnt about the following resources:

OUP Resources

  • Librarian Resource Centre – – for all libraries, public and academic etc includes usage stats.

  • Library in the Living Room – all of it is downloadable. Free promotional materials.

  • OUP has blog too – #oxfordfortunecookie on Fridays on Twitter.

  • “On This Day” is on the DNB Twitter Feed. “Word of the Day” on the OED too. Feel free to retweet.

  • #1 written by Thomas Ballantyne
    about 9 years ago

    I am excited to see the library get on board with this. Nothing like getting smart passionate people to ignite the flames of education. There are a couple of librarians on twitter I currently follow that are a real hoot!

    • #2 written by rose tanner
      about 9 years ago

      Can you share your hilarious twitter librarians? Thanks.

  • #3 written by Clare West
    about 9 years ago

    Some great ideas here. I would add that supporter groups (who should all have Twitter and FB accounts) are a useful conduit if you have restrictions on use of social media.

  • #4 written by Binoy Mathew
    about 3 years ago

    Good article that gave many ideas regarding with the use of social media for Libraries.

  • #5 written by Andrew Dalziel
    about 3 years ago

    Do bear in mind that the core, essential, public library offer is the availability of books, real or digital. Like it or not that is what libraries are rated on and councillors judge you on. I doubt anybody has stopped using their library because there wasn’t a Twitter feed. Customers stop using libraries because they cannot find any book they want to read. Twitter will most likely simply encourage the promotion of an ever expanding list of non-core subjects. Promoting something just because it is local is pointless, do library users really care?. Would any of us use Tesco’s more if they tweeted about local events?. I don’t use my local library service because it’s provision of books is appalling and it’s a waste of my time visiting them, online or in person. None of my friends use their libraries for the same reason. But then they all have different, but “minority” interests.

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