Social Media for University Libraries

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The library isn’t the first place one would expect to use social media. On the contrary, some perhaps would ask why would an institutions who is in the business of collecting written/printed words would be interested in anything that is online and most of all that is social and in the cloud? But libraries nowadays are no longer just places for book references. In fact, many libraries that I know provide comprehensive services that range from archival work to digitizing existing and upcoming resources. Moreover, libraries are (or could be) hubs of knowledge and knowledge transfer hence places that need to be linked with both the online and the real world.

Over the past years as a doctoral researcher at the University of the West of Scotland I have seen our library undergo major transformations that affected its way of operating and communicating with its publics (the students, academics and other libraries) as well as its spaces. Perhaps the most astonishing transformation offline is the shift from the unwelcoming dusted reading room on the ground floor in Paisley into a vivid and welcoming cafe and working space where computers work and so does the internet. In the online realms, the UWS Library has been experimenting with social media platforms inviting the entire university to join in the journey.

So when I was invited to hold a 4-hour workshop on social media strategy and policy in mid-November I was humbled, honored and excited. I considered it a great opportunity to engage not only with the library staff and coach them in discovering how to strategically and coherently use social media to connect with the students and researchers, but also though them expand the conversation about social media education, adoption and literacies within higher education institutions.

I have structured the workshop on 4 themes and aimed to make it as engaging as possible, setting challenges and tasks for each segment. We have started with establishing the comfort zones of the participating librarians and exploring what social media means to them and how they see it used/use it in their daily work. This helped me understand their concerns and worries as well as notice the different levels of engagement with social media. We continued by defining and discussing the purposes of each social media platform (with differences between professional and social networking, social bookmarking, sharing and creating) and looking at some innovative uses of social media by other libraries around the world. The list put together by The Search Principle Blog was very good but I also added examples I knew of from my personal experience.

With these examples in mind we then proceeded to analyzing what the UWS Library already does with social media trying to identify audiences and objectives. The library already has a number of presences online including a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and several WordPress blogs such as the official library blog, a science blog and an official publications blog. At the end of the second hour of the workshop the participating librarians produced a list of social media objectives to fit the publics they felt were best to be reached though social media (existing students, researchers and academics but also other librarians) and started a conversation about a differentiated use of their twitter, wordpress and facebook accounts. It also brought up questions about the need of common branding as well as about the necessity of linking these presences with one other for enhanced visibility. The social media audit thus performed and the social media objectives established we proceeded to discussing social media policy where questions about a content creation and uploading timing, content ownership, social media training and response strategies and guidelines were discussed. The participants also produced three different social media policies (two created online using policy generators and one using a guideline post) following to discuss their results and decide on a common a policy by the end of the third our.

The last hour enabled us to wrap up, refine the documents we produced, think about how to increase in real life the visibility of the library’s social media efforts and answered questions raised including about how much time would social media take out of a librarian’s work-load and how much time they should spend. The answers offered by the participants already using social media indicated the existence of a learning curve but also emphasized on the very intuitive nature of social media applications.

For a starter workshop, I hope (and believe) we have manage to lay the foundation of a strategic use of social media by our librarians maintaining them in their comfort zone while also offering them incremental challenges. It would be great if we could continue with other workshops were we would explore in detail each of the social media presences they use and identify ways of improving them and better integrating them within the daily workflow.

I aimed to create a workshop that would put the participants at the center and answer their questions and concerns while giving them plenty of opportunity to experiment and explore within a comfortable environment. And after all, one of the things I wanted to convey, is that like everything and everyone else libraries too need to have clear reasons and objectives of why they embrace social media as they will make their efforts clearer and easier to pursue.



  1. Pingback:Tweets that mention Social Media for University Libraries « Ana ADI --

  2. Thanks Ana, hope we’ll see you again soon. I think UWS has really learned the value of social networking tools in these last few days while we’ve tried to communicate with students and staff during the severe weather.

    • I am glad you feel the workshop was of help and the things we discussed make sense now that you had to use them in such a “snowy” situation. Luckily the internet didn’t freeze and constant communication and updates could be sent out. I’ve been following you during these days of cold weather and I applaud you for how you handled it all.

  3. Many organizations think the biggest risk of social media is that people will use it to say negative things about them. That s certainly worth addressing but the biggest risk is actually the opposite that your organization will create a social media presence and nobody will participate. But nothing works quite as well as knowing social media in your bones and that means diving in yourself.

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