Social Media in Libraries: It's like, Complicated

By Canty, Nick | Alexandria, August 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Social Media in Libraries: It's like, Complicated

Canty, Nick, Alexandria


The growth of social media and social networking sites has been one of the most impressive aspects of the internet in recent years and its popularity is undeniable. Twenty-two per cent of all time spent online is on social media sites, or one in every four and a half minutes and three quarters of global consumers who go online visit social media sites (Nielsen wire, 2010). Whether or not we agree with the view that social media have the ability to break down the traditional barriers between the public and the private by putting power in the hands of the user or take a more sceptical view that social media is little more than a 'daily me' (Sunstein in Curran, Fenton and Freedman, 2012) or 'mass self communication'(Castells, 2009), it is safe to assume that social media are here to stay and are now a priority for many organizations. The challenge for all organizations, but particularly acute for people working in the information industry, is how to harness and exploit these communication channels to best effect. The disputed and subjective term Library 2.0 is open to interpretation but what is clear is that in a networked society library service is likely to be increasingly virtual, participatory and collaborative with the focus on user-centered change and participation. In this scenario, also termed radical trust, the library becomes user generated (Beruhe, 2011). Engaging with social media is a step towards this scenario.

This article examines how social media tools are being used by some major libraries across the world. The article is based on data analysis of library use of social media sites and provides some insight into how libraries are engaging with social media. Libraries are accustomed to technological change and many seem to have embraced social media with enthusiasm. Much of the discussion around social media use in libraries has appeared in practitioner publications rather than academic journals, a notable issue which suggests the debate is still in the stage of direct knowledge transfer rather than analysis.


The networked society is today a reality with billions of people connected to the internet and able to communicate through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. However, although the terms social media, social networks and Web 2.0 have become ubiquitous it is worth dissecting them to provide some clarity in this complex world. Drawing a line between the related concepts of Web 2.0 and User Generated Content, Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) define social media as 'a group of Internet-integrated applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 (the platform) and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content (the ways in which people make use of social media)'.

There are no agreed definitions of the umbrella term 'social media' but those presented by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) provide a useful framework:

* Collaborative projects: These allow the joint creation and sharing of content between users with the underlying philosophy that the effort of many leads to better outputs. The leading example here is Wikipedia.

* Blogs: Blogs can trace their history back to the earliest days of the internet but they took off around 1997-98. Today there are estimated to be more than 160 million blogs in existence, either active or abandoned in cyberspace.

* Content communities: The sharing of content across different media types such as videos on YouTube, photos on Flickr and PowerPoint on Slideshare.

* Social networking sites: These are applications in which a social network's members serve dual roles as both the suppliers and the consumers of content. Social networks allow users to connect with each other and exchange a wide variety of media content, be it film, photos, text or audio files among others. Increasingly used by corporations as a marketplace to sell goods. …

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Social Media in Libraries: It's like, Complicated


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