Saturday, May 7, 2011

Considering the "CONS" of Using Social Media in Libraries

Social media has become the “greatest” thing since slice bread. Everyone is using it and if they are not using it, they are hearing about Facebook posts, bloggers worth reading, YouTube videos and one-liner tweets from their family and friends. The information highway has created a path to where no man has gone before. Could anyone have possibly envisioned cell phones used as a small pocket computer to gain access to emails, webpages and Facebook? Maybe technological gurus saw this coming, but not the average Joe. For the average person, who remembers computers with the black screens and green lettering, Web 2.0 is a dream beyond the wildest imagination. For Librarians, who are often accused of living in the Stone Age, social media has provided an opportunity to get the word out to the world about our passion: libraries. Now that technology has waved its magic wand to make almost anything possible, how should librarians use this tool? More importantly what are some of the traps to avoid when using such a powerful tool?

It has been said that if Facebook were a country it would rank third in population behind China and India. This is quite an impressive accomplishment. Libraries that are using Facebook as an instant marketing tool have found it to be a convenient and quick method to let “friends” know everything that is happening at the library. As an added bonus, libraries have a new way to build public support by asking patrons to “like” them on their Facebook page. Social media can become one of the best platforms for library advocacy. The many uses of social media can be as creative as the user. It never hurts to take a step back to evaluate the cons of jumping on the bandwagon of any new trend.

When first using Facebook, it seems so innocent to ask people be “friends” and “like” the library but at the same time it can be seen as a desperate attempt for recognition. As one patron put it, “It’s kinda like going back to junior high, having the insecurities of whether you are liked or not, and hoping to be a part of the “in” gang. “ Consider for a moment, what would happen if people “un-friend” or no longer “like” the library. This is almost akin to a public shunning, but only viral. The key to avoiding this situation is to keep the webpage active with updates and comments. When there is a negative comment about the library, whether it is about service or programming, address it immediately.

Bad publicity is only one thing to consider when using social media. Libraries must also consider other concerns such as copyright infringement, defamation laws and privacy issues. These issues can be dealt with effectively if the library have a clear vision of why, who, when and what information to use social media to promote the library. The ultimate reason why to using Web 2.0 should be a no-brainer for directors. It is as simple as promoting the Library’s brand to be visible and recognized. On the library staff there should be a designated social media position which would be able to maintain the web presence, when the profile/webpage will be updated and what will be promoted from the library. Examples of what libraries often mention on Facebook and Twitter are library contests, story time programs, and library mileages.

Copying, pasting, and manipulating data is easier than ever with social media. Friends frequently download a link to their Facebook page, creating an open invitation to not only visit the link but to share/post on their wall. There is the possibility that a library’s “friend” can post a link that would be considered inappropriate or claim that their post is “their work” when actually it is someone's intellectual property. With a clear vision and written policy libraries can inform “friends” what will be acceptable submissions and creative work is accepted as long as the creator has given consent to the library to post it on the wall.

At first, defamation issues seemed a little far fetch to have a concern about. However, think of what would happen if on a library’s teen Space Facebook wall, a young patron wrote something disparaging about another teen or adult that wasn’t true. Not only could this be considered cyber bullying, it can also be classified as libel. With the proper staff involvement these issue should not arise but if they do, it can be dealt with quickly by blocking patrons who abuse the opportunity to have their comments read on the library’s wall.

Privacy issues, such as posting pictures of young patrons who have participated in the library’s program, should be given serious consideration. The Internet has made everyone's lives an open book for anyone to see. Children are especially at risk because of their trusting nature. Child molesters often find their victims online. Common sense should be the foundation when deciding which pictures to post and for how long the pictures will be left on the page. Needless to say “tagging” teens or children in pictures is not a good idea. It is a prudent policy to not tag anyone in pictures. The only exception to that would be when a noted local official, or well known personality visits.

Even with the cons that were presented, there are many more pros that will cancel out the cons. The purpose of exploring the bad side of social media is not to discourage their use in libraries, but simply to be aware of the potential pitfalls. Social Media is wonderful to use and if libraries are not using it at this point, they are really doing more harm to themselves than good. It's to to get up to speed with the rest of the virtual world. Where do we go from here? Who knows for sure. There will be a day, and to be sure it is coming soon if it hasn’t already begun, when libraries will be going to where their patrons are in the virtual world. Imagine a school library visit where the librarian comes to the classroom without leaving the public library. The children could participate in a story time, go on a library tour and receive a digital library card to use the next time they bring mom and dad for an in person library visit. One thing is for certain, libraries must be ready for Web 3.0 and beyond in order to serve patrons in a meaningful way.
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