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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Twopointopians Tweet While Libraries Burn

I’ve just started looking at the ALA’s 2010 State of American Libraries Report, and it is a wonder to behold. Partly, it shows that the ALA is finally getting serious about the state of libraries while the twopointopians are still engaging in the same frivolous activities they have been for years.

As I noticed in The End of Silliness a couple of months ago, the ALA seems to have realized that feel-good stories about libraries and videogames weren’t helping anything. Nor was coming across as defenders of child pornography with their wasted time and money fighting CIPA and DOPA, or passing silly resolutions. Instead, they seemed to be realizing that people support libraries for serious purposes, and no city would ever fund a library just to provide free DVDs and videogames.

Now they notice that during the recession more people are using public libraries while their funding is simultaneously being cut or threatened just about everywhere in the country.

As the economy has worsened . . . people are coming to libraries to look for jobs, they’re coming to libraries to access government services and government assistance, and they’re coming to libraries because libraries are a great deal for people that are trying to stretch a dollar,” ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels said in AL Focus in May. “So we have a situation nationally where we’re seeing library usage increasing 10 percent, 20 percent, in some instances almost 30 percent, while at the same time, library budgets are threatened and library budgets in some instances are being reduced.

“At this point, this is the dilemma we face—libraries are being more heavily used than ever,” Fiels said. “At the same time, library budgets are more threatened than ever.”

At least they’re smart enough not to think of this as some sort of contradiction, like the boneheads who can’t figure out why we build more prisons even as the crime rate goes down. The cause is obvious. Governments aren’t cutting library funding because they don’t like libraries; they’re cutting library funding because they don’t have as much money. Communities with lots unemployed people or lots of foreclosures and falling property values aren’t going to have much money to give.

Librarians go on about how essential library services are and how much people use and like libraries. That’s a refreshing change from going on about how hip they are or how without Facebook pages and blogs libraries will decline.

And, according to the report, library use has been increasing for a decade, and the recession increased the use more. Here are some figures:

77 percent of households reported taking out books (e-book, paper book, or book on tape) as the number one use. Second was consulting a librarian (67 percent), followed by connecting to the Internet (41 percent) and checking email (25 percent)….

  • Forty-one percent of respondents, representing more than 62 million Americans, cited education (homework or to take a class) as the number one purpose.
  • Seventeen percent of respondents (representing about 26 million Americans) visited their public library to use a computer, and 11 percent (representing almost 17 million people) to write a paper or prepare a résumé.
  • Eleven percent (representing almost 16 million Americans) visited the library to conduct a job search or write a résumé.

Other top uses included entertainment (35 percent) and to obtain national or local news or information (11 percent).

It’s hard to argue with the data, even if it’s spun slightly to deemphasize the library as entertainment center.

And what do the librarians have to say for themselves? 61 percent of libraries report that providing access to government information is one of the most critical Internet services they provide. 65.9 percent of public libraries reported that providing services for job-seekers is critical to their role. That sounds disturbingly serious.

If the report is correct, what people want most from libraries are books, computers, and help using them.

Guess what they conspicuously don’t care about? Library-related social media, the darling of twopointopians.

Have libraries been successful in using social networking sites? Not if success is to be measured by the number of “friends” libraries have acquired, says Richard W. Boss in “Social Networking Sites and Libraries,” a paper prepared in October 2009 for the Public Library Association. Most libraries have only a few hundred friends, Boss says, and none has more than 10,000. On average, fewer than one percent of the population served by a library have identified themselves as “friends” of their library on a social networking site. [And I’d bet that most of those people are local librarians.]

That’s a great opening, but the ALA works hard in the rest of the section on Social Networking and Libraries to promote the twopointopians. What’s interesting about the rest of that section is the focus not on what library users want, but on what librarians want. But that’s always been the case with the twopointopians.

We get some irrelevant statistics about how many people are using Facebook and Twitter. This is a mainstay in what passes for the twopointopian arsenal for debate. Lots of people use it. Thus we must use it. The gap in logic here is that lots of people use it, but not with the library. Lots of people watch television, too, but libraries don’t produce television shows.

Then we get some twopointopians telling us how Library 2.0 is changing all of our jobs even though it isn’t changing most of our jobs. Then we find out libraries will be using social media to promote the library more. It all seems to deny the only user-centered statistic provided, which is that library users don’t care. They want books and DVDs and computers and storytimes, and they don’t care if the Frivolous Technologies Librarian is busily stroking his iPad in the basement.

While the twopointopians have been making baseless claims about their supposed relevance and superiority and the overwhelming importance of their grand selves, library users have been coming to the library to do the same things they were doing before, except with more Internet access. They’re not "friending" the library. They’re not following the twopointopians on Twitter. They’re not reading or commenting on library blogs. In fact, they don’t really care what the librarians have to say unless they need help with something, and then they ask.

The claim that social media is some sort of necessary game-changer for libraries because library users are demanding it is a sham. The twopointopians talk a good game, but they can’t produce any studies that show any positive effect for library users or any increased support for libraries. Oh, but at a "techie" panel at ALA Annual 2009, they could agree "that traditional ways of thinking might not be sufficient to judge Lib 2.0 effectiveness." Convenient, isn’t it?

The ALA has finally realized it’s about the economy, stupid. Money matters, and neither the pols nor the public fund libraries because they have Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Libraries provide essential services people need and sacrificing libraries during budget crises harms the community. Proving that to the powers that be is essential to the success of libraries. In this crisis, anything that isn’t giving library users what they want and need or persuading governments of the necessity of library services is just a waste of time.

[Nota bene in re comments: I’m going to be moderating comments for a while until the monkeys return to their cages. Sad, but true. A couple of pathetic monkeys furiously typing will never create anything of value, but they clutter the comments with their verbiage. Relevant or even remotely interesting comments will of course be published. If you want a public forum to broadcast your irrelevant inanities, use Twitter. That’s what it’s there for.]



  1. Try reading about the 2010 Movers & Shakers from Ohio Mandy Knapp & Laura Solomon (the comments won’t let me paste the link, but you’re a “librarian” so look it up). For Ohio (I was a part of this), the social networking aspect of Save Ohio Libraries was the most effective. I also did the things that you dinosaurs do, too, like calling and emailing my elected officials. However, the public was made aware of this by other means.

    The social networking aspect widely spread the word to the public in tiny window before the budget cuts were to be voted on. The result was a much less severe cut.

    Please get your head out of your cantankerous turtle shell.

    Feel free to moderate (i.e. censor) me as you wish.

    [AL: People who don’t know the difference between moderation and censorship are confused. I’m allowing this one despite your confused reasoning and poor manners.]

  2. Why can’t we see the comments? Have you disabled them?

    [AL: Comments are pending until approved.]

  3. If that’s true, Ohio person, then perhaps you could prove it with more than anecdotal evidence.

  4. 50+ Techie says:

    I was nearly keelhauled by the librarians vested in 2.0 projects for suggesting ineffectiveness based on tiny numbers in our data. To me, just the cost in time and dollars per user (e.g., fan) seemed to beg the question whether there isn’t something more productive. But what do I know. I don’t have an MLS. I’m just a techie that’s old enough to be in AARP and was in the thick of things when ebusinesses wastefully burned through hordes of cash during the Internet bubble 10 years ago. In both cases, there’s been no logic to the inanity/insanity.

  5. Old Reader says:

    I see you erased my last relevant comment. I guess what you’re looking for is a certain kind of relevancy; one that suits your own bias.

    I don’t see why you keep harping on the issue of social networking technologies employed in a library. It’s like hating those in the past who may have been excited by the typewriter when it was introduced into the library. Is it wrong to be excited by new means to do old things?

    The reason why no one claims that social networking technologies is why they come or don’t come to the library is the same reason why patrons probably didn’t state that those new fangled typewriters were the reason why they came to the library.

    They came to the library to get something done and the typewriter, now social networking technologies, were simply means to an end. Unless you’re a geek, it’s typically the ends that mean anything to anyone.

    So what, AL! Just because there’s a couple of overzealous bloggers out there doesn’t mean the entire profession is caught up in the hysteria. Yet you write as if you’re the only one who sees this.

    Sadly, this post will be deleted because you only want Yes men on your blog. Part of what made this blog great when the real AL was in charge was the fact that even the naysayers and trolls had a role. Now, it’s just a cleaned up old blog like every other boring blog hosted on LJ.

    Welcome to the beige world of library blogging! Whoever you are.

  6. There’s “naysaying” and then there’s utterly irrelevant stupidity deliberately designed to distract and clutter. There’s been way too much of that lately from a couple of sour monkeys.

  7. “Just because there’s a couple of overzealous bloggers out there doesn’t mean the entire profession is caught up in the hysteria. Yet you write as if you’re the only one who sees this.”

    I write as the only person who writes this. That’s sort of the point.

    The comment seems like more of an excuse for the lack of assessment in this area.

  8. As a part-time PR person at a small library, I agree that some libraries get a little overexcited with the Facebook and the Twitter posts. Where do they get the time? Besides, posting too many irrelevant posts is a good way to get yourselves hidden on FB, thus defeating the whole purpose. I see social media as another way to get the word out on events and news. It’s no more or less important than posting events on the local newspaper’s web events page. Just another tool. Nuf said.

  9. The identity debate is amusing, as if it ever mattered. And now the AL, like Keyser Soze, has convinced the world she doesn’t exist.

    On another note, I don’t see the problem with librarians hanging out on Facebook or Twitter. They’re free services, and it’s not like those librarians would be doing work that would be any more useful.

  10. 4eyedtopian says:

    While your stats are interesting (if old hat), your logic is a bit jumbled, dear AL. Internet 2.0 is passe and a lack of vision kept the library world largely inept. While we’ll never successfully incorporate 2.0, 4.0 is emerging (though I’m the only one to notice) – the almost ubiquitous availability of digital resources. Yes, people use public libraries and still will after the recession, but unless libraries successfully navigate the ability to help facilitate the discovery and use of digital resources (4.0) utilizing Semantic Web capabilities (3.0) and engaging the crowdsourcing enthusiasm of users through virtual interaction (2.0), we’ll make great community centers!

    By the way, the reason library use of 2.0 is a big FAIL is because it is almost entirely one-way focused on librarians toward other librarians and users. Kinda typical – just doesn’t work any longer.

  11. Kip Drordy -- Librarian says:

    Right on AL!

    I was forced to put up a Facebook page for my library and only Kyle Broflovski became my friend.

    What a waste of time.

  12. @4eyedtopian

    The “discovery and use of digital resources”? This is different from Web 1.0 how? For that matter, how is it different from pre-Web digital systems?

    And “navigate the ability,” “help facilitate” (or, in layman’s terms, “help help”)… where’d you copy & paste the meaningless jargon from?

  13. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Students weren’t interested in being friends/fans of our library in Facebook … until we bribed them. It’s amazing what people will do for a trinket. So we’ve got a couple hundred fans now – big whoop.

  14. librn no more says:

    You think twopointtwoers set fire to libraries? Check out what library administrators have been up to in the past 2 years-replacing MLS staff with clerical staff, replacing clerical staff with volunteers, and working hand in glove with county administrators to outsource library services.

  15. The Long Time Not Seen Mr. Kat says:

    This is a nice one to read, AL, it’s been a long time since I’ve been around. What can I say, I stepped into that other world on the otherside – the place where people use technology instead of writing about it all day as if long flowery essays are what made Facebook what it is.

    The only way libraries can keep their budgets solid is by keeping themselves in line with that parts of this world people actually care about. Twitter, Facebook, and the golly good waste of freetime is not well accepted amongst many circles as a way to improve oneself, even if it is so called “free time.” In my new job, I’m even expected to use my free time on educaitonal pursuits – and they mean high calibre education at that!

    Keep those officals looking at the library as a source for the jobless to find jobs, and there will be no shortage of funding…though the library might have to hire more staff, including counselers of both grief and vocations.

    And we might need those people for the librarins too – what can I say, the job can be done by an 11 year old – there’s one that volunteers here at this library, and she’s not just doing silly things, she’s behind the desk checking out books and signing people up for the internet. She might not be able to do serious reference research, but that’s a body in a chair…to the bean counters upstairs…the reference librarains all use Google, anyways – although some of them are now using Bing as well.

    It’s a hard world these days.

    [I’m flattered to know my handle has been quite “active” even without my presense. Flattered.]

    [If you wish to contact me, your bosses have my email.]

    [I’m Kat!]

  16. Well, to be fair, you can set up the social networking things for free, so it doesn’t really matter all that much if libraries do it. They’re not making any friends, particularly, but it’s not actually costing anything if it’s done on downtime at the ref desk.

    I find the gap between what the people want from libraries and what library administrations want to do with libraries to be very interesting. Look at Boston–trying to save money by closing branches against protest by the communities, then planning to spend crazy amounts of money on studying the problem of what people will want to replace that service. Wild guess… they want the libraries to go to.

  17. A librarian from London says:

    The twits make a lot of noise over here too. Some of them have hysterically attacked our admittedly fusty professional association, CILIP, for being out of touch and CILIP has responded by trying to embrace all things twopointish, to embarrassing effect.

    There are lots of lonely Facebook pages, of course. It is also obligatory for subject librarians to have a blog for their academic department. No-one reads them, they absolutely never get any comments (I know, I wrote one for a while). They just sit there, living proof that many librarians have way too much time on their hands.

    Like CILIP, most libraries are run by out of touch timeservers who have little grasp of these things. They are thus easily impressed (or terrified of being found out) and so are very happy for their staff to spend time on this stuff, even though it is of little value to library users.

    Maybe, as you suggest, harder times will change all this. Let’s hope so.

  18. 4eyedtopian says:

    And “navigate the ability,” “help facilitate” (or, in layman’s terms, “help help”)… where’d you copy & paste the meaningless jargon from?

    I’m a proud graduate of the library management school for meaningless jargon. Among other tricks, I can write articles for professional journals, lead strategic planning sessions, and even comment politely on blogs (when I choose to). Best of all, I can tell folks they’re about to get clobbered because they’ve spent the last 17 years since the Internet went mainstream gazing at their navels in arcane language.

    I do have trouble with 140 characters though…

  19. nopointopian says:

    “gazing at their navels in arcane language”
    Is this a slight of humanities librarians or just a new form of synthesia?

  20. Be Aware of Foul Balls says:

    Please be liberal in your moderating decisions AL. Overzealous moderating is censorship. But I take heart that this age old debate is being played out in the 2.0 world. Common sense and intelligence should never be divorced from the use of any tool/forum.

    [AL: Bloggers moderating comments on their own blogs is never “censorship.” If people want a public forum for inananity, they can tweet or start their own blogs. Also, most comments are getting through because the monkeys have temporarily returned to their cages.]

  21. There is a massive disconnect between what librarians want libraries to be and what the public (you know, those annoying people who pay all the bills) want libraries to be. The biggest threat to the future of public libraries is the cloistered little world of librarians. Well said, Annoyed!

  22. AL, do you think book displays help stats? I think it makes a minimal difference. With regard to libraries, I feel Twitter is like another book display, except less manual work.

    I don’t tweet for the library because I lack enthusiasm for using social network sites for work, but I can see why people that love book displays may love Twitter for the library.

  23. I like book displays because they present a focused collection of content to library users. If done well, they’re thematically interesting and remind library users of the importance of topics. They can pique curiosity while providing the means to satisfy it. Library tweets are for the librarians to feel like they’re doing something useful without actually doing anything useful.

  24. This is a great post. I agree with the efforts of the moderator. It was getting out of hand.

  25. Socialist Public Servant says:

    Trying to stay on the cutting edge is expensive and time-consuming, and much of that effort will eventually be wasted. If folks have the time to do this stuff, cut the staff and save some bucks for the future. Too much fluff! I have worked chat reference, pretty damn silly overall. Most of the work is easier with a phone. Now we are talking about tweeting here. Sounds like a lot of effort down the drain again.

  26. Guybrarian says:

    While I agree with those who say that techlust vs. basic services is mostly a false dichotomy, it does sometimes feel like we need to find a flashy new app to sell public services to our own administrations, many of whom are really getting a little too much into the spirit of hack & slash and “right sizing” libraries, never mind the screaming demand from our patrons. One place where 2.0 and basic services are belatedly coming together are right back at home in our catalog interfaces, where we’re absurdly behind in making our one absolutely necessary bit of technology into something with added value and usability. Catalogs are at the heart of our enterprise, and here we can legitimately use a lot of cool stuff to help our patrons get more of what they want out of their libraries, and offer virtual readers advisory and reference options at our “point of sale,” rather than off to one side.

    Though I do love each and every one of our 5,500+ FB fans, as has been observed elsewhere here, it is a drop in the bucket compared to our catalog users.

  27. What I don’t understand is how Library catalogs can be so far behind the Amazon Interface Model. Eventually, you’d think the powers that be would see the value of user added reviews of materials in a community, where at least people could see what other people thought about hte book. And the whole looking insidepart, it’s all there…

    All Amazon needs to do is add in a Library Application [call numbers, local holdings, locations, item records, etc] and I think they could effectivley kill OCLC in about a decade…if not less.

  28. “But I take heart that this age old debate is being played out in the 2.0 world.”

    Here’s what I don’t get about “2.0”. 20 years ago, we could have had the “Library Journal” group on Compuserve (and before that, we could have had a BBS, etc.) and anyone could have created a topic (equivalent to today’s blog). How are we making the Internet more participatory, when we now have gatekeepers (aka blog-writers) who can set the agenda and delete, not only trolling and obscenity, but any dissent? (Not refering to AL or LJ, but look at what happens on political blogs.)

    Likewise, guestbooks were all the rage on those old “1.0” static Web pages on Angelfire and Geocities in 1995. What makes a blog with comments so fundamentally different from an Angelfire page with a guestbook?

    “What I don’t understand is how Library catalogs can be so far behind the Amazon Interface Model.”

    I have the same issue. I can completely butcher a title in Amazon and get the right result, but if I miss a hyphen in Polaris, I get the “No results” screen. And even if I do successfully search for “A Book”, I get the “Did you mean Ah Bock?” message before my results.

  29. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Raynor as a 1.0er myself I agree with you completely. Fundamentally there is no difference between 1.0 and 2.0 we been sold a bag of goods by 2.0s. people bought into it because its easier you dont have to learn even a basic WYSYG HTML to do a blog or a Social Network site. They naturally spread like wild fire. As for the catalog it maybe that we choice the Google model at the begging and not Amazon. The amount of times I heard you need to make your catalog like Google in the last seven years could solve pie.

  30. WorkingStiff says:

    Re book displays and Twitter – totally different animals. Book displays work, if they’re done right (see Saricks, Joyce) – keep it simple, diverse, and full.

    Re Amazon – I can have better luck with catalog keyword than if I put in one wrong letter in Amazon. Re the user comments – that’s JUST what we want, a bunch of misspelling trolls.

  31. Now a Google Catalog I could get behind – although I’m not as confident with their search prowess in the recent age – it seems there is a bit too much commercialized and socialized movement in the results that show up. Once everybody learned how to manipulate google searches to make their own sites show up first, it’s been heyday for every result after about the thrid page. Relevance seems to plummet.

    The one thing about Amazon is how it already has most fo the data collected and placed in the appropriate database – even if they are a little weak on putting all the book bibliography records together.

    I have bought way too many books now from Libraries selling their withdrawn books through Amazon to count. So libraries are already using Amazon and using it well. The worst part about full integration would be librarinas selling the books rather than checking them out…We’ll see what passes.

  32. Bruce Campbell says:

    “What I don’t understand is how Library catalogs can be so far behind the Amazon Interface Model…”

    Bingo. If we want to get all Web 2.0…we should do it in spaces and places that library users actually frequent. The frequent the library catalog because they have to.

    I think Facebook/Twitter/Etc in libraries is a misguided attempt by librarians who don’t understand how their public engages with them. These social media might work for private sector institutions (sales, tickets, etc) but I can’t imagine anyone but mothers following the library on Twitter to see the story times. And that info is easily published on the library’s homepage.

  33. I Like Books says:

    I’m a Johnny-come-lately here, but I trust Al will still be alerted.

    There’s lots of good things here. For one, I’d wondered whether anybody actually cares whether the library is on FaceBook. Apparently not. And as a lover and user of libraries, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass, either. I’m not sure what the point is.

    I’ve always felt that libraries should concern themselves more with the important stuff, like the things AL listed above that people come to use them for. DVDs and things are nice, but the focus should really be on services that are not easily found everywhere in strip malls or red boxes and McDonald’s. (I’m still upset that my local library reduced the reference section to make more room for DVDs.)

    I’d done some reading on the Library of Congress, which was founded for the weighty purpose of keeping our lawmakers and officials informed of, well, anything they need to know. That’s important! And I just thought it should be true on a local level, too. Where does the mayor, the city council, or the county-level lawmakers go to learn about issues facing them and coming up for a vote? Well, in my own world with bunnies playing in sunlit meadows, I’d like to think they actually read SOMETHING and become informed before they make new laws for the rest of us. And that’s something that maybe local libraries could, and should, jump at and promote. Maybe even specifically going to the local rulers with offers of personalized research assistance.

    I’ve picked up books from book displays that were on topics that I didn’t specifically come for, and was glad I saw them.

  34. hmmm.... says:

    I find the arguments against the use of social networks by the onepointopians to be poorly thought out. I will address them here-

    There is the argument that most libraries have only a few hundred “friends” in social networks and thus the program is unsuccessful. However, how many library programs have attracted a few hundred patrons? I think most libraries would call that amount of participation a joyous success.

    Along the same train of thought, nobody is “friending” the library. Would a library develop a storytime program and not promote it? Having a large number of “friends” takes a lot of work, just like having a lot of participants in a library program. You have to go get them. I don’t think any librarian decides to have a program and then neglects to tell people about it and hope people show up. I have found that when a onepointopian develops a facebook page, once its complete, they simply sit back and complain that they have no one friending them and then pat themselves on their back for having no participation in their program, thus proving them right. If I made the argument that nobody goes to storytime, then make a storytime program and then don’t tell anyone, would you argue that I’m right?

    Outreach. You argue that the statistics about how many people are using social networks is irrelevant. However, libraries perform outreach to their communities at schools, churches, youth groups, and many other places with far fewer participants. In fact, some libraries employ someone fulltime to perform outreach to organizations that only have a couple of dozen participants in the crowd. But, why do libraries go to schools, churches, and other community groups? I would argue that they do this to raise awareness and support for the library in the form of social capital. The same holds true for utilizing 2.0 technology as a tool for outreach.

    It’s an opportunity for dialog. Having a place on the web where patrons can ask questions and converse with the library in a dialog allow the library to receive feedback on programs, services, and needs.

  35. fat and grumpy says:

    @Bruce Campbell Amen. Most library catalogs would run better as Access databases than the inanities the big suppliers publish.

    @PPL Exactly. The number of people willing to learn HTML is small. The number willing to learn cataloging fewer.

    Bruce is so right about technical improvements need to come and why. But it’s easier to slap together a Facebook page than to actually understand how a catalog works.

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