Is There A Social Media Librarian In Your Library’s Future

Academic libraries are leveraging social networks to increase opportunities to connect with students and faculty. Facebook or Twitter are the primary social media tools used for this purpose, but others are exploring how geo-location sites may play into a social strategy. It’s not clear how academic libraries are tackling these new methods of marketing and promoting services and resources. Is oversight for social media accounts and activity assigned to a single librarian? Is the same staff member who oversees marketing and PR taking on social networking? Are all library workers empowered to contribute to the effort? We know little about how social media responsibilities are handled, but it’s unlikely that any academic library has yet to create a dedicated Social Media Librarian position – although whenever I say something like this in a post before the end of the day there’s a comment along the lines of “No you’re wrong – we have a Social Media Librarian here”. With Facebook reaching its 500 millionth member and Twitter members tweeting over 50 million times per day these behemoths can’t be ignored. Corporate America certainly isn’t ignoring them.

Two trends point to a growing interest in taking social network marketing quite seriously. First, many companies that market to consumers are rushing to create positions for social media officers – and that’s at a time when no one is even quite sure what someone in this position even does or what qualifies someone for such a position. But who’s waiting to figure all that out? Not companies like Sears, Petco, Ford, Pepsi and many others. Second, MBA programs are adding courses in social media to provide students with the skills needed to get jobs as social media officers or at least help their future employers create social media strategies. According to the article these courses “focus on thinking broadly about social media, not just Facebook and Twitter. Topics include the underlying psychological and sociological foundations of social media and the metrics and measurement tools for gauging the effectiveness of social media campaigns. Students are required to participate in social media marketing projects for big brands.”

An important point made in these articles is that someone who is merely a user of or participant in social media is not the same as someone who truly understands how to use it in a business or marketing context. Just because you tweet all day and watch lots of YouTube video doesn’t mean that you know how to turn social media into proactive tools for getting consumers excited about your organization and what it offers. For businesses social media is all about influencing purchase decisions. How does that translate to an academic library environment? One way in which academic librarians might become better at using social media to influence library use decisions is to become more adept at using the tools to get user community members to do the work for us – by sharing the word about the library with their friends. That’s what happens when your user community members share your library video with their friends – but you have to know how to get that started. Another is to pay more attention to what is happening in the world of business to learn how companies are leveraging social media. Having said that, I always like to remind my colleagues that saying we should pay attention to what corporations are doing is not a statement that libraries are businesses and should be run like one. Some good ideas emerge from the world of business, and we should pay attention when they do.

Does librarianship, like the MBA programs, need to provide more opportunity for LIS students to gain these skills, and if so how should it happen? I still lean on the side of not dedicating entire courses to social networking and media tools. There are too few courses LIS students get to take, and they can learn about the mechanics of social networking tools on their own time. Perhaps what is needed is a course dedicated to library marketing and promotion. Marketing and promotion appear to be the primary reasons to use social media in the context of library operations. If that’s the case we should be educating LIS students how to leverage social networking and media tools to create more library awareness and to get the community to spread the word. That seems like a sensible way to introduce these increasingly important skills for the Social Media Librarian.

13 thoughts on “Is There A Social Media Librarian In Your Library’s Future

  1. I think this is a possible development but there is no need to provide a class in social media. Students can gain social media experience in a general technology class. Also, many of the social media networks are best learned by using them. I do agree that there needs to be courses on library marketing in general which could include social media.

  2. Theresa, the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies (SLAIS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) disagrees with your opinion that such a course is unnecessary. SLAIS has been running LIBR 559M – Social Media for Information Professionals – since Fall 2009. There is a section running currently – see the course wiki at http://bit.ly/53O9O7.

    Here at Okanagan College Library, we recently hired a 2010 SLAIS grad as our Web Services Librarian. Investigation and implementation of social media are among her duties (in fact, it’s such an important component of the job that we had candidates present on the topic of social media as part of their interview) and the fact that she had taken LIBR 559M at UBC was a factor in her being interviewed and in getting the job.

  3. I have taken on the social media role at the Harvard Medical School library in addition to my other responsibilities. While I am not the only one who has permission to post on Facebook, people funnel their information through me so that there can be organization in our posts. We don’t want to overwhelm our users with too many posts/day! I think “social media librarian” is too narrow of a position. I’ve seen libraries, such as the Harvard Law School Library, start to create Outreach and Marketing positions. While it is important to learn to use the tools online there is nothing that compares to getting face time with faculty, staff and students.

  4. I work for the Association of Jewish Libraries as a social media consultant and I could not agree with you more. We’re all just out there trying to figure it out as we go. Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. As a librarian and business owner who uses social media for business and who teaches people how to use it, I have began offering library mini-classes for an hour to our students on how to use social media and have found them to be quite popular. In the future we will do this even more.

  6. Here’s a strange idea. I wonder if a FB app is the way to go. People sure do love Farmville. Of course, the idea would have to be a very appealing one, and someone would have to program it.

  7. I have to disagree that marketing and promotion may be the primary reason for an academic library to engage in social media, or that LIS students can learn it in their own time. There are several important concepts to consider in the participatory culture of social media that extend far beyond marketing. The potential for community engagement, for developing an active learning community through the use of social media is one good reason. Understanding the dynamics of social capital with respect to creating community is another. These are things that need to be analyzed through research and reflection, not just use. And the potential for folksonomies to add a whole user dimension to the cataloging metadata of a library is another powerful incentive to take social media seriously as a part of an LIS degree.

  8. Perhaps what is needed is a course dedicated to library marketing and promotion.
    Yes!
    Or at least a general course on the nuts and bolts of running a library.

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