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Homework Prompt: What are some of the weaknesses of tagging for making content more findable?

No, seriously: I did a semester of Cataloging and Classification and then a semester of ADVANCED Cataloging and Classification for this?! I have yet to get into tagging things. I think tagging can be really great for some things, especially images. Tagging uses the vernacular and you don’t need to go through all this just to change words and conform to a standard. But that’s the downside, too. What happens when terms change? Do people go through and re-tag everything on the internet that has been tagged already? Improbable. Perhaps even impossible.

Another weakness is British English spelling vs. American English spelling. Will my search for “humor” get me returns of things tagged “humour?” Unlikely (WordPress doesn’t even recognize the latter spelling). When I search for items by their tag, what I will get are the most popular (read: most viewed and most likely tagged) items. Nothing about the quality of the items is represented by the fact that they are tagged or not. Also, they may not be the most appropriate items, they just so happen to be the ones that people have taken the few seconds to tag. And of course, there’s the problem with a lack of controlled vocabulary which means that for the most part, I’ll only find things that are tagged using the same terms as my search terms and not necessarily things that are tagged using different words for the same item. Musicals vs. Showtunes vs. Broadway_musical vs. Musical_theatre vs. Musical_theater vs. Musical_comedy vs. Rock_opera vs. makeitstopalready! As I mentioned, tags can be very useful. I just wouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket. Unless everyone tagging everything happens to be a librarian. Hey, I’m biased!

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The University of Southern California is very well known for its athletic department and the hefty price tag of tuition. When I tell people I did my undergraduate courses at USC, they don’t ask what I studied. Instead they ask, “Did you go to the football games?” and “Whoa, how much money did that set you back?” I chose to do my library marketing critique on USC because I see these things as interesting obstacles for the libraries to overcome. As we will see, it is quite the challenge.

USC makes use of three social networking platforms:
Libwire, the USC Libraries Blog
Twitter
Facebook

Libwire has at least two blog postings per week; however, some of these posts show up in my RSS reader repeated two to four times. Many of these posts are about what is going on at the libraries: talks, changed hours, special collections, upcoming classes, etc. Sometimes there will be a blog post about something new and exciting that the library is doing, such as this post on the library’s new presence on Blackboard.

One very interesting thing USC Libraries are doing with their RSS feed is a series they call, “Inside the USC Libraries” where they take turns exploring one of the many subject libraries and/or special collections that are on campus. The one on the Music Library is especially intriguing, as it discusses the importance of physical holdings in a music library versus digital holdings that are taking over many of the other libraries.

A very clever thing that USC Libraries are doing with their RSS feed is something they call, “Twitter Tuesdays.” “Twitter Tuesday is a weekly feature that looks back at the USC Libraries’ conversations in the Twitterverse.” As you can see here, it is not simply a listing of USC Libraries tweets and @ mentions, but before the displayed conversations, the person (or persons) who write the blog give some sort of context for the Tweets. This is very helpful for those who don’t want to click around and try to follow strings of conversation as well as for people who don’t follow @USCLibraries on Twitter, but want to access the information. Twitter Tuesdays is a recap of things of note, not a list of all Tweets and ReTweets.

USCLibraries is fairly active on Twitter. The Twitter Tuesdays mentioned above wouldn’t be possible if staff weren’t so responsive on Twitter. I’m surprised that there are under 1,800 followers on Twitter, given that the undergraduate population is around 13,000 students. Then again, that seems to be quite a bit as USC Libraries only has a small box with the Twitter feed on the library website, a page which one needs to search for intentionally on the usc.edu homepage. USC Libraries are also interactive with ReTweeting, not just sending out Tweets that link back to USC, but there are some ReTweets via @ALALibrary and @NatGeoSociety.

While USC Libraries seem to be doing good things with their Libwire blog and @USCLibraries on Twitter, they are coming up quite short on Facebook. There are only 127 people who “Like” USC Libraries and though they have their wall open for people to post, there are no posts by anyone except for USC Libraries. Many of the things posted on the Facebook are images and facts (e.g. “This day in history) that have been culled from one of USC Libraries archival collections. There are no attempts at interaction, no open questions posted to their fan base, and it seems as though there are one to two postings per day. To their defense, it looks as though there was no staff member or members responsible for the Facebook upkeep. There is a large void between April 2010 and August 2010. Perhaps they feel the summer school students and graduate students are uninterested? I’m sure they would get a lot more “Likes” on Facebook if there were a link from the library webpage; however, there are only links to the blog RSS feed and the Twitter feed. The Facebook seems like it is picking up steam, but it is definitely a work in progress.

I used Social Mention with the terms USC Libraries, USCLibraries (no space), and USC librar* (wildcard). The majority of returns on my queries have a neutral tone but then again, a majority of the returns on my queries are from USC Libraries themselves. As for their branding efforts, it’s very hard to separate USC the libraries from USC the school/athletic powerhouse. While I know firsthand the rich amount of resources to be found in the libraries, I think their online social networking outreach does not accurately represent all of the amazing things that are available.

If the library were to hire me as their social media marketing consultant, I would have a number of suggestions. First of all, it’s all about visibility. There need to be more links to the Twitter and Facebook. I would recommend having some specific people (perhaps even budgeting for a couple full-time staff members) assigned to handle posting to the social media and having a schedule that represents the minimum amount of posts per medium per week. I would have these same people start doing outreach. Start finding current students and alumni and suggest they “Like” USC Libraries on Facebook or that they follow the Twitter feed. I also have some suggestions for content. Though I really like some of what USC Libraries are doing, such as Twitter Tuesday, I find a lot of the postings to be conservative to the point of being uninteresting. I don’t think that transparency is appropriate for this type of library, but they have a wealth of creativity in their student body. If there are student organizations on social media, start looking at what they are doing and Repost or ReTweet with added links to how these things can connect to what is available from USC Libraries. Don’t just interact with people who mention USC Libraries first. Be more proactive. Also, use social media to receive feedback on collections and services. Post surveys and ask open questions. A majority of USC Libraries’ posts/Tweets are unidirectional and I believe they would only benefit from becoming more multi-directional as well as showing how multifaceted the USC Library services and collections truly are.

Should libraries be building a presence and offering services through online social networking sites? Yes! That is, if they want to stay relevant to the communities they’re supposed to be serving. I’m mainly referring to public libraries here, though, high school and middle school libraries could also greatly benefit from jumping on the social media train. I’ve heard places complain that they don’t have the staffing for it, and that excuse says to me that they don’t realize it is a necessity.

That video blows my mind every time I watch it.

I want to stress that it is important for libraries to not just choose one social networking site and run with it. Sure, I like Facebook. You like Facebook. What about MySpace? Rebecca Tolley-Stokes tells us “the more affluent you are, the more likely you are to frequent Facebook.” Isn’t it interesting that many libraries seem to have Facebook pages over MySpace pages? I can tell just by clicking around, and Tolley-Stokes’ article supports this idea as well. And if we follow the trend examined by Pew Internet, many young adults and teens, as of a year ago, still have and maintain MySpace profiles. Not so many teens did the Twitter at that time, though.

Are we as librarians leaving out a large chunk of our patrons simply because we are more comfortable with certain platforms? It sure seems like it. Social media needs to be done thoroughly, consistently, and whole-heartedly. Yes, it’s work. But hey, being a librarian is a job (as well as a state of mind, for some of us).

Many thanks to Kyle Cox for introducing me to the Tolley-Stokes article!

Yes. I went there.

I like Twitter. I think my like of Twitter is proportionate to how busy I am. Twitter allows me to feel connected little bits at a time and it expects very little from me. I can receive and not need to give. I can come and go as I please. I can spread the wealth or stop the insanity, as it were. With the combination of Twitter, RSS, and Facebook, I can basically craft my entire world of information intake and relationship interactions in a way that caters to my interests only. I can create my own personal bubble filled with only things and people I like. How amazing!

Also, how terrifying, narrow, harmful, and boring. Twitter, et al. can be so useful but it can also cut us off from experiences outside of LIS (or insert your interest here). In LIS, we do a lot of preaching to the choir, the choir consisting of other LIS professionals and library fanboys/fangirls. We read the blogs of other LIS professionals and ReTweet their Tweets to our followers who are, again, other LIS professionals and it becomes this closed circle of really well-informed LIS professionals. But what about things that LIS professionals can learn from psychologists or teachers or Starbucks? Your argument is “Yes, see, you posted a link on what librarians can learn from Starbucks and it’s on a librarian blog!” So? So this means that we can have one person scoping out the rest of the world and then bringing it back to us and spoon-feeding it to us through our aggregators? Sure, if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t want to think for himself, rock on.

Don’t get me wrong. I subscribe and follow to tons of feeds/streams by people in the LIS world. I need to in order to not be left behind. But I also try to branch out and read about other things that I can perhaps incorporate into my profession and avoid getting caught in a self-serving loop, which I think is a really important thing to do.

…and this is basically how I felt after I finally started using Google Reader. Last night, my reader didn’t say that I had 548 unread entries or 837 unread entries. It said, “1,000+.” There is so much for me to sift through that even The Google doesn’t feel like counting.

I got déjà vu. This was the same feeling of being overwhelmed as when, years ago, I first walked into my large university library. So many things to read! So much information! I needed a librarian to whittle things down for me then, so now, as I’m subscribing to RSS feeds like a kid in a candy store, I thought, “Oh man, I need a librarian to…..oh wait. That’s now MY job.”

NOT discounting what we do, but RSS feeds allow people to be their own librarians (to a certain extent, when it comes to using their aggregators). Instead of going and finding the information all the time, the information can come right to you. And it’s a lot of information that you will want (at least, that’s the idea). I want librarians everywhere to be spreading the word. It has the ability to streamline our jobs and better serve our patrons. We can extend our reach even when we aren’t consciously “reaching.” And then by integrating RSS into library websites, librarians are able to take more control over what is posted rather than going to “the web person” to make sure that something appears on the site. Librarians should care about RSS because it makes things happen immediately and with little effort. And RSS technology is free, unlike LibGuides.

I’ll admit: I have problems with LibGuides. Much like I have problems with Macs. I’m a paranoid person, and I am nervous about products and services where there are a lot of proprietary elements. I fully understand having the ability to design pages in the WYSIWYG manner is a huge selling point. I’m biased, as I can write html. Not the greatest, but enough to use a free (or less expensive) platform so that when xyz company goes under OR raises its prices, whatever I design can be moved to a new space. At this point, LibGuides has a lot that can and has moved libraries forward. I just hope that in the future, it doesn’t hold the users back.

Exercise 2

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this exercise may be the most difficult bit of homework I’ve had during my SLIS career. Why? you ask. In reading all these blogs, it’s so easy to get derailed! Links beget links which beget more links and all of a sudden I’m on Twitter and not doing my homework at all. My head is swirling with blogalicious information, so bear with me.

In the Library With the Lead Pipe seems to have 2 postings a month which I’m a bit surprised at, given there are 6 authors. But hey, I’m not working at their library. This blog is rather philosophical about librarianship, at least, that’s a theme that pops up a lot.

The Librarian’s Commute is centered around an academic library. There’s a lot of information about what is going on at THAT library and less meta-information than other blogs I’ve read.

The Distant Librarian is authored by a Systems Librarian so guess what? It has a lot of really wonderful information that would be useful to…..Systems Librarians. Hidden in there are some gems for the rest of us.

Librarian by Day has been around since July 2007. The musings of Bobbi L. Newman are varied but most of the posts seem to have something to give. Ideas, links, hints, suggestions. It feels like it’s a blog that wants you to walk away with something when you read it.

David Lee King’s blog is similar to Bobbi L. Newman’s in the way that it strives to be useful and pertinent, going beyond just being “interesting.” Here lies a lot of info on social media in libraries.

I find that the posts I enjoy reading depend on what “mode” my brain is in. If I’m looking to read for fun, then I enjoy the posts that are more personally insightful or philosophical. More often than not, I’m in work/school mode and so I really like the posts that give me tools and links to useful things or tell me about new technologies OR new ways of using technologies that already exist.

And on to the 3 library blogs I subscribed to!

Libwire is the blog of the libraries of the University of Southern California (my alma mater. Fight on!). On the plus side hey, at least they’re using their blog, right? On the down side, I found it less interesting than reading the back of a box of cereal. It is informative about the collections at USC, but it is so dry and stoic. It felt like work to read it.

I had high hopes for the blog of the Marin County Free Library because it’s in an area of the San Francisco Bay Area where I would assume there are many people interested in reading blogs. I was disappointed. It’s little more than a glorified way of announcing what programs are going on in the brick and mortar.

And finally, the blog that has me so incredibly distracted is that of the Library of Congress. There is so much going on! It’s so exciting! Much of it, of course, is about what is going on at the LOC and LOC holdings, and even though there are a bazillion persons that work at the LOC, the blog has a bit of playful personality from its authors. I’d think that they’d go for the “boring and least offensive” approach, but I was pleasantly surprised.

High Hopes & Low Expectations

One of my friends in a land far far away (Philadelphia) sent me a card in the mail. Yes, a real card made from dead tree delivered to a little box that sits outside of my house. The artwork on the front of the card reads, “I’m more interesting on my blog.” I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have met these people. They ARE more interesting on their blogs.

I hope I am never that person (or library). This being said, there are a number of things that library staff should consider before committing to a blog because yes, it is a commitment.

Joe over at Junta42 has a general list of 10 things to consider before you start blogging. I’d like to discuss some of things in terms of YOUR library.

1. What community do you serve? Now that you’ve answered that, WHO in the community is going to read the blog? Who do you WANT to read the blog? Is there a possibility that your intended audience and actual audience are two different entities? Come up with some plans and some back-up plans for this.

2. Who is going to maintain the blog? It’s all really exciting at first, but after a few weeks, is staff interest going to wane? Is the blog going to all fall on the shoulders of the new (and enthusiastic) librarian? (Hint: bad idea.) There should be a plan of attack with a clear schedule of posting.

3. Do you have your Social Media Policy buttoned up? (Hint: Do it.)

4. What is the scope of the blog? Is it so broad and varied that you should think about breaking it up into a few different blogs and link to them through the library’s homepage?

5. Are your ideas of what your blog is going to be an accurate representation of your library? (See intro.)

6. Finally, how thick is your skin? Your staff is going to be putting themselves out there for cheerleaders and critics alike (assuming you get readers).

Blogs are dynamic. They’re about throwing things out there and seeing what sticks. Have plans, have goals, but realize that they may change as time goes on.

Exercise 1

I confess: I was madly in love with Pinup Girl Clothing (PUG) long before I discovered them on online social networking; however, once I found them on Facebook and Twitter, our love affair has jumped to a whole new level.

People LOVE PUG. On their Facebook page, there are just posts after posts of praise, and many include pictures of customers wearing what they bought from PUG. In fact, PUG employees encourage this. Whenever a customer has a complaint, the PUG fan-base is so large and so loyal, sometimes fans reply to the person even before PUG staff has a chance. This is not in a negative “I’m going to defend PUG with my life” kind of way, but more like, “When I’ve had this problem, I’ve checked my spam folder” or “It usually takes about 5-7 working days for exchanges to be processed.” Fans also help each other out with size suggestions and PUG has even set up a discussion board on their Facebook that allows customers to swap or sell items they’ve gotten from PUG clothing.

Customer-to-customer contact aside, the PUG staff is pretty quick to respond publicly to customer suggestions, comments, and complaints. There are often complaints about the models being unrealistic, so Laura, the PUG photographer, posted a lengthy discussion board post on the topic which was quite explanatory and humanistic. Still, another response from PUG staff was to photograph more plus-size models in the plus-sized clothing that is sold. I can only assume that this increased sales.

The clothing and models are gorgeous and glamorous, and the YouTube and Twitter posts really make PUG staff seem accessible and down to earth. There also seems to be a celebrity following of their products, and the Twitter often has links to who is wearing what and to where. The YouTube has videos of staff and models interviewing each other as well as videos of photo shoots, so that we can all see what goes on behind the scenes.

These more personal posts are interspersed with notifications of new products coming in, asking for customer feedback on potential new products, and the occasional sale or promotional code.

Also, most posts are signed by the staff member that makes them, so it’s obvious that their online social networking is a team effort. What PUG clothing has going on is a well-oiled machine. Pinup Girl Clothing Home

After reading this week’s articles, I decided to Google myself. I’ve been avoiding it because I really didn’t know if I wanted to KNOW, you know? I’m very happy that the first things that come up are my resume on LISjobs.com and my LinkedIn profile. Everything was fairly boring, until I stumbled upon this gem, a 2000 LA Times article that I was in when I auditioned for the National Touring Cast of Disney’s The Lion King. Yikes.

A few rules that I would include in a library staff social media policy (that weren’t already mentioned) are, first, please strip away identifiers about patrons. I would be very wary of including patron names or descriptions when relaying stories in a blog. Even though social media is everyone’s job, I am against making it mandatory. At least, I wouldn’t make blogging mandatory. I see that as having the potential to backfire, because you can tell by the writing when someone really doesn’t want to be doing something. I’d rather have no post at all than a dispassionate one. Another rule is: have fun. Yes yes, it’s your job, but I feel librarians can be more successful if they break away from their decidedly un-fun stereotypes.

I think the most important thing a company can do when they find negative things being said about them online is to respond quickly, and not only via the same platform, but use multiple platforms to respond to what is going on. I’d err on the side of being overly thorough.

Gmail has launched [cue loony music] PRIORITY INBOX!

I read about it through Mashable and I hurried over to my Gmail tab to see if I could look at my very own Priority Inbox and what do I get? Nothin’. Seems as though “everybody should have it within a week or so.” Oh Google. You’re such a tease!