Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Building Library Community through Social Media

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Building Library Community through Social Media

Article excerpt


This paper describes an academic library's approach to building community through Twitter. Much of the literature offers guidance to libraries on approaches to using social media as a marketing tool. The research presented here reframes that conversation to explore the role of social media as it relates to building community. The researchers' university library formed a social media group and implemented a social media guide to bring an intentional, personality-rich, and interaction-driven approach to its social media activity. Quantitative analyses reveal a significant shift and increase in Twitter follower population and interactions, and suggest promising opportunities for social media to strengthen the library's ties with academic communities.


Research in libraries has long brought a critical analysis to the value, purpose, and practical usage of social media. Glazer asked of library Facebook usage, "Clever outreach or costly diversion?" [1] Three years later, Glazer presented a more developed perspective on Facebook metrics and the nature of online engagement, but social media was still described as "puzzling and poorly defined." [2] Vucovich et al. furthermore notes that "the usefulness of [social networking tools] has often proven elusive, and evaluating their impact is even harder to grasp in library settings." [3] Li and Li similarly observe that there "seems to be some confusion regarding what exactly social media is." [4] Social media has been experimented with and identified variously as a tool for enhancing the image of libraries, [5] as a digital listening post, [6] or as an intelligence gathering tool. [7] With such a variety of perspectives and approaches, the discussion around social media in libraries has been somewhat disjointed.

If there is a common thread through library social media research, however, it ties together the broadcast-based promotion and marketing of library resources and services, what Li calls "the most notable achievement of many libraries that have adopted social media." [8] This particularly common approach has been thoroughly examined. [9,10,11,12,13,14,15] In evaluating the use of Facebook at Western Michigan University's Waldo Library, Sachs, Eckel, and Langan found that promotion and marketing was the only "truly successful" use for social media. [16] A survey of Estonian librarians revealed that Facebook "is being used mainly for announcements; it is reduplicating libraries' web site[s]. Interestingly librarians don't feel a reason to change anything or to do something differently." [17] With this widespread approach to social media, much of the library literature is predominated by exploratory descriptions of current usage and implementation methods under the banner of promoting resources by meeting users where they are on social media. [18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27] This research is effective at describing how social media is used, but it often does not extend the discussion to address the more difficult and valuable question of why social media is used.

The literature of library science has not yet developed a significant body of research around the practice of social media beyond the broadcast-driven, how-to focus on marketing, promotion, and public-relations announcements. This deficiency was recognized by Saw, who studied social networking preferences of international and domestic Australian students, concluding "to date, the majority of libraries that use social networking have used it as a marketing and promotional medium to push out information and announcements. Our survey results strongly suggest that libraries need to further exploit the strengths of different social networking sites." [28] From this strong emphasis on marketing and best practices emerges an opportunity to examine social media from another perspective--community building--which may represent an untapped strength of social networking sites for libraries. …

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