Considering that libraries are all about people and information it’s no shocker that some librarians are excited about the potential of all the neat social software around. Part of this excitement is an enthusiasm for the concept of “getting our information out there.” Just in the past day or two, Michael wrote about “Putting Yourself Out There” and David instructs us to“go where your customers already are.” Michael’s post details face-to-face interactions resulting from his online presence, and I think servers as a partial proof of concept of David’s thoughts about social software as a marketing tool. It stands to reason that “getting our information out there” will result in more face-to-face interactions. I’d also guess that physically getting out in the community results in more online interactions too. The emphasis here is on the word “out.” We can’t expect potential users to come groveling to us, because that’s simply not going to happen.

It isn’t difficult to paint a rosy picture of libraries and social software, but we should remember that plenty of our users don’t know a del.ic.ious account from a writeboard document. Even though the majority of our users aren’t using these tools yet, I see four reasons that libraries should invest time and effort into things like flickr, bookmarking sites, podcasts, etc..

1. They’re fun, cheap, and easy. Using tools like the ones listed above have a low barrier to entry. Not only are they mostly free, they don’t take extreme technical know-how. And because they give nice results quickly, people find them fun to use.

2. Internal utility. Not only can getting involved with this stuff be useful for your users, it can be useful for library staff too. Using flickr is a much more attractive and easier to manage system than, say, having a folder of images on your server. I’d rather search a well tagged collection of photos (or just find an appropriate set) than drill down though a bunch of folders. Staff can access del.icio.us/furl/blinklist bookmarks from any computer without the need for constantly exporting/importing favorites files. Weblogs are excellent tools for internal staff communication. You get my drift here.

3. Leadership. Libraries can promote their extended web presence and instruct their users in the process. This type of instruction will help close the participation gap and give our users skills with which to operate as the web becomes increasingly permeating. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times, libraries need to be the infotech leaders of our communities.

4. Reputation. I’m not as concerned with the reputation of specific libraries, but rather the reputation of libraries in general. If all of the neat stuff coming out on the web is going to be the Future of the Web (for a while, at least) libraries need to stake their claim as participants. The each time a library “gets their stuff out there” the better Libraries in general are. A random flickr image of a library program might invoke fond memories of storytime. People who browse the del.icio.us bookmarks of a library might think about going to their home library instead of Amazon/Borders/Google Book the next time they need a book. Will they come to their home library (in person or online) and be disappointed that there isn’t a fun and useful web presence? Libraries aren’t as powerful of a cultural institution as we would like. We’re not impacting society as much as we would like, right? Well, imagine if 50 libraries organized and simultaneously started putting content out on flickr, del.icio.us, last.fm, and had a comments-enabled blog about new items in the library. I bet those libraries would get some attention. The blogosphere (not just library related blogs) would eat that right up and there would be a ton of links going around. I can see the title now: “Librarians Infiltrate the Read/Write Web.” This attention would be great for them, and it would be great for our institutions too. All that for $0.00 (or $25 to pony up for a pro account on flickr), plus the cost of staff time.

Panacea? No, of course not. A step in the right direction? Yes. Speaking of steps in the right direction, try to find some time soon to try out a new tool online. Do it for yourself, your library, your users, and every other library around! I’ll get you started.

Bookmarking tools

37 Signals stuff – I’m not affiliated with them, I have just have a crush on their software. It looks great and is entirely usable.

Other sites

  • flickr
  • last.fm (note: seems to be down as I’m writing this) – this site consits of streaming radio, but it also keeps tracks of music you play on your computer. Example: walkingpaper’s profile. A library could create a profile and display played songs from new CDs as a “New music in the library” page. What an interesting way to display a library’s music collection. Better yet, maybe some library coder will write a last.fm/OPAC mashup! Anybody?
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