Thursday, November 15, 2007

Advocacy and Social Networking: Making Connections Work for Libraries

Two terms that you probably cannot go without hearing these days –particularly so if you are in the library and information field - are social networking and Web 2.0. The two terms, of course, go together, where one, i.e. social marketing, essentially explains what the other, Web 2.0, is about. Professionals and corporations have come to realize that Web sites such as Facebook and Second Life are not only for college students but can be key tools for building connections and for customer base generation. Perhaps social networking applications and Web sites can also be called 'Cocktail Party 2.0' because, in a sense, they do operate like the cocktail party of our age, where people can meet, make connections and maybe also advance careers or causes.

So similarly, this new web phase can be of help with advancing the cause of libraries and librarianship as it can and has been able to do with other causes and professions. However, the thing to keep in mind about advocacy is that one does not only want to ‘sing to the choir’ so to speak. A true test of advocacy in many cases, is reaching to an audience that would typically be seen as disinterested or maybe an audience you probably never thought of connecting with in the first place. So new relationships i.e. ‘relationships, ’ where one thought relationships did not or could not exist, can be a potent ingredient in advocacy. In fact this is one of the fundamental aspects of a Canadian author’s Steve Waddell’s book Societal Learning and Change: How Governments, Business and Civil Society are Creating Solutions to Complex Multi-Stakeholder Problems. In it, Waddell makes the point that for change to come about in society “The critical contribution is creating new relationships between people and organisations that traditionally would not interact but in fact have common interests.”

For libraries, there are obvious connections to be made with groups such as educators, legislators and policy makers, community groups, nonprofit organizations, students, book publishers, book sellers, mothers and children. However, it is good to try to think outside of the typical and apparent to the not so typical and unapparent. It needs to be remembered too that an advocacy message can be tailored to any which way you see that an audience can be defined. This is what corporations do by developing customer profiles in seeking to clearly identify exactly who is their target audience.

For instance, one identifiable group that libraries can target is stay-at-home dads. According to census estimates for 2003 there were 98,000 dads in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau News, Nov. 2004). This admittedly is not a considerable figure and this group is most likely spread thin throughout the entire country. But 98, 000 is still not a small figure by any means and libraries making efforts to target such an audience in their communities will also show themselves to be conscious of a small but important group that is typically ignored.

Perhaps another group that can be targeted is athletes. The ALA (American Library Association) already makes use of professional athletes like Shaquille O’Neal (the photo on the left is taken from the ALA's Web site homepage) on their posters to encourage youngsters to read. But my suggestion here is a bit different. To target young athletes and their coaches to see libraries as another resource for improving sports individuals and teams. Libraries can provide loads of information, and not just usual reading media but also via video and online resources, where sprortsmen and women can learn about improving improving technique, kinesiology, nutrition etc.

Two last groups I can suggest is financiers and investors. By financiers, I mean the experts who know all about finance, but whose language and jargon are usually not understood by the general public and by investors, I mean Joe and Jane average, who wish to know and understand more about money matters and investment. The popularity and success of people like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer of Mad Money fame, show the great demand of people wanting to learn and know more about financial matters. There needs to be greater meeting of the minds between these two groups I have identified, where libraries and librarians as information brokers can help to facilitate greater understanding of money management which is such a crucial aspect of people’s lives.

On Facebook it is good to see that there are ALA membersip and related library groups present. The ALA also has its own island on Second Life (SL) (ALA/Arts Island Open in Second Life) where second life SL librarians can visit. A phenomenal success in terms of generating support for libraries via social networking has been LibraryThing, a social cataloging web application. A LibraryThing Wikipedia article reports this site as attracting more than 73, 000 registered visitors just one year after its launch in August 2005. On the LibraryThing site it reports its now over 300,000 members have catalogued over 20 million books. Another similar, although much smaller effort is PaperBack Swap where people exhange books via mail after making connections online. The site claiims over 1.5 million books available for exchange.

Social networking then has worked well in bringing librarians and readers together. And readers or better put, patrons are perhaps librairanship’s stongest ally for eliciting funds out of city, state, federal and corporate coffers. It is however, yet a new phenomenon which provides lots of opportunity for librarians and friends of libraries to come up with their own and novel ways of promoting this so important service and profession we all love so well.

Library Groups on Facebook

ALA Asociation Members

Library 2.0 Interest Group

NextGen Librarians

Other Library Advocacy Articles

Using Facebook and MySpace for Advocacy and Fundraising: An Interview with Carie Lewis HSUS - Admittedly, not a library related case but still good information on how to make social networking work for a cause.


Harry Smith said...

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anu mandava said...
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