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

[This was first published at AMPed.]
Part III: Using Social Media for Advocacy
When I began to outline this series, my goal was to make sure that each weekly topic flowed into the next so that the current week built upon the previous weeks discussions. As I spent time moving topics around so that each week would (hopefully) flow seamlessly to the next, I kept getting a nagging feeling that something was just not right. Two of my topics, advocacy and public relations/outreach, were the culprits and I finally realized why. The nagging comes in because at first blush, I tend to personally use the words advocacy and public relations pretty interchangeably and I wondered if I did that, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to believe that others might do so as well. So what is the difference between the two and why are each of them important?
In very broad terms, the definition of advocacy is the active support for a cause by influencing those in public, political or societal groups who allocate monetary and other resources that can help the cause out. Public relations/outreach, on the other hand and which I will cover next week, is the art of promoting and maintaining goodwill of a product/service/person to the public. The difference between the two is slight, but enough to necessitate that libraries/archives need to utilize both approaches.
It is also easy to see why I used these words interchangeably with the other, but the distinction between them is important to note. In the library/archives world, the public doesn’t necessarily see how much the services provided by these institutions are vital to their community until it is almost too late. Thanks to social media, the face of library advocacy is quickly changing but it is still not enough as we need to start and continue to do more. Advocacy, regardless of how it is done, should not be something that is done when the library/archives are in dire need but rather it should be kept up even in good times. This is where the public relations aspect comes in but since advocacy is more about, and I hate to use this word, pleading for monetary and other resources, advocacy should not be discontinued once the financial or resource goals are met.
Here are some steps, using social media, an institution can use to begin and maintain their advocacy:

  • Create a social media plan or policy
    If your institution does not have a social media plan or policy, it should probably draft one as it will not only protect you but also your patrons. This will be your cornerstone for any type of social media you use or engage in, regardless for what purpose. Tame the Web and Mashable have excellent tips on creating social media policies for your institution.
  • Define what services to use and why
    When constructing your social media policy, do not worry about the intricacies as this will always be a living document, but one thing you do want to concentrate on is what services you should use and why. Other than your website and blogging, the major services are Facebook and Twitter, withMySpace/LinkedIn/YouTube/Flickr and other smaller or lesser used services making up the backlist.
  • Create a portal 
    I’m currently doing research on the online presence of public libraries in Michigan and nearly 20% of public libraries Michigan do not have a web presence in ANY form (website, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, whatever). For those that have web presence, the presences are not connected. For example, it was not unusual for a library to have a website AND a Facebook page, but the Facebook page was almost never linked off their website or vice versa via Facebook info page. Whatever you decide to do, whether it is a single presence (website OR Facebook) or many presences, make sure you choose one as the main portal (aka jumping off point) to the rest of your web presences. This will also make it easier to scale and add web presences as they are needed.
  • Create a blog 
    If you have little time (or money or hours or employees or whatever) to update your website but you want to keep your patrons and community current on what is happening via online, you can always create a blog on one of the many free sites such as WordPress or Blogger. With the learning curve low, support and additional free features high, these sites are attractive option for libraries on limited budget or time. To make your time even more efficient, you can automatically feed your blog into your Facebook page or just update your Facebook page when you update your blog via cut/paste.
  • Email lists 
    I’m a big proponent of email lists and I know that many other people are as well. Why? Email lists are great for those of us who are not diligent in visiting a website, logging into Facebook or reading RSS feeds on a regular basis. Creating and maintaining a mailing list is an excellent way to keep in touch with your patrons without depending them to come to you for that information. When creating social presences, we often think that if we are on X social networking site, so too will the people we wish to engage with will be as well. This is not necessarily true. I have friends who refuse to use Facebook, refuse to use Twitter and only read my blog via RSS feed. Mailing lists, with the option to opt out of course, allows you to push information to the community without requiring the community to participate with you. The other nice thing is that you don’t necessarily have to format your mailing lists differently than your blog posts. You could, for intents and purposes, just cut/paste your blog post into your email and viola! Instant newsletter.
  • “Friends of”
    Another thing I have noticed in my research is that the “Friends of” support of whatever library’s website I’m looking at is almost always missing. This does not mean that that particular library does not have a “Friends of” affiliation, almost every public library has a “Friends of” board/group, but their information is almost always missing from the website/Facebook/blog itself. “Friends of” groups are hugely paramount in gaining and maintaining financial support of their particular library and because of the work that “Friends of” groups do, they too need their own space. Why? Since “Friends of” groups operate separately from the library, they should be treated as separate entities. Many “Friends of” pages were used to successfully campaign for money, resources, supplies while keeping the community up to date on donations, programming, speakers, and other activities happening in the community and the library. For many libraries, “Friends of” groups are directly responsible for maintaining support for the library.

Now that I’ve listed steps on how to get your advocacy group up and running from the ground up, I’ve also included web links below for additional sources on library/archives and advocacy. You might be asking yourself “Why should I do this?” Good question and also the point of this post: At the heart of library/archive advocacy is the active pursuit to continue to influence the community at large to the worth and purpose of the local library or archives. This pursuit should not be only when the institution is in danger, but constant to remind the community just how important and needed the institution is. Local libraries/archives will always be “in need” whether it is for resources, volunteers, money, supplies or something else and it is always good to keep the presence of the library favorable in the community’s opinion.
To paraphrase a presentation from #ALA10, “We are at war. Your portal/blog/website is your castle. Your community is your army to fight for you. Your social media policy is your battle plan. Use your battle plan to mobilize and deploy your army to help keep your library.”


  • ALA 2010: REFORMA Advocacy & Social Media: Library Services for All in the Community – Breakdown of the presentation at ALA annual, presented by Andy Woodworth.
  • ALA’s Clearinghouse for Advocacy & Legislation
  • Everyday Advocacy: Making a case for libraries is easy with web tools.
  • i love libraries – ALA’s website dedicated to grassroots advocacy and organization, geared for the general public.
  • Save Libraries! – Nationwide grassroots listing hub of library advocacy campaigns.
  • Wikipedia: Public Library Advocacy

Next week: Part IV: Using Social Media for Outreach/PR