Friday, March 29, 2013

JHU: What Would The Library Say?

When I asked the JHU librarians (I use the term here to refer to both the librarians and library-workers I spoke with) how they introduced students to the library, one of them jokingly replied with, "Facebook!" While at first I was taken aback, over the course of the conversation it was made clear to me what she meant. As with many libraries, the patrons use the facility regardless of formal invitation. The library is a place of community, discussion, and open doors (24/7, in the case of the Brody Learning Commons), and social media is a way to move beyond that into the digital world. Instead of trying to find the old "Comment Box" or finding the right flyer from the bulletin board, students can retweet, share, 'Like', and reblog as well as make suggestions and make inquiries. In this way, the library opens its virtual doors to spark conversation and interaction on a more personal level with students.

Something to be noted is that their motto is "one message, many platforms", so the subject matter of one blog post may be incorporated into another social network post but in a different way. Each network has its own voice, and keeping a professional standard can be difficult - it's a big responsibility. Adriane Koenig summed up their unique voices and consistent professionalism when she said that it helped her to envision the library as a person and imagine what it would say. This anthropomorphic view of the library can create a sense of personal stewardship for the contributors. You can see the JHU social media policy here and see how they approach their audiences, and I highly encourage everyone to visit - and browse/follow/'Like' the library's accounts - they're not just for students!

Twitter: @mselibrary
The Twitter account is, in a word, sparkling. Some professional accounts may be littered with too many retweets, more conversations than information, and an inconsistent voice. Here, there are four tweets a day during the semester (outside of the semester there are two tweets per day), their @ replies are kept to a minimum, and their retweets are from relevant sources or sharing a quirky article. The voice is conversational but not overly informal, occasionally including an emoticon or meme reference, meant more to listen than advertise.

While the Twitter account may link to the blog, the cross-postings are kept to a minimum. This means that there are no tweets saying "New blog post! Check it here: [Blog URL, etc here]". While they may link to the library's blog posts, the posts are not automated and the headline is a hook rather than the post's title taken straight from the blog. The account's aim is to entertain as much as it is to inform, and to give a home to the library's unique sense of humor.

The blog is more scholarly and formal, often featuring a new acquisition or a recent news story which relates back to the library. The posts are short, lending themselves to be informative to casual readers as well as providing material for dedicated subscribers. The topics can range from daffodils to medieval manuscripts to current important women, and each post is peppered with humorous links, beautiful imagery, and advertised with a catchy headline.

As its purpose is to inform rather than to create a platform for discussion, the blog is a great place to tout the library's achievements. Recently, the Peabody library was cleaned from top to bottom, the lights replaced with energy efficient bulbs, and the library was returned to its students cleaned, polished, and shiny. This event was covered in a humorous post entitled "Dust Bunnies Beware". The blog is also a great place to advertise the library's workshops and issues affecting the library.

When the blog was first created, there was an occasional mandatory contribution for each librarian. This was to get each different area involved and get them thinking about what they had to say and share with the students. Having the requirement to be involved brought some librarians out of the woodwork and gave them a chance to be heard, and some even discovered that they really enjoyed blogging. Now the entries are contributed on a purely voluntary basis, and students are also invited to write a post every now and then. Having a blog post on the university's official blog is a point of pride for the students, and it's something which can be shared on other networks and name-dropped in possible job interviews.

Baltimore is a city which prides itself on its devoted community. Baltimoreans put Texas Longhorns to shame when it comes to geographic loyalty. Festivals are held with frequency in the historic downtown district, and the Baltimore Book Festival is one of the most popular. It's a chance for libraries to set up a booth, answer questions and have an Italian ice while talking books with patrons. When JHU's Peabody library went one year, they found that they didn't have any literature or cards to hand to the curious festival-goers. Heidi Herr, the English and Philosophy library liaison, met this need by creating a Tumblr with a unique and memorable URL.

It's a more informal blog than the WordPress blog, and one that is used mostly to showcase things from the special collections which may not get much love in a day to day setting. It's updated on a more sporadic basis - sometimes once a month, sometimes more if Heidi finds wacky and interesting things to share. Some entries are sharing student projects, from a 360ยบ panorama to items discovered during an Intercession research class in the library to the students' paper airplane competitions during the History of Aviation session.

The majority of the content is visual, which lends itself well to the Tumblr format of reblogging and sharing rather than conversing with readers. If the official blog is the face of the library, the Tumblr is its ever so slightly mischievous little brother.

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