Friday, August 06, 2010

Some thoughts on the concept of a social media librarian

The following set of semi-random musings are inspired or prompted by Professor Bell's recent piece in ACRLog entitled "Is There a Social Media Librarian In Your Library's Future?" Go read the piece first if you have not read it, then stay if interested for the meanderings.

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I never really saw myself as a social media librarian, but over time I would have to say that title describes a lot of what I do in a fairly accurate way. Here in my library, we are currently working to leverage social networks to better serve our academic community. I am a believer of being where the users are, but I am also a  user of online social media for personal needs. I think that this gives me a bit more credibility when I use social media for professional or work-related issues. But it is not all about just being a user of social media. My work here involves public relations and marketing for the library, so I find myself reading, investigating and assessing how to use those social media tools for our library's needs. From articles about better content creation to items about analytics, I read as much as I can to keep up and learn more. In terms of assessment, for instance, I am in the process of developing a faculty survey on library services, and one or two questions will go to social media usage. In the end, it is not so much about the tools as what you do with those tools; the goal for me is to learn how to make the social media work for us as a proactive engagement tool, then make it happen.

To answer one of the questions Professor Bell poses: Yes, at this time, we have one librarian responsible for oversight of social media accounts and activities. It falls under the umbrella of Outreach, which is my job title and description. Some of the duties are shared. For instance, other librarians have posting privileges to the library's blog. I will grant that at this time they do not take much advantage of it, but they do have the access and the opportunity. They have been empowered, but they have not chosen to use it (and this can be for various reasons from not feeling they have something to contribute to just simple time constraints). However, they do post to the internal reference blog as needed; we use that one for small reports, incident documentation, and other assorted notes. Adding to the answer for Professor Bell,  I can also say that yes, I am the librarian who oversees the marketing and PR for the library. I am the primary blogger for the library, and I maintain our other social presences like Facebook. When our users wonder if someone is out there to respond and engage, I am that person.

My position is not called Social Media Librarian. I am not sure I would want such a title even though it is what I do to a large extent, and my colleagues pretty much identify me as the social media librarian. For the record, my official title-- at least the one printed on my business card-- is Reference/Outreach Librarian. In the scheme of things, it means "the reference librarian who happens to do outreach." I have to clarify that the only librarians not labeled as "reference librarians" are those who work in some technical service (systems, cataloguing, circulation, and archivist). To further illustrate, our instruction librarian has a similar meaning; she is the Reference/Instruction Librarian, i.e. "the reference librarian who happens to do instruction." In a more perfect world, she would be something like Coordinator of Information Literacy (or at least Lead Instruction Librarian or such, which would reflect what she really does). Personally, when people ask me what I do, I just say, "I am the Outreach Librarian." It sounds simple enough., though once in a while I get asked "what does that mean?" At that point, I usually make light of it and say that I am the library evangelist and add that I spread or carry forth the good work of the library. It works at times. I should say that I am not big on titles, or at least on serious titles. In the LSW, my claimed title is "Disinformation Outbreak Response Agent." Too bad I can't put that on my business card. My two readers have no idea how often I have to respond to disinformation outbreaks, but I digress.

As for the question of training to do PR and marketing work, a lot of it I've learned on the job by reading, some online webinars, and by doing it. Like Professor Bell, I don't think we need whole courses in library school on social media and tools. We should be teaching more about marketing, PR, writing press releases, so on. The fact I was an English major in a previous life did help with some of that. The lessons should be integrated into the curriculum already in place. To supplement or enhance, make the students take a marketing or PR course outside of library school.

Then again, would a title like Social Media Librarian add cachet to what I do? Maybe. I kind of see it as that other title that was floating around a while back and a few libraries put in place: Emerging Technologies Librarian. It seems to me that, to an extent, Emerging Technologies Librarian is what we are labeling now as Social Media Librarian; a lot of the social media we take for granted now was emerging at one point. A good number of celebrity librarians made their reputations riding that wave; I don't say this in any negative sense, but I think when this chapter of librarianship is written, whoever writes it will say something like that. So some of those librarians would probably be called Social Media Librarian by now.

In the end, based on my job description, which may have to get rewritten at some point, and what I do, I could easily tell the boss to relabel the position as Social Media Librarian. The question is: would it stick? Or would it just be a trendy label until the technology and social media world evolves into something new? Maybe down the road the next title might Metaverse Jockey Librarian or something like that (I am thinking something from Snow Crash). For me, maybe if the reclassification came with a raise, but I know that is not going to happen here. Besides, I happen to think Library Evangelist is somewhat cool. Maybe I can get that on my business card instead.

Additional Note: Here is a partial listing of some social media use items I have been looking over either for personal application or for library application. 

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