What is a “Like” Worth, Anyway?

Blog post prompt: “We know that technology and culture is changing faster than the current workplace model can keep up supporting. Have you ever experienced this in work or school?”

I work in a fairly large academic library at a medium sized public university (enrollment is at a little over 24,000 students). There are eight libraries total, six located on campus and two spread out in different cities as part of our satellite programs. Recently Communications and Marketing library staff have begun to make a bigger push for increasing the library’s digital visibility on social media platforms as well as increasing the number of printed handouts and flyers (to be placed at various help desks in the dorms, other buildings on campus, etc). Perhaps not surprisingly, the new dean of the libraries requested a stronger push for marketing the library’s “brand” and support services along with the recent re-branding of the university. Very surprisingly—at least to me—this push is supposed to take place mostly on paper. Meaning through the use of a print campaign. Meaning printed flyers and handouts. Meaning, for example, the stack of handouts on the corner of the reference desk that I’m looking at right now, of which I have not witnessed a single student grab a single one of since they were placed here a few weeks ago.

Additionally, the library has a renewed presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Often featuring photos/videos taken by library staff or guest posts by students, social media campaigns have involved things like “Tell us what your favorite study spot is!” or “Did you know we are open 24 hours from the third week of the term through finals week?” A recent series of short videos features various students who work at the library while also attending classes. These posts get pretty low-to-moderate responses (seems like most posts get about 40 “likes”). While browsing through the Instagram feed, I noticed that other public or academic libraries were liking, commenting, and sharing the pictures just as much or more often than students were.

Is it that not enough students are following the library on these various platforms? Or is it that we’re posting the wrong things?

Why do students need to see the library’s stuff while they’re scrolling through their Facebook feed anyway? Especially if it’s just one more glamour shot of some pretty bookshelves from cool angle with the hashtag #library? Does it remind them “oh yeah, I should probably go write that paper at the library” or do they think “oh pretty” and scroll past?

I would argue that the thinking on the library’s end is “We want to be where the students are—where they hang out online—and this is where students hang out”. But do they? How many people are slowly moving off of Facebook because everyone from their mom to the kids they used to babysit for to their grandma has set up an account? (True story: my grandma is on Facebook.)

I definitely agree with Monica’s assertion that technology and culture is changing more rapidly than our workplaces can keep up with. Our library communications staff are awesome, hip people who are very familiar with social media, but none of them are college students and none of them (probably) think like a college student—they think like librarians. They think like librarians likely think about how college students think. Which is great! But I think sometimes it misses the mark.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes this may be within parameters we can control, but sometimes it’s well outside our control.

For example, about eight months ago, we moved to a new ILS platform which totally changed the look and functionality of the catalog. In our old catalog, students were able to have a call number of an item they just looked up saved or even texted to their phone. In the new catalog, we can no longer do this; instead, students can add “tags” to items that they mark and save online to their library account.

Cool, right?

Nobody does it.

Every day at least one student approaches me at the desk, phone in hand, wondering where the heck they can find a particular call number, on which floor, this is so confusing, etc. If I had a nickel for every time a student asked, “It’d be great if I could just get the call number sent to my phone,” I would be a very rich lady. If I had a nickel for every time a student said, “Wow, I loved that Instagram post,” I would have no nickels.

Yes, students use their phones constantly. Yes, the library needs to have a presence in that phone. But I think we’re doing it wrong when we just offer them pretty pictures of sun-lit bookshelves and not functionality that actually helps people get work done. Is there a way to make a social media campaign functional? Or perhaps even teach someone something? YES!

A recent Facebook post included a picture of one of our subject specialists with a line that said something like “She’ll help you at the reference desk!” and a series of very creative hashtags. However, the post did not include 1) any contact information for the librarian, 2) the hours during which librarians actually staff the reference desk, or 3) where exactly the reference desk is (other than “on the 1st floor”). Simply adding in these extra (read: necessary!) bits of information could have hit two birds with one stone, combining an effective and “cool” social media re-branding campaign with actual information that is actually helpful.

I’m reminded of a few of the articles we read for this week: “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” by Paul Tough and “The Tricky Task of Figuring Out What Makes a MOOC Successful” by Justin Reich & Andrew Ho. Both articles explore ideas related to figuring how to evaluate and assess things (e.g., new technology, new approaches to teaching and learning) that are constantly changing, often having to use methods that don’t actually change so quickly. How do we determine whether or not our bookshelf-riddled Instagram account is actually effective or that our outreach is successful? How do we know if we are meeting the “needs of the collective”, as Thomas and Brown discuss in A New Culture of Learning? Or supporting the “virtual learning” that is happening outside of the physical classroom through our targeted and considered use of social media?

Are we solving our students’ problems in ways that are innovative and responsive to the rapidly changing environment?

How do we know? Do we conduct a survey? Count the “likes”? What is a “like” worth, anyway?

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