What’s In Your Window?

Passing through Wicker Park the other day, I spotted a pair of large window clings, displayed prominently on the main windows of an independent shop. One window bears a large Facebook logo, the store’s Facebook URL printed beneath. A similar Twitter cling, seen here, invites passersby to follow the shop on Twitter.

Now, maybe I don’t get out as much as I used to, but I simply haven’t seen these window clings anywhere else. Particularly, I haven’t seen them in my travels to libraries in the greater Chicagoland area. And at an estimated two feet in width, they’re fairly hard to miss. I may have spotted a small Foursquare or Yelp decal somewhere, but I really couldn’t say for sure. And while Twitter and Foursquare are still gaining momentum among popular social media sites, Facebook is, well, Facebook. Now that I’ve seen these, I can’t imagine not having my library’s Facebook URL displayed on at least one high-traffic window.

It occurs to me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Signs are a staple form of promotion. Man’s benchmark for alerting the world of his existence, seemingly since the ancients developed means of written communication, has been to simply put up a sign.

Has your community been slow to acknowledge your library’s presence on social media outlets? Where Twitter and Foursquare are concerned, it’s quite possible that patrons simply aren’t yet using those applications. Now, say my library serves a community of 40,000. My Facebook page shows 27 friends and one of them is my mother. In this scenario, it’s a safe bet that my patrons don’t know the library is there. So, how can I let library users and passersby know where they can find the library on social networks? Apparently, I can put it in the window. Big and blue, bearing our URL, for all to read from the sidewalk or from their seat on the bus.

Let’s Make a List: Foursquare in Libraries

Back in June, I read a piece about how the Brooklyn Museum is using Foursquare to make connections among visitors to the facility. I wondered whether other institutions, particularly libraries, have done something similar–designated an entire web page to Foursquare activities.

So I tweeted a Google doc and asked how libraries are using Foursquare. The limited response suggests that either no one is reading my tweets, or not many libraries in my network are using Foursquare (or both). In any case, here are the replies I received:

  • My first introduction to Foursquare was through a webinar sponsored by the Connecting to Collections Initiative given by Nancie Ravenel of the Shelburne Museum in VT and blogger Colleen Dilenschneider.  Shelburne uses Foursquare, but to my knowledge, it is not incentivized.
  • Surprise giveaways: Via Twitter/Facebook, first five people to check in get an ebook
  • We give away a flash drive or other small techie prize to the first 10 people to check in.
  • Our public library gives prizes to people who check in on certain days or at events. We’ve gotten more people to show up for certain programs this way–giving away ebooks, signed book copies or other autographed materials to people who check in at author events or other programs.

  • You can give out things with library logo/slogan (shirts, iPad/iPod covers?, totes, pens/pencils, mousepads, mugs, calendars, etc.)

If these replies and the several tweets I received are any indication, awarding users with schwag appears to be the prominent use of Foursquare in libraries.

Care to add to the list? Have you found more creative ways to use Foursquare in the library or other institution? How successful have your programs proven? How have they failed? Please share.

Facebook and Branding

Bubble Room is a blog written by Alison Circle, a marketing professional under the employ of both the Columbus Metropolitan Library and Library Journal. In yesterday’s post, Alison briefly points to several reasons library systems should commit to a single Facebook page, rather than create individualized pages for each of the system’s branches. Her reasons plead for consistency.

How will it be possible that each branch page reflects the overall library brand? You’ll have different messages, different voice, different strategic focus. This is confusing to customers.

When we talk about using social media in libraries, it’s important to remember who are the benefactors. Putting aside the inadvertently condescending nature of the passage above, I find myself wishing Alison had written a much more thorough evaluation. The original question is an interesting one and deserves examination. However, the post addresses Facebook’s value solely to the library’s brand and does so only cursorily. It fails to explore the utility of localized Facebook pages in two ways: their value to the brand and their value to the user.

I’m willing to entertain an argument for the boilerplate philosophy of the brand. That methodology is part of what makes the corporate world go round. It’s what allows Anheuser-Busch to continue to tell us their product is the best product for everyone. Yet, for the most part, libraries don’t have a product. As many say, the library is its own product. And in systems where needs and expectations differ from branch to branch, a library may not be able to be all things to everyone, but it should certainly address diversity. Can a Facebook page using a “Locations” tab accomplish this? Branch pages for the Columbus Metropolitan Library would suggest the ability is limited. They offer hours, a map, the manager’s name, and a link to the library’s event calendar. Functional? Sure. Offering users an interactive, community-specific Facebook presence? Not so much. A well-branded library is a well-connected library–one that goes to where the users are and makes itself at home. It’s local. It’s hyperlocal. It gives its branches the keys to the neighborhood.

A regular Bubble Room reader, I can tell you that Alison’s thoughts on branding and marketing would be invaluable to any librarian. Yet, when it comes to limiting Facebook to a branding tool and denying users a participatory relationship, it’s easy to remember I’m reading the sentiments of a marketer–not a librarian.

Blogging Libraries: The Crowdsourced Blog

In my last post, I was thinking about participatory blogs hosted by library websites. How can we make library blogs more effectual? Should public library websites offer broader topical blogs, potentially appealing to a wider audience?

Then I started drafting a follow-up. About an hour later, Toby Greenwalt, of the Skokie Public Library, tweeted the link to his latest post on the library’s The Studio blog. SPL hosts a handful of interactive blogs that touch numerous subjects from research methods to book reviews to patron suggestions. As Toby tweets, it can be a lot of work to keep a regular stream of content on all these blogs.

Not all libraries have one or two people on staff who can squeeze regular blogging into their schedule. So I asked around to see if and how libraries are mining the talents of their users to pick up the slack–to gauge people’s experience with crowdsourced blogs. The resounding collective reply suggests a dearth of activity. Despite constraints of time and staff, libraries are managing their blogs, largely, without involvement of the community.

What’s to stop a time-strapped library from fielding and posting community-centric articles from their users? The crowdsourced blog could be age-specific or reach out to community writers of all ages. The mission is to source a participatory digital playground and encourage intellectual exchange while farming out as much responsibility as possible. Volunteer editors would help ensure fairness and the general integrity of the blog.

Blogs could be specific to community topics or to general subjects like literacy, the arts, or education. The library could host a poetry and short-story blog, mingling suggested reading and reviews with user-written pieces. Subject-specific blogs, like a YA or anime blog, a foreign language blog, a nonfiction or movie review blog, might help stimulate microcommunities within your usership.

Of course, the library must not necessarily host even more than one or two of these blogs. Start with one–perhaps a general discussion blog, allowing contributors to share whatever they’ve been thinking about lately. Sure, there are a million corporate websites where people regularly share comments and opinions on topics of personal relevance. But in the interest of hyperlocality, I want to give these people a local voice–a forum in which they aren’t always relegated to the comment board, but where they may initiate their own discussions.

The goal is your own–to get regular users involved in a library-hosted digital discussion or to conjure a blog of interest to community groups who may not be using the library’s services and try to bring them into the fold.

Do these things work? I’m guessing many fine veteran librarians would deem this a potentially colossal can of worms. So call me a rebel. I want to try it anyway.

What are the potential wins for the crowdsourced library blog? If your library is hosting, or has hosted, a crowdsourced blog, I’m sure we’d all enjoy the opportunity to learn from your experience.

Blogging Libraries: Making Connections

Librarians from various areas have recently commented on the underwhelming interactivity that takes place on their public library blogs. These are blogs, hosted by the library’s website, that encourage patrons to share thoughts on a variety of materials and services. For whatever reason, these blogs simply haven’t inspired the level of participation the libraries had hoped to create. My questions are 1. Why not? and 2. What types of interactive blogs have met measured success?

Has your library’s website experienced interactive blog failure? Were you able to find a remedy and garner more interest and discussion? What types of blogs have you found to be both valuable and productive? Please share your experiences or thoughts on potentially effective interactive blogs. Regardless of the type of library, the blog’s nature is one of connectivity, and I suspect these connections succeed or fail for many of the same reasons.

Will Blog for Food

In his post, “A New chapter for our Unwinders Management Book – Evaluating Candidates from their Internet Profile”, Will Manley raises some compelling questions regarding jobseekers on social media sites and blogs. Hiring managers are sure to perceive elements of a candidate’s public profile differently. Some, as Will suggests, may attribute varying degrees of conceit, narcissism, or calculation to a candidate’s activity on social media sites and as a blogger.

What Will wants to gauge is how people in Libraryland consider or would consider candidates’ social profiles when scouting resumes. Do you weigh social profiles heavily, lightly, or not at all? Given the opportunity, I would incorporate all available elements of social profiles into my evaluation of the candidate. And why not? Depending upon the information not veiled by privacy settings, a cursory look at a Facebook page or tweet compilation may expose character flaws or suggest endearing traits. What a candidate makes available for public viewing may also indicate her familiarity with social profiles and her ability to manipulate privacy settings, knowledge that all new reference and programming librarians should probably have.

More to the point, I’ve been thinking lately about recruiting practices in situations where new LIS graduates are competing with experienced librarians for jobs. The rookie librarian may have the experience of internship or volunteering or may have no practical library experience at all. She has her MLS, her relevant work experience and tech skills, and her vision. But vision isn’t tangible and won’t be much help to a discriminating department head or hiring manager. Unless, of course, she lays it out in writing–on a blog.

Narcissistic? Ego-driven? Some tenured LIS bloggers may certainly exhibit those traits in their writing. After all, many use the blog as an engine for professional critique–to share opinions. But when it comes to rookie librarians, I can tell you from experience that Joe Jobseeker’s ego classification rates somewhere between Beta and Omega male. Again, different hiring managers and HR people will perceive each person’s cloud profile differently. Still, most job hunting “tips” lists suggest the inexperienced jobseeker be involved daily in professional discourse, whether advocating on social media sites, commenting on blogs and LinkedIn discussions, or writing a professional blog. Some, like me, write LIS blogs because they want to. They feel compelled to do it. It’s no strike against Judy Jobseeker that she blogs and Nings to exhibit some professional participation. She is calculating only insomuch as she is doing what she was told to do to aid her prospects. Given this, I have to think that the consensus sentiment among hiring managers regarding new librarians with book review blogs or LIS blogs is one of encouragement or, at least, cautious acceptance.

Thoughts on neophytes in the Libraryland job market? We’re always listening. Please share.

Why Aren’t You Here?

In my travels this week, I noted that a certain north-suburban public library had not tweeted since June. Curious as to the reasons for the lapse, I decided I should contact the library and satisfy my professional curiosity. And I still might. Instead, I decided to blog about it.

It could be that the person who was tweeting took a position elsewhere and her position remains open. Perhaps delayed or slashed funds have left the library understaffed and short of time for social networking. Maybe the director has found that they simply have too few Tweeps to justify continual use of the network. Or maybe somebody decided the whole thing is just stupid.

Perhaps I should have my head examined, but I remain among those in LibraryLand who believe social networks are a great tool for not only contributing to professional discourse, but for seeking library ubiquity–for getting hyperlocal. Blah blah, yawn. I know. You’ve heard it all before. Still, one shouldn’t pooh-pooh the potential benefits of these simple cloud tools. They’re free. They’re fast. They’re reciprocal. They can be collaborative. They push programs, services, and your brand.

Yet many astute library professionals, particularly administrators, have yet to bring their libraries onboard the social media boat. Others have made brief appearances on social networks only to disappear soon after. Another suburban library, one whose director is notably proactive about marketing strategies, has no Facebook or other social network presence.

This is the part where I might write, Everybody else is already there, so shouldn’t your library be there too? But I know that everybody is not there. It may often seem like everybody is there, but the digital divide simply does not allow everybody that type of access. Many public libraries serve very small communities or communities comprised largely of poor and immigrant families who can’t afford daily computer and web access. Many of these people have little or no experience with computers or the Internet. Many others have no interest.

I’m not a library director. I don’t manage a staff of programming librarians, reference librarians, techies, clerks and pages. So I’m curious about the practical reasons why libraries don’t use social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook.

Please share your thoughts and experiences.