Libraries + Social Media Done Right a.k.a. How to Be Hip Without Being a Hipster

The Short of It

My reflections on the following articles about the use of social networking in libraries:

David Stuart – “Web 2.0 in libraries should be more than social media” http://www.researchinformation.info/features/feature.php?feature_id=367

ALA | 2012 State of America’s Libraries Report – “Social networking in libraries” http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/americaslibraries/soal2012/social-networking

Basically I agree with David Stuart and argue that libraries should resist the urge to be hipsters by carefully choosing how and when they integrate social media tools into their services. 

The Long of It

First, let me identify what I deem to be the defining characteristics of most hipsters.   Hipsters constantly need to consume the next new thing because part of being hip entails knowing or having something before everyone else has it.  Hence, the very mark of a hipster is exclusivity – once something becomes inclusive – it is no longer worthy of a hipster’s attention.

Applied to the field of librarianship it is easy to see why libraries should be careful not be influenced by the hipster when deciding how to integrate social media platforms into library services.  If the mantra of the hipster is ‘exclusivity’ the mantra of the librarian should be ‘inclusive, inclusive, inclusive.’  Libraries and librarians shouldn’t blindly chase the next new fad in social media solely to entice users who won’t appreciate the effort long-term.

Of course this is not to say I agree with people who think social media is a complete waste of time.  Unlike one of the commentators of the ALA article, I don’t think social media is a “gimmick” that does nothing to contribute to the “core mission” of libraries.  I would argue instead along the same lines as David Stuart, that social media is a tool, not a toy, and should be treated as such.  Meaning instead of picking up and dropping various social media tools as a hipster would, what is necessary is thoughtful application and integration of social media to enhance services.  (Example: instead of creating a twitter feed that no one actually follows just because it’s “cool” libraries should use twitter to meet specific needs of specific patrons – such as notifying patrons who sign up for the service through twitter when a book or DVD they ordered is ready for them.)  As Stuart argues in his article, libraries and librarians should move the discussion beyond whether or not one knows about Tumblr or Pinterest, and start asking questions about how those platforms, if at all, can be used to enhance the services provided to the public, as well as how to track usage of those platforms in order to improve upon and tailor the service to the particular need at hand.  In other words social media is like any other tool, if you don’t actually have a use for it, or if you don’t know how to use it properly, it’s not going to be very useful.  If on the other hand you have scope for the tool and know how to use it, social media  can be a very useful tool indeed.

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