Making Book 18. Successful Social Networking in Libraries

This book has been a voyage of discovery—one that began with a loose agenda and ended with a greater appreciation for the sheer diversity of America’s public libraries and the extent to which small libraries are the centers of their communities.

The loose agenda was not a set of theses and prescriptions for what constitutes successful social networking and whether public libraries were doing it right. Instead, I set out to see what was happening: how prevalent library social networking actually is and whether it seems to be reaching an audience.

Thus begins the preface for this, the most recent of my professionally-published library books (as of now: #19 should, Gaia willing, the creeks don’t rise and a certain government agency gets the data out, appear sometime in 2014).

I proposed the project to ALA Editions in early 2011, with the assumption that librarians are intelligent and generally sensible people who know what they’re doing. Since social network activity would not be a long-established service that might be difficult to shut down, they wouldn’t be maintaining Facebook pages or tweeting unless those efforts were reasonably successful as that library defines success.

I also disbelieved assertions I’d seen, as early as late 2010, that all or almost all public libraries already had Facebook pages. That struck me as implausible—but also easy to investigate. If I checked 200 libraries and 180 or more of them were visible on Facebook, then I was wrong or the sample was biased.

I started out with a two-state project (which immediately convinced me that I was not wrong in doubting the universality of library Facebook involvement); it grew by stages until it eventually involved 38 states and nearly 6,000 libraries. (At the time, my choice of states was partly limited by the lack of an Excel version of IMLS’ public library datasets; I found out after the survey was complete that Excel could, in fact, open the Access version. Since then, IMLS has begun releasing the datasets in Excel and CSV forms, making it even easier. Still: 6,000 libraries was a lot of work; going from 38 states and 6,000 libraries to 51 states & DC and more than 9,000 libraries would be more work than I signed on for.)

I investigated social networking activity the hard way: I looked. And in 2011, you could find out quite a bit about Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, including information that’s no longer as readily available. I was able to document the number of followers or likes, the total number of tweets and, by examination, the typical rate of tweeting, Facebook updating, and comments for a given library.

I also got some great comments from a number of public librarians regarding aspects of social networking, and used some of those comments in the book.

The investigation was a lot of work—possibly more than I’ve done for any other book. I think it was worth it.

The book itself is a combination of commentary, tabular results, graphs, quoted tweets, updates and comments, and advice. For various reasons, there was some delay in the book’s final appearance, but it’s out now, and I believe it’s still relevant. I also continue to believe that each library needs to determine what constitutes success—that for an outsider to declare a library’s social networking activity to be useless is simply inappropriate. But that’s another discussion.

Crawford, Walt. Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8389-1167-9 (pbk.)

So: That’s it. Unless I offer similar comments about the self-published books I’ve done…

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