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Librarians prevalent in use of social media

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Jodie Bell of Taylor & Francis asks: how important is social media as a communication tool?

Social media is forming an increasingly central part of how we all communicate. Its online communities carry a strong and influential voice, and there is much to be gained from engaging directly with people through these channels – whether that be to reach readers, customers, or even just to network with colleagues.

With most social media channels only having been in existence for less than 10 years, can any of us claim to be an expert? How best to navigate all that social media has to offer in such a fast-paced and evolving digital climate? Is it really worth all the time and resource to set up and manage an active social media account?

A social media white paper

Taylor & Francis sought to address some of these questions by conducting research into how the library community is currently using and applying social media. Libraries have been particularly prevalent in their uptake of social media, and use it as a key medium for engaging with their users. As such, it is an issue close to the heart of how libraries are evolving and Taylor & Francis wanted to help benchmark current use and provide best practice recommendations to help navigate what the future may bring.

The research conducted was on a global scale – more than 600 librarians worldwide contributed their thoughts, suggestions and experiences through focus groups, telephone interviews, an online survey and a Twitter party. All the research was then compiled into a white paper, which has now been published online and is available to download for free.

Uncovering social media use

We were fascinated by the case studies and ideas shared, and while they focused on a library setting, there was much which can be generally applied to any social media account, particularly for those working in higher education.

We heard about how librarians are managing to balance time and resource against providing an active social media channel (librarians taking part in a focus group held in India described how they shared the workload in order to provide a timely response to queries), and some inspiring promotional ideas, such as the library ‘shelfie’ used to promote Nottingham University Library’s collection.

There were also some very interesting discoveries made through the online survey, including the following:

  • 61 per cent of libraries have been using social media for three years or more;
  • 30 per cent post to social media daily;
  • Facebook is the most popular channel, with 58 per cent of librarians using it regularly; and
  • 75 per cent of libraries schedule posts ad hoc, with no social media policy or plan in place.

These statistics would indicate that social media use, in the libraries we surveyed at least, is generally still at an early experimental stage, with no clear emerging trend.

As can be seen from these figures, very few libraries are implementing a policy to manage their social media output, and while Facebook is the most popular channel currently used, feedback from our focus groups would suggest that younger audiences are increasingly switching off from this platform and looking to more visual channels, such as Instagram and Pinterest, instead.

This leads to many questions as to where social media use may develop in the future, and we see the white paper as being just a start to that discussion.

What’s next for the research?

A planned web-based resource to be released over the coming months will provide further focus on themes raised by the white paper, such as measuring impact, using social media as a customer service tool, and how it is used regionally (e.g. in Africa and south-east Asia).

If you would like to help contribute to this further research, have a comment to make about the white paper, or would like to share your experience of using social media in your library, get in touch with us at communications@tandf.co.uk

The white paper can be accessed online for free, along with accompanying top level data, infographic visualisations of key findings, video presentations and more. See http://bit.ly/socialmediatf for more details.

Jodie Bell is communications manager for library relations at Taylor & Francis. She co-ordinates communications to the international library community with a focus on company and industry-level projects that have an impact on librarians

About the author

Jodie Bell is communications manager for library relations at Taylor & Francis. She co-ordinates communications to the international library community with a focus on company and industry-level projects that have an impact on librarians