Social Media & Society Analysis Academic Libraries Using Instagram: A Case of Elusive Success (My Conclusion)

Well, this assignment produced quite a few surprises for me! After my research and reflection, I think that academic libraries need to be prepared to conduct advance research and planning if they want to jump on the Instagram bandwagon, which I don’t recommend as appropriate for every academic library.

My analysis paper discusses how social media has become the means of library–student engagement, with Instagram widely touted as the most effective platform. Why should academic libraries set up an Instagram account? Because Instagram’s photo–sharing format appeals to students, who are accustomed to and like the visual presentation of information. Yet, Instagram demands a continual cycle of attention to maintain followers and relevance: snapshot, filter, edit, post, like, comment, repost, follow, and so on.

From an informatics perspective, Instagram helps academic libraries communicate with and connect to students since each incoming college class will consist of exponentially more Instagram users. Academic library Instagram accounts are most successful when staff administrators remember that they are conveying information to young adult students, who follow social media trends and campus events. I found that Instagram’s use by academic libraries also serves pedagogical purposes. Instructional librarians should consider integrating Instagram into library class sessions because it coincides with two ACRL frames: authority is constructed and contextual and information creation as a process. Finally, in an educational environment where return–on–investment has reached paramount status, academic libraries must demonstrate their connection to student success, and I think library Instagram accounts can function as either formal or informal altmetrics.

I concluded that, despite many positive aspects of academic libraries using Instagram, this social media tool often proves to be a case of elusive success. Brookbank (2015) asks, “Does it necessarily follow, however, that college students will want to interact with their library via social media?” (p. 236). For academic libraries with limited staff, assessing student interest in an official library Instagram account and the type of content to be posted, such as research tips or library resources, is crucial. Ultimately, I believe that academic libraries using Instagram should think of it as an experiment, which can provide more insight about the underlying links between libraries and students as well as how the library–student relationship can be improved.

*See my paper (link above) for a more detailed analysis and my complete references.

Newfound Social Media Perspective

Social Media Smoke Signals

Shelfie

I enrolled in this class with a sense of trepidation because in no way was I a social media guru, nor did I even really understand what informatics meant! However, I feel this class has prodded me forward from the ancient days of smoke signals as social media to more modern times of #shelfies. I have also grasped the importance of community informatics – evaluating the specific social media and information needs of your library to see what type(s) of social software provides the most benefit to users; in other words, embrace community analysis for strategic planning and return on investment! Overall, I’m not as intimidated or afraid of social media as I was just a few weeks ago, which is probably a good thing since social media is a popular library job interview topic!

Moreover, I’m not ashamed to admit that I still have much left to learn about social media, but so does everybody else in view of the rapid pace of change occurring across all social media platforms. Dynamic technologies cause a rapid turnover of beginners and experts. Part of the social media learning process, at least in my opinion, is realizing that you have the choice not to embrace every available social software. Yes, I am more open to exploring different social media technologies, but I am under no obligation to use those which don’t appeal to me (cough Reddit cough). And that same realization is critically important for libraries when implementing social media strategies. If your library has a large Facebook audience, yet few followers on Twitter, shouldn’t you focus your effort and energy on what returns the most dividends?

Ultimately, I have acquired a more nuanced perspective about social media. I think I was probably too dismissive of social media as lacking much utility prior to this class, really only judging it by its playful side. But my eyes have been opened! I am now a fan of tagging to make my life easier and more organized, whether personally or professionally – #timesaver. As a library and information professional-in-training, the group project was invaluable in teaching me how social media can enable beneficial and enjoyable collaboration among coworkers – even when separated by distance. Perhaps the greatest insight about social media I accrued from this class is why social media should matter to me as a future librarian. Obviously, it’s an open-access means of communication and information, yet it’s also the domain where the future of librarianship is being debated and determined. Social media isn’t exempt from the core debates of accessibility, accuracy, authority, censorship, classification, copyright, discrimination, ethics, free speech, plagiarism, publication, and relevancy that have concerned traditional physical libraries for decades. Librarians, as I hope to be, cannot ignore social media because it has become both public narrative and voice.

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Folksonomies: Losing the Reins?

'A Break, losing the Reins', 1830.

In all honesty, folksonomies make me somewhat uneasy. Theoretically, I believe that “folk taxonomies” are a democratic form of metadata, but, realistically, I wonder if folksonomies don’t represent library and information science professionals losing the reins of resource classification and organization to the detriment of people seeking information. While I consider folksonomies to be useful, I don’t think they should replace controlled vocabulary in the library environment. Perhaps a hybrid system is best to keep some oversight yet also allow for flexibility?

Despite my misgivings, I do appreciate folksonomies’ value to information seekers online. They are useful precisely as tags are generated by end-users rather than external authorities, and tags can be created by anyone to label their information content and selected for their relevancy to users. Since folksonomies are crowdsourced, hierarchical relationships don’t exist – no tag is more or less important than another. I think that folksonomies are helpful because they permit users to link items while at the same time they connect users to communities of people with shared interests. In that sense, then, folksonomies foster serendipity, allowing users to exploit one tag to discover an array of views – political, scientific, cultural, or historical – about a specific topic. Folksonomies are likewise up-to-date, echoing trends and social change. Also, folksonomies are cheap to establish, but can be an excellent return on investment if tags and the content which they represent become popular. Overall, the primary advantage of folksonomies is their inclusiveness.

On the other hand, folksonomies have a huge disadvantage: people tag items because they can find them with a certain tag, but that doesn’t mean that other people would associate the same tag with the same information resource! That lack of common context is unfortunately not the only drawback associated with folksonomies, which have no quality control. For example, what about synonyms and homonyms? Or typos and abbreviations? Not to mention different languages – Cape Town in English versus Kaapstad in Afrikaans, or Turin in English versus Torino in Italian. Also, some tags could express negative value judgments, such as #dumb or #ugly. Finally, spam tags usually have no relevancy to the resource to which they are applied and are meant to purposely misdirect users’ searches.

Nevertheless, I think that folksonomies have much future potential in libraries because people can relate to and understand social tags more easily than the LCSHs currently in OPACs. Indeed, if we as information professionals want to encourage people to use library resources, we need that human connection that folksonomies provide through tagging that is more meaningful to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures across society. Considering the question, I feel a hybrid classification system composed of traditional controlled vocabulary plus more progressive folksonomies is the solution.

 

 

 

 

 

Information Service Prototype Group Project – Creating a Goodreads Virtual Book Club for Midtown Public Library and Midtown College Library

For our LS 590 Information Service Prototype Group Project, my group used Goodreads, a social book cataloging website, to create a virtual book club prototype. Our mock institutions – Midtown Public Library and Midtown College library – faced a social software dilemma, and we believed that Goodreads was the best Web 2.0 social software tool to solve these two libraries’ “problem.” In our proposal for this project, we imagined that Midtown Public Library and Midtown College Library wanted their patrons to recognize the freedom to read and to checkout banned/challenged books during ALA’s annual Banned Books Week, September 24 to 30, 2017. We also came up with a conflict: both libraries had standing commitments to other displays during the month of September and couldn’t create a banned books-themed display within their small facilities. We proposed that, since these two libraries often collaborated on programming throughout the year, librarians at Midtown Public Library and Midtown College Library would like to create a virtual book club where their patrons could browse the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom’s lists of banned and challenged books, and also find books by genre (e.g., historical fiction, romance, biographies). Our hypothetical librarians thought it would be great if patrons were able to read reviews of banned/challenged books and give opinions of banned/challenged books that they read, stimulating community discussion. We imagined that most of the librarians were not social media-savvy, other than occasionally updating their libraries’ Facebook pages, and thus uncertain what software tool might best fit their need. That’s where our group came to the rescue with our Midtown Reads Banned Books 2017 Goodreads Book Club!

Why did we think that Goodreads was the solution to the posed problem? Goodreads allows the formation of virtual book groups populated by book content selected by moderators, so that staff members of both libraries could be involved. Also, books can be individually tagged, or added to a specific bookshelf in the parlance of Goodreads, enabling patrons to easily identify books by genres/categories/subjects. Goodreads allows book clubs to be public in nature so that patrons can join if they have existing accounts, or create a new, free accounts to participate. Once they join the book club, community members can browse and click on a book cover image to find reviews and likewise contribute their own reviews to Goodreads. We discovered that many public libraries have Goodreads accounts for book clubs and college classes routinely create Goodreads groups, and therefore believed Goodreads best satisfied Midtown libraries’ social software dilemma. Importantly for our hypothetical librarians lacking social media skills, Goodreads has a simple, user-friendly interface that is forgiving of mistakes.

My group enjoyed excellent rapport, which I think is a testament to our bond and friendship as part of the 11zs SLIS cohort. I expected that Ginny and Winnie would contribute their ideas and professional knowledge to the project, and I was not disappointed. Our group stayed in frequent contact via email and also met in the Blackboard classroom, using that live venue to brainstorm and actually create our Goodreads page. While we did work independently on some parts of the project, our book lists for example, we all participated equally in the overall prototype design. I believe our group benefited from developing this prototype because we all envisioned real-life, professional, and personal applications for this social software tool; moreover, we were highly motivated to configure our book club because we wanted to tag our favorite banned books!

Our prototype took shape based upon our proposal, which I wrote and submitted after Ginny and Winnie proofread it and suggested valuable edits. After we received approval, Ginny helpfully recommended we upload any necessary documents to a group Google Drive folder so we could have shared access. Winnie advised that we consider broadening our scope to include various genres of banned or challenged books, so I was responsible for international authors/books, biographies/memoirs, and kids’ books; Ginny added dystopian fiction, historical fiction, and science-fiction/fantasy to our bookshelf; and Winnie chose southern authors and romance/erotic literature. To determine the books to add, we consulted the many ALA banned book lists and tried to select books that would be commonly available in both public libraries and academic libraries’ popular reading collections.

Once we selected our books, we met in the Blackboard classroom where Ginny created our Goodreads book club account, Winnie and I joined as moderators, and we began working on the group settings. We decided to add a link to ALA’s Banned and Challenged Books website so that patrons in the “Midtown” community could learn more about banned/challenged books, and Winnie came up with the basis of our book club rules. We liked the idea of a Goodreads reading challenge with prizes to encourage community participation in the book club and hence invented “How Many Banned Books Can You Read?” Significantly, we agreed that our virtual book club and challenge should be open to patrons of all ages. We individually logged into Goodreads, created bookshelves, and tagged books to them.

We embellished our Goodreads book club, with Winnie adding an event based upon her public library planning expertise; Ginny contributing a poll, discussion question, and community bookshelf (to which we each added our favorite banned book); and me inserting a YouTube video about the ALA’s top ten challenged books of 2016 as well as writing our reading challenge. Our group did encounter several issues, but we worked together to solve them. We were forced to add a disclaimer, which Ginny worded and I posted, because someone joined our group believing it was real! Also, Winnie helped to revise our reading challenge to make it more manageable. Notably, Ginny realized that we need to cross-tag one book, or else risk confusing patrons by having multiple “copies” of the same book displayed among our bookshelves. The functionality of our bookshelves was enhanced because, by cross-tagging, patrons could see how one book had multiple aspects to which people might object. Finally, we thought the book club homepage looked plain, so I found and added a masthead of banned/challenged book covers which made the website much more visually appealing.

Overall, we used Goodreads to design a book club prototype to inspire community reading and discussion of banned/challenged books. This social software platform achieves a virtual means of outreach to Midtown, but also permits tremendous community engagement through such options as the reading challenge, poll, and Midtown’s Favorite Banned Books bookshelf. We tried to incorporate diverse reading tastes into our bookshelves, and we believed the many popular books tagged and displayed would provoke contemplation among book club members. Finally, Winnie’s enthusiasm for learning about Goodreads was infectious and her attention to detail was much appreciated. Ginny’s tech-know-how and analytical eye were tremendously advantageous, helping us to streamline the website and troubleshoot problems. Both these ladies also firmly kept our audience – Midtown Public Library, Midtown College Library, and their patrons – in mind during our planning, which I feel should be the ultimate objective of any group project. I was pleased and privileged to work with Winnie and Ginny!

 

 

Wikis Are Tricky

For better or worse, wikis as web-based collaborative knowledge management systems have been correlated with Wikipedia – the most famous wiki of them all. However, can we confess that Wikipedia is the information resource which we all have consulted at one time or another, but then refuse to admit using it because “we’re not supposed to”? What does that say about wikis in general as a means to create, collect, and store information? Are they good, bad, or deserving of a more nuanced perspective?

When I entered college as an undergraduate, it was drilled into me by both professors and instructional librarians to never, ever cite Wikipedia as a source for an assignment. But those same voices of authority didn’t really explain why Wikipedia was unreliable and, to further confuse matters, they would offhandedly tell me and fellow students that Wikipedia was a great starting point for locating journal articles and/or primary sources. Now that I’m a MLIS student, I know that “following the links” is citation-chaining and, in that sense, Wikipedia can help in the process of introductory information gathering. I think the question of whether open wikis, and Wikipedia, are credible is a microcosm of the larger debate about what can and can’t be trusted in the sea of internet information.

Although not often acknowledged, open wikis, with Wikipedia being the foremost example, do have strengths as information resources. First, they are open-access, and freely disseminate knowledge/information to anyone with an internet connection. Next, anyone can write and edit on open wikis, as well as collaboratively contribute information, making it egalitarian. Wikipedia is also good for quick fact checking and basic background information, and users can follow links to outside references in articles to find more in-depth information. Sure, Wikipedia is imperfect, but it’s a decent source of information since existing articles are frequently updated to reflect current events unlike traditional print reference sources. In addition, open wikis provide diverse viewpoints because of their crowdsourced content, and are highly relevant because of their broad scope which means that almost any topic is covered, even obscure subjects.

Still, open wikis have many disadvantages as information resources. I think the main criticism levied against Wikipedia is that of reliability since articles can be changed by anyone and thus factuality can be questionable. Essentially, Wikipedia as an open wiki is weak because it’s a free-for-all, lacking professional standards such as peer review and missing authoritative authors with topical expertise. Also, many articles are decidedly biased, and inaccurate information can linger. Hyperlinks embedded within articles can be deceiving; for example, if they link to an article behind a paywall, checking a reference can be difficult if not impossible. Overall, articles in open wikis like Wikipedia fail a quality analysis due to sketchy authority and ambiguous information content.

On the other hand, closed wikis are a different story, as are those wikis designed by professionals for a particular community of fellow professionals to consult for best practices (such as https://www.libsuccess.org/Library_Success:_A_Best_Practices_Wiki). These types of wikis have the advantage of vetted authorship and articles written by practitioners in the respective field. More specifically, closed wikis can act as information repositories for institutions such as academic libraries. Library personnel could consult an in-house wiki for policies and procedures documents and training materials or use it to collect statistics and record problems with library services. The wiki’s information could be easily adapted to stay current with workflow changes; even more importantly, this type of in-house knowledge management system means that when staff leave or retire, their knowledge is not lost to the library, but instead preserved for future reference within the wiki. Too, all library personnel could contribute to the wiki, making it a powerful tool for team-building and buy-in to the library’s institutional goals.

Open wikis are different from closed wikis, but I think as information professionals we need to be better teachers of information literacy. Rather than condemning Wikipedia, why not take it seriously and explain to students how to evaluate this particular information resource using the CRAAP test? And wouldn’t librarians benefit personally and professionally from implementing workplace wikis for more effective long-term knowledge management? After learning about wikis, I realize that we need to treat them more seriously, especially as they’re here to stay in the information world.

 

 

 

 

 

Academic Libraries’ Social Media Survey

As I began to research my final project for LS 590, which revolves around the use of Instagram by academic libraries, I wondered just how many college/university libraries near me actively use social media. Since I live in a rural part of the country, would that make a difference? Would these smaller academic institutions have staff fluent in social media technology? And, if they had a social media presence, would these libraries attract many followers? Therefore, I decided to conduct an informal survey!

  1. Columbia State Community College Finney Library – currently does not appear to have any social media presence. None of the offsite branch library locations have social media accounts.
  2. University of North Alabama Collier Library – interesting because the library has a Twitter account that has been inactive for over a year, yet maintains a Facebook account with about 900 followers. The library’s Instagram account is infrequently updated, but has about 300 followers.
  3. Martin Methodist College Warden Memorial Library  – this is a private, religiously-affiliated college, whose sole social media outlet appears to be Facebook. Their library page has 66 followers, and it was only created in 2015. I was actually very surprised to learn that this library had a social media presence.
  4. Athens State University Library – again, this library is only on Facebook in the social media sphere, although their page is frequently updated for its 500 or so followers.
  5. Northwest Shoals Community College Libraries – despite two locations for separate campuses, these libraries do not use social media to connect with students, which is somewhat disappointing to me but correlates to the lack of social media at the other community college on this list.

In summary, I learned several things from my brief, informal survey of academic libraries’ social media usage. First, the two community college libraries both lacked social media accounts for student outreach, which troubled me since social media might be a worthwhile tool to engage first-generation college students and enlighten them about the library’s importance to their educational success. Secondly, only one library which I included in this informal survey used Instagram. Third, I’m now following Athens State University Library and Martin Methodist College Warden Memorial Library on Facebook to see what these libraries are doing for students! Finally, UNA Collier Library’s social media strategy somewhat perplexed me. The library has a good number of followers across platforms, yet it appeared to be under-utilizing Twitter. Or maybe library staff determined it wasn’t worth the effort? Overall, I hope that the community college libraries near me don’t get left behind when it comes to using social media for outreach and communication with students.