Librarians and social media engagement

Or, Twitter & blogs as ways of knowing, Part 2.

A month or so ago, I poked a little gentle fun at social media extremists, basically exploring the idea that engaging online is the be-all and end-all of the library profession versus the idea that much of what we do online is peripheral to the main thrust of what librarianship is all about. To a certain degree, I guess I was setting up a couple of straw people just for the purpose of knocking them down but at the time it seemed like contrasting those extremes was a useful way of looking at the issue.

Of course, I don't believe either extreme is the correct path, but rather somewhere in the middle. Curiously, I didn't actually state what I thought the correct path for online social media engagement might be.

My core assumption is that for academic librarians, professional development is a key part of our jobs. We must keep up with what is happening in the broader library world, the worlds of our patrons and the the world as a whole. Keeping up includes current events, disciplinary trends, applications of new technologies and social trends, particularly as they effect higher education and the lives of the mostly young people who are in our student cohort.

So without further ado, John Dupuis' Laws of Librarian Social Media Engagement.

  • Engaging professional communities through online social media is a good thing
  • Not everybody has to be present on every platform
  • Pick one or two that make sense for you
  • Stick with the one(s) that make sense and contribute to the community
  • Engage beyond the library community

In other words, if it was up to me, I think it's a good idea for people to be engaged online in at least one place: through blogging or on Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, Nature Network, LinkedIn, 2collab, Mendeley or whatever. Pick one and get involved; amongst all of us we can cover them all increasing our presence online as a profession, sharing our perspective and bringing outside perspectives back to librarianship.

And I think that's an important point. Part of engaging is getting beyond the library world into the worlds of those we hope to serve with our collections and services. It can mean crossing over into science communities or technology or marketing or history or fine arts or higher education administration or whatever.

Some good examples of that would be the presence of a couple of librarians here on ScienceBlogs, over at Nature Network (Frank Norman is an excellent example of a librarian who engages scientists at Nature Network) or the rather harmonious co-existence of librarians and science people on Friendfeed. And I'm sure there are others that i don't know about.

Personally, I'm an active blogger (obviously) but I'm also active on Friendfeed and Twitter. I used to be more active on Nature Network and LinkedIn, but there are only so many hours in the day.

Now, do I really think every librarian will join a social network for professional development purposes? Of course not. You're never going to get everyone to do any one thing. And for what it's worth, Twitter, et al. just aren't for everyone.

What I do think is that everyone owes it to themselves and to their profession to at least give it a try. And yes, this statement would apply beyond librarianship to any profession.

5 responses so far

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    Great post, John. Something you said right there at the end about there only being so many hours in the day triggered a thought.

    When I've heard people complain about using social media as part of their job, the complaint is often "They want me to do my regular job full-time and this, too? I just don't have time!"

    Ideally, you could find ways to use social media to save you time. The social media outreach programs in many libraries allow librarians to answer questions and make information available that they'd otherwise have to deal with via phone calls or people coming up to the information desk.

  • Kath says:

    Excellent post. Social media has it's place, but it's not the ONLY place. And depending on what your library focus is, and what skills your staff have in social media, the place you do so will be different from other libraries.

    We need to hone the tried and true, and innovate with the new.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Thanks, Mr. G. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to try new things, so there's always an excuse. However, if you're in a knowledge profession, like scientists or librarians....

    Also, I've answered questions from students using Meebo, Facebook and Twitter over the last couple of years, even Fb chat, and I use blogs to host the notes for literature research skills classes I do. I find that works really well, since the students can google their course number and find my notes.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Hi Kath, I agree that social media don't solve all our problems, especially in connecting with patron groups who may not be on those platforms at all.

    However, I'm talking here a bit more about our own professional development; in that context, there's pretty well always going to be value in connecting with our colleagues online rather than just f2f.

  • Great discussion, John. I'm with you on this one. It is okay for all of us to not be everywhere. Let the few of us who really enjoy it do the experimenting, act as the "canaries in the coalmine" for everyone else. But, it is a good idea to pay a little attention to what is happening just to remain somewhat well-versed in it, and to figure out what is valuable.


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