Since starting the new job, and being charged with spearheading the library’s new social media efforts, I’ve experienced a social media epiphany.
I “get” social media. I have used it for years. I have made presentations and taught classes on it. I have championed it in my workplace, among my family and friends, and even in my church. It’s been an actual “part” of my “real” job for at least a couple years now.
Aside from testing out new tools, what more is there for me to learn about social media?
A lot. That whole epiphany thing.
Turning Skeptics into Converts
I walked into this job expecting my fellow Pollak Library librarians to be an easy sell.
Academic librarians are, after all, often exposed to more cutting edge technologies than I ever had a chance to play with as a public or corporate librarian (that’s the case out here in California at least; I’d argue that some midwest, east coast, and Canadian public library systems are bigger advocates and leaders of emerging technologies than we academics). At the Cal State level, academic librarians are faculty, who are expected to place a stronger emphasis on innovation, scholarly technologies, and open access.
So, it has been an eye-opening surprise for me to discover that my coworkers aren’t all as passionate about social media as I am. A good handful showed a strong interest right off the bat. Most at least recognized that our library has no choice but to be involved in it. Many wanted to at least hear about my thoughts and plans for using it. And some, not necessarily old school librarians, want nothing to do with it.
Our department chair and my boss eagerly pushed for a new Social Media Team, with me as chair, and this idea, as well as our team charge, was not rejected. I mistook that as library-wide acceptance. Yet, I have increasingly sensed resistance and skepticism from many of my fellow librarians.
Something has happened in the last month or so that has shifted the tide. And it’s been kind of cool. I was too busy at work to attend our convocation, but I hear that our university president stressed the campus’s commitment to social media. Other units on campus are starting to point to the library’s social media efforts. But, best of all… students are responding. They’re finding us, they’re following us, they’re thanking us, and they’re interacting with us.
And THAT is the golden egg in academic libraries. Each time I can demonstrate a positive exchange with a student via one of our social media channels, I am able to start swaying opinions among my fellow librarians. Each time I can demonstrate our added ability to reach out to students and “bring the library to our students”, I start swaying opinions. And hopefully, after the positive feedback I received from students at the guest lecture stint I did this week, I will continue to sway opinions each time I am able to demonstrate the educational value we are able to provide students by teaching them real world job skills, such as social media.
It’s Really About Relationships
This is where that whole epiphany thing comes into play.
In Library Land, our sole raison d’être is service. We strive to serve our patrons, even in a corporate environment, by providing access to information and by helping our patrons find and use that information. I don’t know of a single librarian who entered library school (yes, folks, we hold at least one Masters degree) and entered the library profession expecting to make the big bucks. Like teachers and professors, we actually enter our profession knowing that we won’t ever pull down high salaries. Instead, we are motivated by the opportunity to educate, to help, and to make a difference. As corny as that may sound in our materialistic society, it’s the truth.
Strong people skills are paramount to librarians, even “techie” librarians like me. It is imperative that patrons consider us approachable and perceive us as sensitive to their needs. As faculty librarians, we have to appear even more personable to our patrons (AKA “students” AKA “customers). Like professors, we too are educators charged with helping our students through their studies and nurturing them through the stressful process of obtaining a college degree. We get the “social” aspect; it’s part of our job. But, not all academic librarians make the leap from “social” in the neo-traditional in-person/email/phone call/chat reference sense to the contemporary “social media” sense of service.
So, be it perceived as jumping on the band wagon or not, academic libraries, and the librarians that make up that those libraries, have an obligation to at least explore and try out tools that help us better reach our patrons. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace definitely fall within this category of tools. We have a professional responsibility to help bridge the “digital disconnect” between everyday communication technologies and classroom technologies, and help students learn how to integrate those technologies into their academic pursuits (Kolb, L. (2008). Toys to Tools: Connecting Student Cell Phones to Education. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education).
Pollak Library’s Approach
The new Social Media Team at Pollak Library is striving to breach this “digital disconnect” and educate our own library, fellow discipline faculty, and students about ways to integrate social media tools into library services and academic studies.
I will continue to blog about our ideas, efforts, successes, and challenges.
NOTE: Fellow faculty and staff also constitute our patron base. We strive to serve their needs, too. But, this post is really geared more towards the obligation of academic librarians to our students, and our subsequent obligation to reach students via the communication platforms they already utilize.