Military Libraries come in all shapes and sizes. We’re academic libraries, supporting Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees. We’re public libraries, complete with children’s story hours and retiree’s financial resources. We’re also other types of special libraries: medical; history; science, technology & engineering; intelligence; and headquarters support. The Military Libraries Division brings together members from all U.S. military services, Canadian Combined Armed Forces, international military services, contractors, vendors, academic institutions and anyone with an interest in military librarianship. Check us out at http://military.sla.org/. – Gloria Miller is a Librarian at the Headquarters, U.S. Army Materiel Command, Redstone Arsenal (Huntsville), Alabama. She is currently the Chair-Elect of the Military Libraries Division.
by Tammy Garrison
Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Tumblr, Blogger, LiveJournal… Social Media is everywhere, and a lot of organizations are using it, with varying success to stay connected and interact directly with patrons. But in a world of reduced budgets, and more responsibilities being spread among fewer librarians, how can we make judicious choices regarding which services to participate in, and how to update them with the most efficiency and effectiveness?
For the Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) at Fort Leavenworth, and for many other institutions, both in the government and private sector, social media has filled that gap for us. During this last winter’s extreme weather, we were able to send messages to our subscribing patrons that we were closing earlier than scheduled, or that we would not be open the following day. We can remind patrons of library events, and pass on useful or interesting links. We’ve also developed a system to ensure that we spend the least amount of time updating, but achieve maximum impact across our social media outlets of Twitter, Facebook and Blogger.
I took over the library’s social media outreach in late 2009. An interest in the technology outside of the library made me a de facto “expert.” This is probably how many librarians become in charge of various services, and our social media campaign was no different. In coming on to the project, I first evaluated our current efforts. The blog and Facebook were updated sporadically, and often with verbatim repeats of press releases. There were multiple reasons for this; updating was cumbersome for staff members who did not use Facebook or Blogger every day, and there was little time or energy in the day for putting together interesting or original content.
This is where having an interested person, dedicated to the task helped us: assigning social media to a single individual and making it a moderately high priority makes sure that it does not become just another task that it would be nice to have done, if someone could spare the concentration or time for it. As busy as most of us are, we most often can’t spare the extra time or brainpower, unless we make it a priority, with scheduled days and times that social media can be updated. I consider the time spent replying to comments and generating new content as blocking out “meeting” time with our patrons.
I also looked at Army regulations and guidance regarding social media. In the last few years, the military has taken a great interest in the power of social media and have gone to great lengths to promote its responsible use. One of the many ideas behind this is that if we are not engaging in the conversation via social media, someone else is doing it for us.
Paying attention to the larger organization’s social media guidance is extremely important. We want to always be sure that we are representing and portraying our organization correctly, and are never releasing information that our organization does not want to have passed on.
With all of this knowledge in hand, I discussed with members of my organization what we hoped to accomplish with social media. At first, our overall goals were amorphous and vague other than a general desire to update social media regularly, do more to promote our social media presence, and to gather enough information through this to reevaluate and redirect our social media efforts periodically. Setting goals, milestones and evaluation checkpoints is just as important for social media as it is for any major project to be sure it is effective and on-task, and not wasting time or energy on something that, for whatever reason, just isn’t effective.
We also decided which social media was important to us. We cut Technorati and moved away from updating Flickr. Technorati had fallen out of use since the library had setup its account, and there were other, friendlier services. We let Flickr fall by the wayside because all of our efforts were going into uploading photos to our own digital library, and uploading them to another online service seemed like an additional time-consuming step with less return than the valuable investment of time warranted.
Our blog had already been set up on Blogger, and we saw this as important not only because of it had already been established, but because blogs afford the most flexibility with expression and the transmission of information. It can allow you to provide links, photos, videos, commentary, review, original articles and a variety of other formats with the least amount of effort. We wanted to keep our Facebook ―fan‖ page as well, in part due to being already established, but also because it took even less effort than Blogger to update. Facebook was also an outlet heavily favored by the Army.
The service we took the biggest gamble on was Twitter. While the service had been around for several years in 2009, it wasn‘t as ubiquitous as Facebook or as traditional (by New Media Standards) as a blog. Growing a Twitter following takes considerable time and effort, and can backfire, if you build it, but they do not come, to paraphrase Field of Dreams.
I started by searching for other Fort Leavenworth organizations that had Twitter accounts, such as the newspaper, the Command and General Staff College, and even Morale and Welfare. I also followed other Army Twitter accounts, including the @USArmy account, and other libraries and archives. By following them, I was able to keep up with things happening on the Fort, in the Army and in librarianship. I was also able to engage in conversations with these institutions, and forward, or “retweet” their posts (called Tweets) to Fort Leavenworth‘s following.
Some of these institutions followed us back, or announced our existence to their followers, which helped get the word out about our presence. Whenever I posted to the blog, I also posted to Twitter and Facebook to tell followers that we had a new blog entry up, complete with a link directly to the article.
We promoted heavily inside the library with cards containing our Twitter, Facebook and Blog addresses. We also got the word out on our large information screen in the lobby, and by submitting to the post-wide announcements email. Slowly, as we continued to provide original content, announcements, reminders and links to articles or websites of interest, our following grew to a level on par with the number of social media followers of other Fort Leavenworth organizations. Several of our tweets and articles about librarianship and archives were forwarded or retweeted by our followers, which increased our exposure. One blog entry was retweeted by one of the Smithsonian Twitter accounts as well, a real treat and highlight for our library. Through consistent and quality updates, we had grown our following and made it worth our time to continue with.
I had planned to work on our social media at least two days a week, every Tuesday and Friday. However, if you post all of your links, articles and information on only two days, over the course of a few hours, and “flood” your followers with information, it can overwhelm them, or cause them to tune you out. Spreading out blog posts was easy; Blogger has a feature that allows you to change the post date and time. Changing the date to a future date meant that I did not need to actually generate a post on Wednesday for one to appear. If nothing else, it looked like we were being more attentive to our social media than we actually were. The problem, however, was Twitter and Facebook, and the amount of time it took to copy and paste a blog URL or other information into each system. Not to mention the continued issue of flooding.
After trying several “apps” both for Facebook and Twitter, which would allow you to automatically update one with a post to the other, I settled on Hootsuite to manage this. It had several advantages. The first was that it only required one central login to update both services, and I could send to both services at once. There were other advantages as well. We could allow multiple “team” members to log into the library‘s account with their own individual usernames and passwords. We could also post-date Tweets and Facebook posts. I could spend an hour or two one or two days a week generating several blog posts and a handful of posts and tweets, but they would be spread across multiple days, all without me having to log back in to continue generating the content.
This sort of streamlining saved a significant amount of time and concentration. I could dedicate myself fully to the task once or twice a week, and see the rewards every single day.
Another technique that helped to reduce the amount of time I was spending on social media updates was to engage my fellow librarians to submit interesting information or blog posts on topics in which they were relative experts directly to me to be posted, so they did not need to bother logging in to anything, or worrying about formatting and posting procedures. I, on the other hand, had one less post to write. They submitted summaries of professional conferences they went to, book reviews, even information on common reference requests or helpful research links.
This technique gave staff a tiny and concise way to help with social networking that was in no way overwhelming, and allowed them to talk about something that they found personally to be interesting or fun.
As a continued way to promote our social media presence, and to make social media easier to use, I also have taught social media classes both for librarians and for our patrons. As time passes, the statistics culled via Facebook and Blogger’s tracking systems have let us see that our following, and therefore our effectiveness had continued to grow, reinforcing for us the value of popularity in our continued outreach.
We may break out into new forms of social media over time, as services rise and fall in usage. If we find our patrons are moving away from a service like Twitter and Facebook, and are moving over to a community blogging system like LiveJournal, or Tumblr, we will find ourselves going to where the people are. NPR has found success on Tumblr, and the Library of Congress has a huge collection of images available via Flickr. For now, we will just keep trying to perfect our utilization of the services that we already have.
Tammy Garrison is a digitization librarian attached to the archives and special collections department at the Combined Arms Research Library at Fort Leavenworth, KS. She has a strong interest in using digital media to connect patrons to library services and materials and believes in the power of libraries to make a difference in the lives of patrons. Library peeves include: excessive signage, dour librarians, and filing the graphic novels in the 700s.
In her free time, she teaches freshman communications courses and writes, including a comic (with Katy Shuttleworth) in the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords anthology from Mad Norwegian Press. She lives with her husband, foster dog, and six cats in Leavenworth, Kansas.