Libraries today face many challenges in keeping up with sociotechnology and, as always, many are responding in a positive way by using social media. Why should libraries care about using social media? They have to. The relationship between patrons and libraries has changed, along with the patrons’ use of technology, and libraries find themselves in the position of either having to adapt to connect with patrons or run the risk of losing patrons to other outlets for access to resources. Library patrons want easy access to information and resources; libraries are changing and reinventing themselves to meet these needs through library web pages designed for smart phones, reference services offering instant messaging, Facebook pages, Twitter pages, and more.
Libraries are adapting their services to support online communication tools and promote this new relationship. A 2011 survey of mostly library administrators and managers done by the South Carolina State Library showed 86.6% of respondents citing social networks as the top Web 2.0 application used to promote and market library services.1 Adding social media tasks to a librarian’s or staff member’s job duties needs buy-in from library management and staff, and training of library staff to use the new media also must be considered. This area of new responsibility can be empowering for staff, but it may be wise for the library to implement a social media policy which clearly spells out acceptable practices, always keeping PR in mind.
Patrons’ use of technology and their attendant expectations of library services have changed, and improved, access to library resources. Social media allows for collaboration and participation, with patrons actively taking part in content development (i.e., blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter) rather than being limited to the more passive role of viewers. Facebook pages promote communication and interaction with patrons not only by providing library information, but also by offering features such as Reader’s Advisory pages and links to articles through participating databases such as JSTOR. Some libraries are using Quick Response (QR) codes to give patrons access to their collections via smartphones. And now, patrons can communicate with other patrons on library Twitter pages or watch instructional videos on YouTube to learn how to use library resources.
Libraries are also forging ahead in their adaptive use of technology by finding creative ways to use apps to provide services. One example is Florida’s Orange County Library System, which uses the Google Play app, “Shake It!” for Android to help patrons find something to read, watch, or listen to from its catalog.2 And this is only one of the many mobile-friendly resources the library system offers on its website.
There are plenty of librarian blogs on the use of social media for libraries, and one recently posted her top 10 predictions for 2012, which include a sharp increase in the development of web pages devoted to mobile-friendly resources, more use of Google Plus, and adaption of online gaming for marketing and educational purposes.3
An interesting blog post by an MLIS student at Syracuse University on the use of another online tool that libraries are adopting, Pinterest, notes the positive effect that social media is having on the changing image of libraries:
“I believe part of a library’s unofficial mission should be to combat old stereotypes. One of the primary reasons non-users do not come through the library’s doors is because they have traditional views of the library as dusty, archaic and intimidating with shushing librarians! Through using visually-based social media outlets such as Pinterest, librarians can slowly but surely re-market the image of our libraries into modern, friendly and innovative community resources.“4
Libraries have always been able to adapt to meet their patrons’ needs, and certainly that ability will continue to manifest itself with their innovative and expanding use of social media.