3) Social media in libraries
The main speaker in this section was Alison Cullingford (Special Collections Librarian at Bradford University), who I suspect needs no introduction to any special collections librarian who's dabbled in social media already! The case study was provided by Jill Whitelock (Head of Special Collections, Cambridge University Library).
Some conference attendees were already using social media in their libraries, others were not, and Alison emphasised the importance of using it at the right level for both you and your institution. It is now ubiquitous - all good websites now include things like comment boxes and links to share pages on Twitter, Facebook etc.
- Social media is particularly good for small libraries, as it allows them to punch well above their weight.
- Much of it is intuitive and easy to learn, and there is a lot of help available out there.
- Use responsibly and with common sense. Your institution might perceive there is a risk from social media so be prepared to put together a case.
- You can only use pictures to which you have the rights, so this might limit what you can post online.
- Blogging and other social media are an excellent CPD opportunity for staff.
Blogging is the most comfortable place to start from, as you can use the story of your special collections and go beyond what you can do on a corporate website. Both Alison and Jill are using Wordpress. Put anything ongoing and dynamic on the blog and remember it has a long shelflife so people searching even years later on will still be able to find it.
- Moderate comments to weed out any spam.
- Remember that the blog will not look after itself, so act like an editor and find and commission content.
- Have some posts queued so you're never without one handy.
- Join in with other blogs to do themed posts and make your content go further by using other social media.
- Ask to be featured on your library's homepage to increase the number of hits.
- Always ask someone else to read through your posts before they go live.
The 100 objects style format has worked well at various places (100 objects Bradford, 52 weeks of fantastic bindings, 52 weeks of inspiring illustrations) and ends up working like a FAQ about the collections. The Cambridge Special Collections Blog has a mixture of post styles, some time-specific to mark anniversaries or publicise events. There are also separate project blogs, such as the Incunabula cataloguing project, and the Tower Project. Guest posts are used to demonstrate relevance and that collections are being used (you can see a guest post I wrote for the Cambridge Incunabula Project blog here).
Flickr works well for special collections images, and avoids the need to invest in expensive image management software (Special Collections Bradford Flickr photostream). Some institutions have used students to film special collections work as part of their projects (Tyne & Wear archives, LSE).
Twitter can be controversial as it's easy to say things you shouldn't, but it's a brilliant way of getting conversations started, being interactive and getting feedback quickly. During the day there are a lot of professionals using it, and a good international angle emerges when people in other time zones get to work too. I liked Alison's tip of never using Twitter if you're in a bad mood!
Golden rule: think about what you're doing and why you're doing it
Sources to find out more:
CPD23 provides a good overview of getting started with social media.
Ned Potter (the Wikiman) has guidelines for using social media on his blog.