Dreaming out loud: An ideal ongoing sponsored project

As I’m continuing with the 38-state, 5,957-library survey of current public library Twitter and Facebook practice, with 850 libraries left to go (but 2,406 to revisit beginning 11/25, four months after they were first checked), recognizing that it’s a heck of a lot of research for one book (a book that will not be entirely or even primarily research results)…

I think about what I’d like to do in the future–if there was an appropriate sponsoring and facilitating agency.

Sponsoring: To pay a modest sum (at least a modest hourly sum) for the research and writing. Facilitating: To make sure the results reached the appropriate audience–and maybe to extract the nationwide set of public library data (OK, so I could buy Access and extract it myself, or install a robust enough programming environment to extract it from the flat files…)

Not that I’m expecting anything like this to happen–it’s too small-scale for typical grant situations and I don’t have the institutional credentials or backing to seek such grants. Still, I think it would be highly useful to the library community, although that may also be misguided.

The idea

A true nationwide study of public library use of / presence on social networks, with possibly a few extensions on library website findability. Involving all 9,000-odd public libraries/library agencies. Ideally, done every year or every other year for at least two or three cycles.

For this to work as a one-man “crazed researcher” project, the sponsoring agency and I would have to agree on a set of data that’s plausibly gatherable in, say, three to four minutes tops for each library. At three minutes, that’s 450 hours of data gathering (but you go nuts spending more than 3-4 hours each day on this kind of work). At four minutes, it’s 600 hours. At five minutes, it’s 750 hours. I figure data analysis and writeup at 150 hours or more.

What I’m gathering now probably averages 90 seconds to 2 minutes per library, and I find I can do at most 125, maybe 150 libraries a day. Here’s what I’m doing now:

  • Finding the library website if there is one, using Google and the name provided by the state library with the state name added, cleaning up some oddities as I go.
  • If there is a website, following Facebook and Twitter icons or text links if they exist and work, to get the specifics below.
  • If there isn’t a website or if one or both icons/links is either missing or doesn’t work, searching the first 100 results in Google for “faceb” and “twit” and, if appropriate sites are found, getting the specifics below.
  • If this doesn’t work for either or both, searching within Facebook and/or Twitter to see if I can find something for the specifics below–and here are those specifics:
  • For Facebook: How I got there (homepage, Google, or Facebook); the number of Likes (or Friends or Group members in special cases); currency of the latest and fifth most recent post (divided into categories of day, week, fortnight, month, quarter, six-month, year, and beyond: so, for example, libraries checked today would have date boundaries of 11/18/2011, 11/12/2011, 11/5/2011, 10/19/2011, 8/19/2011, 5/19/2011, and 11/19/2010 respectively); and whether there’s visible evidence of engagement (defined as at least one non-spam post, comment or like), recording “y” if there’s at least one comment, “l” if there are post-level likes but no comments.
  • For Twitter: How I got there; the number of followers, number being followed, and total tweets; then the same currency notes; and obvious evidence of retweeting or responding (but I don’t spend a lot of time looking for this).

I’m not sure what would make sense for a longer-range, broader project, if indeed any of this makes sense at all. I think the measures so far are all useful (total tweets primarily for followup purposes–e.g., for the 380-odd libraries with Twitter accounts among the first 2,406 libraries I studied, I’ll know the tweet frequency fairly exactly). Possible additions:

  • Existence of a  working MySpace link; unsure whether any visible MySpace measures are worth tracking at this point. Yes, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of libraries with MySpace icons.
  • Existence of a working Google+ link (assuming this is done in late 2012 or later) and key visible measures, if those are available. Unsure whether checking for Google+ pages within Google search results or within Google+ would be useful–it’s a time sink, and for Facebook and Twitter I think the added yield for searches within the application comes out to about 0.1%-0.2%.
  • Maybe existence of a working Flickr link and key measures, although Flickr is (I think) less of a social network than these others.
  • Ditto YouTube…
  • Possibly a number for relative placement of the library’s homepage within the Google result, although I’m not sure whether that’s meaningful.
  • Maybe there are others I haven’t thought of. LinkedIn? Worth the trouble?

The idea would be to gather this over a reasonable period (3-4 months), write up a variety of results (and possibly make extracted spreadsheets available), and then redo it every other year (or every year), adding or deleting new social networks as appropriate.

What it would need

Some form of sponsorship and distribution method so that the results were widely available–and so I’d be getting some kind of remuneration for the work. (How much remuneration? Certainly in the five-figure range, with an actual figure depending on what’s feasible, whether the results would appear under my name or not, and, um, special arrangements for one or two institutions that are highly unlikely to go for this anyway. And no, MFPOFTW–my former place of full-time work–is not one of those institutions: I’d be delighted to work with them.)

This is mostly dreaming out loud. I think it would be worthwhile–but that may be wrong. I find the research fascinating (if slogging), but certainly not worth doing beyond the book’s publication if no money is involved.

If anyone’s interested and knows of a way to make this happen, you know how to contact me–comments here, mail to waltcrawford at gmail.com.

I won’t be holding my breath. I just wanted to get this down for the record.


4 Responses to “Dreaming out loud: An ideal ongoing sponsored project”

  1. laura says:

    Okay, I’ll bite.

    Why do you think such a study would be useful? Why is it important how frequently a library tweets? What would someone want to do with these spreadsheets of data?

    I’m not trying to be difficult — I’m truly wondering — because my initial impression is that this data would be about as useful to me as, say, knowing the average percentage of cars parked in library parking lots that are red (although now that I mention that, of course, I’d be fascinated to know, and to know if there’s any difference in car color make up between, say, libraries and malls). But yeah. Anyway. I’m mystified.

  2. walt says:

    That’s a good question, and I’m not sure I have a good answer. The overall picture–how libraries are doing with social networks–seemed sufficiently worthwhile for a publisher to buy into the book. I think that a more detailed picture would be helpful to libraries in evaluating their own social networking efforts (or lack thereof). Whether anybody would or should make use of the full spreadsheets–that’s another issue.

    I guess I’d draw the analogy of wondering whether typical libraries comparable in size to yours managed to fill most or all of their parking lots on a regular basis. Is that information useful? Not sure.

    If you’re in a tiny library (one with an LSA of <1,000) or what I’m lumping together as small libraries (up to 9,999), is it useful to see how frequently other libraries of those sizes manage to post–and how successful they are at getting community engagement?

    Again, I’m not sure. Maybe taking this beyond the book is pointless; hell, maybe adding the additional states is pointless. It’s clearly not something I’ll pursue on my own.

    Then again, if you asked me about the usefulness of a whole series of survey-based “research” reports in the library field, I’d be hard-pressed to provide an answer or to keep from laughing. So I’m certainly not offended by the question!

  3. laura says:

    Okay, makes sense.

    I think maybe the reason that most of the writing that gets done about libraries and social networks is about “look at this cool thing this one library did” is that that sort of article is the kind of thing you can copy. “Oh, hey, we could tweet and ask people about their favorite books!” strikes me as more helpful in terms of getting an idea what to do with your Twitter account than knowing “oh, libraries with our service population tweet an average of 4 times a week.”

  4. walt says:

    “more helpful”? Absolutely. No disagreement here.

    I’m hoping that the book, and any future research, will be useful. It might help a librarian (or a volunteer at a very small library) say “Hmm. There are a bunch of other libraries our size who seem to be able to attract followers. What are they doing differently?” And I hope the commentary will help answer that question. But the “what we’re doing good/what X did good” articles and posts are, in my opinion, absolutely vital as well.

    Where I think some (certainly not all, maybe not most) of the traditional literature may fail is the extent to which it focuses on “look at what this very well funded library with lots of extra staff members did”–which can be a little discouraging if you’re in a more typical library, as can admonishments that you need to post every single day for your social network presence to be useful or that if you don’t have lots of conversations happening, you’re failing.