Reviewing and Points for Improvement

Seattle Public Library’s Facebook page has had a flurry of more activity since I began my examination of their social media/Web 2.0 programs.  Let me point out a few functions that having such an access point can have and a lot of people may not immediately intuit.  Anything I mention here, consider it something I believe that the SPL system appears to be successful with:

  • Having a Facebook page creates and expands a culture around the library, deepening the connection patrons have with the institution.
  • There is instant feedback, which takes the “pulse” of the community at large.
  • As the rate of reference interviews continues to decline, users have a different expectation of where learning and instruction takes place.  There is no little to no intimidation approaching someone electronically, and a random comment in a casual dialog with other patrons has the quick potential to be answered by a professional staff member without a face-to-face interaction, which some people shy away from.
  • Community outreach has another instrument available to it with this kind of page.
  • A wealth of data is available to the staff based on traffic and what the comments are.
  • Patrons can be informed of new policy and technological features of the library and this can add to the “buzz” of a new direction.

With these advantages in mind, let me take a moment to describe another dimension to the Seattle Public Library Facebook page: “Ask a Librarian.”  This feature is one of the headings/applications of the page.  Here, there are contact phone numbers to the information center, a link to the Text a Librarian service (outlining what questions can be asked and how to get them answered), Children’s Homework Help, Teen Homework Help, continuing education and community information for adults, a form for e-mailing the library questions, and a librarian chat form to connect to librarians that appear to be outsourced or part of a nationwide program.
The only shortcomings that I can see are that 1) because the Seattle Public Library page is a fan page and not a member or considered a “person” on Facebook, it cannot be added as a friend, and thus a live chat in instant messenger would not be possible.  This could possibly be because the cap for friends on Facebook is somewhere around 10,000 people, and this could easily be eclipsed in such a large public library system.

2) The pictures on the page seem to only show the main branch of the public library, and indeed this page seems to cover the entirely of the library system.  The main page could potentially “like” and have under “favorite pages” other branches of the library to get more specific information and decentralize the organization’s methods of informing and interacting with the patrons.

3) Lastly, the SPL page does not allow for members of the page to start a discussion or make an original thread.  A Facebook fan page gives the admin the option to make it so that “Others” may start their own conversations.  This is both a positive and a negative for the page.  It allows for central control of the discourse on the page, even though a digital heckler could also be banned with the “Others” option in place.  If random conversations are eliminated, it allows for the admins and the library to shape themes for the users to experience and also limits liability or potential embarrassment.  At the same time, one could argue this comes at the expense of a “democratic” approach and limits any potential voices of dissent.

4) In contrast to the preceding observation, the fan page does allow for other users to post links in their responses to the library-led status updates and remarks, so this does allow for businesses to promote themselves or for navigation away from the site.

The level of engagement with the Seattle Public Library site appears to be high and as of the date of posting this, there are no negative remarks visible that seem to have any arguments with the institution.

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