European Librarians Theatre: Social media panel discussion #elt2011 - Jo Alcock Consulting
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European Librarians Theatre: Social media panel discussion #elt2011

European Librarians Theatre: Social media panel discussion #elt2011

At Online Information 2011, I presented in one of the European Librarians Theatre panel discussions. The discussions are hosted by EBSCO and SLA Europe and bring together librarians from different parts of Europe to discuss a topic and the experiences within their country. My session, ‘Everyone is talking but is anyone listening?’ focused on social media. It was chaired by Sara Batts (see tweet below), and my fellow panelists were Katrin Weller and Dennie Haye.


I think the panel discussion flowed well – there was largely agreement across the board on a number of different factors, suggesting that libraries across Europe are at a similar stage with social media (the panel had representatives from UK, Germany and The Netherlands). There were some really interesting examples from my fellow panelists – one example of Yammer being used for internal communication (in an international organisation with staff dispersed geographically), and one example of Facebook being used by a University before students arrived to help answers queries and help them begin to make friends.

The main messages I took from the session were that libraries and librarians should experiment with social media to see what works, and should aim to understand more about their users as no two libraries will use social media in the same way.

You can see the tweets from the session at the #elt2011 hashtag (thanks to @WoodsieGirl and @EBSCOUK for such comprehensive tweeting!) and there is a write up of the session on the SLA Europe website.
As mentioned before, I decided to get  information for my section of the discussion via a brief survey – many thanks to those who gave feedback. The main themes emerging from the results of this are shown below.

Social media use in UK libraries

  • Many using Facebook and Twitter.
  • A number using blogs, Flickr and delicious.
  • Diigo, LibraryThing, FourSquare and Vimeo being used but not as common
  • Few starting to create Google+ pages
  • Some using for staff communication (e.g. Staff blog, wiki, Yammer)

Integration of services is becoming more common as is utilising one to many communication channels to feed from one place to another. One example of this is using RSS feeds to create a Netvibes site which sends out current awareness emails via Yahoo Pipes and Feedburner.

Difficulties in social media implementation in UK libraries


  • Management resistance (not used to informal conversational style and concerned about image it portrays).
  • Balance between experimentation and the ‘just do it’ approach and the careful considered approach with policy, structure, branding etc.
  • Restrictions of social media policies.
  • Being seen as something distinct as separate rather than a core part of service.

Staff responsible

  • Buy in from staff and lack of knowledge – one commented that they have colleagues who are scared of social media; another said it was considered trivial in their library.
  • Risk of relying on just one member of staff.
  • Keeping content fresh.


  • Access blocked in some libraries.


  • Lack of uptake from users.
  • Concerns about negative comments.

Time, time, time – this was a common theme with competing demands in UK libraries at present.

Qualities needed for librarians using social media

  • Appropriate style (formal/informal – ‘the personal professional’).
  • Ability to judge tone and mood.
  • Filtering and selecting information to share.
  • Willingness to try new things and take risks.
  • Flexibility and open-mindedness.
  • Communication skills.
  • Knowledge of users and different platforms.
  • Determined/tenacious/enthusiastic.

This was summarised by one respondent – “The qualities any good librarian should have!”

Factors contributing to social media policy success/failure

Factors leading to success

  • Promotion.
  • Flexibility and trial and error to find the right fit for users, message and library.
  • Social media embedded into library service.
  • Sustainable approach (not just one person).
  • Actively seeking comments on library to get feedback.
  • Timely and appropriate content.
  • Engaging, varied content (photos, videos, questions).
  • Integration with other library media.

Factors leading to failure

  • Using social media to broadcast (should be two way not one way communication).
  • Failure to respond to comments/feedback.
  • A poorly implemented strategy (worse than none at all – for example a Twitter account which only broadcasts and ignores requests for information will give a worse impression than no account).
  • Not enough staff with access to account (therefore not timely responses)
  • Too much focus on strategy rather than doing – need to experiment to try things out.
  • Focus on tools rather than outcome – should focus on desired outcome.
  • Not kept up-to-date.
  • Over or under moderation.
  • Facelessness.

Thanks again to everyone who fed into this.

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