“With power comes great responsibility” How librarians can harness the power of social media for the benefit of library users.

social media library
Library flipchart

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the annual conference of the CILIP Multimedia, Information and Technology Group’s (MmIT) held at the University of Sheffield in mid-September. The opening keynote from Marie Kinsley (Professor of Journalism, University of Sheffield) discussed the core of some of the issues the conference title indicated and we would face in the next two days. She illustrated how powerful social media was when we were not allowed to have access to information on the Minton report banned under injunction. Using social networking sites thousands of people spread the information. Within 12 hours, millions of people around the world knew of the Minton report and Trafigura had become one of the most searched-for internet terms.

The question is how can libraries use the benefits of social media for their users? I picked up some tips at the conference to answer this question.

Where are your users?

Many speakers agreed that we must go on social media where our users are, not where we think they should be. Successful social media presence comes from knowing your users well and understanding their needs. For example last year I run a survey at Regent’s University London and asked my students at the library what social media platforms they think the library should be using. Currently the library is only on Twitter. Surprisingly the absolute winner was Instagram! If most of my students, bear in your mind that Regent’s has a chiefly undergraduate student body, prefer the visual advantages of Instagram, perhaps I should spend less time on promoting our Twitter account. Let alone creating a Facebook profile for the library. For searching social media try Topsy which covers a range of media all in one place.

Incorporate social media into information literacy and academic research

Many of the workshops addressed information literacy skills. Covering social media in information literacy skill sessions is a good way of making students aware of the platforms libraries are using. Some said that Academic Liaison Librarians should also now teach students and academics how to use social media tools. Here at Regent’s such training is provided by the University’s Learning Technology Team.  Welcome packs given to new students detailing for example useful Twitter, Facebook, Instagram accounts from key departments and schools to follow can encourage students to use social media platforms for their learning and ensure that they find the right ones.

Social media can also be essential because many students engage with libraries remotely. I do not only mean distance learners and part-time students but those studying all across the University in student rooms, on corridors or in the student bar. Academic conversation on social media is a source of information for students studying. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the University of Edinburgh has its own social media community that meets every second month. I like this idea very much!

Regent's Uni on twitter
Regent’s on Twitter

Impact of social media

One of the most interesting presentations was a study by Claire Sewell who measured the impact of social media marketing on users of a business faculty library at a large university. It was fascinating to hear whether a like or a re-tweet would actually affect anything. The entire research paper is available here. Having been to many workshops over the course of the two days, I have come to the conclusion that social media has a positive effect on the student perception of the library. The communication is crucial, social media experts in the library play a significant role. Recently, Liz MacCarthy (@maccarthy_liz) was named on Jisc’s list of 50 most influential social media users in UK HE having set up a twitter account for Oxford’s Bodleian librarians @bodleianlibs. In the future, communicating this way might become part of our job roles.

You can see the Twitter timeline for the conference on Storify.

Gregory Toth, Regent’s University, London

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