Your Virtual Front Door: Defining the Use of Social Media for Archives and Libraries: Part I

[This was first published at AMPed.]
Part I: Introduction
A conversation I seem to have a lot these days is discussing the use and instruction of social media, specifically for archival and library institutions. One particular topic that I keep coming back to over and over again in these conversations is that there is a huge push for institutions to use social media, with this push intensified by conferences and professional organizations (to name a few outlets). These outlets heavily advertise posters, panels and classes (to name a few methods) that teach professionals the hows of social media and networking with specific illustration of the more popular social media tools without really explaining the whys.
This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Last winter, Alexis Braun Marks, Kim Schroeder and I presented at AMIA‘s yearly conference on this very subject. Our topic, “When Are New Technologies For You?” was an attempt to give a general overview of what social media is and why it should be used while illustrating a few of the big players in the social networking world. Our audience poll at the beginning of our presentation only enforced what we knew from our research: Most institutions are desperate to get on the social media bandwagon and know that they should, but they have no idea WHY they should or how to go about doing it. Then what happens is that many institutions end up doing one of two things: they join every social network under the sun and then forget about it or they just ignore the siren call of social media in the first place, artificially secure that they don’t need it in the first place.
Therein, I believe, lies the problem: we have the knowledge of the hows but not necessarily the whys. In the the last year, since our presentation at AMIA, I’ve paid heavy attention to professional organizations and communities and noticed the rise in the offerings in classes on social media methodologies (good) but no real explanation as to they whys (bad). It is becoming widely accepted that these tools are to be and are being integrated into professional job descriptions and daily use, but no one seems to be clearly explaining why these seems to be so important.
This series is going to be a musing of and attempt to list and explain reasons of the WHY libraries and archives need to be using social media while hopefully doing away with marketing buzzwords and jargon. But before we start, let me offer up at least one simple reason as to why libraries and archives need to use social media:

It’s fun!

Next week: Part II: Social Media Simply Explained