How have we been making use of social media? Are libraries doing it right? It’s one of the hot topics in the library and information landscape. The combination of articles, conference subjects, and an email chat with Tosca Waerea, Social Media Co-ordinator at Auckland Libraries, has made me think about turning that around. Why don’t we, as librarians, start talking more about what we actually do?

I am going to discuss how we at Christchurch City Libraries use social media  – what we think is important, what we do, and why we do it. Hopefully it opens up a dialogue amongst Kiwi librarians. Wouldn’t it be grand if our information community were more forthcoming about sharing information on making the best use of social media?

Not The Voice – many voices

We have always valued having a range of people contributing. Bloggers come from all over our network, in a variety of teams, and roles. We want everybody who has something to say. We do a brief bit of training on the tools, and help new bloggers with the technical bits. There isn’t an identikit library voice that we expect everyone to conform too.

Trust your bloggers to come up with something cool to say. Aurelia is relatively new on the Christchurch City Libraries blog, but already she’s come up with a great post on New Zealand comic Aotearoa Whispers. Bronwyn can be relied on for fangirl passion and enthusiasm. Colleen knows our databases in the Source inside out and always puts a clever spin on them. Jane buys for the collection and can spot a trend or a Chrissie bestseller at 50 paces. Zac is the star of the Christchurch kids blog - not only does he write posts and interview authors, but he also enables kids to blog too, as well as running cool competitions.

What brings the voices together is passion, enthusiasm and knowledge. Social media is about us coming together as a community of librarians as well as being a voice for the library.

What are you talking about?

We talk about all sorts of things – events, new books, new stuff on the website. Our one caveat is the stuff you talk about should have some connection to the library. But with public libraries it isn’t hard to find a link.

Timeliness is one of the most powerful advantages of social media. Be part of what’s happening. In Christchurch we became part of the Canterbury earthquakes emergency response and recovery. #chch #eqnz were all too familiar hashtags on Twitter. Social media gave us a communication channel when we didn’t have one and we shared information about libraries but also civil defence and welfare.

When Margaret Mahy died, we mourned her loss and also shared some of the marvellous Mahy stuff we have.

Our monthly website theme provides us with some focus for post and tweets.

Be alert, and be there to share what you have that is useful and relevant.

Content is king

It seems wasteful of our precious time to go feeding social media as if it was a ravenous beast. Why not make it a natural part of your workflow and a way to promote what you’ve been working on. For example:

  • Publish or update content in your collection.
  • Frame a story around it for the blog.
  • Use Facebook and Twitter to publicise the content and your post. With Twitter, you can pull out one intriguing fact to draw people in.

Make your unique content work for you. An example is this History of the Oxford Baptist Church in Christchurch. A souvenir booklet had just been digitised, so the blog post features that but also adds in the other relevant content we have, including recent photos. The content could also do double duty and be made later into a web page.

We have some regular posts like Picturing Canterbury, and more recently have started This week in history and posts of gorgeous books covers from our Next Reads newsletters.

Share the best articles you find in day-to-day life. Make the most of the organisations and people you follow, and the newsletters you subscribe to. If you are having to trawl the web to find interesting information to share, then you are doing something wrong. It is there leaping up at you everyday – like a river full of fish.

Made you look

Twitter gives you 140 characters to say what you’ve got to say. Most library tweets will be linking to something else. So think about how you are going to draw people in. Be alluring! There are lots of ways to do this. A call to action, a quirky fact, a pithy observation. We all have our own style – but it’s interesting to see the same link framed differently can get a lot more retweets, likes, or shares.

What’s under the bonnet – looking at the tools and processes

There are a myriad of tools to help you manage your social media channels. We use Hootsuite because it allows us to publish to both Twitter and Facebook, shortens the links nicely, and lets you schedule posts. It also helps you manage statistics and analysis. Whatever tools you use, have a look under the bonnet and see how they can work harder for you.

Do you have a process for answering social media queries? Do they only get answered when a particular person is in the office? It is important to think about managing this. We have our Fingertip Library call centre staff empowered to answer questions. They work all the hours libraries are open, and seven days – plus they know a lot about library information so are uniquely place to give good answers.

The power of the image

What’s the stuff that gets people revved up in social media? We’ve found that images have great traction. Whether they are heritage images from your collection, photos of events in your libraries, or shots from around town – these are often the things that get retweeted, reposted and shared.

Have a go at making a Facebook album. These seem to go like hot cakes – they make the most of your pictures, and are easily shareable.

We use Flickr to manage some of our images, and this works well in a social media context. You can plop images into blog posts, it interacts well with Twitter and Tumblr, and it is great to replace boring old stock photos with your own images -  people in your libraries, cool displays, local shots.

Anzac Day 1980Get your customers to share their photos with you. We are about to kick off our 2012 Christchurch photo hunt. We have got some astonishing images over the years from this competition. The 2009 winner ANZAC Day is pictured at left. We also received Welcome Home, a 15 minute film showing personal footage from the three forces returning to Lyttelton on 21 December 1945.

The social catalogue

Our BiblioCommons catalogue allows us to add comments to items. This gives us a chance to do some useful linking. There is a blog post on a book. The book is recorded in the catalogue. How do we bring the two things together? We need to think about how we add value into the catalogue by linking to the post. It’s an evolving process that needs continuous improvement and consideration.

Pay it forward

Last year we read Diane Henjyoji’s research paper How ‘Social’ Are New Zealand Public Libraries?: An Evaluation of the Use of Social Media for Relationship Marketing. We found it helpful in that it gave us lots of things to improve on. One was “generosity”:

Since Christchurch Library cross-posts from their blogs, they have quite a lot of “Noise”, but they ReTweet rarely, which means that they have a low “Generosity” measure.

We have tried to improve on this by retweeting cool tweets more often, and by generally being more responsive and engaged with other Twitter users. I quite like to wave my library flag high and give well-deserved kudos to libraries and organisations doing (and sharing) great stuff. Keep it coming!

A reading list on social media in New Zealand public libraries