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

[This was first published at AMPed.]
Part V: Using Social Media for Outreach and PR, part ii: The Big Why
A couple of weeks ago I ended the post on advocacy with the following:

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.

In last week’s (fairly lengthy) post, I summarized the entire post with one sentence that gets to the heart of the matter:

Engage with your community.

In April of this year, ALA released their annual report, The State of American Libraries [pdf], with the beginning tag line, “Recession drives more Americans to libraries.” Statistically, ALA noted that library use has increased, nationally, on average of 20% since the last report. In addition, the ALA also found that 94% of American’s find presence of libraries in their communities as enriching their lives and that 71% of libraries report they are the only sources of free access to computers and interwebs in their community. Those statistics, to me, are pretty staggering and it would also suggest that if public libraries are so beloved, we’d do anything to keep them open and running, yes?
Well, not quite. Here is the reality of this year’s election results:
Tacoma, WA look to close branches
Buffalo, NY looks at $4M cut from their library system
Indy libraries cut 37 employees
And the cherry on top:
Troy, MI libraries set to close June 30, 2011
Let’s take a look at some other stats, this time from Pew Internet:
American adults (ages 18 and over):

  • 83% have cell phones or smartphones.
    • 35% access the web from their phones.
    • 17% own a smartphone
  • 74% use the Internet.
  • 60% have broadband at home.
  • 46% have a laptop.

The Pew Internet statistics validate that an ever growing number of Americans are not only getting online, but they are also accessing the web in a variety of ways, outside of a plain old home computer. Your patrons are not only going mobile, but your virtual front door is another portal for them to access. So why are you keeping that door closed?
Since I love statistics, here are more stats from ALA’s The State of American Libraries [pdf] 2010 report:

  • 71% of public libraries provide their community’s only free public access to computers and the Internet.
  • 60% [of Americans] renew their materials online
  • 57% access their library’s website on a regular basis
  • Number of social networking users has doubled in the last 2 years.

The research project that I’m currently working on with Kristin LaLonde, and presenting this week at Michigan Library Association Annual Conference, looks at how Michigan public libraries utilize and represent themselves online. Taking the information from the statistics listed above and applying them to our sampling data, we found that nearly 10% of Michigan public libraries did not have ANY kind of web presence (including a library website) and almost 50% of those that did have a website, were not updating most of the information, including even listing contact information or news bits. What makes this even more shocking is that the Library of Michigan has a FREE program in which they will build, deploy and train staff on using Plinkit to maintain their library website. FREE!
David Lee King is paraphrased in the The State of American Libraries [pdf] report that librarians who state they have no time for Lib2.0 projects or initiatives have bad time management. At first I thought this was very provocative but then I realized, he’s not softening the blow on the reality of the situation AND he also has an incredibly valid point.
There is no reason why any library, regardless of class size, cannot find or make the time to create and maintain their web presence online when 99.9% of the tools available are free, include tutorials, and can be operational in under 15 minutes. There is no longer a relative, logical or reasonable argument that money or time is the factor on why librarians/archivists and libraries/archives cannot do these things.
If libraries/archives need to engage with their community, and their community is going virtual, shouldn’t these institutions be engaging with their community where they are most likely to be found? Why continue to use promotions and services that are slowly becoming irrelevant or no longer useful?
How are YOU representing your institution online?