“Computers are no more your friends, and no more increasers of your brainpower, than slot machines…”
So said the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, who passed away in 2006, thereby just missing the social media juggernaut released by Facebook, which though founded in 2004, only really hit the popularity jackpot in 2007. What would Kurt have made of the world we live in today? It’s not often that I disagree with Mr Vonnegut, but computers are indeed our friends, they do increase our brainpower. One of Kurt’s biggest themes in his books was that all the trouble we humans make for ourselves, is because humans are lonely, now we’ve lost our tribe, our village of family, of like-minded people. In this century, computers and in particular social networking, enable us to be connected – all day, all night even, if we want – to people all around the world. Are we still lonely sometimes? Guaranteed. But we now have the ability to connect. And if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is! (another KV quote, lovely isn’t it?).
If you are lucky enough to live in a country with a steady supply of electricity, you probably have some form of social media. Or you’ve looked at it, have heard about it, or know plenty of people who can’t live without it. It’s pervasive, addictive and all encompassing. The 21st century plague. The reason optometrists grow wealthy (all that staring at computer screens and smartphones is making us blind, my optometrist tells me this every time I visit for a stronger prescription, and he says this with a wickedly gleeful smile on his face). Oh, and the most important thing about social media, it is SO. MUCH. FUN.
Libraries are no longer just about borrowing books, and they haven’t been for years. You will be hard pressed to find a library in the first world without computers, free wifi, a dedicated and up-to-date DVD collection and notices up all over the place letting patrons know that, yes, you can indeed eat and drink here, just please not near the computers! Libraries are information centres, not just about books. We live in the Age of Information; libraries, being all about information way before it was cool and fashionable, have kept up. Researching social media use by libraries has been a lovely adventure, I consider myself both a book and information lover, and a social media maven, yet I had no idea how many libraries were tapping into social media. Until I looked. And here is where the problem lies for libraries – unless you are really, REALLY interested, you will not even think to search, to find that which you weren’t even looking for. It’s a shame, these pages, links, blurbs and clips are so interesting. In an internet full of dotsam and netsam, where do we begin to look?
I’ve found Facebook to be the most relevant social media source for libraries to reach out to the public and garner new patrons, mainly because almost everyone has it! I won’t quote statistics in this blog, I’ll just note that I only know of two people in my life who do not have it, one is over 70 years old and doesn’t have a computer, the other is incredibly stubborn and terribly private, even the thought of ‘sharing’ on Facebook gives her conniptions. I still love them both though. So if I average that out, that is only 2% of my family, friends, colleagues and associates who don’t have social media in some form or another. Wow! How fast things change?
Twitter is the next best way for libraries to connect with the public. The infamous “Twitter Trolls” seem to avoid causing controversy on library sites. Or maybe their pages are just well moderated… Whatever the reason, libraries do it and do it well, keeping their message succinct and to the point (well, that is what micro-blogging is all about!). A quick post containing 140 characters or less, an interesting picture, hit tweet and it’s out there. People notice the tweet, comment on it on Twitter, or even better, comment in real life and the message begins to flow through the ether and into your mind – follow this library on Twitter/let’s go to the author reading/see their latest exhibition/read ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ before we see the movie. Not too hard at all, is it?
YouTube, Instagram and Flickr seem to be the hardest social mediums for libraries to crack. As someone who’s only ever used YouTube to watch music videos, I couldn’t believe how many libraries and library related clips came up every time I searched. I had a blast watching singing librarians, time-lapsed behind the scenes videos, educational clips…I’m pretty sure my kids thought I’d gone bonkers, with all my giggles and snorts of laughter (yes, actual snorts, there is some very funny stuff library related stuff out there!) floating out of our study at all hours of the day and night. Although I’m pretty sure my kids think I’m bonkers, full stop. Instagram and Flickr have a much smaller audience, perhaps because of demographics? Instagram appears to be where the youngin’s hang out, far away from their Facebook loving older relatives. Flickr seems to be for people who take their photography seriously, and highly esteemed major libraries, and parents of young children with relatives who don’t live close enough to visit often. Though I could be pigeon-holing, Flickr just didn’t grab me like I hoped it would?
Social Media Policies are essential to maintaining library sites – public, scholastic and private. Maintaining the integrity of libraries has no doubt made many a library and information worker go grey – trying to work out protocol, guidelines and explaining to teenagers just why dropping the ‘f’ bomb on a social media site isn’t really the greatest idea. Most humans have caught on fast – what you write on the internet today, will most definitely come back to haunt you. Within the next 10 years. For sure. It is out there, just waiting for a future employer/potential partner/your parents to discover. “Keep it clean, jelly bean” is a motto well worth sticking to!
The link below is to the State Library of Queensland’s Social Networking Policy. After reviewing a few different library’s social media policies, it does well to cover all bases- protecting the library from comments posted by others, the definitions of terms used regarding social media policies and acceptable use of social media by staff and site visitors. My kids may think I’m bonkers, but it all seems like common decency to me!