Once upon a time there was a loud and hardy cult of librarians I called the twopointopians. These giddy creatures popped up at conferences and in blog posts to declare their faith that something called Library 2.0 would be the salvation of libraries.
The twopointopians had the normal trappings of a cult. Their beliefs were completely based on blind faith and they had an annoying habit of chanting “library 2.0” as part of their ritual, even though none of them could define it for us. Library 2.0 became whatever people wanted it to mean, and chanting it let you join the cult.
Not chanting it – or worse, making fun of the cult – meant you were just a mean old luddite who hated library patrons and libraries, at least to the twopointopians. To the rest of us, being skeptical about groundless claims is simply what reasonably intelligent people do.
According to the twopointopians, every library had to have a blog and a Facebook page and any other social media presence they could, because the library had to go where the patrons were. There was never any evidence that twopointopian remedies for salvation ever worked, but now there’s at least a little evidence they don’t.
A kind reader sent in the following article: Academic Libraries on Facebook: An Analysis of Users’ Comments. It’s a study of “likes” and comments on the Facebook pages of 20 academic libraries. As the final sentence of the article states, the results do “not come as a surprise to those who have not been taken in by the “social web” hype.”
Basically, the majority of wall posts from any library are ignored, a small percentage “like” the posts and a smaller percentage comment on the posts.
But people do comment, right? That’s something, at least. Well, sort of. It turns out the people commenting most often on library Facebook pages are other librarians. “Users posting those feedbacks are often colleagues — most likely from the same institution — or librarians working in that particular library.” Ouch. So much for outreach.
The librarians aren’t just the source of commments, either. Apparently, “some libraries choose to “like” their own posts rather often, such as the Perry Castañeda (PCL) & the University of Texas at Austin Libraries and the Washington University Libraries — Olin Library.”
In the next stage, the libraries try to friend themselves and discover even they don’t want to be friends with the library.
Some visitors provided complimentary comments, just not actual library users. “The majority of the compliments came from colleagues and former employees of the libraries who used the wall to comment.”
This strikes me as a perfect metaphor for librarian discourse in general. There’s nothing librarians like more than congratulating themselves and “liking” each other. It beats working for a living.
One of my favorite examples of Facebook library insularity came from Dartmouth. On the “Dartmouth College Library’s page, the question asked by the library on 3 November 2010, “What book did you absolutely love when you were a kid?” received six comments/responses, out of which one was by a Dartmouth employee and five by employees at the Dartmouth College Library.” Echo, echo, echo….
Another example the author found unprofessional came from Rice, which posted “a close-up picture of a librarian walking to work” that “received one comment from a fellow librarian and seven likes, six from Rice University librarians and one from a librarian working in a different university.” Yay, the “likers” thought, there goes somebody who looks like me!
Regarding that post, the author comments: “Besides the nature and origin of the comments/”likes” in that post, it is unlikely that a library user would consider commenting on a photograph like this, and it is puzzling why a library would upload this photo on its outreach/marketing/ promotion/”let’s go where our users are” tool.” I loved this man more and more as I read through the article.
Going where the users are, indeed. Instead, “Facebook pages have become, in several cases, a “family” place for colleagues where they can chat with each other, rather than a professional outreach tool or even an efficient marketing tool.”
What else could they be, when “only a small percentage of feedbacks come from students and actual library users”? I guess librarians are so excited to see how hip and twopointopian their colleagues are, posting on Facebook and all, that they get excited and have to “like” it even if nobody outside the library cares.
The author concludes that “it is unlikely that Facebook would be considered an effective outreach and marketing tool by any of the academic libraries surveyed.” Maybe he just doesn’t get it.
Posting on Facebook isn’t about outreach or marketing or even going where the users are. It’s about making your library look progressive and twopointopian to a bunch of librarians, who then affirm your twopointopian outlook by “liking” your efforts.
What’s next? Will someone study library blogs and show how few people read them? Like, for example, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library blog, which according to Google Reader posts 18.2 times per week but has only 7 subscribers, or the Naperville Public Library blog with 11.7 posts per week and 3 subscribers.
That might be a study worth doing for some really bored librarian.