Social Media and Readers' Advisory: New Zealand Experiences

Article excerpt

In this second and final instalment of a two-part readers' advisory series, Anwyll and Chawner present the findings and conclusion of their small-scale research project which examines the use of social media in New Zealand public libraries, with a focus on RA activities and practices. While focussing on New Zealand public libraries, the similarities in uses, reasons for adaptation to new technologies, and the conclusions are not bound by borders. They provide a glimpse into what other professionals are trying in an effort to enhance readers' advisory services outside of our own towns, states, and perhaps, countries. Even if you're half a world away, the familiar struggles, efforts, and technologies that readers' advisors are putting forth and introducing in New Zealand libraries to reach their readers in a digital environment reminds us that the next good read is only one click, and not one world, away.--Editor

The first column in this series identified the potential of social media, such as Facebook, blogs, and microblogs, to support readers' advisory (RA) services. This column presents the results of a small-scale survey examining the use of social media for RA in New Zealand public libraries, based on interviews with 15 librarians conducted in 2011.

REASONS FOR ADOPTION

Three main reasons were found to lead to the adoption of social media by public librarians: individual staff interest, attending conferences and forums, and monitoring trends.

Individual staff interest was mentioned by one third of the interviewees as a key reason for their adoption of social media. One commented that "it was driven by a keen staff member who has the support of library management to give things a go." Others explained that they saw the need for the service and initiated the work to "get the ball rolling." In some cases the implementation process began with a small-scale trial, which allowed library management to see how the tools were being used and for what purpose before making a formal commitment to adopt them.

Some interviewees found that attending forums and conferences like the annual LIANZA (Library and Information Association of New Zealand/Aotearoa) conference gave them the biggest push toward using social media tools. One interviewee noted that "at the conferences you could gain other librarians' ideas and how they're using it, so this then prompted me to try it at our library." This suggests that it is important for libraries who are early adopters of social media and other new technologies to seek opportunities to share their experiences which may encourage others to do the same.

Some interviewees acknowledged the influence of trends when discussing their reasons for using and implementing social media tools. They saw that other libraries were starting to "jump on here" (meaning Facebook and Twitter) and it "seemed to be coming together for them." One interviewee said there was "pressure from the knowledge that others were doing it and we were getting left behind." Members of digital service teams often follow trends closely to identify new ways of delivering effective customer service or improving everyday practices.

OBJECTIVES IN USING SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS

Interviewees identified three common objectives for using social media tools, discussed individually below.

The first was as a means of contacting library patrons, particularly those who are not everyday library users. One interviewee explained that it was important to be seen to be "reaching out to a different customer type, that will not come to the library or who is using the online catalog / resources." Similar comments were made by four other interviewees, suggesting that this is a common reason for choosing to use social media as a communication channel. One interviewee explained "it allows us to provide the opportunity to undertake RA services outside library walls." As the number of people who have mobile devices increases, extending library services to non-traditional virtual 'spaces' is increasingly important. …