Plymouth Public Library

Confession time: although Kewaskum Public Library was indeed important to me growing up, my primary public library was the Plymouth Public Library. Unlike the Kewaskum library, the Plymouth library had a building of its very own – it’s a Carnegie library. It had more staff, more books, and two circulation desks. At just over 8000, Plymouth’s population is more than twice that of Kewaskum. All this might suggest that the Plymouth Public Library has more resources than Kewaskum.

However, while the Kewaskum library (henceforth KPL) shares a building with the police department and village hall, it at least has an online presence all its own. As discussed in the previous post, KPL has a blog that doubles as their website, a mostly inactive Twitter account, and a very active Facebook page.

Plymouth Public Library (henceforth PPL) has an incredibly basic page on the City of Plymouth site, and an equally basic Facebook page. How basic? Well, if you’re not willing to click through, the page has the library’s address and phone number,  a link to the catalogue, an unspecified email address, and bulleted lists for Collections and Services. These may not be up-to-date – does PPL really have a typewriter you can use? The email appears to be a personal one, but it doesn’t say who that person is. The web page is dated and unattractive. It claims PPL is “Your exploration destination… Your information connection” but this web page makes me doubt it.

The Facebook page is no better. Clearly someone took the time to create this page, but it’s very similar to the web site. It lists an address and a phone number. There’s no picture, not even the line drawing they’re so fond of using elsewhere. It inspires no trust, invites no discussion – there’s not even a description! It goes without saying that I wouldn’t use the Facebook page even as a library user, since it has nothing to offer.

Plymouth Public Library Facebook Page

Screenshot of Plymouth Public Library Facebook page

To be fair, there are a lot of communities called Plymouth in the world. It’s not completely impossible that PPL does in fact have something out there on the web that’s better than what I found. But that’s a problem in itself – if it’s not on the first page of search results for “plymouth public library” (the City of Plymouth page is), and it doesn’t come up for “plymouth library wi” there’s still lots of work to be done.

Once I was home for the summer and needed to use wireless internet on my laptop. My gut instinct was that any public library would have free wireless internet, but PPL’s web page didn’t mention it. In fact, I wondered if a library with such a terrible web page would have wireless internet after all. In the end I called the library (it’s a 20 minute drive!), and was assured they did.

PPL is a vibrant, well-equipped library that offers wonderful programming and services. Its web presence should reflect that. At the moment, both the website and the Facebook page are equally incomprehensible to new and experienced users. As Phil Bradley points out, “if you’re doing things in your library, you need (in my opinion) to make people aware of them.” I hope the librarians will start working towards that soon. They may not think websites and social media are a priority, but they should look at the nearby KPL, which is successfully using social media despite an even smaller community.

What to do if you’re in PPL’s situation?  Looking at nearby or similar libraries is a place to start. Create a website! Keep it up-to-date! A blogging platform might be a good tool for setting up a first real website. Then you can think about social media. Do the librarians use any social media? Those might be worth testing out. Not every tool will be a brilliant success, but it’s worth trying something. Check out blog posts like How To Grow Your Social Media Presence for ideas. Since PPL is already using Facebook (sort of), they should think about adding things to that page. They could use the Information section to provide standard hours, a link to the consortium catalogue, and a list of services that includes wireless internet while leaving typewriters off. Then posts about programming and holiday hours could give people a reason to keep up with the page. The Librarian in Black’s post “Ten Social Networking Tips for Libraries” has lots of good advice as well.

Not all libraries need to be at the forefront of social media, but it’s a good idea to try to stay reasonably up-to-date. At this point, websites are non-negotiable.

Kewaskum Public Library

This library will always be near to my heart, because it was in the town where I went to high school, and I volunteered there for over a year. But besides all that, the Kewaskum Public Library uses social media pretty effectively. Especially nice for a library in a town of fewer than 4000!

You can find Kewaskum Public Library on Facebook, Twitter, and their blog. The blog is on the library homepage, and the homepage also has a link to the Facebook page, but the Twitter feed is a little harder to find.

The Twitter account (tagline: I am a large building full of cultural ephemera! Love me!) began in May 2009. Most tweets are about new materials or upcoming local events. There are also occasional links to news articles, software, and random other tweets. They cover a few of Andy Burkhardt’s Six Things Libraries Should Tweet. It’s definitely a library Twitter feed, not a librarian one – although there are some tweets which reveal the librarian’s opinions on certain books (and certain Library of Congress subject headings), the focus is on the library. As a result, it doesn’t live up to many of Phil Bradley’s best practices for library Twitter use. The library doesn’t really discuss ideas, it doesn’t follow anyone, it’s not having a conversation. Kewaskum Public Library is clearly using Twitter to get information to people in the community, not to have an information exchange. Twitter can be used for much more than that, but if the current system is working, it’s definitely an effective use of the tool. A library doesn’t need to use all a tool’s features for it to be useful.

Unfortunately, the Twitter account is becoming less active; in September, October, and November 2011, Kewaskum Public Library only tweeted three times.

The blog came first, and is still going strong. The blog also serves as the library’s homepage. It has the library’s hours and address, links to the catalogue and other resources. There were 4 posts in November 2011. One announces that the library budget was passed, and explains where the money goes; one lets people know fewer tax forms will be printed in 2012, so they should come to the library early to get paper forms; one announces the Thanksgiving holiday hours; the last talks about how the library works with area schools. Most posts are a paragraph or two long. Like Kewaskum Public Library’s tweets, many posts are about upcoming programming and local events. They’re a conversational way to get out news about the library.

The blog, like the Twitter account, is more about communicating information than exchanging it. Comments are enabled, but hardly any posts have comments. It’s not very social. But in the very first post, back in March 2005, the director said

Basically, a blog (short for web-log) is kind of like an online newspaper column … The KPL blog will be used to update the news on this website with any and all last-minute information–closings, cancellations, exhibits, events, new items, etc.

The blog is still doing a pretty good job of that. It’s not the most revolutionary use of social media, but it seems to work for them. Combining the website and homepage might not work for a bigger library, but it’s great for Kewaskum. They use the SHARE library consortium catalogue, and the WordPress site does a perfectly good job of listing all the library’s important information. It also means that news can be easily updated, casual visitors to the site can find out what’s going on, and old news is easy to find. Plus, as Darlene Fitcher said back in 2003, blogs are cheap and require less work than creating a website.

Kewaskum Public Library’s newest social media venture is their Facebook page. Unlike their Twitter account and blog, this actually is social! Kewaskum essentially uses it for microblogging. They post several times a week, share links and opinions, and interact with commenters. Blog posts are often duplicated in a shorter form. It’s basically a more social version of their early, active Twitter use. The writing is more informal and personal than on the blog. I appreciate that, and it’s also encouraged by David Lee King. While the blog posts are comment-less, people do comment on the Facebook page, maybe because it’s on a site they already use to be social, rather than on a separate library site.

Kewaskum Public Library’s blog seems to be working just fine, and Twitter is being replaced (rather more successfully – or at least socially) by Facebook. I’d say the librarians are successfully using social media. Sometimes a tool just doesn’t quite work, and you have to move on to the next one. Hopefully they’ll continue to work towards the best balance for them.