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Inside Annoyed Librarian

A Twopointopia Status Update

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.



  1. Or we could look at library Twitter accounts and see how many people follow them and interact with them in a meaningful manner (as in, spambots don’t count).

    When I first read that study last week it brought to mind an experience I had on a library social media group. I thought that the group was going to try and put together a meaningful social media policy for the organization that would try to get people interested in their outreach.

    Nope. Instead they created a Twitter account and a Facebook page and then encouraged the handful of people on the group to start retweeting and interacting with those accounts in what had to be the world’s saddest attempt at social media astroturfing ever. And it’s the same old idea you see whenever libraries try to use social networks.

    There probably is a good way to use social media, but we haven’t found it yet. And we aren’t going to find it if we keep using the same old tired “if you build it they will come” approach.

    On a technical note. I haven’t noticed the AL posts showing up on the Blogs section of the Library Journal front page. Is this a technical glitch or some vast conspiracy to hide you away?

  2. The real irony is that someone on staff is often paid to put out this useless junk…

  3. I did a study where I compared the number of “fans” on library Facebook pages to the overall populace of a university. My conclusion was that if you had multiple social media outlets with regular posts you had a larger percentage of patrons on your fan list. I surveyed 50 institutions. The most successful posted regular, meaningful content that exposed collections and events at the library. Now did this manifest in more patrons actually in the library? That would require a different study, I suppose.

  4. To be fair, this phenomenon isn’t restricted just to the library world. I don’t understand why any organization or business has a Facebook page.

    • I Like Books says:

      In one discussion, a library worker mentioned a patron who was shocked that a particular business didn’t have a Facebook page. How, then, are we supposed to find it?

  5. Just another sign that the profession is so cut off from the majority of the population that never uses it as to be laughable- if it wasn’t so sad.

    • @ 7:20 p.m. A business huh? Guess your patron has never heard of a website, or you are just having fun with us.

  6. Facbook has worked well for our public library. We get a good response from our patrons when we post the new events, books and movies to it.

  7. I don’t know. We tried the social media outreach, and use it to post additional content that’s on our website for those who would prefer to get content this way. But even frequent updates with unique content didn’t make that much difference when we tried using Facebook to communicate. Only a few hundred added us with Facebook, no matter how creatively we used it, and only rarely has there been a comment. We could post the same type of content in a multimedia format on our website and so we did, resulting in thousands of page views. So for us, Facebook as a business communication tool was relatively ineffective compared to a good website that is updated frequently. I think users look at Facebook as more of a social enterprise than see it as a business model. And Twitter was even less effective for us than Facebook.

    • Randal Powell says:

      I think facebook can be an effective way to share programs and spotlight resources. I also think photos can be effective, especially if the programs highlighted are well attended (e.g., bandwagon effect). Facebook is constantly changing, so there may be some future capabilities that can be leveraged effectively as well.

      Of course, a library website can do all of this unmediated. The value of having a facebook page – in addition to the regular website – is that posts from the library’s facebook page will be threaded into users’ news feed (which is the first page that comes up when a user visits). Many people who use facebook visit daily, while very few people read a library website daily unless they are paid or threatened to do so.

      So what to make of this one year and one month study of 20 elite University libraries? Well, it’s not exactly a long or comprehensive study. Nor does the study include public libraries, or other libraries that are not elite university libraries, and I see no reason to extrapolate the data to include other libraries, that would not be very scientific. Facebook itself did not really start to take off until three years ago. What was that other site before that? …Myspot or something like that?

      Outreach initiatives take time. The internet is littered with abandoned blogs and outdated websites, so most people don’t emotionally invest in something without a track record. Libraries have not been doing this sort of thing for very long, or have bungled past attempts, and some trust needs to be built up before results can be expected. And what would be worthwhile results for keeping a facebook page updated?

    • I’d like to see a library strategy that ties its actions (for all initiatives including social media) to meaningful goals that benefit patrons and the community. That is, I’d want to see libraries articulate what measurable outcome they are trying to achieve & then quickly monitor the results.

      Are they trying to (for example):
      * increase circulation of various parts of their collection?
      * increase engagement & retention rates for new libray card holders?
      * increase the rate of literacy, or volunteerism, or voter turnout in their community?

      As Randal notes, every initiative carries an opportunity cost … time spent acquiring materials no one uses, conducting poorly attended programs, managing digital ghost-towns — these all rob resources from potentially more productive endeavors.

      WRT libraries’ promotion of Facebook, it seems problematic in two important regards: patron privacy and helping users discern how to be saavy, discerning consumers of digital information. I’d like to see more discussion within the library community about this particular dilemma.

    • Randall, we update Facebook regularly with unique content, but it has not proved to be our best marketing tool. After doing this for some time with limited response, we moved to putting the same content on the website, where there was a lot of response. For whatever reason, our users seem to prefer the website which is well designed, regularly updated and also uses a plethora of multimedia. I have no problem with doing both, updating to Facebook for those people who prefer their content through Facebook. But when you have 500 friends posting content what is going on at the library may not exactly be at the top of your “fans” Facebook agenda. That’s not to say Facebook is not wonderful for some libraries with a lot of interaction; we just haven’t found it to be our most effective marketing tool.

  8. I feel like the research methods of that study are somewhat spurious. Judging a Facebook page by the number of comments and likes is like judging a novel based on Amazon reviews, or a blog by its commenters–it paints a very incomplete picture. What about the “lurkers,” who friended the library and read the updates, but don’t necessarily have anything to say? There might not be a quantifiable change in library use, but simply viewing the library posts on a Facebook news feed increases awareness of the library and its resources. It’s not going to make a non-user a regular, but it might remind an occasional patron into a regular.

    Furthermore, studying only academic libraries doesn’t really say much about the effects of social media in public libraries, where I think social media is more prevalent and effective. Our public library has 470 Facebook “friends” and 55 Twitter followers–not too bad for a largely rural and low-tech community. We don’t get a lot of comments from patrons, but it’s difficult to measure the actual effect of the Facebook feed. We don’t generally grill patrons as to how they found out about our programs and events–we’re just glad that they did!

    –Sarah K, Accidental Twopointopian

  9. Facebook is all about preaching to the choir. It’s cool. The choir is who does all the singing.

  10. I am sorely tempted to ‘like’ this just to be ironic.

  11. Not to completely defend the practice – I admit, I have my home library and the library where I used to live ‘liked’ on Facebook and often respond to their postings – but Facebook’s algorithm rewards any activity on a post by promoting it more on the pages of other people.

    So if the library really wants to get their patrons to even see their posts rather than have them buried down among the stories it deems less important, then activity, any activity, is important.

  12. Well, speaking as a staff person who is “paid to put out this useless junk…” as J so nicely put it, I think public libraries are a different animal and perhaps this study, while very interesting, should not be taken as gospel. Our page just started, and while I’m not getting as much interaction as I would like, I know to be patient. There are the staff folks who are active (dare I say this is their library too), but in the past few months, slowly but surely, the patrons are starting to chime in. To me, it is one tool among many to keep our patrons up to date and informed. Do I think it will “transform the library” – not hardly, yet nor do I think it is “useless junk”.

    • Techserving You says:

      Josie – I agree. Look at my comment, below. And I am one of the most skeptical people out there, and generally most against worship of social media. But I do agree that public libraries are really a different animal from academic libraries. We’re finding that Facebook is working, and it really takes almost no time to update.

  13. AL misses it as usual, when it comes to social computing. As do most libraries. The social interaction is between readers and authors. That’s what libraries need to promote. Publish author pages, reviews and enticements to reading, not your library. Nobody cares about your library. They want to interact with authors, not the reference desk.

  14. 418 monthly active users
    1,004 people like this
    20 wall posts or comments this week
    652 visits this week

    The last facebook stats we received, not bad for a mid sized public library I would say. FB has been most effective for us in advertising programs and opening up dialogue with patrons.

    • So, even if you’re town has only 5,000 people in it, you get less than 10% actively participating and about 20% who’ve even taken the time to click a button for you?


      If this is a success, then I’m sad.

    • Believe it or not, there are people in town who don’t have Facebook.

    • Hi Me – I’m curious, has your library articulated meaningful and measurable goals for how it would like to add value for your community?

      If you have, is there a way to tie the FB metrics to those goals?

      Said another way, what’s the impact of 1,004 people clicking the like button – for the people who clicked, your community or your library?

      It’s a thorny question, and as other commenters have said, one all forms of organizations are struggling with as they assess the value of social media.

    • Techserving You says:

      I think we need more information before we can dismiss these statistics as poor. How many library card holders are there in town? What percent of those cardholders are on Facebook? What percent of those people are active monthly users? How many other people are viewing the page via a Google result, while not logged in?

      If seen as just another possible way to get the word out – in addition to our own website, and perhaps newspaper announcements, I think it is a perfectly useful tool for public libraries. (See my other comments on this thread.) We don’t know how many people are reading the local papers, but we continue to have weekly announcements in them, because we know SOME people get their news that way. And we have evidence that others get their information from Facebook. It’s not the holy grail of marketing, but really, it takes virtually no time to update it, so if we know some people do find it to be useful, why not take the 5 or fewer minutes a day to update it?

  15. Yes, in fact we do. Our main goals outside the major goals you would expect from a library we focus on lowering the prevalence of substance abuse in the community (via family friendly programming, attendance on the local prevention coalitions committee, procuring speakers for events, participation in local conferences)

    We also do extensive outreach for seniors (We have a librarian on the senior center board of trustees, give tours to senior groups, present at local retirement communities/assisted living homes, etc., administer a books by mail program for home bound individuals and their caretakers). We have several more strategic goals (outside of promoting literacy, etc etc) but I don’t feel like going any further into writing a full fledged essay.

    As with all of our programs, our community relation coordinator asks where patrons heard about the event/class/program/workshop either verbally or through a written form. This often lets us know which patrons found out about our programs via social media. We also try to encourage lively discussion on our FB page whenever possible. Anything that gets the community talking about the library in a positive way.

    I’m not saying FB is library marketing savior but it has its uses and it really doesn’t take that much time to copy and paste a program/event description from your website, or ask a thoughtful questions to your patrons/users.

    • Sounds like FB is serving as a mechanism to help drive folks to use your library, where you’re trying to create programs and services that have specific community impact.

      Thanks for the info, Me.

  16. Techserving You says:

    Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup… I think the AL hit the nail on the head when it comes to (most, at least) academic libraries. My experience with Facebook in academic libraries has been pretty much exactly the same.

    BUT… I have a new gig as a small public library director. This is a major departure from my previous roles at large and prestigious academic libraries. I am finding that Facebook actually IS popular among our patrons, for finding out what’s going on at the library. We don’t care if they “like” our page, or just use our page (which is totally open on the internet, to non-Facebook users) for information. But we routinely post things like what our (very popular) story hour will be about, what special events we have going on, and other announcements. I’ve been quite amazed that in a small community, with active library users, this is a great way to get the word out. If this were NOT the case and no one was looking at the site, and we were just all “liking” our own posts, I would get rid of it in an instant. But, it also creates yet another web presence for us, and shows how what an active place we are, which is important for getting financial support from donors.

    I never used to want to work in a public library, because of all the horror stories I’d heard, about having to be a babysitter, social worker, and policeman. But, I’ve found that it is actually somewhat of a nice change. There are a lot of very “trendy” things in large academic libraries… people mindlessly follow fads, and waste time, with no proof of the effectiveness of what they’re doing. And, they have the luxury to waste time doing this, and there is a great “herd” mentality. In a library like where I work, we don’t have TIME to be doing pointless things. We can’t buy into the hype (although I do have to admit it might be difficult to make the case to my Board for NOT having a Facebook page, if I found it to be useless.) We also can pretty easily see first-hand whether what we’re doing is working. We don’t have the luxury to ignore consequences. For someone so used to working in places where, quite frankly, we have money to burn, and there is no incentive to do a good job, because there are really no consequences when one does a bad job, this is very refreshing.

  17. Terrific post, TS! Sounds like you’ve found a sweet-spot for FB usage.

    I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing at your new gig. I might also be able to offer some ideas about how to integrate all these new-fangled tools into an efficient, cohesive syndication channel that ‘gets the word out’ and helps increase your community’s engagement with its library.

    Feel free to message me through


  18. Let me add this. At least one library uses social media to practice what might be tantamount to censorship. Brooklyn Public Library does not like my revealing that it is defrauding the federal government of millions of dollars or that porn viewers are reaching out to me for assistance since the library claims porn is a First Amendment right in a library even though US v. ALA said it is not:

    Likely as a result, the library’s Twitter account (@BrooklynPublic) has apparently permanently blocked my account (@SafeLibraries) so that I may not see its tweets in my timeline nor send it any tweets, etc.

    You have to love when there’s fraud and a First Amendment right to porn in the Brooklyn Public Library, but there is no First Amendment right to provide evidence of fraud, to show how the library is misleading the public on porn, nor even to subscribe to the Twitter feed of a PUBLIC library. It’s just another double standard from the supposed free speech people.

  19. In fairness, Dan, you are a troll.

    • Actually, my comment was right on topic and added a new angle.

      Thanks for prodding me, because now I can also say that the ALA itself, the so-called Office for Intellectual Freedom [OIF], similarly censored out online comments. For one thing, it actually removed the comments of many from its own OIF Blog.

      Also, my comments were removed from the OIF’s BannedBooksWeek YouTube channel. A comment of mine was published at this particular video: but later it was removed, apparently by the OIF.

      In an AL post about Twopointopians use of social media, misuse incidents are entirely relevant, especially where the party doing the censoring is the OIF or public libraries. Now here is the comment that the OIF censored out from YouTube:

      I really admire Amy Sonnie. I spoke with her for a half hour at a New Jersey Library Association meeting and saw her speak there.

      That said, her book has not been banned and the ALA admitted to her that in truth her book was not the 9th most challenged of 2010. See “Is Library Association’s ‘Banned Book Week’ Really ‘Gay’ Promotion?; Critic Calls Event a ‘Hoax Perpetrated on the American Public Since 1982,'” by Dave Tombers, WorldNetDaily, 25 September 2011.

      So the ALA top 10 list is faked.

    • RT, Like, +1 :)

    • You can recognize a troll, but are still willing to feed it? You’re a braver Internet commenter than I…

  20. I Like Books says:

    Nevermind the twopointopians, I’ve seen the vanguard of the threepointopians.

    A local library system was considering shutting down several lesser-used libraries to save money, and replace it with a kiosk from which books can be ordered. One town decided to remove themselves from the system, stop paying into the system, and use that money to keep their own library open. One administrator in the system said of the townsfolk that use the physical library and were fighting to save it that they’re living in the past and we’re ready for Library 3.0.

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