ZBW MediaTalk

Guest post by Karoline Kahmann and Stephan Schwering

This article is an update of a blog article published in 2018. As this article was met with great interest and a lot has happened in the field of social media and libraries since 2018, the authors have taken another look at the topic and added some current aspects.

1. Increase the level of awareness and visibility of the library.

Time and again it is astonishing how little libraries are perceived by many parts of the population. With social media, libraries have the opportunity to achieve reach in the digital world very easily – even outside the usual library clientele. The usage figures for social media in Germany alone show how big the potential is for libraries. The only thing that is needed is appropriately trained staff and human resources. Smaller libraries in particular have very great opportunities here. And for the larger libraries, presence is now obligatory. Especially during the Corona crisis and the temporary closure of libraries, social media was almost the only way to stay in touch and in active communication with users. Here, a strong social media presence proved to be a resilience factor for library work in the lockdown.

As libraries are usually part of the public administration or other patronage additional coordination efforts are necessary. This is because public relations, press work and also social media are often subject to municipal business or service directives. Municipalities, for example, often have strict guidelines regarding the use of social media. The library is sometimes a bit of an exotic in this respect and absolutely needs the possibility to act freely. Press offices sometimes find this difficult. The only thing that helps here is transparency and close communication, for instance with the press department. And technically, sometimes not all platforms are allowed in the municipal network, so it takes some convincing. In Düsseldorf, this works quite well through close communication.

2. Present the library as a modern, open and future-oriented institution.

Libraries can present themselves as a sympathetic and modern organisation in the social networks. They don’t just want to be perceived as a book rental point, but to be visible as a place with the full range of services they offer. Just posting pictures of book tables and book recommendations is not enough. Although this is also good if it is cleverly done. These posts are sure to reach a desired target group, book and literature lovers, who are very present on Twitter in particular. In social media, a library can let people see everyday library life through a keyhole. It can present itself in a witty and emotional way.

3. Enable direct communication with library users.

It has never been easier to communicate directly with library users outside of the library building. Many library staff still shy away from social media, but it is basically the same communication as in the library itself and beyond. Getting direct feedback in particular offers great opportunities.

4. Be credible as a provider of digital services.

Libraries are offering more and more digital services. Whether loan of digital media, PressReader, databases, streaming services and much more. Nothing makes a library that offers digital services itself more unattractive and untrustworthy than if it struggles with the communicative heart of the digital world, social media, and yet wants to use it to communicate digital services. It is important that libraries are familiar with social media if they want to communicate digital services to interested parties. Professionalism is needed here. For this, you also have to technically master the social media channels.

Ultimately, know-how is decisive for the success of social media: effective staff development in the fast-moving social media sector is therefore particularly important. The (content-related) concepts of the individual networks have changed again and again, and they will continue to change. In addition, new platforms are being added. The constant change and the constant changes of the platforms place high demands on the flexibility and expertise of the social media team, which must always be up to date. At the Düsseldorf Public Libraries, the social media team is trained in regular individual training sessions and through annual coaching of the entire team with external support in order to constantly reflect on and improve their own actions.

5. Attract future specialist staff, trigger positive image transfer.

Imagine you are young, enthusiastic, you live on social media, but at the same time you have a certain professional distance, and you want to apply for an interesting job offer in a library. You search the web und you find the library website and a few of its news items via Google News. Social media platforms? Moderate, not up-to-date or non-existent. One inevitably asks oneself: “The library wants to offer, convey and bring digital content to the users and it is not present at the centrepiece of digital life?”

Everyone talks about the image transformation of libraries. If a library wants to recruit the information specialists of tomorrow, it has to be present there today. At the same time, applicants must be aware that the requirements of modern library work include a lot of digital competence.

6. Networking with communities in their own city and building their own community.

Libraries bring people together, build networks with citizens and provide the platform for this. They are increasingly becoming places of knowledge transfer and informal learning among users. Library labs and makerspaces are springing up in many libraries. If you want to reach out to the digital community and build your own community, a professional presence in social media is essential. Here are the players and here are the multipliers for the library.

The activities of libraries in social media achieve great added value when they are linked to the analogue “third place” of the library (German). Basically, only then do they unfold their full effectiveness and the so-called Return of Investment (ROI) is particularly high.

One can accompany digital communication and the community with new formats of events in the library. This not only increases virtual visibility in this target group, but also sustainable networking. At the Düsseldorf Public Libraries, the #blogsofa (German) has been an example of this since 2016. The event format regularly opens up an analogue stage for Düsseldorf bloggers and creates an interface between social media and face-to-face experiences with fellow citizens. Bloggers are invited to be interviewed about a topic (for instance travel blogs or food blogs) on the sofa by social web ranger Wibke Ladwig. Thus, the bloggers get to know their readers and can network with other bloggers from the region. Since the beginning of the event series, it has been streamed live and thereby brought directly to the digital community. The reaction between digital and analogue produces interesting effects: For example, a do-it-yourself blogger came back to the LibraryLab (German) of the Central Library and offered a workshop for the users. In the digital community, the #blogsofa has become a term, as the audience tweets on site during the event, making the #blogsofa a digital experience for non-participants.

All spatial offers in the library that address the digital community in any way need to be embedded in digital communication. An offer like the LibraryLab in the Central Library of the Düsseldorf Public Libraries can therefore also appear credibly outside the library and serve to network with the local community because the communication is flanked by social media.

7. Being a trustworthy partner on the web – a new challenge and a huge chance.

There are many rumours and hoaxes circulating on the web. This has always been the case, but the whole fake news debate has added a new dimension. Many need guidance, especially in social media. Libraries are present, but they could be much more present and much more active in providing sound information and research. Libraries can be the trusted anchor points on the web.

With the claim to act close to the realities of people’s lives, there is not only a need for public libraries to be present in social media and to strategically design digital communication for the library. Recent developments have also created a mandate to defend our free basic order on the web and to stand up for mutual respect, freedom of opinion and a pluralistic society – to counter the “loud opinion makers” and “hate speech”. At the beginning of the 20s of the 21st century, this results in a challenging field of tension for libraries in relation to social media.

Background: Social Media of the Düsseldorf Public Libraries

For several years now, the Düsseldorf Public Libraries have been very successfully present in the social networks. You can find the public libraries on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and soon for the new youth library of the Central Library on TikTok. The own blog is called “Alphabet Soup” (German). The YouTube-Kanal is currently mainly used as a “container” for video productions for linking, but has seen a significant upgrade during the Corona period.

Stephan Schwering and Karoline Kahmann. Copyright: Andreas Bretz©

This post is an update of the blog article published in 2018 “Why modern libraries need to be active in social media: seven ‘glorious’ reasons'”.

This text has been translated into English.

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Karoline Kahmann works in the press and public relations department as well as in the online and social media editorial department at the Düsseldorf Public Libraries. She previously spent many wonderful and instructive years in IT at the municipal libraries and has a degree in librarianship. In her private life, she has a weakness for Italy, good food, wine and reading – all of which can be wonderfully combined.

Portrait: Karoline Kahmann©

Stephan Schwering has been head of the Central Library of the Düsseldorf Public Libraries since 2014 and is jointly responsible for the internal future process and the concept of the new Central Library in KAP1, which will open in new premises in autumn 2021. He considers social media in libraries to be a leadership task and is very personally involved with community building and digital-analogue library concepts. He is co-founder of the Twitter chat "BIBChatDE" on the short message service Twitter.

Portrait: Stephen Schwering©

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