Real data on library use of social networks?

Here’s an honest question that may reflect my lack of intimate current knowledge of the formal library literature:

Has anyone studied the actual use of social networks by public libraries other than those with high-profile spokespeople/advocates? Better yet, has anyone done so on a scale broad enough to be anything more than anecdata?

I’m asking not because I assume the results would be “not much of any use” but, actually, the opposite: I’m beginning to suspect there’s a lot of real-world l0w-key adoption that we don’t hear about.

Why? Anecdata, of course. I was reducing the 16,000 words of Cites & Insights 11:2 to a 2,000-word Online column and found myself adding new material—and wondering what I’d find locally.

Just for fun, I thought I’d see what elements of 2.0 technologies I could locate at three well-used local public libraries—the one I use now and the two I used previously. None of these have high profiles nationally; all are reasonably but not lavishly funded; all are in a region where use of social networking and other “2.0” tools should be predictably high. All three communities are roughly the same size (70,000-75,000 population).

The library I use now, Livermore Public Library, has had the same director for more than two decades. She has a blog—but doesn’t use it all that often, with nine posts in the three years since it began. (One post speaks to the nonsense you hear sometimes from doomcryers about most people not wanting or using public library services: In a local survey, 81% of respondents reported using LPL—and they rated service quality at 79 on a 100-point scale, a very high result.) There’s also a teen blog—but it’s only had three posts in its one-year life. LPL also has a Facebook page with a fairly steady stream of updates on LPL programs (seven updates in the last two weeks) “liked” by 550 people and a Twitter feed with 172 followers, with 905 tweets to date. How many of those 172 followers are actual Livermore residents interested in library issues? That’s a tougher question. There’s also a mobile catalog, a version of LPL’s catalog stripped down to a bare all-text minimum. All in all, a reasonable showing for a library with high usage and budgetary problems that stem entirely from city budgetary problems.

Mountain View Public Library devotes most of a straightforward home page to a catalog search box and set of current events—but there’s also a “Social Networking” icon that leads to a surprising wealth of items, some oddly identified (e.g., the library’s blog is identified as Blogspot rather than by its name). The library blog appears to serve as the source of the home page’s center strip; it’s entirely official announcements and book reviews and has ten posts in the past 3.5 months. A Teen Blog began in April 2010 and had 45 posts during 2010. There’s also a Delicious page with the library’s bookmarks (189 in all), a Facebook page with 285 people Liking it and 15 items in the past month—and another TeenZone Facebook page with 37 people liking it, clear evidence of teen patron involvement but relatively few recent updates; a Flickr photostream with 93 photos; two Twitter streams, a general one having 311 followers (and itself following 169 other streams!) and a fairly steady stream of tweets and a much smaller teen stream (33 followers, 88 tweets); and—unusually—a Yelp link, where you’ll find 89 reviews for the library. (Based on those reviews, MVPL is doing quite a few things right!) All in all, an impressive showing.

Like Livermore, Redwood City Public Library has a slideshow current-even element on its home page which can be either great or annoying. The front page doesn’t link directly to any blogs—but does have Facebook and Twitter icons. The Facebook page has 295 people Liking it and four updates in the last two weeks; the Twitter stream has 124 followers and 123 tweets—four of them within the last two weeks. In fact, RCPL had one of the earliest public library blogs, Liblog, beginning in 2002—but its URL now links directly to the library’s home page.

Conclusion? All of these libraries are using social networks with varying effectiveness. None of them makes a big deal of their usage. That may be as it should be.

2 Responses to “Real data on library use of social networks?”

  1. I came across your post via an RSS feed. What you can’t tell from looking at our social media presence is that we reach out to people who mention Mountain View Library or just the word library within a 15 mile radius (via Twitter search). We have answered reference questions, service concerns, reader’s advisory questions, and also had the opportunity to brag about our jazz CD collection. This proactive customer service has real value in that people really appreciate it and we generate a positive connection with our community.

  2. walt says:

    Laura: Thanks for that addition. Does that have something to do with your follows on Twitter? Makes perfectly good sense… I used MVPL a lot when we lived in Mountain View, and liked it. (I could say the same about RCPL when we lived in Redwood City, and certainly LPL now that we live in Livermore…)